Fox's Greta Van Susteren pushed the debunked myth that members of Congress have special exemptions from Obamacare by attempting to spin the fact that they may revert to federal benefits upon retirement as special treatment. In reality, not requiring retired members of Congress to stay on an exchange plan avoids giving them unfair advantage over other federal employees in retirement, and is in compliance with the wording of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
On the March 3 edition of Fox News' On the Record, host Greta Van Susteren introduced a segment on an alleged Obamacare loophole by saying that "members of Congress and their staff members are being offered that escape hatch when they retire" which will allow them to "go back to their federal employee health coverage." Van Susteren's guest, former Republican senator and president of the conservative Heritage Foundation Jim DeMint, twisted the retirement stipulation as evidence that "the big guys get taken care of with one plan, but the average Joe gets to deal with a cash for clunkers type of health plan that we got with Obamacare":
This attempt to cast the fact that retired members of Congress are not required to stay on Obamacare as a loophole ignores the fact that the ACA did not specify how a member of Congress should be treated once they leave office and retire. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) decided that requiring retired members of Congress and their staffers to stay on an exchange plan would give them an unfair advantage of greater benefits than other federal employees in retirement (emphasis added):
Under a rule issued by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) late last year, members and staff who retire will be able to revert back to health coverage under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP). That's the same coverage thousands of other federal workers can use when they retire.
The FEHBP lets government retirees choose from a range of options, including health savings accounts, PPOs or HMOs. And none of it has anything to do with ObamaCare.
The OPM had not included a retirement escape clause in its August draft of the rule on congressional coverage. But this flexibility was added in its Oct. 2 final rule, after "numerous commenters" called on the OPM to reconsider.
The OPM ultimately agreed with those commenters and said that, when read closely, the law only applies to members and staff "while they are employed in those positions."
A Feb. 18 report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) puts it plainly. "[T]he final rule allows members and designated congressional staff who are eligible for retirement to enroll in a FEHBP plan upon retirement," the CRS summarized.
The OPM decided that forcing members and staff to stay on ObamaCare would give them "broader health insurance options" than other federal employees upon retirement, which would be unfair.
"We make this change for the additional reason that, otherwise, Members of Congress and congressional staff would have broader health insurance options in the Exchange in retirement than are available to other Federal annuitants," the OPM said.
A report by the Congressional Research Service likewise flies in the face of claims by Van Susteren and DeMint that the ACA's retirement stipulation constitutes a special exemption or "escape hatch." According to the report, members of Congress and their staffers have to meet the same eligibility criteria to purchase a Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHBP) plan in retirement as every other federal employee:
OPM indicates that Members and congressional staff designated as working for an official office of a Member (hereinafter "staff" or "designated staff") who purchase coverage through an exchange will have the ability to enroll in plans offered through FEHBP when they become annuitants, provided they meet the eligibility criteria to do so under 5 U.S.C. Section 8905.12 The eligibility criteria are generally the same criteria that all other federal employees must meet to continue FEHBP coverage in retirement.
This new myth that members of Congress have an "escape hatch" from Obamacare upon retirement is in keeping with Fox's ongoing attempt to manufacture Congressional "exemptions" from the law, an effort that has even been criticized by Republicans.
Right-wing media accused President Obama of unprecedented overreach resembling that of a "dictator" for the ordinary administrative agency rule-making process surrounding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act's (ACA) employer mandate.
After loudly and falsely claiming that a new Congressional Budget Office study reported that the Affordable Care Act will "kill" more than two million jobs in coming years (it did not), Fox News talkers and the right-wing media industry quickly opted for a second (and equally phony) line of attack this week. They condemned the sad state of the American worker, suggesting they're shiftless and lazy and blamed the Obama administration is turning them into ungrateful sloths.
Focusing on the CBO projection that Obama's health care reform may prompt two million workers over the next ten years to voluntarily leave their jobs, or cut back their hours, Bill O'Reilly announced the administration is "creating a class of layabouts." Stuart Varney compared the worker choice trend to "extending the hand-out society." And Brian Kilmeade bemoaned how "the whole work ethic and self-esteem" thing was being undercut by Obama.
A miffed Greta Van Susteren was also deeply offended by the prospects of American workers choosing to work less in order to strike a better balance in their family lives without living in fear of not being covered by health care insurance. "Do you know anyone who has gotten successful by working less?" she asked Staples CEO Tom Stemberg, a longtime critic of Obamacare.
Why the anti-workout freakout?
After all, the key point here is that Obamacare will soon give a portion of workers a choice of whether they want to work or not (perhaps even temporarily) or whether they want to cut back the hours they work. Why the new choice? Because Obamacare will allow people in lower income brackets access to affordable health care coverage regardless of whether they're employed. So people who feel trapped in jobs that are used primarily as a way to obtain coverage will suddenly have options. (That workplace condition is known as "job lock," something Republicans had previously opposed.)
Millionaire Fox pundits might not realize it but most Americans, and certainly most young American families with two working parents, lead complicated lives as they juggle responsibilities that entail more than taping a 60-minute television show five times a week. (Bill O'Reilly earns approximately $80,000-per episode.) Flexibility for them is a good thing.
Still, the condemnation rained down.
It's a rather startling, judgmental attack when you consider that the employees in question might opt out of their jobs in exchange for early retirement, to better care for family members, or to start a company of their own. None of those scenarios would even remotely reflect poorly on the workers.
Each year, Republican Senator Tom Coburn releases a "Wastebook" reviewing government projects that he views as wasteful, and each year, the media eagerly promote his report. Yet television news ignored a report by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) finding that U.S. taxpayers are being stiffed by coal companies buying federal land for less than its worth, which a previous report estimated has cost taxpayers nearly $30 billion over the last 30 years.
On Tuesday, the GAO found that the Bureau of Land Management was not adequately documenting reasons for accepting bids below the determined market value. Furthermore, as many states are not considering exports in their market value analyses, they may be underestimating the value in the first place. Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA), who requested the study, stated that "Given the lack of market competition in coal leases" -- the GAO found the vast majority did not have a single competitor, as seen in the chart below -- "if the fair market value set by Interior is low, it can lead to significant losses for taxpayers. For instance, for every cent per ton that coal companies decrease their bids for the largest coal leases, it could mean the loss of nearly $7 million for the American people."
Based on the report, Sen. Markey's office estimated that recent leases could have yielded an additional $200 million in revenue and "possibly hundreds of millions more." A previous report from the Institute for Energy Economics estimated that selling federally-owned coal for less than fair market value has cost taxpayers $28.9 billion in lost revenue over the last 30 years. That finding adds to the economic damages that coal pollution and disasters exact on the economy. A 2011 study, for instance, found that air pollution from coal-fired power plants imposes more costs on society than the value added to the economy by the industry -- and that study did not include climate change damages. Recently, the spill of a chemical used to clean coal in West Virginia cost the local economy $61 million, according to a preliminary study that did not include the cost of clean-up or emergency expenditures.
Yet none of the major television networks covered the GAO report confirming that coal companies are underpaying the federal government*.
The "Wastebook" received considerably more attention when it was released in December 2013, drawing uncritical coverage from all the major television networks except MSNBC (ABC, CBS, CNN, and Fox News uncritically touted the report at least once, and NBC hosted Sen. Coburn where he raised the report without pushback). LiveScience reported that nearly a quarter of the projects Sen. Coburn's office listed in 2013 were science-related and that the "Wastebook" often distorts the studies. Last year, for instance, Fox News promoted the Wastebook's attack on a "government study" on Tea Party intelligence that was actually a non-government funded blog post. CNN's S.E. Cupp and others also attacked a study of duck penises included in the "Wastebook," contributing to the pattern of basic research being cut in the face of what MSNBC's Chris Hayes called "ignorant mockery."
From the February 4 edition of Fox News' On The Record with Greta Van Susteren:
From the January 31 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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From the January 31 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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Fox News host Greta Van Susteren suggested that "Stand With Wendy" -- a campaign slogan affiliated with state senator Wendy Davis' (D-TX) gubernatorial campaign in Texas -- was "code" language being used to ridicule her disabled opponent, Greg Abbott (R-TX). Van Susteren all but ignored the origins of the slogan, which was popularized after Davis' now-famous filibuster in the Texas legislature weeks before her opponent entered the race.
On the January 27 edition of Fox News' On The Record, Van Susteren invited gubernatorial candidate Greg Abbott to talk about the race against Davis. During the segment Van Susteren expressed concern that "websites associated with" the Davis campaign were employing language about standing with Wendy in order to mock Abbott, who has used a wheelchair since he was partially paralyzed by a falling tree many years ago.
"I think that's code, 'standing up,' said Van Susteren. "I actually think if I were running against someone who was in a wheel chair, the last -- I would be mortified if the word 'standing' appeared in any of my literature, if only on the off chance that I might hurt someone who's in a wheel chair or say something to people who are disabled. And I don't see that she's ever disavowed it." Van Susteren acknowledged Davis' filibuster, but said she finds it "too coincidental" and recommended Davis apologize for the slogan, "which may have another meaning."
From the January 27 edition of Fox News' On The Record With Greta Van Susteren:
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Fox News hosted contributor Allen West the day after he smeared President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder as "the most vile and disgusting racists," airtime that West used to compare a Department of Justice (DOJ) lawyer to the Muslim Brotherhood.
In a January 14 post on his website, West condemned new federal guidelines aimed to prevent discriminatory disciplinary policies in schools as "racial preference policies" perpetuated by the Obama administration. In his post, West attributed self-proclaimed high school violence rates among black students to "the decimation of the black family," and gave the following message to "white Americans" (emphasis added):
This is my clear and succinct message to white Americans. How long will it be before "you people" realize you have elevated someone to the office of president who abjectly despises you -- not to mention his henchman Holder. Combined they are the most vile and disgusting racists -- not you.
The next day, Fox News' On the Record gave West a platform to further attack the DOJ. During a discussion about reports that no criminal charges are expected to be filed in the IRS targeting case, West compared Barbara K. Bosserman, the DOJ attorney who is investigating the case, to the Muslim Brotherhood because she had donated money to President Obama's past campaigns, saying, "that's kind of like asking the Muslim Brotherhood to investigate Benghazi":
Right-wing media denied the effectiveness of anti-poverty policies in response to President Obama's recent push to reduce income inequality, instead hyping marriage as a preferable economic solution. But experts have rejected that notion, citing a systemic lack of economic opportunity as a more critical issue.
From the January 14 edition of Fox News' On the Record with Greta Van Susteren:
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Right-wing media have hyped demands from Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) to illegally remove the Department of Justice attorney tapped to investigate the IRS targeting scandal because of her political contributions, despite the fact that the DOJ is prohibited by law from considering political affiliations or contributions in personnel decisions.
Fox News allowed the president of Koch brothers-funded Generation Opportunity, which has created a series of anti-Obamacare ads, to characterize the organization as "independent" and funded by "a variety of donors."
On the December 9 edition of Fox News' On The Record, host Greta Van Susteren played a new attack ad from Generation Opportunity, which encouraged young Americans to "opt out" of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). After providing Generation Opportunity President Evan Feinberg a platform to promote his organization and attack the ACA, Van Susteren asked, "Where do you get the money," specifically inquiring whether Generation Opportunity is funded by any "influential group." Feinberg maintained that Generation Opportunity is "an independent organization":
VAN SUSTEREN: Where do you get the money, because that looked like a pretty expensive ad. Where do you get the money?
FEINBERG: Oh, we've got a variety of donors, and we're just focused on working with people across the country who care deeply about helping our generation to fight for our own freedom.
VAN SUSTEREN: I guess I ask why, you know, I'm wondering if there is some very influential group that funds you and sort of, that, as a consequence you've got to take some marching orders from some other group, or how independent are you?
FEINBERG: Oh no, we're an independent organization that's able to fight for our peers and you see these ads are really creative opportunities to very inexpensively reach millions of young people.
Over a period of several days, Fox News hosts and contributors demanded that Rev. Al Sharpton condemn a series of "knockout" attacks that have occurred in several cities. Sharpton condemned the attacks in a speech on Saturday, but Fox has so far failed to report on the condemnation.
The so-called "knockout game" involves young men attacking random people on the street. The violent, unprovoked attacks have sometimes resulted in death. Fox News has intensely covered these attacks, reporting on them largely as racially motivated crime committed by black youths against white victims.