Trump: Everybody Gets a Pony! But Maybe Not Health Insurance

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Bad Hair, Health Care, Medicare, Republican Party

By now you’ve probably heard that Trump is putting the finishing touches on a health care plan that will provide health insurance for everybody.

President-elect Donald Trump said in a weekend interview that he is nearing completion of a plan to replace President Obama’s signature health-care law with the goal of “insurance for everybody,” while also vowing to force drug companies to negotiate directly with the government on prices in Medicare and Medicaid. …

… Trump said his plan for replacing most aspects of Obama’s health-care law is all but finished. Although he was coy about its details — “lower numbers, much lower deductibles” — he said he is ready to unveil it alongside Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“It’s very much formulated down to the final strokes. We haven’t put it in quite yet but we’re going to be doing it soon,” Trump said. He noted that he is waiting for his nominee for secretary of health and human services, Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), to be confirmed. That decision rests with the Senate Finance Committee, which hasn’t scheduled a hearing.

Since he mentioned Tom Price here, one suspects that if there is an actual Trump plan, it’s Tom Price’s. So let’s look at that. Here is what Price has proposed:

1. Get rid of the insurance exchanges and their subsidies. Instead, offer fixed tax credits to help people buy insurance on the private market.

Those tax credits would be fairly modest, ranging from $1,200 a year for people 18 to 35 years of age to $3,000 for those 51 and older. In many regions of the country, that would hardly begin to cover the premiums and out-of-pocket costs for a relatively comprehensive health insurance plan.

2. Insurance companies cannot deny insurance to people with pre-existing conditions provided they been insured continuously for the previous 18 months. If you lose coverage because you can’t make a payment, too bad. No insurance for you.

3. “Expanded” health savings accounts. HSAs are great for young, healthy people who need tax shelters; not so much for anybody else.

4. There would be taxpayer funded high-risk pools for sick people who can’t get insurance. These have been tried in the past and have proved to be bottomless money pits. I’m sure the insurance companies like this idea, though, because it lets them off the hook for insuring really sick people.

Price appears to be seriously low-balling the scope of the problem by proposing to invest a mere $3 billion into state risk pools over a three-year period. Ryan’s “Better Way” plan, for instance, would provide $25 billion over the coming decade, and even that might prove to be woefully inadequate.

5. Price wants to limit the employer tax exclusion for providing health insurance to $8,000 a year for individual policies and $20,000 for families. I suspect people would see their employee benefit health insurance taking bigger bites out of their paychecks.

6. Able-bodied single people would no longer be eligible for Medicaid, no matter how poor they are.

7. Price wants to allow insurance companies to sell insurance across state lines. Republicans are in love with this idea because they think that the competition would force insurance premiums to go down. Nobody who understands the health insurance industry thinks this would work.  See also articles in The Fiscal Times, Forbes, and the New York Times explaining why this is a dumb idea.

What Trump probably will propose is a system that would in theory allow anybody to get insurance, but in practice probably would leave out most or all of the people who gained insurance under the ACA, and more beside. Paul Ryan and other Republicans like to make speeches about giving people “universal access” to health insurance, instead of universal insurance coverage, which I interpret to mean “you can buy all the insurance you want, as long as you can pay for it.” Which, of course, is the catch.

But Trump specifically said,

“We’re going to have insurance for everybody,” Trump told the Washington Post. “There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us.”

He’s either lying or he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Of course, both might be true. You either stick with some version of the ACA, or go with a single payer/national health care plan, or throw people into the private insurance market to sink or swim. There really aren’t any other options. Tom Price’s ideas won’t work to make health insurance affordable or  reduce health care costs. Health care costs are the real cause of high premiums, and health care costs are high in the U.S. because we have a for-profit system that allows for rampant price gouging.

The part about allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices is something Republicans have fought tooth and nail since Part D was established in 2003. (Medicaid already allows for some negotiation.) President Obama tried to tweak the Medicare system a bit to allow for some negotiation, but Republicans balked at that, too. Part D is a cash cow for the pharmaceutical industry, and those lobbyists aren’t going down without a fight. Trump will be in for a fight from his own party on that one.

(I have to crab about Democrats, too, however. Recently Bernie Sanders introduced an amendment that would have allowed importation of cheaper drugs from other countries. This had enough Republican votes it would have passed, except that a gang of Democrats voted against it.)

 

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Worse Than McCarthyism

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Bad Hair, Congress, Republican Party

In the last post I quoted Walter Shaub, director of the Office of Government Ethics, who criticized Donald Trump’s so-called “plan” to plop a fig leaf over obvious conflicts of interest by allegedly separating himself from his businesses without actually separating himself from his businesses. Such criticism would seem to be to be part of Shaub’s job; he’d be remiss if he said nothing. My understanding is that most people who knows stuff about government ethics agree with Shaub.

Republicans might have reacted to this criticism in many ways. They might have disagreed with it; they might have offered counter-arguments. But here’s what they did, courtesy of  Jason Chaffetz, the head of the House Oversight Committee.

On Thursday, Chaffetz opted to go full Salem on the nonpartisan Office of Government Ethics, attacking Shaub for having done his job. The Republican threatened to subpoena Shaub if he refuses to participate in an official transcribed behind-closed doors interview. The calculus here seems to be that if nobody sees this crooked behavior by supposed ethics guardians like Chaffetz, then it didn’t happen.

OGE, set up post-Watergate, is nonpartisan and advises executive branch officials on avoiding conflicts. Shaub’s five-year term expires in January 2018.

Chaffetz demanded in a letter that he appear before lawmakers in the aforementioned closed-door, transcribed interview, to answer questions in a deposition-style setting. Richard Painter, who served as the ethics lawyer for George W. Bush, told the New York Times that this was “political retaliation” by Republicans against nonpartisan ethics officers for doing their basic duty.

Using threats of subpoenas and hearings to intimidate and silence political opponents is an old tactic for the American Right. Sen. Joe McCarthy was infamous for it back in the day, as was the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee.

But why do I claim that what Chaffetz tried to do is worse? Because he had no excuse. At least HUAC and McCarthy were ostensibly trying to investigate espionage and subversion in the United States, even though they were mostly just using said investigations as partisan political tools. But Chaffetz didn’t even bother to concoct some reason to harass Shaub that served some greater good. Back to Dahlia Lithwick in Slate:

In an interview with me on Friday, Norm Eisen—who led ethics initiatives during President Obama’s first term—agreed with Painter’s assessment that this is simply retaliation:

Democrats and Republicans alike, Richard Painter and myself included, are outraged by the chairman’s demand for a closed, Star Chamber–style interrogation of Director Shaub simply because he said exactly what bipartisan experts agree upon: that Trump’s proposed conflicts solution is woefully inadequate. An even more chilling aspect of the chairman’s letter is the not-so-veiled threat to cut OGE’s funding. All of this is merely the latest salvo in all-out attack on ethics oversight. The effort to shut down OCE, the four [Cabinet] nominees who had no ethics vetting who the majority tried to ram through confirmation hearings, Trump’s flouting precedent and the Constitution in his own [conflicts of interest] plan, and now this bullying of Shaub and threat to close OGE.

“It’s open season on ethics in D.C.,” Eisen added.

In the old days the enemy was Communism; now the enemy is ethics.  See also “Earnest: ‘Outrageous’ For Chaffetz To Threaten To Subpoena Ethics Chief” by Matt Shuham at Talking Points Memo.

In other news, Trump has now taken to tweeting insults about Rep. John Lewis. The creature has no shame at all.

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Abnormal Is the New Normal?

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Bad Hair, Congress

I was busy doing other things and missed all the fireworks. So I’m still catching up on the dossier scandal. What fun! And then there was Trump’s bizarre “press conference,” in which he pretty much dashed anyone’s lingering hopes that he’d drop out of Asshole Mode once elected.

Trump is going to turn his companies over to his sons, he said. PBS Newshour did a segment on this yesterday that’s very much worth watching.

See also Remarks of Walter M. Shaub, Jr., Director, U.S. Office of Government Ethics.

The only thing this has in common with a blind trust is the label, “trust.” His sons are still running the businesses, and, of course, he knows what he owns. His own attorney said today that he can’t “un-know” that he owns Trump tower. The same is true of his other holdings. The idea of limiting direct communication about the business is wholly inadequate. That’s not how a blind trust works. There’s not supposed to be any information at all.

Here too, his attorney said something important today. She said he’ll know about a deal if he reads it in the paper or sees in on TV. That wouldn’t happen with a blind trust. In addition, the notion that there won’t be new deals doesn’t solve the problem of all the existing deals and businesses. The enormous stack of documents on the stage when he spoke shows just how many deals and businesses there are.

I was especially troubled by the statement that the incoming administration is going to demand that OGE approve a diversified portfolio of assets. No one has ever talked to us about that idea, and there’s no legal mechanism to do that. Instead, Congress set up OGE’s blind trust program under the Ethics in Government Act. Under that law anyone who wants a blind trust has to work with OGE from the start, but OGE has been left out of this process. We would have told them that this arrangement fails to meet the statutory requirements.

Republicans will do their best to keep Trump’s butt covered on this matter, but it’s also the case that if, someday, they decide he’s a liability to the party and their careers, and they want to get rid of him, the guy comes with a built-in impeachable offense. So that’s something.

With everything else going on, you might not have noticed that yesterday, the House of Representatives passed a bill that could cripple the ability of government to regulate private industry. Also yesterday, as predicted, the Senate — at 1:30 a.m., no less — approved a budget procedure that will allow them to gut the Affordable Care Act through a simple majority vote. The actual repeal legislation is supposed to be ready to go by January 27.

Rex Tillerson’s confirmation hearing yesterday went badly enough that Charles Pierce thinks he could nixed for the Secretary of State position.

Our journey into the Twilight Zone continued today, with the Justice Department announcing an investigation of the FBI.

Dr. Ben Carson was grilled by the Senate as the nominee for heading Housing and Urban Development. As expected, Carson barely knew where he was, but the hearing went smoothly enough. He could not promise that the Trump family would not profit from HUD decisions.

And then this happened:

C-SPAN confirmed Thursday afternoon that its online feed had been temporarily interrupted by the Kremlin-backed news outfit RT, formerly known as Russia Today.

Of course.

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Are Wheels Coming Off the ACA Repeal Bus?

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Bad Hair, Health Care

There are signs congressional Republicans are beginning to get a clue that repealing Obamacare without a good plug and play replacement already in hand might come back to bite them. Jonathan Chait writes,

Something big is happening in the Senate right now: The Republican plan, affirmed again today by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is facing dire peril from Republican defections. Republicans need a House majority, 50 Senate votes, and soon-to-be President Trump to pass repeal and delay.

If Republicans lose three Senate votes, that drops them to 49, and repeal and delay cannot pass. At least three Republican senators (in addition to all the Democrats) now oppose repeal and delay. Rand Paul, of all people, has demanded that Congress repeal Obamacare at the same time it passes a plan to replace it. Paul has announced that he spoke with Trump and secured his agreement on this. Trump has not said so himself, confining his comments to date to a vague assurance, “That’s all gonna work out.”

Trump, of course, tends to change his mind frequently and agree with whomever he spoke with last. But other Republicans senators are taking the initiative. Fellow Republican Lamar Alexander says the same thing as Paul: “We have to take each part of it and consider what it would take to create a new and better alternative and then begin to create that alternative and once it’s available to the American people, then we can finally repeal Obamacare.” Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas said on MSNBC, “It would not be the right path for us to repeal Obamacare without laying out a path forward.” And Senator Bob Corker is walking right up to the edge of the same position, asking Trump to tweet out confirmation of what Paul claims he promised. “If it is his view, it would be really good if he would consider tweeting it out very clearly. There’s more and more concerns about not doing it simultaneously,” Corker says.

Over in the House, Paul Ryan is pushing a bill that would use budget reconciliation to kill significant parts of the ACA. But on top of the three senators who oppose “repeal and delay,” four more Republican senators — Portman, Collins, Cassidy, and Murkowski — joined Corker in sponsoring a bill that would delay Ryan’s Obamacare repeal for a month. They say they just want to be sure everyone is clear about what comes next before they go forward with repeal.

(And since when do we ask presidents to “tweet out” what their intentions are?)

Conservatives hate Obamacare because it redistributes too much money from the rich and healthy to the poor and sick. But they don’t publicly attack the law on that basis. Instead they attack it for high premiums, high deductibles, and narrow choice of doctors and hospitals — all flaws that any Republican plan would have in much higher doses. Republicans have yet to unify around a single, concrete, scorable plan because it is conceptually impossible to design a health-care plan that meets conservative ideological goals and is also acceptable to the broader public.

Ryan is talking about making repeal and replace “concurrent” –

“It is our goal to bring it all together concurrently,” said Ryan. “We already show people what we believe in, what we believe Obamacare should be replaced with. so we’re going to use every tool at our disposal — through legislation, through regulation — to bring replace concurrent along with repeal so we can save people from this mess.”

Hmm. Well, what they believe in is that people without money should just die already. But we really haven’t seen what they think Obamacare should be replaced with. They make noises about various things — high-risk pools, tort “reform,” selling policies across state lines — that don’t add up to a comprehensive whole. There is no way they’re going to fund high-risk pools enough to make them work. That’s a symbolic fix only. Their other ideas barely rise to the level of “tweaks.”

But then there’s this:

On Monday night at Tortilla Coast, a Mexican restaurant on the Hill, the House Freedom Caucus – a group of fiscal conservatives with a reputation for rabble rousing–came to a consensus that they wanted more insight into what the GOP’s replacement is before they vote on a budget resolution slated to be taken up Friday in the House.

 If the House Freedom Caucus is getting nervous about repeal, this is serious. I would have expected them to push for repeal, period, and don’t worry about the replace. But I guess some of them want to be re-elected.

A reconciliation bill requites only a simple majority to pass the Senate, but you can do only so much with a reconciliation bill — change taxes and spending, and that’s about it. Actually changing the system requires a regular bill, which would require some Democratic votes.

The idea behind “repeal and delay” was that by setting a deadline for a replacement, Democrats might be pressured into writing the bill. Republicans, as you know, are congenitally incapable of crafting legislation without help from ALEC. But if there’s no delay, there’s no pressure.

And then there’s the Trump factor. Greg Sargent wrote this morning,

When Trump holds his news conference tomorrow, he will likely be asked whether he still thinks that Republicans should repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act “simultaneously,” as he said in a post-election interview. If he answers in the affirmative, it could throw the current GOP strategy — repeal on a delayed schedule with no guarantee of any replacement later — into further doubt.

 So, we’ll see.

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Russian Hacking: Should We Be Worried?

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Bad Hair, Russia

First, let me be clear that it’s sensible to be skeptical about anything ANYBODY is saying about the Russian hacking scandal. ANYBODY includes government agencies, news media and Julian Assange. ANYBODY includes the many nobodies crawling out of the internet woodwork who claim to be cybersecurity experts, or espionage experts, or both. Lots of people are pulling lots of “facts” out of lots of butts to serve their own ends. There are no disinterested parties here.

Let me also be clear that even if the assessment — that Vladimir Putin himself ordered the meddling of the election to favor Donald Trump — is true, it’s unrealistic to expect the intelligence agencies to explain what they know and how they know it. Assuming it’s true, this is an ongoing intelligence operation. “What they know and how they know it” must remain secret so that the Russians don’t know how the CIA is finding them out. So, the lack of “proof” is not in itself “proof” that the intelligence agencies are making it up. Maybe they are, and maybe they aren’t. I’m astonished at the number of people I run into who don’t “get” that.

It’s also important to understand that we don’t know for a fact that the hacking changed the outcome of the election. Harry Enton of Fivethirtyeight analyzed polling data and said that one simply can’t see a clear pattern of Wikileaks releases moving the poll numbers. See also Matt Yglesias.

Opinions on who’s right or wrong on this matter seem to fall pretty much along predictable ideological lines. If you were a big Hillary Clinton fan before the election, you probably believe the intelligence agencies assessment, and more. Note that a Yougov.com poll found that 52 percent of Democrats believe Russian hackers somehow hacked into voting machines and changed election tallies. I’ve run into these people on social media. When you tell them no government agency or major media source has made any such claim, they don’t believe it.

On the other  hand, both the whackjob Right and the #DemExit Left tend to believe anything Julian Assange says, uncritically. I personally don’t trust Assange as far as I can throw him.

I see lots of opinions on the Web that boil down to, “So what? The U.S. has interfered with lots of elections.” True, and usually that’s come back to bite us. However, that’s no excuse to dismiss the Russian hacking scandal as something of no importance. That’s a bit like saying that it’s no big deal if someone drops a nuclear bomb on San Francisco, since we dropped one on Hiroshima all those years ago. It’s rather a big deal if you live in San Francisco, or downwind of it, at least.

So let’s hypothetically assume there is some truth to the claim that Russia at least intended to manipulate the U.S. into electing Donald Trump. And he got elected. Why should be we concerned?

There is lots of speculation about how much money Trump owes and who his debt holders might be. There seems to be widespread agreement that his debt is over $1 billion, much of which has been repackaged as bonds. But without his tax returns, everybody is guessing.

Ben Kentish of the Independent (UK) reports:

Donald Trump’s companies are almost $1.8 billion in debt to more than 150 institutions, a new report has suggested – raising fresh questions about potential conflicts of interests when the Republican takes office in January.

The new evidence exposes the extent to which the businessman will soon be responsible for regulating many of the institutions he owes sizeable amounts of money to.

Mr Trump has previously declared $315 million (£254 million) of debt owed to ten different lenders. However, a new study by the Wall Street Journal claims an additional $1.5 billion is owed by companies that are partly owned by the billionaire.

(Wall Street Journal articles are behind a subscription firewall, and I refuse to buy a subscription.)

Is any of that debt held in Russia? Last August Jeff Nesbit reported in Time:

Most of the coverage of the links between Trump and Putin’s Russia takes the GOP presidential nominee at his word—that he has lusted after a Trump tower in Moscow, and come up spectacularly short. But Trump’s dodge—that he has no businesses in Russia, so there is no connection to Putin—is a classic magician’s trick. Show one idle hand, while the other is actually doing the work.

The truth, as several columnists and reporters have painstakingly shown since the first hack of a Clinton-affiliated group took place in late May or early June, is that several of Trump’s businesses outside of Russia are entangled with Russian financiers inside Putin’s circle.

So, yes, it’s true that Trump has failed to land a business venture inside Russia. But the real truth is that, as major banks in America stopped lending him money following his many bankruptcies, the Trump organization was forced to seek financing from non-traditional institutions. Several had direct ties to Russian financial interests in ways that have raised eyebrows. What’s more, several of Trump’s senior advisors have business ties to Russia or its satellite politicians.

(There’s an internet rumor that Trump owes the Blackstone/ Bayrock Group $560 million dollars. I can’t find any confirmation of that. A quick google didn’t turn up confirmation that Blackstone and Bayrock have ever had anything to do with each other. Blackstone’s CEO is cozy with Trump, but Blackstone is supposed to have stopped doing business in Russia a couple of years ago. Bayrock Group is a sleazy company with definite connections to both Trump and American crime families. The managing director, Felix Sater, is rumored to be the son of a Russian crime boss, but I can’t find a not-hinky source for that. )

On the other hand, Putin has a keen interest in jacking up the price of oil, and Trump’s election may be a critical part of making that happen. The selection of an Exxon CEO as Secretary of State does seem suspicious; see Amy Goodman at Democracy Now! on that point.

My larger concern has to do with the Middle East. If Trump is doing favors for Putin, how will this influence Middle East policy? There is an alliance between Russia and Iran. I don’t want the U.S. to be pulled into making that a threesome. Another concern regards the Iran Deal, about which Putin is said to be ambivalent.

So yes, I’d say there’s reason to be concerned.

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Hey, Republicans: Put Up or Shut Up

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Bad Hair, Health Care, Republican Party

Martin Longman sums it up:

The Republicans have had tremendous success with what they know best, which is being a very good minority party. They can counter-message and use procedural tools in obnoxiously innovative ways to obstruct. They can simply refuse to even hold hearings for presidential nominees or insist that those positions don’t even need to be filled. They excel at this stuff, but they do not excel at legislating or doing oversight of the federal government and its agencies.

Their plan here is the plan of a minority party. They want to force the Democrats to do something rather than figuring out a way to do it themselves. They have no idea how to replace Obamacare without blowing up the private insurance industry, costing hundreds of thousands of people their health insurance, and taking all the political blame. So, they’ll just try brinksmanship and maybe those clever law-writing Democrats will rescue them at the end of the day out of some bleeding heart do-gooder sense of decency.

So far, the Democrats appear to be happy to let the the Republicans twist in the wind.

Schumer is taking a hard line when it comes to Republican plans to repeal the law, and whether or not Democrats would work across the aisle on a replacement if Republicans are successful in rolling it back. “And if they think we’re going to come in and save their butts when they screw it up? No.”

Schumer also proposed “Make America Sick Again” as a new Republican motto.

The Trumpster issued a new tweetstorm in the wee hours in which, among other things, he called Chuckie Schumer the “head clown.” This was followed by a call for Republicans and Democrats “to get together and come up with a healthcare plan that really works – much less expensive & FAR BETTER!” Yeah, that’ll work.

Schumer fired back today.

“Now, we understand that President-elect Trump is in a difficult spot, that Republicans are in a difficult spot. They want to repeal ACA, and have no idea how to replace it,” he said. “But instead of calling names, [the] President-elect should roll up his sleeves and show us a replacement plan that will cover the 20 million Americans who gained coverage, that will cover students or post-college students, 21 to 26, who want to stay on their parents’ plan, that will show how we cover people with pre-existing conditions.”

“So I’d say to the President-elect and the Republicans that this is not a time for calling names. It’s time for them to step up to the plate if they want to repeal, and show us what they’d replace it with,” Schumer added.

Also, too, yesterday dear Bernie Sanders brought an oversized print of one of the Donald’s old tweets and put it on display in Congress.


Sanders said Trump should either admit he was lying or say he will veto any forthcoming cuts.

“Millions of people voted for him on the belief that he would keep his word,” he said. “If he was sincere, then I would hope that tomorrow or maybe today he could send out a tweet and tell his Republican colleagues to stop wasting their time and all of our time. And for Mr. Trump to tell the American people that he will veto any proposal that cuts Medicare, that cuts Medicaid or that cuts Social Security.”

And when Trump made those promises on the campaign trail, I suspect his followers assumed he knew how he would make it happen. But it’s obvious he doesn’t have a clue.

See this article by Drew Altman in today’s New York Times — “The Health Care Plan Trump Voters Really Want.”

Surveys show that most enrollees in the Affordable Care Act marketplaces are happy with their plans. The Trump voters in our focus groups were representative of people who had not fared as well. Several described their frustration with being forced to change plans annually to keep premiums down, losing their doctors in the process. But asked about policies found in several Republican plans to replace the Affordable Care Act — including a tax credit to help defray the cost of premiums, a tax-preferred savings account and a large deductible typical of catastrophic coverage — several of these Trump voters recoiled, calling such proposals “not insurance at all.”

And it isn’t insurance at all.

One of those plans has been proposed by Representative Tom Price, Mr. Trump’s nominee to be secretary of Health and Human Services. These voters said they did not understand health savings accounts and displayed skepticism about the concept.

When told Mr. Trump might embrace a plan that included these elements, and particularly very high deductibles, they expressed disbelief. They were also worried about what they called “chaos” if there was a gap between repealing and replacing Obamacare. But most did not think that, as one participant put it, “a smart businessman like Trump would let that happen.”

However, they also said this:

They were unmoved by the principle of risk-sharing, and trusted that Mr. Trump would find a way to protect people with pre-existing medical conditions without a mandate, which most viewed as “un-American.”

I don’t find the need for the mandate that hard to grasp, and I’m not exactly brilliant when it comes to number things.

But it does seem to me that if these people get their insurance ripped out from under them, with nothing to replace it but some blah blah health savings account blah, even they may notice they’ve been had.

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Republicans Scramble for a Plan. And a Clue.

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Bad Hair, Health Care, Obama Administration, Republican Party

The original plan to kill Obamacare was “repeal and delay,” meaning Congress would pass a repeal bill that wouldn’t go into effect for at least a couple of years, thereby putting pressure on Democrats to help come up with a replacement. But that appears to be abandoned.

According to this article by Peter Sullivan at The Hill, the new plan is to go ahead and repeal Obamacare — there will be a repeal bill on Trump’s desk by February 20, they say — and then Trump will magically make all the rough transitional thingies go away by executive orders.

Seriously, that’s the plan.

The Feb. 20 target was put forward by incoming House Budget Committee Chairman Diane Black (R-Tenn.), said Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.), leaving a meeting with House Republicans and Vice President-elect Mike Pence on Wednesday.

Pence said Trump plans to take executive actions to start unwinding ObamaCare on day one, but did not get into specifics.

“It will be an orderly transition to something better … using executive authority to ensure it’s an orderly transition,” Pence told reporters. “We’re working now on a series of executive orders that will enable that orderly transition to take place even as Congress appropriately debates alternatives to and replacements for ObamaCare.”

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.), an early Trump supporter, added that, “The president in his first day in office is going to do some level of executive orders related to ObamaCare.”

But Collins said there were “no details whatsoever” on the orders discussed in the meeting.

They have no idea what they’re going to do. They’re about to hit the Put Up or Shut Up Wall, and they’re flailing.

Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) tweeted this right after that same meeting.

They don’t have a plan. How many years have they been hollering about replacing Obamacare? I’m not good with big numbers.

The February 20 deadline is not completely impossible. Dylan Matthews at Vox explains how congressional Republicans have already paved the way for doing away with most of the ACA through reconciliation, which will allow them to pass the repeal with a simple majority vote in the Senate. For budget reasons they would have to retain the ACA’s cuts to Medicare providers, but everything else could go immediately. See also Sarah Kliff.

Lauren Fox at Talking Points Memo has a different take. I’m not sure if she’s talking about the same meeting, but it seems not everyone is on board.

In a closed-door meeting in the House basement Wednesday with the whip team, a Republican rank-and-file member rose to convey his deep fear that Republicans were making a big mistake by repealing the Affordable Care Act without any concrete plan to replace it with.

According to one source in the room, the member rose and got the room’s attention.

“You lose all leverage once you repeal this thing. There will be people on the left who will never help you replace it and there will be people on the right who aren’t going to help you either,” the member said. “We will own this thing and there will be consequences.”

(Consequences? What is this thing, consequences? We Republicans do not know this word.)

The House isn’t the only place where members are sounding the alarm. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), whose own state expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, said earlier this week that Republicans will be making a mistake if they repeal the Affordable Care Act without replacing it at the same time.

The concern is that by moving rapidly to repeal President Obama’s signature accomplishment, Democrats may never work with Republicans on a replacement. That could leave Republicans with two options, either they could change Senate rules and jam through their replacement or they will never get one.

If they go the delay route, there are still those alien consequences things to deal with. Josh Marshall wrote,

The AMA, which has been rather comically pro-Trump to date, came out today and told Republicans that they shouldn’t repeal Obamacare without a clear replacement. Notably, even two of the most conservative health care economists at AEI, came out yesterday and said that ‘repeal and delay’ would be a disaster. The truth is that “repeal and delay” is the policy equivalent of taking off from JFK to Heathrow with 2,000 miles worth of gas and saying you’re going to figure it out en route. No one who knows anything about health care economics, even people who are staunch free marketeers and hate Obamacare, think that makes any sense.

Note that recent polls say only 26 percent of Americans want the ACA repealed.

This morning President-Elect Trump is out with an ambiguous and possibly meaningless (it’s sort of like Being There) series of tweets warning Republicans to “be careful” and make sure that Democrats “own” the “ObamaCare disaster.” …

… They simply have no idea what to do and now they’re being taunted by Trump not to blow and he doesn’t have any idea either. It would be funny if millions of people’s lives and well being weren’t on the line.

For the Democrats, the plan seems to be to let the Republicans hang themselves. CNN:

President Barack Obama delivered a mandate to Democrats on Wednesday: “Don’t rescue” Republicans on Obamacare.

Less than three weeks out from leaving the White House, Obama visited Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill with a mission to save his signature healthcare reform law as Republicans are moving quickly to unroll the Affordable Care Act.

In the closed-door meeting, the President urged fellow Democrats to not “rescue” Republicans by helping them pass replacement measures, according to sources in the room.

He also floated this idea: Start referring to the GOP’s new plan as “Trumpcare.”

The suggestion was a clear indication of the Democratic Party’s goal of turning the tables on Republicans, who are already facing pressure to quickly craft a replacement bill.

Regrettably, that may be the best plan.

Update: Apparently Trump (via the Mouth of Sauron, a.k.a. Kellyanne Conway) he can fix things so that everybody who has insurance will still have insurance, and that people with pre-existing conditions will still be covered. Heh.

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House Republican Priorities

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Congress

So the very first thing House Republicans did when they got back to work was to vote to gut the independent Office of Congressional Ethics.

In a closed-door meeting Monday night, Republicans adopted House rules changes that would have essentially gutted their own oversight watchdog — a move that would have defied Trump’s “drain the swamp” mantra aimed at making Washington more transparent and less cozy.

The surprise move on Monday night appeared to catch even House GOP leadership off guard, and the conference approved a pitch that would have put the Office of Congressional Ethics under the thumb of lawmakers on the House Ethics Committee. Monday’s effort was led, in part, by lawmakers who have come under investigation in recent years.

The Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) came into being in 2008, when Nancy Pelosi was Speaker. The House Ethics Committee had devolved into something that simply made excuses, it was said. The OCE operates independently of Congress. It has no subpoena power but has investigated both Dems (Maxine Waters and Charlie Rangel) and Republicans (Michele Bachmann).

Some people thought the OCE was overzealous, apparently.

In place of the office, Republicans would create a new Office of Congressional Complaint Review that would report to the House Ethics Committee, which has been accused of ignoring credible allegations of wrongdoing by lawmakers.

“Poor way to begin draining the swamp,” Tom Fitton, president of the conservative group Judicial Watch, said on Twitter. He added, “Swamp wins with help of @SpeakerRyan, @RepGoodlatte.”

Mr. Goodlatte defended the action in a statement on Monday evening, saying it would strengthen ethics oversight in the House while also giving lawmakers better protections against what some of them have called overzealous efforts by the Office of Congressional Ethics.

To be fair, I understand Speaker Ryan was caught off guard by the announcement as well, which shows us even other Republicans think he is a useless dweeb.

The announcement yesterday quickly became a public relations debacle and blew up in the announcers’ faces.

Then The Donald issued a couple of tweets expressing mild disapproval. The plan was reversed. Although most news outlets are reporting that the tweets caused the reversal, Josh Marshall denies this is true. ” … the bigger point is that this started blowing up last night and was full firestorm before Trump said anything,” he wrote.

Even so, news media are crediting Trump with saving the OCE. The Times also said,

The comments constituted a public break by Mr. Trump with rank-and-file Republicans, who overrode their top leaders on Monday in a vote to significantly curtail the power of the ethics office, which was set up in the aftermath of corruption scandals that sent three members of Congress to jail.

I think the three members were Rep. William Jefferson, Rep. Rick Renzi and Sen. Ted Stevens, but I’m not sure. Tom DeLay didn’t ever do jail time, I don’t think.

I just think it shows us what House Republicans consider to be priorities. As soon as Trump is elected, Paul Ryan started babbling about gutting Medicare. As soon as they get back to work, their first act is to try to relieve themselves of ethical oversight.

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Nixon’s Treachery

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American History

There is more documentation to show that Richard Nixon sabotaged Lyndon Johnson’s 1968 peace initiative.

A newfound cache of notes left by H. R. Haldeman, his closest aide, shows that Nixon directed his campaign’s efforts to scuttle the peace talks, which he feared could give his opponent, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey, an edge in the 1968 election. On Oct. 22, 1968, he ordered Haldeman to “monkey wrench” the initiative. …

…Nixon had entered the fall campaign with a lead over Humphrey, but the gap was closing that October. Henry A. Kissinger, then an outside Republican adviser, had called, alerting Nixon that a deal was in the works: If Johnson would halt all bombing of North Vietnam, the Soviets pledged to have Hanoi engage in constructive talks to end a war that had already claimed 30,000 American lives.

But Nixon needed the war to continue so that he could run against it.

Nixon had a pipeline to Saigon, where the South Vietnamese president, Nguyen Van Thieu, feared that Johnson would sell him out. If Thieu would stall the talks, Nixon could portray Johnson’s actions as a cheap political trick. The conduit was Anna Chennault, a Republican doyenne and Nixon fund-raiser, and a member of the pro-nationalist China lobby, with connections across Asia.

“! Keep Anna Chennault working on” South Vietnam, Haldeman scrawled, recording Nixon’s orders. “Any other way to monkey wrench it? Anything RN can do.”

Nixon told Haldeman to have Rose Mary Woods, the candidate’s personal secretary, contact another nationalist Chinese figure — the businessman Louis Kung — and have him press Thieu as well. “Tell him hold firm,” Nixon said.

Nixon also sought help from Chiang Kai-shek, the president of Taiwan. And he ordered Haldeman to have his vice-presidential candidate, Spiro T. Agnew, threaten the C.I.A. director, Richard Helms. Helms’s hopes of keeping his job under Nixon depended on his pliancy, Agnew was to say. “Tell him we want the truth — or he hasn’t got the job,” Nixon said.

Lyndon Johnson knew at least some of this was going on but decided to not go public with the knowledge, because he lacked absolute proof of Nixon’s direct involvement.

In a conversation with the Republican senator Everett Dirksen, the minority leader, Johnson lashed out at Nixon. “I’m reading their hand, Everett,” Johnson told his old friend. “This is treason.”

“I know,” Dirksen said mournfully.

What might have been. More than 21,000 American troops died in Vietnam while Nixon was president.

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False Flags About False Flags?

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News Media, Russia

WaPo has a story up about evidence of a possible Russian attempt to hack the power grid.

A code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont utility, according to U.S. officials.

While the Russians did not actively use the code to disrupt operations, according to officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a security matter, the discovery underscores the vulnerabilities of the nation’s electrical grid. And it raises fears in the U.S. government that Russian government hackers are actively trying to penetrate the grid to carry out potential attacks. …

…Burlington Electric said in a statement that the company detected a malware code used in the Grizzly Steppe operation in a laptop that was not connected to the organization’s grid systems. The firm said it took immediate action to isolate the laptop and alert federal authorities.

Besides the fact that I’m beginning to think I should be worried about my Kaspersky (a Russian company) security software — this story is a bit ambiguous; this might or might not turn out to be a big deal. But hacking of the electrical grid is a major deal, so it is something to be taken seriously. There will be more investigations.

This story also is being reported by Reuters, the Associated Press and the Guardian, although they are attributing most of their information to the Washington Post. These are news outlets with some standards about sources. Again, maybe it’ll turn out to be nothing, but I wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand.

However, others do. Today there was much hooting in social media about false flags. Sample:

Latest False Flag scapegoating, Russia hacking Vermont says MSNBC and Faux News?? Lol Lol. After all Vermont is a high value target. Feel the Bern. Lol. SERIOUSLY?? Anyone Remember the Movie, The Russians are Coming (a cold war era comedy)

Well, yeah, and there really were Russians, although nice ones. Hey, did you ever see the trailer for that movie? It’s a hoot.

Classic. Anyway, at the bottom of the WaPo story is a disclaimer, saying:

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that Russian hackers had penetrated the U.S. electric grid. Authorities say there is no indication of that so far. The computer at Burlington Electric that was hacked was not attached to the grid.

Someone associated with Alex Jones called the WaPo story a false report. The Daily Caller put out a story headlined “Washington Post Publishes False News Story About Russians Hacking Electrical Grid” by a reporter named Alex Pfeiffer, who looks like he might be almost old enough to shave.

A story published by The Washington Post Friday claims Russia hacked the electrical grid in Vermont. This caused hysteria on social media but has been denied by a spokesman for a Vermont utility company.

The “denial” was that the hacked computer was not attached to the grid, as WaPo corrected. The Vermont utility company did not deny that a hacking code was found on one of their computers. But apparent journalism school dropout Pfeiffer continued to ridicule the WaPo story, playing up “panic among journalists.”

The thing is, that any foreign government might be attempting to hack the electrical grid, even if they haven’t succeeded, really is a big, scary serious thing. Even Pfeiffer might appreciate that if he ever finds himself in the middle of a major, prolonged blackout.

My larger point is that there’s such a thing as being too skeptical for one’s own good. I really hate that it’s now “cool” to dismiss everything in the news as just more manipulation.

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