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In Hobby Lobby, Alito suggested that his ruling was narrow because the administration could provide the same exemption that it gave to religious non-profits - that if the religious entity objects to providing coverage itself, the third-party insurer itself must offer contraceptive coverage as a rider directly to the employee at no cost.

Well today, not even a full workweek later, the conservative majority has exposed that as a lie.  In Wheaton College v. Burwell the Court held over the dissent of Sotomayor that Wheaton College is not required to fill out the exemption form.  Wheaton takes the position that it has a religious objection to filling out the form, because by filling out the form the insurer will provide the coverage itself, and that makes it complicit in "evil."  The Supreme Court granted an emergency motion for a stay in favor of Wheaton, holding that it need not fill out the exemption form.

http://www.supremecourt.gov/...

In layman' terms, a majority of the Court has decided, effectively, that a religious college can not only opt-out of providing contraceptive services to employees itself, but it can also prevent third parties from doing so despite the PPACA's mandate that all women receive such coverage.

The majority claims that in this case, HHS can instruct the insurer to provide female Wheaton College employees with contraceptive services in this case without the form, but as Sotomayor notes, the only reason HHS even knows the identity of the insurer is because this lawsuit was filed.  The logic of this case is that the next insurer can just state that it will not provide contraceptive coverage and then stand mute, not giving the government any information with which to apply the PPACA's provisions.

The Sotomayor dissent is a must read.  I am on mobile and can't go more I to depth now, but she says it all.

EDIT: ABC news report on the ruling.

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The Huffington Post is now reporting that it was Pete Sessions (R-Tx) who told President Obama that he "couldn't stand to look" at him.

Other tidbits from the HuffPo story:

- Harry Reid told the entire Democratic Caucus about the incident.  Two Democratic Senators at the meeting (NOT including Dick Durbin) independently reported the incident.

- The President responded with extreme class and dignity, with Reid stating that "Obama responded to Sessions by saying he understood that they disagreed on many issues and he respected their differences."

If you don't know, Pete Sessions has a history of making racist comments.  So this latest burst of hate isn't something unexpected from this asshole.  

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Many of you have been hoping to at least see the plans and prices on the federal exchanges, without success due to the current glitches at healthcare.gov.  

With the assistance of DKos user guyeda, here's a link to detailed information about the available plans and their costs.  It is a large spreadsheet, but you can filter by state, county, level of plan, etc., and get the actual cost for the plan under a variety of different age and family-size scenarios.

Thus, for instance, if you live in Bexar County, Texas, you can see that the cheapest Bronze plan (to take one example) is issued by BlueCross Blue Shield, is called Blue Advantage Bronze HMO 006, and costs:

* $138.38/mo for a 27-year old individual;
* $235.83/mo for a 50 year old individual;
* $467.44/mo for a family (2 adults);
* $317.57/mo for single-parent family;
* $337/mo for a couple; and
* $83.85 for just one child.

Two caveats: (1) this DOES NOT include the subsidies, and (2) it DOES NOT include all of the plan details.  With respect to the latter, I've found that the websites of the insurers often contain this information; just look for the plan name.

If the spreadsheet intimidates you (and it's huge), I've also done some digging and found this site which seems to be pulling from the same underlying data source.  One benefit here is that it allows you to include your families' ages and income, and it calculates the expected subsidy as well.  Note: the subsidy calculator here doesn't work for all states, it appears.  You can estimate your subsidy here.  

Note that, unlike the first link, which is directly to data.healthcare.gov, this second site appears to include state-exchange data too, with the exception of Hawaii, Idaho, Maryland, and Massachusetts.

Hopefully you will find this satisfies your curiosity until you're able to get on Healthcare.gov and sign up.

UPDATE: To clarify something that might have been highlighted better, once you have the insurer and the plan names, you can go directly to the insurer's website to get further details of the plan.  

For instance, on the example I gave above, I searched for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas (which is http://www.bcbstx.com/), went to coverage options, individual/family plans, and right there you can browse all of the plans, at the different metal levels, including the Blue Advantage Bronze HMO 006 I mentioned above.  So I can see the chart there, and it tells me that this plan has a $6000 deductible, a $6000 out of pocket cap, that there is no charge or co-pay to visit in-network primary care physicians, specialists, or preventative care, etc.

So yes, it's a little bit of work, but if you can't get on healthcare.gov and you're anxious to start browsing, you now have the tools you need.  

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Just a short diary to ask if anyone's been able to view plans available to them on a FEDERAL exchange (I've seen plenty of mention of California, which has a state exchange), and if so, to share what you've found.

I'm in Virginia, and I'm dying to see what my options are for 2014.  After a day I was able to register, and I got the email confirmation from healthcare.gov, but when I try to log in, it says that my information isn't valid, or that it doesn't exist.  Extremely frustrating.

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One of the key issues of immigration reform is what to do about the backlog of people already in line, legally, waiting for visas to become available?  The "path to citizenship" under discussion for undocumented workers is meaningless, if someone can't get a green card until the early 2030s.  

Well, the so-called "Gang of Eight" (Democrats Schumer, Menendez, Bennet, and Durbin, plus four Republicans) have reached agreement on this issue.  And as the New York Times reports, these Democrats have apparently signed off on a plan to clear the backlog in the most cruel, unjustifiable way possible:  telling a large fraction of the millions who have been waiting patiently in line that they are no longer eligible to receive visas.  

Among proposals to reduce backlogs is a plan to accelerate green card applications of foreigners living legally in the United States who have been waiting to receive their documents for 10 years or more. . . .  The plan would also free up additional green cards by eliminating a category of foreigners who are now eligible for those visas: siblings of United States citizens.  
You may be thinking "Surely this is prospective only; people in line won't be affected!"  The problem is, that wouldn't make sense, because cutting off prospective immigrants doesn't clear the backlog; it just keeps the backlog from growing.  

Here's how it works: U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents may sponsor their family members for visas, which come in several categories: (1) spouses, minor children, and parents of citizens, (2) spouses and children of LPRs, (3) unmarried adult children of citizens, (4) married adult children of citizens, and (5) brothers and sisters of citizens.  The family member files a petition for her relatives, and once it is approved, the family member is eligible to obtain a visa.  

However, since there is a hard limit on the number of visas available per category, there are many more approved petitions than available visas.  There is no limit for parents, minor children and spouses of citizens.  There are 114,000 visas for the spouses and children of LPRs per year.  But only 23,400 unmarried adult children can get family visas each year; the same number of married adult children people can get visas each year, and 65,000 brothers and sisters can get visas each year.  No country can get more than 7.5% of these visas.  

Why the backlogs?  Well, there are a hell of a lot more eligible people per category, than there are visas available.  So, right now, when a U.S. citizen sponsors a visa for her sister, the sister's petition will be approved (i.e., she's eligible) but then she has to wait in line to apply for a visa until everyone ahead of her has received one.

The State Department publishes a monthly list of the "priority dates" for available visas.  The backlogs are apparent.  Unmarried adult children of citizens have a 5 year line right now; people who petitioned in March 2008 are now eligible.  Married adult children have over a 10-year line; people deemed eligible back in July 2002 are only now able to apply for a visa.  Spouses of lawful permanent residents have a 2 year line, and adult unmarried children of LPRs have about an 8 year wait.  Siblings of citizens have a longer wait.  Right now, the front of the line is people who applied in May 2001.  It's even worse for siblings from Mexico (September 1996) and the Philippines (August 1989!!) because these countries are affected by that 7.5% cap I talked about - only 4,875 Mexican siblings and 4,875 Filipino siblings can get visas each year.

With that background, the Times article makes sense: siblings will no longer be eligible for visas.  Their 65,000 yearly visas will be given to the other family preference categories, speeding up the visa process for those families at the direct expense of brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens, who followed the rules, and who have been waiting up to 20 years to get a green card.  It is intolerable to treat people this way.

We'll see the legislative language early next week.  To be fair, there's a chance that the Times is leaving out details or has it wrong.  But Republican members of the "Gang of Eight" have made it clear that they don't want family visas; they want to shift us to a "work" based visa system.  

But if this is truly the plan--to crush families who have played by the rules and who have, in good faith, been waiting for the American dream--then kill this fucking bill, and shame on the Democrats who agreed to it.

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As we all know, one hot topic here over the last few weeks has been the planned Republican coup d'état of rigging the electoral vote system in Virginia, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan such that votes will be apportioned by Congressional district and not statewide vote.  And one comment I have seen repeatedly is that, if this is pulled off, it is plainly constitutional because of Article II, Section 1, Clause 2 of the Constitution:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.
Every time I see this, I want to scream.  Yes, the Constitution allows states to choose the method of selecting presidential electors.  But the method they choose must otherwise comply with the Constitution, including the Equal Protection Clause.  Don't believe me?  Here's the majority decision in Bush v. Gore:
The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States unless and until the state legislature chooses a statewide election as the means to implement its power to appoint members of the Electoral College. . . . it may, if it so chooses, select the electors itself, which indeed was the manner used by State legislatures in several States for many years after the Framing of our Constitution.  History has now favored the voter, and in each of the several States the citizens themselves vote for Presidential electors.

When the state legislature vests the right to vote for President in its people, the right to vote as the legislature has prescribed is fundamental; and one source of its fundamental nature lies in the equal weight accorded to each vote and the equal dignity owed to each voter. . . .  The right to vote is protected in more than the initial allocation of the franchise. Equal protection applies as well to the manner of its exercise.

531 U.S. 98, 104-05 (2000).   The Court cited for this proposition two earlier cases dealing with state elections: Harper v. Virginia Bd. of Elections, 383 U. S. 663, 665 (1966) ("[O]nce the franchise is granted to the electorate, lines may not be drawn which are inconsistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment") and Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U. S. 533, 555 (1964) ("the right of suffrage can be denied by a debasement or dilution of the weight of a citizen's vote just as effectively as by wholly prohibiting the free exercise of the franchise.")

So let's get that out of the way.  The fact that the Republican state legislators are allowed to select the method of electors is not the end of the story.  They are still (for now) allowing people to vote; therefore, these plan must be consistent with equal protection.

There do not appear to be any precedents expressly dealing with a plan to divide electoral votes by congressional district instead of by statewide vote.  The constitutionality of the Maine and Nebraska systems have never been addressed by the Supreme Court (or any appellate court for that matter), so their existence is not proof of the current plans' constitutionality.  

After the jump, I'll discuss some basic law regarding equal protection principles (including one-person, one-vote) from Congressional gerrymandering cases which are relevant here.  I'll also argue that the current Supreme Court likely has 5 votes that would agree that a political party's use of politically gerrymandered Congressional districts to entrench itself in the White House contrary to the popular will of each state's citizens is unconstitutional.

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She's up by just over 5,000 votes with 95% of the vote in.

There's a single county (Oliver County) that has not reported any precincts.  Total population: 1,100 souls.  Everything else is 60% to 90% in, and those counties should cancel each other out (one "big" D county is at 60%, the others are heavy R)

Just thought I'd point this out, since it may have been lost in the shuffle...

http://www.politico.com/...

EDIT 1: Oliver County is in, in its entirety: 555 (R) to 446 (D).  

What's left?  40% of Barnes County (pop. 11,000) which currently is 55%-45% D
8% of Mercer County (pop. 8500) which is 61% R
20% of Dunn County (pop. 3500) which is 60% R
40% of Williams County (pop. 22,000) which is 66% R
17% of McKenzie County (pop. 6000) which is 70% R

EDIT 2:  Just back-of-the-envelope here, but no more than 80% of the population of each of these states is over the age of 18, and only 60% of so of voting age population is both registered AND an actual voter.  I don't see, at these margins, how Berg makes up the deficit with what's left...

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Fascinating article from the New York Times today.  

The Obama administration will soon take on a new role as the sponsor of at least two nationwide health insurance plans to be operated under contract with the federal government and offered to consumers in every state.
The article goes on to explain that one of the plans will be not-for-profit.  The plans will be arranged by the United States Office of Personnel Management, which oversees the excellent health care plans for federal employees.  The best part?  A representative from the Heritage Foundation had this to say:
Robert E. Moffit, a senior fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said he worried that “the nationwide health plans, operating under terms and conditions set by the federal government, will become the robust public option that liberals always wanted.”
This is an executive action, so even if we hold the Senate, Romney can and will kill this at noon on January 20, 2013.  All the better reason to GOTV.

http://www.nytimes.com/...

Edit 1: Someone asked whether red states can simply block these plans, because the federal plan isn't licensed in those states.  Per the article:

To be eligible to participate in the multistate program, insurers must be licensed in every state. The Government Employees Health Association recently bought a company that has the licenses it would need.
Edit 2: Rec list? Thanks!

Edit 3: Top of rec list?  double thanks.  And edited to correct some horrible, horrible grammar in the first edit.

Edit 4: A certain poster keeps commenting that the diary is misleading because the national plan is required by the PPACA, but I said it was through "executive order," and that Romney can't do anything about it.  False.  The diary says "executive action," and that's what it is.  

Nonetheless, this is an important point to address, particularly for someone who is not well versed in the wonder of U.S. administrative law.

For the most part, Congressional legislation paints in broad strokes and does not dwell on details.  Congresspeople, believe it or not, are generally inexpert on most subjects.  It is therefore up to the administrative agencies to interpret, implement, and enforce the law as it sees it.  That's 100% up to the President and his officers, and generally an agency's interpretation of the law is given extreme deference by courts if it is at all reasonable.

Here, the article clearly indicates that the decisions on setting up the plan, using the US OPM and perhaps the Government Employee Health Association, is based on Obama administration decisions.  A Romney administration could reverse course, weaken a national health plan, make it useless, cripple it.  So yes, the story here is what Obama is doing.  Implementation of the PPACA would not be identical under a Romney administration that somehow decided to follow the letter of the PPACA.  If everything were preordained by the statute, this story wouldn't be a surprise to the conservative groups and insurance industry lobbyists quoted in it.  They certainly know every detail of the legislative language, and what the President is doing makes them very unhappy.  Ergo, be happy and GOTV for the President.  

Final (?) Edit: Have to go feed the kids.  But this should drive the point home.  Ask yourself what a Romney administration would "negotiate" here:

The national plans will compete directly with other private insurers and may have some significant advantages, including a federal seal of approval. Premiums and benefits for the multistate insurance plans will be negotiated by the United States Office of Personnel Management, the agency that arranges health benefits for federal employees.
Discuss

Here's a non-scientific analysis, but I believe a sound one, of what's going on in the Gallup 7-day horserace tracker, based on the movement in the 3-day approval tracker.

The bottom line: some really good Obama days have come off the Gallup 7-day tracker, while two really horrible ones have remained on there, with mediocre numbers since. The three-day approval numbers show what we know: there was a hit from the first debate loss, but that it's receding, and this should show up soon in the RV/LV numbers.

Here we go, after the jump.  

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