Category Archives: US Elections 2012

Obama 2: Diverse aspirations coalesce

Guest post by Ambassador Neelam Deo, Director, Gateway House

It looks like winning is all that matters in the first-past-the-post system in the U.S., so much so that it does not matter precisely how President Obama won a second term as the President of the United States. But his narrow victory with a lead of only 2% of the popular vote, out of a voting public which has declined from 131 million (in the 2008 election) to 117 million, reflects the disenchantment and polarization of the electorate.

Winning may well turn out to have been the easy part. The President has to work with the relatively unchanged Congressional configuration – the cause of the paralysis in decision-making in the past few years.

Obama must move quickly to dispel the disappointments of his first term which made the election such a nail biter- disappointments both at home in America and abroad. For that he must craft an agenda that is adequately bipartisan to win over enough Republicans in the House and Senate to pass legislation addressing the country’s growing annual budgetary deficit, the massive national debt and the stagnant economy to generate more employment at home so that the American economy does not continue to be a drag on global growth.

President Obama has won an important victory with more than 30 Electoral votes to spare, partly because of the superb fund raising and mobilisation of votes that became his hallmark in 2008. Obama also benefited from the gaffes of his challenger – particularly remarks Romney made disparaging 47% of voters as non tax-paying Obama supporters and therefore not worthy of Republican attention. This may have ensured that 60% of the young, especially the unemployed who had sympathized with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, voted Democrat.

The changing American demography works in favour of the Democrats. In particular, Obama won the support of 70% of Hispanics, whose percentage in the population has grown from 9 to 10 in just the last 4 years. He did this by introducing legislation that enabled the children of illegal immigrants to be entitled to such benefits as scholarships for education and move ahead in the queue for citizenship.

At the same time, the Democrats cannot overlook the fact that Caucasians still make up 73% of the electorate, but only 38% supported Obama. This, despite 55% of all women voting Democrat, though only 42% of white women voters were among them. Obama would have received even less white support if not for the rampant misogyny of Republican plans to curb the right to abortion, receive free contraception. This, along with the Republican castigation of  victims of rape repelled many women, especially the highly educated.

Despite Obama’s massive financial infusions to rescue investment banks and big business in general, the corporate sector supported Romney and more importantly massively funded his election campaign. Some balance was provided by the support for Obama of well known and respected businessmen such as Warren Buffet and Hollywood celebrites such as Bruce Springsteen who contributed funds and made appearances at his rallies. Together both candidates have spent upwards a whopping $3 billion in this election.

As expected, African Americans voted overwhelmingly in favour of the President despite the knowledge that their problems remained largely unaddressed in a stagnant economy. Still the more inclusive rhetoric of the Democrats on social issues including gay marriage pulled in those votes. The President’s sincere and efficient response to the devastation caused by Super storm Sandy won him support even from committed Republicans. Most intriguingly Obama won 69% of the Jewish vote despite the menacing tone of the Israeli President and Romney’s hard line position on Iran’s nuclear programme.

The non-voting rest of the world is relieved that a Romney breathing fire and brimstone against Russia, China, Iran, and Syria is not in charge of the mighty American military and economy. Apart from the comfort of the familiar, Obama has won respect for being steadfast in the face of unseemly pressure from the Republicans and Israelis and American Jewish lobbies. Now he must be some more steadfast by refusing to blatantly interfere in Arab affairs while genuinely promoting the Israeli- Palestinian peace process.

India will be interested to see how a new Democratic administration functions in Asia, especially in fleshing out and implementing the “pivot to Asia”, under a Secretary of State other than Hilary Clinton who has already announced her departure. While there is some unease about the exit of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, India can also take comfort from a more realistic American appreciation of the fragility of the power structure in Pakistan which should preclude indulgence of terrorist activities against Indian targets.

A more positive agenda also awaits the two countries in the nuclear, defense, trade and education areas. This is also an opportunity for Government of India to infuse new energy into the bilateral relationship.

(This article originally appeared at Gateway House and has been republished with their approval. All views mentioned in the article are those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or positions of USINPAC in any manner.)

Obama or Romney: Who’s the man for India?

Guest blog by Madhu Nair

Many would say it hardly matters considering the Presidential debates never saw India figure even once. In just about four days the war will come to an end and the world will be introduced to the new President. Will it be Obama or Romney is a question better left for time and the voters to answer.

For both the candidates it’s never been an easy walk so far. Romney has had his share of issues. His handling of personal taxes, his association with Bain Capital, the unfortunately leaked video, his lack of clarity on foreign affairs and the frequent bloopers had Team Obama label him as a plutocrat who could be anybody but the President. Obama too has fallen short of being given a definite second term. He has already drawn flak for his inability to reduce unemployment. A lingering economy, a fragile market, his mishandling of the Libya and Syria crisis and the failed promises made on hope and change seems to have the odds against him.

So what’s the mood in India? Though the election result does not appear to give sleepless nights to the biggies in Delhi, there is a certain degree of excitement keeping in mind the amount of importance a President of the United States has in the world. Manasi Kakatkar, a Master in International Security and Economic Policy from the University of Maryland says, “Obama has apparently slighted the Indians both by not mentioning them enough and then mentioning them only in reference to reducing outsourcing of work. But from a long term perspective, a second Obama Presidency will be beneficial to India both economically and geo-strategically. Obama holds more promise when it comes to dealing strictly with Pakistan and terrorism emanating from there. Economically as well, he is on the right track to securing a strong economic future for the US, which consequently means better trade and economic gains for India in the long run.

Shakti Shetty of Mid-Day too seems to echo the same sentiment though he maintains that the election results would not bother India much. “Going by the popular opinion, Obama turned out to be quite tepid compared to the bonhomie his Republican predecessor helped create. And there was always noise on the outsourcing front which obviously hurt the Indian ITES sector. On the brighter side, Obama reached out to the public during his celebrated visit, including the Parliament. But the critics always maintained that Obama provided more lip service than needed. He didn’t get too much time to express his admiration for India. At least not in practical terms. Romney may seem like a safer bet but he doesn’t have any precedent and that might work in his favor. Maybe it won’t. After all, he could have the beginner’s luck if he wins the ultimate poll.”

The view further becomes a bit of a personal juggernaut when it comes to the popular Common Man of India. Shybu Khan, a keen observer of US-India relations likes to keep things close to his heart. He says, “I would be unfruitful to think that the American presidential elections won’t affect us, and I am certainly not doing that, but the first challenge I encountered was deciding on a favorite, both for practical as well as selfish reasons.” He further elaborates, “Mitt Romney seems like a good man with good ideas and offers an alternative to what Barack Obama has expressed thus far – and that is a good thing. But in a world that we live in today, continuity and experience edges out flamboyance and experimentation. Storm Sandy – if handled adeptly — could act as a positive wave that convinces the voters and allows Obama his full term to truly perform and hopefully say, “Yes, he did.”

So the general view still tries to balance itself between the promising Democrat and the ambitious Republican. With the recent polls showing a tough contest between the two the game is evenly poised. The candidates have fought with fervor and have openly ballyhooed each other with their campaigns terming each one as regressive and siding with the bad and the evil. History says that U.S. elections has mattered when it came to worldly affairs and there is no way it would choose to go otherwise – at least in the near future. What we really need is a leader who in principle is enterprising, human and respects the future of every man and woman. For now, India can only keep their fingers crossed and trust the Americans to choose the best.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of USINPAC.

Health Care in the Presidential Debates

Guest post by Amit Rao

Understanding the health care policy claims made by President Obama and Governor Romney during the first presidential debate.

Americans tuning in to the first presidential debate on October 3, 2012, saw President Obama and Governor Romney clash over a variety of domestic issues. On health care, one of the major policy areas debated, both candidates sought to draw stark contrasts on Medicaid, Medicare, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), and rising health costs. This blog post provides general background on the health policy claims made by both candidates, concentrated around the following main questions:

What does Governor Romney’s proposal to block grant Medicaid to the states mean?

  • President Obama and Governor Romney began their health care discussion by disagreeing on Medicaid, the public insurance program that covers over 60 million low-income individuals.
  • President Obama argued that Governor Romney’s plan to replace Medicaid with block grants would cause a “30 percent cut in Medicaid over time,” cutting crucial care for children with disabilities and seniors in nursing homes.
  • Governor Romney responded, claiming Medicaid block grants – which essentially give states federal funding to freely manage their own Medicaid program’s eligibility and benefits – would enable state Governors to explore new ways to restrain costs while still caring for the poor. He stated his proposal would allocate to the states the same funding they receive now, set to grow at a rate of inflation plus one percent.

Compared to Medicaid’s current federal-state structure, in which the federal government establishes baseline requirements and provides unlimited matching funds, Governor Romney’s plan would enact significant changes to the program’s benefits and funding. Under a block grant system, states are given a fixed payment and increased flexibility to manage their Medicaid programs.  Governor Romney’s block grant proposal would reduce federal funding for state Medicaid programs over time. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that, under the  block grant proposal specified by vice presidential candidate Representative Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) plan, the amount of money spent on Medicaid would drop from 2 percent of GDP in 2011 to 1.25 percent by 2030 and then further to 1 percent by 2050.

If states are unable to achieve significant efficiency gains through the unrestricted block grants, the reduction in federal funding could force states to increase their own share of spending, make considerable cutbacks to benefits, or both. As the CBO notes, “cutbacks might involve reduced eligibility for Medicaid, coverage of fewer services, lower payments to providers, or increased cost-sharing by beneficiaries – all of which would reduce access to care” for Medicaid enrollees, composed of half children, one quarter working parents, and one quarter seniors and people with disabilities.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) projects that Medicaid expenditures will grow at an average annual rate of 8.1 percent over the next 10 years. This growth rate is due in part to the expansion of the Medicaid program in PPACA.  If all states choose to expand their Medicaid program, Medicaid spending will increase by $564 billion between 2014 and 2020, and nearly 26 million people will be newly enrolled in the program by 2020.

Governor Romney’s plan calls for state waivers to replace PPACA. To what extent Medicaid would or could expand under these state waivers is unknown.

What impacts will President Obama’s $716 billion in Medicare cuts have on the program’s sustainability?

  • President Obama first brought up the oft-debated $716 billion cut to Medicare from PPACA, stating that the cost savings came from “no longer overpaying insurance companies… and providers.”
  • Governor Romney countered that the $716 billion in Medicare reductions would come from care to current beneficiaries.

The PPACA implements $716 billion in reductions to Medicare’s future payments to insurers and providers over the period of 2013 to 2022. These reductions do not target current retirees’ benefits or eligibility – the PPACA actually increased Medicare recipient benefits for preventive care and prescription drugs. Instead, the cuts focus on reducing payments to private insurers given through Medicare Advantage. According to the Medicare Payment Advisory Committee, Medicare Advantage plans are reimbursed at a rate of 114 percent of traditional Medicare’s costs per beneficiary. PPACA also reduces Medicare reimbursements to hospitals, insurance companies, and drug manufacturers. Under these reductions, the federal government’s total spending on Medicare will still increase annually, but at a slower rate than before.

While these changes do not directly affect beneficiaries, Governor Romney is correct that some providers may stop serving Medicare patients because of the reduced reimbursement rates. The proportion of providers likely to respond this way is not known. Almost all doctors currently accept Medicare patients, in spite of receiving lower reimbursement rates than from private beneficiaries, because of the vast pool of seniors the program supports.

For Medicare’s long-term sustainability, repealing the $716 billion in reductions to the program’s future payment growth would cause the Medicare Part A trust fund (which provides for inpatient care) to become insolvent approximately eight years sooner, in 2016 instead of 2024. Reinstating the higher payment rates to providers and insurers would increase the amount Medicare spends each year, and thus deplete the trust fund more quickly.

Do PPACA’s regulations and Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB) constitute a “government takeover?”

  • Governor Romney accused President Obama of enacting a “federal government takeover of health care” through his reform law, by mandating to providers what care they must provide and instituting an unelected board to tell people what kind of treatments they can have.
  • President Obama denied the assertion, emphasizing that PPACA strengthens private insurance by instituting consumer protections and expanding access and that the law explicitly prohibits the board Governor Romney referred to from making decisions about what treatments are given.

PPACA does increase the federal government’s role in health care, primarily through the (now optional) expansion of Medicaid. In addition, the law enacts a variety of regulations that insurance companies and providers must follow, such as extending coverage to those with preexisting conditions, eliminating annual and lifetime caps on care, and requiring large group insurers to spend at least 85 percent of premium dollars towards direct medical care.

Though PPACA significantly increases government regulatory control over the insurance market, the law relies predominantly on private sector infrastructure to extend health insurance coverage.  PPACA requires all non-Medicare or Medicaid eligible Americans to purchase private insurance, and provides subsidies to help low-income Americans afford coverage. In doing so, the law directs millions of new customers to private insurance companies.

PPACA does call for the creation of an Independent Panel Advisory Board (IPAB), to “reduce the per capita rate of growth in Medicare spending.” Governor Romney rightly states that this board of health care experts is unelected, but all 15 members must be first appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. Contrary to Governor Romney’s assertion, however, the law specifically states that IPAB cannot deny health care treatments to beneficiaries. Instead, IPAB must make recommendations to Congress to restrain Medicare spending that do not affect beneficiaries. Congress can implement cost control measures to replace IPAB’s recommendations.

What effects has PPACA had on health insurance premiums?

  • Governor Romney argued that because of President Obama’s reforms, health care costs have gone up by $2,500 per family.
  • President Obama countered that while health care premiums have increased, they have gone up slower over the last two years than any point in the last 50 years – implying that this trend occurred because of his health reforms.

Both candidates were partially accurate on their remarks regarding rising health care premiums. Health care costs have continued to rise each year under President Obama, but not primarily because of his policies. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual survey of health care costs, since 2009 the average family’s health insurance premiums have increased $1,698, due to the rising cost of health care. Such trends have persisted for decades, with average family health insurance premiums rising 97 percent since 2002. Studies show that PPACA has had some impact on rising health care costs since 2010, although minimal. The law’s consumer protections have been found to increase premiums, relatively modestly for employer plans and slightly more significantly for individual plans, but in return consumers are receiving more robust benefits.

While still rising, it is true that the rate of health care cost growth has lessened over the past two years. Health Affairs reports in January 2012 that health spending increased more slowly over the past two years than in another other window over the past 50 years, at rates of 3.8 and 3.9 percent respectively. This has not occurred predominantly because of PPACA, as the law’s main provisions do not take effect until 2014. Instead, experts attribute the slowing of health care cost growth mainly to consequences of the recession and changing behaviors by consumers and providers that have reduced the overall use of health care goods and services. Read more about the drivers of health care cost growth here.

With the rising prominence of health care issues in the 2012 presidential election, understanding the context behind the candidates’ claims is vital for deciding between their dueling visions for health policy.

Full transcript of the presidential debate is available here.

About the Author:

Amit Rao currently works on development and health policy in Washington, D.C. Prior to moving to D.C., Rao graduated from the University of North Carolina with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and philosophy and a minor in public policy. All views expressed here are strictly his own.

Early voting to start this week

Early voting in various states starts this week. The table below gives the schedule for early voting according to state. A majority of states do not require any excuse to allow its voters to vote early. Check your local election office for more details.


Early voting

Approx date for 2012

Reason required

Alabama Not allowed N/A N/A
Alaska Starts 15 days before election day at the Regional Elections Office October 22  Not required
Arizona Starts 26 days before election day October 11 Not required
Arkansas Starts 15 days before election day usually at the county clerk’s office October 22  Not required
California Start dates vary and are provided on the sample ballot sent by the county N/A Not required
Colorado Starts 15 days before election day October 22  Not required
Connecticut Not allowed N/A N/A
Delaware In-person absentee voting allowed N/A Valid reason required
Washington D.C Starts 15 days before election day October 22  Not required 
Florida Starts 15 days before election day October 22  Not required
Georgia Monday to Friday of week before election day October 29 – November 2 Valid reason required
Hawaii Starts two Tuesdays before election day October 23 Not required
Idaho In-person absentee voting allowed as soon as ballots available N/A Not required
Illinois Starts 15 days before election day October 22  Not required 
Indiana Starts 29 days before election day October 8 Not required
iowa Early voting starts as soon as ballots are available N/A Not required
Kansas Starts Tuesday before election day. Some counties start 20 days before election day October 30 or October 17 Not required
Kentucky Starts at least 12 days before election day October 27 Valid reason required
Louisiana Starts 14 days before election day and ends 7 days before election day October 23 – October 30 Not required
Maine Starts as soon as ballots are available N/A Not required
Maryland Starts second Saturday before election day October 27 Not required
Massachusetts Early voting using absentee ballot as soon as ballots are available N/A Valid reason required
Michigan Early voting not allowed N/A N/A
Minnesota In-person absentee voting starts 46 days before election day September 21 Valid reason required
Mississippi Not allowed N/A N/A
Missouri Not allowed N/A N/A
Montana Early voting using absentee ballot as soon as ballots are available N/A Not required
Nebraska Starts 35 days before election day October 2 Not required
Nevada Schedules vary by county N/A Not required
New Hampshire Not allowed N/A N/A
New Jersey Not allowed N/A N/A
New Mexico Starts 28 days before election day October 9 Not required
New York Early voting using absentee ballot as soon as ballots are available N/A Valid reason required
North Carolina Starts 3rd Thursday before election day. Known as One-stop absentee voting October 18 Not required
North Dakota Schedules differ according to county N/A Not required
Ohio Starts 35 days before election day October 2 Not required
Oklahoma Occurs on Monday and Friday before election day October 2 and October 5 Not required
Oregon Not allowed N/A N/A
Pennsylvania Not allowed N/A N/A
Rhode Island Not allowed N/A N/A
South Carolina Starts as soon as ballots are available N/A Valid reason required
South Dakota Early voting using absentee ballot N/A Not required
Tennessee Starts 20 days before election day October 17 Not required
Texas Starts 17 days before election day October 20 Not required
Utah Starts 14 days before election day October 23 Not required
Vermont Starts 45 days before election day September 22 Not required
Virginia Starts as soon as ballots are available N/A Valid reason required
Washington Starts 18 days before election day October 19 Valid reason required
West Virginia Starts 13 days before election day October 24 Not required
Wisconsin Absentee ballot starts as soon as ballots are available N/A Not required
Wyoming Starts 40 days before election day September 27 Not required

Update: Check out the in-person absentee voting location in VA here.

Tulsi Gabbard: A Leader in the Making

Guest Blog by Madhu Nair

History has it that women have been leaders with unbelievable authority and their leadership has been able to create an impact far better than their male counterparts. If Indira Gandhi and Benazir Bhutto were amongst the strongest in the Asian continent, it was Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton who were the women in control from the west. To say that women lack leadership would be too timid and stupid, for today they have been up to the challenge and in many ways much ahead of men.

Modern day politics has bought some of the best women to the fore and the 31 year old Tulsi Gabbard is one among them. In the present race for the U.S. House of Representatives, Tulsi, who was trailing behind her rival by over 40 points a few months ago in the race for the Congressional seat from Honolulu has now taken a narrow lead brightening prospects for the first Hindu to be elected to the US House of Representatives. She now holds a five-point lead over Hannemann, former Honolulu mayor — 37% for Tulsi and 32% from Hannemann. This represents a huge change in the race since April where Hannemann led Tulsi by 26 points.

Although she would go on to become the first Hindu in the House, there have been some members of Indian origin with Hindu religion backgrounds in the Congress. Dalip Singh Saund became the first Indian-American and Sikh to serve in the House in the year 1957. Some other noted Hindu politicians who have made their way into U.S. politics amongst many others are Kumar Barve and Swati Dandekar. While Barve is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates and is touted as the Most Influential Maryland Legislators; Dandekar is a Member of the Iowa Senate from the 18th district and also a very prominent face in U.S. politics.

Born in Leloaloa, American Samoa to Mike Gabbard and Carol Porter Gabbard, Tulsi is the fourth of five the children. Tulsi’s father Mike Gabbard is an educator, tennis professional, business owner and the current Hawaii State Senator of 19th District while her mother Carol is also an educator and business owner. Her family moved to Hawaii in the year 1983 where Tulsi grew up and was homeschooled through high school. She graduated from the Hawaii Pacific University with a Degree in International Business.

Tulsi is currently a member of the Honolulu City Council and served as Hawaii’s youngest state representative in 2002 and is also the youngest woman in the history of USA to be elected into such a prestigious position. A Company Commander with the Hawaii Army National Guard, she has volunteered to serve on two deployments to the Middle East. Tulsi also serves as the co-founder and vice-president of the environmental non-profit organization Healthy Hawaii Coalition.

Previously elected to the Hawaii State House of Representatives at the age of 21, Tulsi earned the distinction of being the youngest legislator ever elected in Hawaii, and the youngest woman ever elected in the United States. While in office, she served on the Education, Higher Education, Tourism, and Economic Development committees. She withdrew from an easy re-election campaign when she volunteered for an 18-monthlong deployment to Iraq with the Hawaii Army National Guard in 2004; its’ first major deployment since the Vietnam War. Upon returning home, she attended the Alabama Military Academy’s Officer Candidate School, and became the first female Distinguished Honor Graduate in the academy’s 50-year history.

With the current momentum with her, let’s hope she does well, as for a leader of her stature is very rarely seen.