Friday, June 18, 2021
A US oil company cut nearly 2,000 jobs – and reaped $2.1bn in pandemic benefits | Louisiana | The Guardian
A US oil company cut nearly 2,000 jobs – and reaped $2.1bn in pandemic benefits
Marathon Petroleum received more tax benefits than any other US oil company while also cutting about 9% of its workforce
Christopher Staudinger for the Louisiana Illuminator and Floodlight
Fri 18 Jun 2021 06.00 EDT
One morning in September, word of layoffs began to spread quickly through Marathon Petroleum’s refinery in small industrial community of Garyville, Louisiana.
Seven months into the pandemic, workers at the oil refining plant thought they would be spared the fate of their colleagues at other facilities, who had already been jettisoned into a daunting job market.
“Through the morning, we were seeing people get the phone call and not come back,” said one maintenance engineer, who lost his job after nearly a decade at the facility. “Everybody was on pins and needles waiting for the call.”
Last year, Marathon laid off 1,920 workers across the US despite taking $2.1bn in federal tax benefits meant to cushion the pandemic’s blow to the economy, according to a report from BailoutWatch. The worker interviewed for this story, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of difficulty finding a job, is still unemployed. He and his wife had plans to start a family, which are now on hold. And he is competing with more than 18,000 oil, gas and manufacturing workers in Louisiana who lost jobs last year.
“I’m a born and raised Louisianan. So I’m very much trying to stay in the area,” he said.
Over a year after Congress approved the Cares Act to provide emergency economic relief in response to Covid-19, the oil and gas industry has emerged as a major recipient of stimulus funds, despite heavy job cuts. Marathon Petroleum received more tax benefits under the legislation than any other US oil company, according to BailoutWatch, while also cutting about 9% of its workforce, including 45 Garyville workers.
The company spent millions lobbying in Washington, including on specific Cares Act provisions. Marathon is also defending local government tax breaks it receives as part of a controversial Louisiana subsidy program and meant to create jobs. According to SEC filings examined by BailoutWatch, Marathon came to receive roughly $1.1m in federal dollars for every job the company eliminated.
The Garyville refinery – located along the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge – is the third largest in the country. It can process 578,000 barrels of oil a day into gasoline, asphalt, propane and other substances. It has long received local tax subsidies, some of which have stirred recent controversy in a parish known for heavy industry and a high risk of air pollution.
By the time Marathon made its fall layoffs, it had already quietly announced that it would claim a $1.1bn tax refund, thanks to Cares Act provisions which gave companies tax benefits based on net operating losses.
“Understanding the benefits that Marathon received to presumably stimulate them into maintaining full employment, it’s frustrating to have still been chopped,” the laid-off worker said.
He expressed regret that the company had invested much of its cash flow in recent years in an “aggressive stock buyback program” rather than protecting workers during economic downturns.
During the pandemic, oil corporations have received billions of dollars in taxpayer money from multiple programs, “with no strings attached”, said Jesse Coleman, a senior researcher at Documented Investigations.
“Executives receiving this bailout did nothing to address the industry’s fundamental unsustainability. Instead, these companies decimated their workforce with layoffs while maximizing profits for executives and shareholders,” Coleman said.
Marathon in an email defended its federal pandemic tax breaks. Spokesman Jamal Kheiry said the Cares provision “helps companies hard-hit by the pandemic’s significant effects on the economy”.
Kheiry noted that the company lost $9.8bn after taxes last year and faced uncertainty over demand for gasoline and other refined products, which were needed less during the pandemic. Marathon idled its refineries in Gallup, New Mexico, and in Martinez, California, he added.
“We also made the very difficult decision to reduce our workforce, including reductions associated with the idlings,” he said. “To help affected employees transition, we provided severance, bonus payments, extended healthcare benefits at employee rates, job placement assistance, counseling and other provisions.”
The public dollars Marathon took were made possible by Congress’ changes to federal tax law, which allowed companies to deduct previous years’ financial losses from taxes that the company already paid. That means that the more Marathon lost in 2020 – as well as in losses unrelated to the pandemic in 2019 and 2018 – the more they were refunded from previous years’ tax payments.
BailoutWatch found that the fossil fuel industry was more likely than other sectors to benefit from the tax changes in the Cares Act because of their financial losses in 2019 and 2018, when refining margins were already in decline during those less profitable years. The watchdog group also found that fossil fuel companies lobbied heavily for these changes during the drafting of the legislation. Marathon spent $2.6m on lobbying in Washington in 2020, including to increase Cares Act tax deductions.
In all, the report found that 77 oil and gas companies received $8.24bn from the Cares Act tax refunds while laying off nearly 60,000 employees. Marathon’s federal tax breaks are in addition to state and local tax incentives that the company receives in Louisiana.
Jan Moller, director of the tax policy-focused Louisiana Budget Project, said Louisiana law provides major benefits for the industry. “The thing that makes Louisiana unique is we have the most generous tax exemption scheme in the country for industrial or manufacturing corporations,” he said.
The Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP) exempts businesses from paying certain parish property taxes in exchange for investments that create or maintain jobs.
“That’s where Louisiana communities end up losing an awful lot of revenue,” Moller said. “A global corporation comes in and spends, you know, $2bn to build an oil refinery or chemical plant … and they don’t have to pay 80 to 100% of property taxes on that investment for 10 years. And by the time 10 years is up, a lot of that investment has depreciated.”
Until recent changes, these exemptions were easily renewed. As late as 2017, 40 years after the Garyville refinery was built, Marathon was exempt from paying taxes on 88% of its property as a result of ITEP.
Because of 2016 rule changes to the tax exemption program signed by the Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, in an executive order, Marathon Petroleum’s tax bill to St John the Baptist Parish increased dramatically this year.
Marathon paid $57m in 2020 property taxes, up from $16m in 2019. Their taxes represent about 59% of the parish’s property tax base. However, Marathon still has an estimated $711m worth of property exempted in St John, which saves the company about $12m in local taxes each year, according to data from Louisiana Economic Development, which oversees the tax exemption program.
These taxes would otherwise be split between St John schools, law enforcement, and parish government. The exemptions have incentivized three thousand temporary construction jobs and one permanent job, according to the data.
Together Louisiana, a statewide network of congregations and civic organizations that has fought to overhaul the exemptions, found that the state allocated $23bn in subsidies to companies which in turn cut net employment by 26,082 jobs over about two decades.
In 2020, Marathon was also accused of fraudulently applying for $43m in ITEP exemptions. After an internal investigation by the state, the company dropped its application.
Broderick Bagert, an organizer with Together Louisiana, said the governor’s 2016 changes to ITEP require companies to either maintain current levels of employment or create new jobs in order to qualify for the exemptions, but enforcement of those rules has been lax.
“The practice of awarding gigantic, you know, hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies to companies that are not only not creating jobs, but that are actively cutting jobs, is continuing,” Bagert said."
Juneteenth Is a National Holiday Now. Can It Still Be Black?
We might count Juneteenth among those things Black people have long enjoyed that white folks don’t know about — like Frankie Beverly and Maze. The fact that such things exist might still be a shock to some; Americans are used to having Black culture to draw from like a renewable well. But no matter how aware or steeped in Black music and meanings, white people can still be surprised by the depth of things that Black people have kept alive for generations, kept to themselves in churches and barbershops, beauty salons and artistic salons, or laughed about over barbecue and red drink. These are the habits of freedom, rituals of the heart and mind. There’s a whole canon of Black cookout music that folks sing along to — if you’re lucky enough to get invited.
What Juneteenth and other Emancipation days commemorate is both the promise of freedom and its delay. For June 19, 1865, doesn’t mark the day enslaved African Americans were set free in the United States but the day the news of Emancipation reached them in Texas, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. It is a holiday ringed, like a good brisket, though not in smoke but irony. Out of such ironies Black people have made the blues, made lemonade, made good. The lesson of Juneteenth is both of celebration and expectation, of freedom deferred but still sought and of the freedoms to come.
My Louisiana-born mother recalls celebrating Juneteenth as a child, eating homemade ice cream her grandfather made special for that day; he filled the icebox and let her know that freedom was what she was tasting. The day must have been all the more poignant for him, born in 1870, as his mother was enslaved. For decades, other emancipations — including one honoring the Emancipation Proclamation, on the eve of the New Year — have been marked by African Americans with parades, oratory and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”
But last year, in the wake of the murder of George Floyd — and delayed justice for Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and too many others whose names have become sadly familiar — this promise of freedom, and its frustrations, took on more urgency. Protests filled the streets and Mr. Floyd’s image was painted not just on his namesake square in Minneapolis but also as far away as the Berlin Wall, that symbol of division that came down over three decades ago. Americans haven’t a wall or its fragments to show us how far we’ve come; we have other kinds of ruins to tend to.
As Juneteenth approaches, it is time to address those ruins. You could say the original Juneteenth marks not just the start of freedom but also the short-lived promise of the period of Reconstruction, and America’s subsequent race massacres that culminate in the Red Summer of 1919 and the Tulsa Massacre 100 years ago. We have been reminded recently that Tulsa, Okla., is the site of one of the deadliest race-based massacres in the nation’s history — in which angry white mobs descended on a community known as Greenwood, dropping firebombs, looting and assaulting and ultimately killing as many as 300 people along what was called Black Wall Street. Even I didn’t know till recently, though, of the Opelousasmassacre of 1868, a murderous effort at voter suppression that took place in Louisiana a few miles from where my father’s family is from, where most of them still live and almost all are buried. We must make sure that such haunting events are not buried too.
Against that backdrop, I am reminded of a question I have been asked a lot lately in the run-up to the holiday: Should Juneteenth become a national holiday, as our elected officials just decided it should? I believe the answer is yes — but there remains a caveat, and another question. When Juneteenth becomes a national holiday, will it still remain Black? Can it be both serious and playful, and recognize, as the poet Toi Derricotte reminds us, that “joy is an act of resistance”? Can we cook and laugh while we remember, remaining rooted in tradition while telling the full story of America and Black life in it?
I believe in an America that can do all of those things. When we know and accept the unvarnished truth — in all of its complexity, conflict and context — it can change how we view things, including ourselves. The National Museum of African American History and Culture, an institution I have the privilege of leading, is proof of that. In chronicling the American story through the lens of African Americans across the centuries, the museum has drawn large crowds of all races. We at the museum are keenly aware that history should not just be a record of what happened. It should also be a record of how we remember what happened — and how too often memory and testimony have been elided in favor of fear and fantasy.
Perhaps the commemorations from Tulsa to Texas should remind us of the threats that shadowed Emancipation long after slavery was legally over. And that we need more than just one day to call our attention to freedoms delayed and denied. Maybe what we need is an Emancipation season? Or, I can almost hear my late father say, just plain old full-throated freedom would be nice. Certainly it would be tremendous to collectively celebrate not just the nation’s freedom from foreign rule, as we do on Independence Day, but also our release from the tyranny of slavery.
African Americans should not have to bear the burden of this history alone. Nor should Black achievement be something that only African Americans celebrate. As James Baldwin well knew, our freedoms are interrelated — and otherwise imperiled. Walking my new town of Washington, D.C., I am struck by how such interconnectedness was expressed by giants like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King Jr., whose monuments, etched with their eloquent words, express that principle often. “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” King said in Alabama in 1963. Has such an idea — that freedom isn’t just for oneself, but must be shared to be truly free — gone from American public life? I hope not. The National Museum of African American History and Culture is proof it isn’t.
Like Juneteenth, that soaring space on the National Mall — which took over a century after it was first proposed to build — reminds us that freedom is not free. More than that, as Toni Morrison put it, “the function of freedom is to free someone else.” Juneteenth tells us that a fuller future awaits, and the work of collective freedom is ongoing.
If you’re lucky, you’ll get to stay till the end of the cookout, which is not complete without Frankie Beverly and Maze. When Beverly or Beyoncé begins to sing “I want to make sure I’m right, before I let go,” you best dance, as soon enough, the party is over. Time to clean up."
High Hopes for Johnson & Johnson’s Covid Vaccine Have Fizzled in the U.S.
Production problems and a brief pause on its use kept the one-dose vaccine from becoming the game changer that health officials across the country believed it would be.
WASHINGTON — When Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine was authorized for emergency use in late February, it was seen as a breakthrough for reaching vulnerable and isolated Americans, a crucial alternative to vaccines that require two shots weeks apart and fussier storage. It was soon popular on college campuses, in door-to-door campaigns and with harder-to-reach communities that often struggle with to access health care.
But with only 11.8 million doses administered in the United States so far — less than 4 percent of the total — the “one and done” vaccine has fallen flat. States have warned for weeks that they may not find recipients for millions of doses that will soon expire, partly because the vaccine’s appeal dropped after it was linked to a rare but serious blood-clotting disorder and injections were paused for 10 days in April.
The vaccine took another hit last week, when regulators told Johnson & Johnson that it should throw out tens of millions of additional doses produced at a plant in Baltimore because they might be contaminated. The diminished supply and enthusiasm for the shot mean that its role in the United States is fading fast, even though millions of Americans have yet to be vaccinated.
“It’s just not what I think anybody would have hoped it would be when it came out,” said Dave Baden, the chief financial officer of the Oregon Health Authority.
Health officials in a number of other states presented a similarly discouraging picture. The pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, they said, effectively kicked it aside for good; only about 3.5 million doses have been used since the pause was lifted on April 23. Kim Deti, a spokeswoman for the Wyoming Health Department, said the graph of uptake in her state told the vaccine’s story: a significant climb in the early weeks of its rollout, followed by a plateau that began around the pause.
State officials had initially hoped the Johnson & Johnson shot would be a workhorse: a versatile, easy-to-store tool they could stockpile at mass vaccination sites, quickly reaching thousands of people they would not need to track down for a second dose. But after demand dropped, their goals grew more modest.
It is being used in a smaller-bore fashion this week at the Fiesta festival in San Antonio, the College World Series in Omaha, a Juneteenth celebration in Johnstown, Pa., and an aquarium in Long Beach, Calif. At a food bank in Reno, Nev., 12 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine were administered on Thursday, said Jocelyn Lantrip, the director of marketing and communications for the Food Bank of Northern Nevada.
Between the small number of doses distributed and the lack of interest in them, public health experts say, the United States missed a critical opportunity to address health disparities with a vaccine that should have been ideal for reaching vulnerable populations. Dr. Chip Riggins, a regional medical director who oversees vaccine events in south central Louisiana, said that few organizers requested the shot anymore, even in a state with one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.
“In the early days of J&J, working with the African American community and the churches, the faith community here, it was a very, very popular option,” Dr. Riggins said. “It pains me that it isn’t being accepted like it was before the pause.”
Dr. José R. Romero, the Arkansas health secretary, called the shot’s fast decline a “lost opportunity” for reaching the vulnerable in his state.
“This is a vaccine that was very well-suited for populations where we have problems getting into,” he said. “We’re now at the point where it’s five people or three people; it doesn’t matter, we’ll open a vial.”
Dr. Riggins said he had limited success in recent months sending the vaccine to churches, casinos and even gas stations, including one in LaPlace, La., where organizers offered the shot on Thursday. An international crew on a ship was elated to receive their shots last weekend, Dr. Riggins said. But not being able to fully protect more people with just a single dose, he added, was hindering the state’s progress.
Johnson & Johnson’s decline in the United States has dovetailed with decreasing demand for Covid vaccines overall. Nearly 30 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are sitting unused, as are about 25 million of Moderna’s. But a total of 135 million people have been fully immunized with those vaccines, 11 times more than with Johnson & Johnson’s. The two-dose vaccines have a higher efficacy rate overall — roughly 95 percent versus 72 percent for Johnson & Johnson’s — but studies showed that all three were highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death.
Alex Gorsky, Johnson & Johnson’s chief executive, said last week that he was still hopeful that the vaccine, which has been used in 26 countries so far, would help contain the pandemic overseas. The company has promised up to 400 million doses to the African Union. Separately, Covax, the global vaccine-sharing program, is supposed to receive hundreds of millions of doses.
“We still believe that this is going to be a very important tool in the overall armamentarium,” Mr. Gorsky said at an event hosted by The Wall Street Journal.
But manufacturing problems at a factory in Baltimore run by Emergent BioSolutions, Johnson & Johnson’s subcontractor, have had serious consequences for the vaccine. Because of a major production mishap that resulted in a two-month shutdown in operations, Johnson & Johnson has essentially been forced to sit out the brunt of the pandemic in the United States while Pfizer and Moderna, the other federally authorized vaccine makers, provided almost all the nation’s vaccine stock.
Johnson & Johnson has had to throw out the equivalent of 75 million doses, and the regulatory authorities in Canada, South Africa and the European Union also decided to pull back millions more doses made at the Baltimore plant. The company has been able to deliver only one-fourth of the 100 million doses it promised the federal government by the end of this month.
Dr. Anne Zink, Alaska’s chief medical officer, said that in her state, Johnson & Johnson’s shot had become a victim of its own timing. By late February, when it was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration, Alaska had figured out how to get two-dose vaccines to remote areas, leaving the one-shot regimen less crucial than she had initially imagined.
Dr. Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s Covid-19 czar, said that the pause and Johnson & Johnson’s later authorization — more than two months after Pfizer’s and Moderna’s — deprived it of a “halo effect.” By the time West Virginia had an ample supply of all three vaccines, he said, “people started to get this concept that maybe there’s something better about being immunized with Pfizer and Moderna.”
The Johnson & Johnson shot had also suffered from a “social network effect,” said Andrew C. Anderson, a professor of public health at Tulane University who researches vaccine hesitancy. Most Americans who were inoculated in the early months of the vaccine campaign received Moderna and Pfizer shots, and so their friends and family were less likely to deviate and accept a different brand.
In Louisiana, hospitals in the New Orleans area have started offering the Johnson & Johnson shot to people on their way out of the emergency room; the thinking is that people will be more likely to accept the vaccine when a doctor who has treated them asks them to take it. And in Arkansas, where only a third of the population is fully vaccinated, state officials are offering Johnson & Johnson doses to agriculture, manufacturing, wastewater and poultry workers, with gift certificates for hunting and fishing licenses as a reward.
“I don’t think that the book on J&J is closed,” said Dr. Joseph Kanter, Louisiana’s top health official. “It’s just not going to be a game changer.”
In West Virginia, officials are now hoping to use up some 20,000 doses of the shot at summer fairs and festivals and in parks, Dr. Marsh said. And in Oregon, Mr. Baden, the state health authority official, said that providers were working to exhaust about 150,000 doses in correctional facilities and higher-throughput sites in Portland. The sharp drop in interest, he said, was “tragic.”
Onisis Stefas, the chief pharmacy officer at Northwell Health, New York State’s largest health care provider, said he was still working through the system’s original allocation of Johnson & Johnson from March — a sign that demand had shriveled long ago. Doctors’ offices have asked for as few as 10 doses at a time instead of the pack of 50 the vaccine typically comes in.
In Michigan, where more than 200,000 Johnson & Johnson doses sit unused, officials are racing to redistribute the vaccine to high-volume sites in hopes of administering them before they expire.
“It’s just kind of one after another negative news about the vaccine,” said Dr. Joneigh S. Khaldun, the chief medical executive in the state.
Sharon LaFraniere contributed reporting."
Thursday, June 17, 2021
Affordable Care Act Survives Latest Supreme Court Challenge The court sidestepped the larger issue in the case, whether the 2010 health care law can stand without a provision that required most Americans to obtain insurance or pay a penalty.
“The court sidestepped the larger issue in the case, whether the 2010 health care law can stand without a provision that required most Americans to obtain insurance or pay a penalty.
WASHINGTON — The Affordable Care Act on Thursday survived a third major challenge as the Supreme Court, on a 7-to-2 vote, turned aside the latest effort by Republicans to kill the health care law.
The legislation, President Barack Obama’s defining domestic legacy, has been the subject of relentless Republican hostility. But attempts in Congress to repeal it failed, as did two earlier Supreme Court challenges, in 2012 and 2015. With the passing years, the law gained popularity and became woven into the fabric of the health care system.
On Thursday, in what Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. called, in dissent, “the third installment in our epic Affordable Care Act trilogy,” the Supreme Court again sustained the law. Its future now seems secure and its potency as a political issue for Republicans reduced.
The margin of victory was wider than in the earlier cases, with six members of the court joining Justice Stephen G. Breyer’s modest and technical majority opinion, one that said only that the 18 Republican-led states and two individuals who brought the case had not suffered the sort of direct injury that gave them standing to sue.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who had cast the decisive vote to save the law in 2012, was in the majority. So was Justice Clarence Thomas, who had dissented in the earlier decisions.
“Whatever the act’s dubious history in this court,” Justice Thomas wrote in a concurring opinion, “we must assess the current suit on its own terms. And, here, there is a fundamental problem with the arguments advanced by the plaintiffs in attacking the act — they have not identified any unlawful action that has injured them.”
Justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett also joined Justice Breyer’s majority opinion. At Justice Barrett’s confirmation hearings last year, Democrats portrayed her as a grave threat to the health care law.
The court did not touch the larger issues in the case: whether the bulk of the law could stand without a provision that initially required most Americans to obtain insurance or pay a penalty.
“This ruling reaffirms what we have long known to be true: the Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” Mr. Obama said on Twitter.
In the 11 years since Mr. Obama signed the legislation into law, Republicans have assailed the Affordable Care Act as a step toward socialized medicine, government intrusion into health care decisions and a costly boondoggle.
They challenged it on a variety of fronts in the courts and made calls for its repeal a staple of their campaigns. But some of its provisions, like coverage for pre-existing conditions and for adult children up to age 26, proved popular across party lines. Even when they controlled the Senate, the House and the White House, Republicans failed to muster the votes to repeal the law — and despite President Donald J. Trump’s promises to deliver a better alternative, he never produced a detailed proposal of his own.
While health care remains a potent political issue — and the Affordable Care Act has shortcomings Democrats have acknowledged — the latest court ruling suggests that Republican chances of winning a legal battle to kill it are now much diminished.
“With millions of people relying on the Affordable Care Act for coverage, it remains, as ever, a BFD,” President Biden said on Twitter after the ruling, alluding to his obscenity-punctuated comment to Mr. Obama on the day in March 2010 the bill was signed into law that the legislation was a big deal. Mr. Biden has signaled that he now wants to build on the legislation through a series of steps to expand access to health care.
Republicans were critical of the decision but suggested the battle would now focus on the policy fight in Congress.
“The failed Obamacare system will stagger on as a result of this decision,” said Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming.
“Every American’s health care has been harmed by Obamacare,” he said. “Republicans remain focused on making health care more affordable for families in Wyoming and around the country. Democrats keep pouring money into Obamacare instead of fixing the many problems facing patients and health care providers.”
The challengers in the case sought to take advantage of the 2012 ruling, in which Chief Justice Roberts upheld a central provision of the law, its individual mandate requiring most Americans to obtain health insurance or pay a penalty, saying it was authorized by Congress’s power to levy taxes.
They argued that the mandate became unconstitutional after Congress in 2017 eliminated the penalty for failing to obtain coverage because it could no longer be justified as a tax. They went on to say that this meant the rest of the law must also fall.
The challenge was largely successful in the lower courts. A federal judge in Texas ruled that the entire law was invalid, but he postponed the effects of his ruling until the case could be appealed. In 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in New Orleans, agreed that the mandate was unconstitutional but declined to rule on the fate of the remainder of the health law, asking the lower court to reconsider the question in more detail.
Justice Breyer did not address most of the arguments that were the basis of those decisions, focusing instead on whether the plaintiffs were entitled to sue at all.
The two individuals, he wrote, suffered no harm from a toothless provision that in effect merely urged them to obtain health insurance. Similarly, he wrote, the states did not sustain injuries tied directly to the elimination of the penalty that had been part of the individual mandate.
The states argued that the revised mandate would cause more people to take advantage of state-sponsored insurance programs. Justice Breyer rejected that theory.
“The state plaintiffs have failed to show,” he wrote, “that the challenged minimum essential coverage provision, without any prospect of penalty, will harm them by leading more individuals to enroll in these programs.”
“Neither logic nor intuition suggests that the presence of the minimum essential coverage requirement would lead an individual to enroll in one of those programs that its absence would lead them to ignore,” Justice Breyer wrote. “A penalty might have led some inertia-bound individuals to enroll. But without a penalty, what incentive could the provision provide?”
In a vigorous dissent, Justice Alito, joined by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, said the third installment of the court’s Affordable Care Act trilogy “follows the same pattern as Installments 1 and 2.”
“In all three episodes, with the Affordable Care Act facing a serious threat,” he wrote, “the court has pulled off an improbable rescue.”
Justice Alito wrote that the court has routinely found that states have standing to challenge federal initiatives. “Just recently,” he wrote, “New York and certain other states were permitted to challenge the inclusion of a citizenship question in the 2020 census even though any effect on them depended on a speculative chain of events.”
He said there were “novel questions” about whether the individual plaintiffs could sue. But “the states have standing for reasons that are straightforward and meritorious,” he wrote. “The court’s contrary holding is based on a fundamental distortion of our standing jurisprudence.”
Unlike the majority, Justice Alito went on to address the larger issues in the case, California v. Texas, No. 19-840, saying the mandate was now unconstitutional and could not be severed from much of the rest of the law.
Had Justice Alito’s view prevailed, the nation’s health care system would have experienced an earthquake.
Striking down the Affordable Care Act would have expanded the ranks of the uninsured in the United States by about 21 million people — a nearly 70 percent increase — according to recent estimates from the Urban Institute.
The biggest loss of coverage would have been among low-income adults who became eligible for Medicaid under the law after most states expanded the program to include them. But millions of Americans would also have lost private insurance, including young adults whom the law allowed to stay on their parents’ plans until they turned 26 and families whose income was modest enough to qualify for subsidies that help pay their monthly premiums.
A ruling against the law would also have doomed its protections for Americans with past or current health problems. The protections bans insurers from denying them coverage or charging them more for pre-existing conditions.
“Today’s decision means that all Americans continue to have a right to access affordable care, free of discrimination,” said Xavier Becerra, the secretary of health and human services, who in his previous job as California’s attorney general helped defend the law in Thursday’s case.
Mr. Biden has said he wants to build on the Affordable Care Act through steps like expanded health insurance subsidies, and some Democrats are pushing for bigger proposals like expanding Medicare coverage to more people.
Republicans suggested on Thursday that their focus would now be less on seeking to repeal the law than on the debate in Congress and on the campaign trail for 2022 over how to address issues like the affordability of health insurance.
“While the Supreme Court ruled today that states do not have standing to challenge the mandate, the ruling does not change the fact that Obamacare failed to meet its promises and is hurting hard-working American families,” the three top Republicans in the House, Representatives Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise and Elise Stefanik, said in a statement. “Now, Congress must work together to improve American health care.”
“Critics say senator is indicative of Democratic politics a state where marginalized people have been shut out by the status quo
Kyle Vass in West Virginia
Last modified on Thu 17 Jun 2021 04.01 EDT
West Virginia senator Joe Manchin has emerged as one of the biggest stumbling blocks to the passing of Joe Biden’s ambitious domestic agenda, declaring he will vote against a key voting rights bill and also blocking reform of the filibuster – a rule that at the moment allows Republicans to kill Democrat legislation.
Yet Manchin is no Republican. He is a key member of Biden’s party, and in a 50-50 Senate his vote is the lynchpin of political power and crucial for passing Biden’s plans. Yet Manchin is seen by many Democrats as sabotaging his own president’s efforts to be a transformational leader who can help the US recover from the pandemic in the same way Roosevelt helped America recover from the Great Depression.
To many people outside West Virginia, Manchin’s behavior is a mystery: how does someone take such a stand against their own side? But for many West Virginian Democrats Manchin’s tactics and those of his state West Virginia Democratic party leadership are no surprise at all.
In fact, examining West Virginia’s Democratic politics shows that Manchin’s undermining of Biden’s efforts, especially around voting rights, should have been entirely expected.
Manchin’s opposition to the For the People Act, a bill that aims to expand voting rights and reduce the influence of money in US elections, has angered Black Americans across the country. But earlier this year, West Virginia’s all-white Democratic party leaders submitted a draft affirmative action plan to the national party without input or approval from a newly formed affirmative action committee, a group whose membership includes women, people of color and people with disabilities.
Affirmative action committee co-chair Hollis Lewis said moving the plan forward without any input from the committee – or any Black Americans at all – was unacceptable for communities of color in the state. “As a Black West Virginian, this is a slap in the face,” he said.
Lewis linked Manchin’s stance against the national voting rights bill to the Democratic fight over the affirmative action plan in West Virginia, saying it showed he and party leaders in his state would rather maintain control than work to empower traditionally marginalized people.
“These two incidents happened the very same week – and they parallel each other,” said Lewis. “You’re making a decision based on how you feel about something that’s not necessarily going to affect you.”
In numerous interviews, West Virginia Democrats and people of color described a party at odds with their needs and belief and in thrall to Manchin’s power and conservatism.
Mary Ann Claytor, an affirmative action committee member and 2020 candidate for state auditor, said she felt ignored by West Virginia’s party leadership when she won her primary race. Claytor, who is Black, says a county-level leader told her in confidence that members of party leadership said they didn’t think a Black, working-class woman could win an election in West Virginia.
In an interview with the Guardian, Claytor said Manchin’s decisions in the Senate plus West Virginia’s state party politics are indicative of an issue that extends beyond race: a resistance by Democratic power structures in West Virginia to bring working-class people, women or any marginalized group into the party.
“We hear a lot about how progressives can’t win,” she said. “They kept putting people down. Like, ‘Oh, they’re not going to win. [Manchin] is the only person going to win, because he has that much money in his war chest.’”
Manchin’s office rejected an interview request for this article. Multiple interview requests sent to the West Virginia Democratic party leadership went unanswered.
Critics say the state party and power-brokering Democrats such as Manchin are quick to dismiss the loyalty Black Americans have consistently put forth in supporting Democratic candidates. “They want the power concentrated where it’s at,” Peshka Calloway, a Black organizer for Democratic issues and a US army veteran, said of the WVDP leadership.
A native of Parkersburg, West Virginia, Calloway was working for Planned Parenthood when Manchin unexpectedly showed up at an NAACP state conference she was attending in 2018. She confronted him afterwards about whether he would support former President Trump’s nomination of supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh, a controversial candidate because of views on abortion and historical allegations of sexual assault.
“How are you voting on Kavanaugh?” she asked. “I hope it’s a no because I’m a survivor of military sexual assault, and what I’m hearing about him is absolutely disgusting.” Manchin replied that he “was facing a hard decision” and would do his best.
Two months later, he was the only Democrat in the Senate who voted to appoint Kavanaugh.
Natalie Cline sees the Democratic party as excluding working-class constituents in the state. Cline secured the Democratic nomination for the US House of Representatives in 2020, when she won her primary race with 74% of the vote. She identifies as a “true blue Democrat” and grew up in a working-class family where both of her grandfathers had union jobs.
After winning her primary, she said the state party offered her campaign no support or publicity despite endorsements from well-known names such as Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang and actors Debra Messing and Rosie O’Donnell.
“I can’t tell you how many times I would send emails to the state party and say: ‘Can you please share this information? We need people to watch’ – to no response.”
Cline now believes that promoting inclusion within the party puts a target on a candidate’s back: seek to make good on the Democratic promise of being a “big-tent” party and get shut out by Manchin and his state party.
One of the most baffling moments from her campaign and a sign, she said, of party’s disconnect with working-class people, came when the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) simultaneously endorsed Manchin and her opponent – a Republican who months later would vote to restrict individuals’ rights to unionize.
“I didn’t feel that they [the Democratic party] cared. If they cared, they would be yelling and screaming,” she said. “They would have called the UMWA out on it. But heaven forbid they do that, because that might jeopardize Manchin’s endorsement.”
David Fryson, who retired this year as a vice-president at West Virginia University, said the decline of the WVDP can be traced back to 1996. Before Manchin was senator, he lost his gubernatorial primary to Charlotte Pritt, an environmentalist hailed as a forward-thinking Democrat. Instead of throwing his weight behind Pritt, Manchin actively campaigned for Pritt’s Republican opponent, Cecil Underwood, who went on to win.
Manchin’s embrace of conservatism continued. In 2012, he was listed as the only Democratic senator to serve as a member of the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), a conservative nonprofit that focuses on reducing business regulations, weakening labor unions, loosening environmental conservation efforts and restricting voting rights.
“What I’m trying to do, in my little way, is convince the Democrats to be careful going down the rabbit hole with with Joe Manchin,” said Fryson. “He will end up … doing to the national Democratic party what he’s done to the West Virginia Democratic Party. And he’s already doing it.”