TIME 2016 Election

Can Antonio Villaraigosa Become California’s Next Senator?

Antonio Villaraigosa
Richard Shotwell—Invision/AP Antonio Villaraigosa arrives at the 2013 MOCA Gala on April 20, 2013 in Los Angeles.

The former Los Angeles mayor is getting closer to taking on Kamala Harris in the 2016 race

Almost as soon as California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate in 2016, Democratic power brokers from Sacramento to Washington lined up to endorse her. Meanwhile, potential challengers including billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer and the state’s lieutenant governor, Gavin Newsom, said they wouldn’t run for the seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Barbara Boxer. But one faction in the Democratic establishment wasn’t quite ready for a Harris coronation. This group, made up of Latino political leaders, was electrified by another potential choice: former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

Villaraigosa said he was “seriously a considering” a run on Jan. 10, and political consultants who have spoken with him since say it’s likely he will jump in. Should Villaraigosa run and win, he would become the first Latino senator from California and could be the only Mexican-American in the chamber, making him a key player on issues such as immigration. And given the powerful roles California senators tend to play inside the Beltway and the attention this race is expected to attract, the winner is likely to arrive in Washington with a high national profile.

But Villaraigosa faces tough questions as he decides whether to take on Harris, a popular attorney general with a broad fundraising network, including whether he has enough appeal outside his home territory of Southern California, and if voters will understand his decision to leave public service in 2012 to enter the private sector.

Villaraigosa chaired the 2012 Democratic National Convention and has the connections to raise the huge sums needed to run for statewide office in California, which has some of the most expensive media markets in the country. “It could easily be a $15 million primary,” says Rose Kapolczynski, a Los Angeles-based Democratic consultant and longtime campaign manager for Boxer. Here, Villaraigosa and Harris would be courting many of the same wealthy contributors. “There are only so many progressive donors in California and Kamala Harris and Antonio Villaraigosa share many of the same donors from their past races,” says Kapolczynski. (And thanks to California’s overwhelming Democratic slant and unusual election rules, which put the top two vote getters in the primary on the general election ballot, regardless of party, Villaraigosa and Harris could end up running against each other again in the fall.)

In addition to two high-profile terms as mayor of Los Angeles, Villaraigosa is a former speaker of the state Assembly and is relatively well-known throughout the state, particularly among Latino voters. “He’s going to have to be taken seriously,” says Tom Hogen-Esch, a political science professor at California State University, Northridge. “He’s got a long Rolodex and a long history in state politics and he can still command the stage.”

Harris, while popular among Democratic leaders, may have less name recognition outside the Bay Area. “I don’t think very many people know much about her,” Hogen-Esch says. “She’ll have to raise a lot of money to introduce herself to voters.”

As he contemplates a run, Villaraigosa has been calling and meeting with Democratic strategists, leaders and donors throughout the state. “He routinely reaches out to a wide circle to get advice about policy and politics. I’m not at all surprised he is calling dozens or hundreds of people,” says Kapolczynski “Some of these calls might be asking for advice, some might be taking the donors’ temperature.”

But despite his traction with voters and donors, Villaraigosa is not without flaws and vulnerabilities—some of them personal. During his first term as mayor, Villaraigosa had an affair with a Los Angeles television reporter and separated from his wife. They later divorced. The incident came years after Villaraigosa admitted to an earlier affair. Villaraigosa has also spent his recent time out of office consulting for for-profit companies, including Herbalife, which a Latino civil rights group has accused of misleading those who sell the company’s products. But the biggest downside of Villaraigosa’s time out of office may be simply that he’s been out of the news and out of the minds of voters. Harris, meanwhile, was just re-elected to statewide office in a landslide.

And beyond Harris and Villaraigosa, other viable candidates are also reportedly considering entering the race, including U.S. Reps. Xavier Becerra, Adam Schiff and Loretta Sanchez. For Villaraigosa, the decision is weighty. Losing the race would likely prevent him from running for governor in 2018 or, should Sen. Dianne Feinstein, 81, choose to retire, seeking the state’s other Senate seat that same year.

“When you lose,” says Hogen-Esch, “you get some chinks in your armor.”

TIME Education

University of California System Approves Steep Tuition Hike

CA: UC Berkeley Students Rally Against Tuition Fee Hikes
Alex Milan Tracy—Sipa USA Students rallied to demonstrate against the university's plan to increase tuition fees over the next five years at the University of California, Berkeley campus on Nov. 18, 2014, in Berkeley, Calif.

Students are being asked to pay more as the state reduces its funding

Tuition at University of California schools could rise by as much as 28% by 2019 under a plan approved Thursday.

The 14-7 vote by the system’s regent board pitted top state officials, including Gov. Jerry Brown, against those who run the UC’s 10-campus system, including its president, Janet Napolitano.

Students at UC campuses protested the proposed tuition hike ahead of the decision. Students at the University of California, Berkeley staged an all-night sit-in and students on hand for the vote itself, which took place in San Francisco, shouted their protests inside the meeting room and clashed with police outside.

Tuition at UC campuses has more than tripled since 2001, even without the increase just approved. Students and their families have shouldered more of the financial burden of attending UC schools in recent years, as the state has cut back the share of overall expenses it covers. The economic downturn accelerated this trend in California and at public universities and colleges across the country. Napolitano, who conceived and proposed the tuition hike plan, said increases could be scaled back before they go into effect if the state provides more direct funding for the UC system. Negotiations between Napolitano and state officials over how to fund UC will now begin in earnest.

Brown, who was reelected by a wide margin earlier this month, criticized the tuition hike plan and had asked Napolitano and other UC regents to further study how costs could be cut within the system in lieu of raising tuition. Awarding degrees in three years instead of the standard four and more online courses were among the ideas Brown wanted to see considered.

In-state tuition and fees at the University of California is $12,192, compared to a national average of $8,893 for all public colleges, according to the College Board. The cost of attending four-year colleges in the second-tier California State University system is below the national average. Napolitano has said the UC system needs to increase funding to cover pension and faculty costs, increase enrollment and maintain its world-class reputation. More than half of all UC students pay no tuition because their costs are coverage by public and private grants distributed based on income.

TIME Education

What California’s College Tuition Hike Says About the Future of Higher Education

CA: UC Berkeley Students Rally Against Tuition Fee Hikes
Alex Milan Tracy—Sipa USA Students rallied to demonstrate against the university's plan to increase tuition fees over the next five years at the University of California, Berkeley campus on Nov. 18, 2014, in Berkeley, Calif.

As state funding dwindles, students at public universities are being asked to pick up more of the tab

When does a public university system become one in name only? That’s the question facing California as officials in charge of the state’s prestigious, but financially-struggling university system clash over how to keep it afloat.

On Nov. 20, the regents that control the University of California system will vote on a proposal to increase tuition at its 10 campuses by as much as 5% a year for the next five years. This year’s tuition and fees for in-state students is $12,192, which could rise to $15,564 by the 2019-20 school year under the proposal. The plan was conceived and put forward by Janet Napolitano, who took over the UC system in 2013.

The fight over the tuition increase pits Napolitano, the former governor of Arizona and federal homeland security chief, against Governor Jerry Brown, a popular figure in the state who was just re-elected with a sizable mandate. Brown has said he opposes increasing tuition, and would restore some state funding cut during the recession only if it stays flat. Brown is a regent and is among a handful of those on the board who have already indicated they will reject Napolitano’s proposal.

“There is a game of chicken,” says Hans Johnson, a higher education expert at the non-partisan Public Policy Institute of California. “It’s not clear to me at all how it’s going to turn out.”

Underlying the clash of big personalities is a philosophical debate about the changing funding models for public universities. In 1960, California created a lofty master plan that said higher education should be free or very low-cost for residents. “We’ve moved away from that pretty dramatically,” says Johnson. “It’s almost traumatic for California to think about it.” In recent decades, the state has decreased the share of overall public higher education costs it pays for and the system has become increasingly dependent on student contributions, among other sources, for the difference. In the 2001-02 academic year, in-state tuition and fees for UC campuses was $3,429, about one-third of the cost today. Similar trends have played out in state university systems elsewhere as well.

The recession accelerated public schools’ reliance on private money. At UC, the system receives some $460 million less per year in state funds than it did in the 2007-08 school year.

“As a political matter, state officials have made the judgment they don’t want to pay for higher education for our citizens,” says David Plank, an economist at Policy Analysis for California Education, a non-partisan research center. “What were once public universities are now private universities that receive some subsidy from the states.”

Napolitano says that if UC is to remain a world-class educational and research institution, it needs more money, no matter the source. And she says students and families will need to fill the gap left by the state. The proposed tuition increase would affect only around half of the student body. Thanks to income-based federal and state grants, about 55% of UC students pay no tuition.

Gavin Newsom, California’s lieutenant governor, has said he and Brown were blind-sided by the tuition increase proposal. The governor’s office has said Napolitano’s plan could void a plan Brown has endorsed to increase state funding 4 percent per year if tuition stays flat. Napolitano has said she never made a deal and if was one was struck before she took charge, she hasn’t found any record of it. “It was unilateral. It wasn’t anything we agreed to,” says Steve Montiel, a spokesman for Napolitano.

On the eve of today’s meeting of the regents planning board, the speaker of the California state assembly reportedly proposed directing $50 million in additional state general funds to UC to stave off increased costs for students. The proposal followed student protests at at least two UC campuses this week.

TIME Culture

Here’s Everything We Know (and Don’t Know) About the Bill Cosby Rape Allegations

A timeline of events from 2005 to the present

For decades, Bill Cosby has cultivated his image as a gentle, sweater-clad universal father figure. He was Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable guiding his fictional television children toward smart decisions. He was the Jell-O pitchman, peddling pudding pops as a wholesome snack. And he fashioned himself as the voice of paternal reason for younger black men, urging them to pull up their pants and stay in school. Even if we didn’t agree with him, Cosby’s moral authority meant that when he talked, we listened.

That carefully-crafted image has taken a hit in recent weeks as decade-old accusations that Cosby drugged and raped or molested numerous women have resurfaced. More than a dozen women have now accused the comedian and actor of sexual assault or rape. Cosby has never been criminally charged and has denied the allegations. So what accounts for the renewed attention? And how did these allegations emerge in the first place? Here’s a timeline of how we got here:

March 8, 2005

Andrea Constand, the former director of operations for the Temple University women’s basketball team, files a lawsuit against Cosby, alleging that he drugged and molested her at his home in Pennsylvania in 2004. A local prosecutor had declined to file charges related to the alleged abuse. After Constand’s accusations become public, a second woman, Tamara Green, says on the Today Show that in the 1970s, Cosby gave her pills that knocked her unconscious and then groped her. Court papers in the Constand case mention Green and 12 anonymous women who make similar allegations against the actor and comic. Cosby denies ever molesting any of the women.

June 23, 2005

The Philadelphia Daily News publishes a story identifying Beth Ferrier as one of the anonymous woman mentioned in the Constand court papers. Ferrier says Cosby drugged and sexually assaulted her in a car in Denver in the 1980s. (The Guardian later reports that Ferrier told her story to the National Enquirer in 2005, but the tabloid killed the story under pressure from Cosby’s lawyers and published his rebuttal and denial instead.)

November 2006

Constand and Cosby settle the lawsuit out of court. The terms are not disclosed.

December 2006

Barbara Bowman, another anonymous woman from the Constand lawsuit, tells People that Cosby had mentored her as an actor in the 1980s and sexually assaulted her in Reno and New York City during that time.

February 2014

Gawker publishes a post summarizing old sexual assault allegations against Cosby. Newsweek publishes interviews with Barbara Bowman and Tamara Green in which the women repeat their earlier allegations.

July 2014

NBC reveals details about a new comedy show it’s developing that will star Cosby as the patriarch of an extended family. The network first announced the show in January.

August 2014

Netflix announces it will air a Cosby stand-up special on Nov. 28.

September 2014

Cosby: His Life and Times, a biography by Mark Whitaker, formerly of Newsweek and CNN, is published. Cosby cooperated with Whitaker and the book does not document the rape and molestation accusations against Cosby. Asked why, Whitaker later said in a statement, “I was aware of the allegations, but ultimately decided not to include them in my book. I didn’t want to print allegations that I couldn’t confirm independently… there were no independent witnesses and no definitive court findings, which did not meet my journalistic or legal standard for including in the biography.”

Meanwhile, the Smithsonian announces Bill and Camille Cosby will loan their collection of African and Africa-American art to the museum.

Oct. 16, 2014

Comedian Hannibal Buress repeatedly calls Cosby a rapist during a show in Philadelphia. A clip of Burress’ standup bit goes viral and in its wake, the Daily Mail publishes a more detailed account of Barbara Bowman’s original accusations. In the article, Bowman says Cosby raped her and calls the actor “a monster.” Buress later tells Howard Stern he had been accusing Cosby of rape on stage for months before the routine got wider notice.

Oct. 30, 2014

TMZ reports that a planned Cosby appearance on the Queen Latifah show has been canceled.

Nov. 10, 2014

A seemingly innocuous tweet from Bill Cosby’s account goes sideways when people on Twitter respond by creating Cosby memes about rape, drawing more attention to the accusations. The tweet has since been deleted.

Nov. 13, 2014

The Washington Post publishes an op-ed by Bowman, in which she repeats her allegations.

Nov. 14, 2014

Cosby’s Nov. 19 appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman is canceled.

Nov. 15, 2014

In an NPR interview with Cosby and his wife Camille, who were on hand to discuss loaning their art collection to the Smithsonian, host Scott Simon asks Cosby to respond to the “serious allegations” that have been raised about him “in recent days.” Cosby refuses to answer, staying silent and shaking his head.

Nov. 16, 2014

A lawyer for Cosby releases a statement on the actor’s personal website calling the sexual assault and rape allegations “discredited” and saying, “Mr. Cosby does not intend to dignify these allegations with any comment.” The reported statement appears to have been removed from Cosby’s website.

Nov. 16, 2014

The website Hollywood Elsewhere publishes an account by a woman named Joan Tarshis, in which she says Cosby drugged and raped her in New York City in 1969.

Nov. 17, 2014

On The View, Whoopi Goldberg expresses skepticism about the accusations leveled against Cosby, wondering aloud why one woman who came forward did not go to the police or hospital after the alleged assaults. Of the settlement reached with Andrea Constand, the original accuser, Goldberg said, “Settlements don’t necessarily mean you’re guilty. You generally settle because you don’t want to put your family through it again…I’m going to reserve my judgement. I have a lot of questions.”

Nov. 18, 2014

Model Janice Dickinson tells Entertainment Tonight that Cosby raped her in 1982 and that she never reported the alleged incident to police. Cosby lawyer Martin Singer calls the Dickinson allegation a “complete lie.” Meanwhile, Netflix says it is postponing its Cosby stand-up special that was scheduled to air Nov. 28.

Nov. 19, 2014

NBC announces it is halting development of its new show starring Cosby.

Netflix postpones a Bill Cosby comedy special set to air Nov. 28.

TV Land yanks reruns of The Cosby Show.

Previous Cosby accuser Tamara Green writes an op-ed for the Entertainment Tonight website in which she says police and a prosecutor did not respond to her complaints that Cosby sexually assaulted her. A lawyer for Cosby had previously said Cosby did not know the woman, nor did he assault her.

The Associated Press releases a portion of a video interview shot on Nov. 6 in which Cosby refuses to answer questions about rape allegations made against him. “I don’t talk about it,” Cosby says. The comedian and his wife Camille were being interviewed about loaning art to the Smithsonian. Once the formal interview concludes, but with the camera still rolling, Cosby asks the reporter never to air the part of the video in which he is asked and refuses to comment. “I would appreciate it if it was scuttled,” says Cosby.

Nov. 20, 2014

More women come forward, as Cosby stays silent and his legal team continues to deny he committed sexual assault or rape. Cosby lawyer Martin Singer criticizes what he says is a “media feeding frenzy.”

A woman claiming to be one of the alleged anonymous Cosby victims mentioned the 2005 Constand lawsuit tells her to story to People. Therese Serignese says she was 19 when she met Cosby in Las Vegas in 1976. She says he invited her to a backstage green room after a show and offered her Quaaludes, which she accepted. The comedian then sexually assaulted her, Serignese alleges. The woman also says that she subsequently had a sexual relationship with Cosby and later asked him for money

An actress named Louisa Moritz, tells TMZ that Cosby sexually assaulted her in 1971 while she was waiting backstage to appear on the Johnny Carson show. Cosby lawyer Martin Singer tells TMZ, “We’ve reached a point of absurdity. The stories are getting more ridiculous.”

Carla Ferrigno, wife of “Incredible Hulk” actor Lou Ferrigno, tells The Daily Mail that in 1967, Cosby forcefully kissed her. Ferrigno describes the incident as “physically violent.”

Renita Chaney Hill tells a local news station in Pittsburgh that she met Cosby in the 1980s, accepted money from him and believes he drugged and sexually assaulted her in various hotel rooms.

Cosby performs a show at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas.

Nov. 21, 2014

Angela Leslie tells the New York Daily News that Cosby sexually assaulted her in a Las Vegas hotel room in 1992.

Kristina Ruehli tells Philadelphia magazine she was one of the anonymous accusers mentioned in the Constand lawsuit. Ruehli says while she was a secretary at a talent agency that represented Cosby, he invited her to his house where he drugged her and tried to force her to perform oral sex.

Several theaters cancel upcoming Cosby performances.

Read next: Yes, Bill Cosby Actually Told a Joke About Drugging Women In a Comedy Routine

TIME Courts

L.A. School District Fires Lawyer Who Faulted Student in Teacher Sex Case

Lawyer Keith Wyatt blamed the victim of a sex abuse case in defending the L.A. school district in court

It’s one thing to argue in court that a 14-year-old student shares responsibility for a sexual relationship with her 28-year-old teacher. It’s another, apparently, to make insensitive public comments about the success of that unorthodox legal strategy.

On Nov. 14, the Los Angeles Unified School District fired a lawyer who had successfully represented the district when it was sued by the girl and her family. In a civil jury trial in late 2013, the lawyer, W. Keith Wyatt, argued that the girl’s sexual past was relevant to what occurred and that she knew engaging in sex with her teacher was wrong and therefore was partly to blame. Such a legal strategy is highly unusual, according to legal experts and victims’ advocates. (The teacher was sentenced in 2011 to three years in prison for lewd acts against a minor.) According to public radio station KPCC, which first reported details about the civil case, Wyatt said in his closing statement at trial:

“She wants to be paid for doing something that she knew was wrong, that she acknowledged was wrong, that she knew was from the beginning,” Wyatt argued, adding, “She doesn’t want therapy, she wants money. That’s what they are asking you for.”

The jury found that the district was not negligent nor liable for damages. That decision is being appealed.

Asked by KPCC to explain his legal reasoning, Wyatt told the station, “She lied to her mother so she could have sex with her teacher…She went to a motel in which she engaged in voluntary consensual sex with her teacher. Why shouldn’t she be responsible for that?”

Wyatt later apologized for his comments, but amid a public outcry, the district said Wyatt’s statements to KPCC were “completely inappropriate” and he was let go.

TIME Crime

School District: Student Is Partly to Blame for Sex with Teacher

Teacher-Sexual Consent Elkis Hermida
California Department of Correction/AP This undated photo provided by the California Department of Correction shows Los Angeles school district teacher Elkis Hermida, who was sentenced in 2011 to three years in prison for lewd acts against a child.

A 14-year-old's sexual past and willingness to engage in sex with a 28-year-old teacher was fair game in a Los Angeles civil trial

Correction appended, Nov. 17, 2014

An underage girl can consent to sex with a teacher and her sexual history is relevant when considering who is liable for damages in such a case. That’s the argument a lawyer for the Los Angeles Unified School District made in court after the family of a 14-year-old girl sued the district after it was revealed that a teacher had sex with her.

The teacher, Elkis Hermida, was sentenced in criminal court in 2011 to three years in state prison for lewd acts against a child. Hermida, a middle-school math teacher, had sex with the underage girl for a period of six months. But in civil court, where the lawsuit was brought and decided in the district’s favor in late 2013, responsibility for sex between a teacher and an underage student is less clear, the school district argued.

The district said that the underage girl knew it was wrong to have sex with her teacher and the district had no knowledge of what occurred and was therefore not liable, according to public radio station KPCC, which reported details of the trial for the first time on Nov 12. The district also said, according to KPCC, that the girl was partially responsible for the sexual relationship, even though she was younger than 18, the age of legal consent in California. Liability in the case hinged on whether the district knew anything about the teacher or his relationship with the student that made it negligent in the case. A jury found the district was not negligent, but the legal strategy of placing blame on the underage girl has rocked Los Angeles and victims’ advocates who say it could set a dangerous precedent.

“The blame the victim strategy that they adopted is very dangerous for the public at large,” says John Dion, an attorney and deputy executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime. “It creates a real chilling effect of people coming forward. When they don’t come forward, child sex abuse is allowed to continue. This is a crime that flourishes in secrecy.” In criminal cases in California, defendants are typically not allowed to bring up the sexual pasts of alleged victims, but in the civil case involving the district, the girl’s sexual history was revealed at the trial.

“She lied to her mother so she could have sex with her teacher…She went to a motel in which she engaged in voluntary consensual sex with her teacher. Why shouldn’t she be responsible for that?” attorney Keith Wyatt, who represented the L.A. school district in the civil trial, told KPCC in an interview. After KPCC aired its interview with Wyatt, he apologized in a statement, saying his remarks were “ill thought out and poorly articulated.”

Still, Cynthia Godsoe, a law professor at Brooklyn Law School who specializes in children and the law, says the legal strategy itself is shocking. “Given that the state legislature has said people below 18 years old are not mature enough to consent, I think for an attorney representing a public entity to argue that it’s her fault is not ok,” says Godsoe. “He’s arguing flat out that she’s not a victim and there’s already been a finding in criminal court that she is. I find it kind of amazing.”

The girl’s family is appealing the court ruling. Holly Boyer, the attorney now representing the girl, said she expects to file an opening brief with the appeals court within a month.

Correction: The original version of this article misstated the name of Cynthia Godsoe’s employer. It is Brooklyn Law School.

TIME Health Care

The Truth About Gruber-Gate

Republicans think they have found a smoking gun that exposes a nefarious plan by the Obama Administration to lie to the public in order to build support for the Affordable Care Act. This week, several videos from 2012 and 2013 have surfaced that show MIT Professor Jonathan Gruber, a former paid consultant to the Administration on health reform, calling the American people “stupid” and saying “a lack of transparency” was crucial to getting the ACA passed in 2010.

“Stupid” is not a great word to use to describe anyone, and Gruber said Tuesday that he regretted the comment. But rather than a smoking gun, Gruber-gate is actually a flash of candor in a debate that was filled with disingenuous statements from both sides. Supporters of the law did, in fact, do their best to obscure unpopular provisions—like new taxes. But Republican opponents were just as deceptive in their efforts to exaggerate the law’s potential negative effects. Neither is excusable.

The American people did not really understand the intricacies of the ACA before it passed. In April 2010, 55% of Americans said they were “confused” by the law, even after it passed and its provisions had been parsed for months in the media. Some of the confusion was due to Washington rhetoric that obscured the true details of the law and some can be blamed on a media that focused more on the politics of the bill than its policies.

It also seems unrealistic to expect average citizens to sort through a piece of legislation as large and complicated as the ACA to judge fact from fiction. Instead, the public largely relied on the opinions and information disseminated by politicians they agreed with generally.

That’s where the party-line deceptions come in. In one video, Gruber says that if the public had really understood that the law would require healthy people to pay for sick people, it wouldn’t have passed. He also says that the penalty for not having insurance is a “tax,” even though Democrats didn’t use that word to describe it because it would have made the law politically unfeasible. In another video, Gruber explains that a new ACA tax on high-cost health plans supposedly levied on insurers would actually be passed through to consumers.

None of these facts are exactly revelatory. Healthy people subsidizing sick people is how health insurance works. Whether it’s perceived as a “tax” or not, nobody wants to pay a financial penalty for not having insurance. And of course it’s true that any company—including an insurer—will try to pass overhead costs on to its customers.

The truth is there was deception on both sides of the debate that preceded passage of health care reform. Two wrongs don’t make a right—transparency is always better and more fair—but such context is necessary when judging Gruber and his remarks caught on tape. Republicans propagated talk of “death panels” and the notion that health reform would “ration” care, putting a board in charge of deciding who could live or die. The ACA does neither. The GOP also peddled the false idea that Democratic health reform was a “government takeover,” an argument that conveniently left out the fact that government dollars account for more than half of all health spending, with or without the ACA. And Republicans cast the entire discussion of the “public option,” a Medicare-like government insurance plan consumers could buy if they wanted to, as socialized medicine for all.

I’ve talked to Gruber many times over the past six years. He’s a good source because he’s smart, candid and was privy to the Democratic behind-the-scenes thinking and maneuvering that preceded passage of the Affordable Care Act. Gruber has always spoken so freely that I suspect the Obama Administration never felt completely at ease with the idea that one of its chief consultants was out there explaining everything, untethered. Comments Gruber made in 2012 about the health law’s subsidy system, which were also caught on tape and which he later described as “off the cuff,” could weaken the government’s case when it defends the law before the Supreme Court next year. (I reached Gruber to discuss this latest video controversy and he declined to comment on the record.) Gruber’s usually willing to talk and often, it seems, he’s not thinking much about the political ramifications of what he says.

In 2013, for instance, I asked Gruber if Democrats understood that the ACA would slowly and methodically erode the system under which millions of Americans get health insurance through their jobs. In pitching the ACA, Democrats had been adamant that the law would support and sustain the employer-based system, not erode it. But Gruber knew better and he told me so, likening workers being kicked off job-based health plans to people “falling off a building,” an outcome that architects of the ACA knew was likely and had planned for.

At least one Republican in Congress has called for hearings over Gruber’s newly revealed comments. Buoyed by a midterm election that gave the party a larger majority in the House and a new majority in the Senate, Republicans are hoping that Gruber-Gate might help them dismantle parts of the ACA next year.

What’s significant about Gruber-gate, though, is not that the Obama Administration was less transparent about what the ACA would do than its critics. It’s that Gruber admitted that his side participated in this unseemly dance.

TIME Health Care

Millions Fewer Americans Will Enroll in Obamacare Plans Than Predicted

The home page for the HealthCare.gov on March 31, 2014 in Washington, D.C.
Karen Bleier—AFP/Getty Images The home page for the HealthCare.gov on March 31, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Through the law’s new marketplaces in 2015

Expectations for how effectively the Affordable Care Act would impact the U.S. uninsured rate were high—too high in fact. That’s according to an analysis released Monday by the Department of Health and Human Services that says millions fewer Americans will get private health insurance through the law’s new marketplaces in 2015 than was previously estimated.

The department now says it expects between 9 and 9.9 million Americans to enroll in private health plans through state and federal exchanges by next year, down from 13 million, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office had predicted. The revised projection is due to deeper analysis on how long it takes for new federal programs to “ramp up,” according to HHS, which said the new estimate includes about 6 million Americans who will re-enroll in plans through the exchanges, as well as new customers who buy coverage there. Some 7 million Americans are enrolled in exchange plans today.

“The next group of people will be harder to reach,” HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell said at a Center for American Progress event on Monday. Open enrollment through the ACA’s insurance exchanges is set to begin Nov. 15 and last until Feb. 15, 2015. Last year’s enrollment period was plagued by major technology snags, with the federal insurance marketplace HealthCare.gov and some run by states largely inoperable at the outset. The snafus embarrassed President Obama’s Administration and cast doubt on HHS’s ability to manage a large, complicated new program.

To avoid similar issues this year, Burwell said HHS and the contractors who are building and operating HealthCare.gov have been testing the system for five weeks. Burwell said tech experts are testing how many users the systems can handle at once and whether various parts of the computer programs work seamlessly together. Security testing is also part of the process, Burwell said, in addition to a simpler application for coverage that reduces the screens a new consumer must navigate from 76 screens to 16. “Things are simpler, faster and more intuitive,” she said.

Still, the secretary warned that performance perfection in the exchanges is unlikely. “We will have outages. We will have downtime,” she said.

TIME health insurance

How a Repulican Majority Could Change Obamacare

With Republicans soon to be in charge of the House and Senate, talk of repealing the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is heating up again. Here’s what you need to know about Republicans’ plans for the law and whether the GOP has a chance at changing—or repealing—it in the next two years.


Full Repeal

House Republicans have voted more than 50 times to repeal Obamacare. Even with its new Senate majority, the GOP lacks the 60 votes necessary to overcome a filibuster, meaning repeal legislation is unlikely ever to reach President Obama’s desk. Even if it did, he has said he would veto such a bill.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he may try to alter the ACA through the budget reconciliation process that requires just a 51-vote majority, but full repeal isn’t possible under the special budget rules.

Odds: Not going to happen


Repealing the individual mandate

Obamacare’s requirement that nearly all Americans have health insurance is unpopular, but as a centerpiece of the law, the individual mandate is critical to its function. Voiding the mandate would likely cause insurance premiums to rise steeply and would increase the uninsured rate, which the ACA has steadily brought down since its enactment. The mandate’s unpopularity means some Senate Democrats might feel pressure to vote for repeal, but President Obama has indicated he would veto such an action, saying Nov. 5, “The individual mandate is a line I can’t cross.”

Odds: Not going to happen


Repealing the medical device tax

Getting rid of one of the ACA’s revenue generators, a 2.3 percent tax on medical devices, had bipartisan support even before the recent midterm elections and is likely to come up for a vote soon. The medical device lobby is powerful and has made the case that the tax, which started in 2013, is being passed to consumers in the form of higher health care and insurance costs. The provision is expected to generate about $30 billion over ten years. The medical device tax, part of a package of new fees meant to offset costs of the ACA, is not critical to the law’s function and President Obama may agree to roll it back if he can get something in return.

Odds: Possible


Repealing, altering or delaying the employer mandate

The ACA requires that mid-sized and large employers provide health insurance to full-time workers. Most already did even before the law, but there’s evidence that the employer mandate is causing some companies to eliminate insurance for part-time workers or convert some full-time positions into part-time ones. The employer mandate has already been delayed multiple times, most recently earlier this year when the White House announced that medium-sized businesses would not have to comply with the provision until 2016. The requirement for large businesses is scheduled to begin in 2015, but given that the provision is not in effect for any companies yet and the White House has delayed it before means it’s a target for repeal or revision.

Odds: Possible


Eliminating the Independent Payment Advisory Board

The IPAB is an independent panel created by the ACA to lower Medicare payments to health care providers if Congress doesn’t act to keep the program’s spending under control. IPAB is somewhat unpopular—Republicans have erroneously dubbed it a “death panel”—but since the board seats aren’t even filled and it hasn’t taken any action, garnering enough support to get rid of it might be challenging.

Odds: Possible


Lower the minimum threshold for what insurance must cover

Health plans for sale through the ACA’s insurance marketplaces, or exchanges, all have minimum requirements for what they cover and limits on how much consumers must pay out of pocket. Aside from those under 30 or those who’ve been given special exemptions, who can comply with the individual mandate by purchasing high-deductible catastrophic insurance, everyone must have standard comprehensive health plans to meet the individual mandate. But Republicans have said cheaper plans that provide less coverage should be offered to more people and should meet the requirement to have insurance.

Odds: Unlikely


Gun Control Groups See Future in State Ballot Initiatives

Hundreds of demonstrators march across the Brooklyn Bridge to call for tougher gun control laws, Saturday, June 14, 2014, in New York.
John Minchillo—AP Hundreds of demonstrators march across the Brooklyn Bridge to call for tougher gun control laws, Saturday, June 14, 2014, in New York.

A victory in Washington state could be a template for other states in 2016

Despite a Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate, gun control advocates celebrated Wednesday on the heels of a major ballot measure victory in Washington state, which they say offers a new road map for enacting new guns laws around the country.

The new national strategy is to largely bypass Congress, where recent gun control efforts have gotten little traction even in the wake of the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. Instead, gun control activists say they are redirecting their attention and money to states—and to voters directly. Although votes are still being counted, it appears that a 2014 ballot initiative in Washington state expanding gun sale background checks will pass with a comfortable margin.

Appealing to voters through ballot initiatives has helped advance other progressive causes in recent years, including minimum wage increases and the legalization of medical marijuana. It’s a lesson gun control advocates have taken to heart. “I think it does represent a subtle shift,” says Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who favors gun control. “What we’re seeing is a renewed effort by gun control advocates to take this issue to the voters directly.”

Gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, have dominated the state-level battlefield for the last decade, outspending gun control groups and successfully lobbying to block a variety of new gun laws proposed in legislatures, including those that have widespread public support. But that too may be changing. Gun control groups outspent gun rights groups 5-1 in Washington state this year, after the National Rifle Association chose not to invest heavily.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has committed $50 million to the group that led the effort, Everytown for Gun Safety, a coalition of gun control groups formed in the wake of the Newtown massacre. In addition, a pro-gun control political action committee launched by former Congresswoman Gaby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, raised some $20 million in the 2014 election cycle. (Giffords was shot in the head during a 2011 shooting in Arizona that left six others dead.) These cash infusions have changed the playing field, says Winkler. “Newtown did not lead to new national gun legislation, but it led to new money being committed to gun control,” he says.

Ballot initiatives, like the one in Washington, are expensive, says Brian Malte, of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which has been working with Everytown in Washington state. “They require a lot of signature gathering, a plan, a strategy, getting out the vote,” says Malte.

The next test of this news strategy is likely to be in Nevada in 2016, unless the state expands gun sales background checks with legislation in the meantime. “If we can pass it in the legislature, that’s what we’ll do,” says John Feinblatt, president of Everytown. “If we can’t, we will take it to the people.” (The ballot initiative strategy in Washington was launched after efforts to pass expanded background check laws through the state legislature failed.)

This strategy is a throwback to gun control efforts that sprang up in the wake of the 1999 Columbine school shooting in Colorado. The year after the incident, Colorado and Oregon expanded background checks for sales at gun shows by ballot initiative. But in the intervening decade, the strategy was rarely, if ever, used, in part, because gun control groups couldn’t afford it. “The failure of elected officials to do the right thing on this has caused a lot of people in the movement to prevent gun violence to think creatively about how to better match the will of the people to policy outcomes,” says Zach Silk, campaign manager for the background check initiative in Washington.

Of course, a war chest of donations and built-in public support helps make an initiative successful, which is why gun control advocates are starting their new campaign on issues that poll favorably—like expanded background checks, which Gallup surveys have found are favored by as many as 80 to 90 percent of Americans. Restricting or removing the rights of convicted domestic violence abusers is another issue Everytown is already pushing in various state legislatures, along with new laws to regulate ownership of guns by the mentally ill. In the wake of a recent shooting spree in Santa Barbara County, California recently passed a law allowing family members to petition police and courts to take guns away from individuals who may be unstable.

So are gun rights advocates worried? “The difference now is you’ve got [one of the] richest guys in the world on the other side,” says Dave Kopel, a gun rights advocate and associate policy analyst for the Cato Institute, referring to Bloomberg. Unlike efforts to pass laws through Congress or state legislatures, in which politicians may risk their jobs voting for or against gun laws, “You put something on a ballot initiative and you don’t have people worried about displeasing someone else,” says Kopel.

Not all states allow people to vote directly on issues through ballot initiatives or propositions, meaning gun control groups will also have to lobby state legislators to enact their agenda. These days, though, they have the money to do both.

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