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At Least 18 Million Would Lose Health Insurance If the ACA is Repealed

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has issued a report that says if the Affordable Care Act is repealed without being replaced, at least 18 million people would lose health insurance in the first year alone. The office also estimates that for people buying individual (i.e., non-group) insurance, premiums would double within a decade.

The report will put additional pressure on Congress to come up with a replacement plan and have it voted on the same day as the ACA is repealed. A number of Republicans have outlined potential plans to replace the ACA, but the party as a whole has not settled on an actual bill that can be scored by the CBO in terms of how much it would cost and how many people would be covered. The key problem they are facing is that they want to eliminate the legal mandate for everyone to buy health insurance, but want to keep that part of the ACA that prohibits insurance companies from turning away sick people. This does not add up; unless enough healthy people buy insurance, the insurance companies won't have enough money to pay the medical costs of the sick people, hence the mandate. Departing Secretary of HHS Sylvia Mathews Burwell said that if the Republicans repeal the ACA without a replacement, the insurance market would enter a death spiral.

The issue of the replacement plan will come up today, as the Senate will begin confirmation hearings for Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), who, if confirmed as secretary of HHS, will have the job of managing whatever plan Congress hands him. As a member of the House, he was one of the most enthusiastic opponents of the ACA, so the senators are bound to have a few questions for him on the subject of what he would like to see in a replacement plan. Typically complex laws like the ACA leave a lot of discretion to the executive branch, in practice to Price, about many of the details, and the senators will surely probe him about his vision on the subject. (V)

GOP Representatives Getting an Earful about Obamacare

This weekend, we noted that Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) had a meeting with constituents, so that they might ask questions about his work in Washington. He was bombarded by so many Obamacare questions, to which he did not have answers, that he snuck out the back door before the event was over.

On Sunday, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) had a similar experience. She took to Twitter to rally support for the Obamacare appeal, posting a poll in which she asked respondents whether they were in support of killing the program. Who knows what she was expecting to happen, but the poll was flooded with pro-Obamacare responses, such that it was 84% to 16% for "keep" by the time voting closed. While there's no way to know how many of the respondents were Blackburn's constituents, she certainly did not get the "mandate" she was presumably looking for.

In the end, politicians listen to two types of people: more powerful politicians, and voters. And only one of those two groups of people has the power to kick an officeholder to the curb. Every day that goes by, members of Congress are given evidence that they will be punished if they fumble on the ACA. And the more skittish they get, the harder it will be to get the whole GOP on the same page about a replacement. (Z)

DeVos Has a Rough Day

It was Secretary of Education-designate Betsy DeVos' turn to get grilled on Tuesday, and she didn't exactly shine. To begin with, she was asked by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) whether standardized tests should be used to measure proficiency or growth. In the former case, the tests establish a target which all students are expected to meet. In the latter, establish a student's baseline, and then subsequent tests are used to measure improvement (or lack thereof). This distinction is as fundamental to education theory as red vs. white blood cells in medicine, or vectors vs. scalars in engineering, or primary vs. secondary documents in history. DeVos was unable to answer Franken's question because she didn't understand it, making clear that she's never heard of the distinction between proficiency and growth.

After that, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) took his turn, and asked DeVos about free tuition at public colleges. DeVos declared that, "there's nothing in life that's truly free." Given that she was born to great wealth, and had her college tuition and expenses paid by her family, some observers found this answer to be a bit hypocritical.

Later in the hearing, DeVos was asked by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) whether she believes guns have "any place in and around schools." DeVos tried to defer on the question, suggesting that the question should be answered locally, not nationally. She then tried to support her answer with a hypothetical scenario, and ended up settling on Wyoming, where they may need guns to "protect from potential grizzlies." This, of course, sent the Internet into a frenzy. "Betsy DeVos wants to bring God into schools but also guns because I guess God isn't powerful enough to stop grizzly bears," wrote one Twitterer, while another noted that,"You know what else stops bears? Doors."

It's unlikely that these answers will derail DeVos's candidacy. However, it is easy to overlook that the career bureaucrats have a lot of power in Washington, particularly in a department like Education. If she does not have her subordinates' respect, they will push back against her in a variety of ways, waiting out the clock until she's out the door. Or killed in a grizzly bear attack. (Z)

Trump Unready for a National Security Crisis

Speaking of career bureaucrats, the State Department—which handles the day-to-day management of America's interactions with other nations—is largely staffed by pros. Whether or not Rex Tillerson and other upper management are approved by this Friday (or next week, or next month), the staff at State will largely be able to do their jobs, simply by continuing to do what they have always done.

The same is not true of the National Security Council, which takes the lead in handling crises. The NSC is largely comprised of appointees, which means that when an administration comes to a close, nearly everyone leaves. So, Barack Obama's team will be packing their bags on Friday, to be replaced by Donald Trump's team. The problem is that Trump doesn't have a team, at least not yet. He's chosen a few key players, like Michael Flynn and Monica Crowley (though the latter had to bow out yesterday). However, most of the critical slots remain unfilled. This includes the directors that will handle the Middle East, Russia, Afghanistan, economic sanctions, and nuclear proliferation.

Trump's difficulties in staffing this key bureaucracy stem from a few sources. The first is that he doesn't see the NSA as a priority, either because he sees it as part of the intelligence community, or because he thinks he can handle things largely without their help (it's unclear which it is). Beyond that, Trump is also trying to avoid Washington "insiders," and is also unwilling to engage the services of anyone who signed letters opposing him during the campaign.

The bottom line is that Trump had better hope that the first few weeks (or months) of his presidency are smooth sailing, until he finally pulls his team together. Of course, the bad guys are presumably aware of this, so we shall see. (Z)

New Poll: Trump's Approval is Deep Under Water

A new Monmouth University poll, conducted Jan. 12-15 and released yesterday, puts Donald Trump's approval rating at 34%, with 46% disapproving of him, similar to what it was before the election. In contrast, Barack Obama's rating is 56% approve and 38% disapprove. One of the questions Monmouth asked was about who Trump will help. On the question of his helping the middle class, 26% said he would help it a lot, 40% said he will help a little, and 29% said he won't help at all. In contrast, 55% said Trump will help the wealthy a lot and 54% said he will help Wall Street bankers a lot. However, not all the bad news is directed at Trump. Only 23% approve of how Congress is doing its job.

Other recent polls are only slightly more positive about Trump. A CNN/ORC poll put his approval rating at 40%. If we average the Monmouth and CNN polls, we come to 37%, the lowest of any incoming president since pollsters began asking about approval ratings. Also noteworthy about the CNN poll is that 53% of the respondents said that Trump's statements and actions since the election mke them less confident of his ability to handle the job. On the other hand, 48% say he will be a good president and 48% say he will be a bad president, almost mirroring the election results. (V)

Woman Sues Trump for Defamation

We've said this dozens of times and will say it again here: "Be careful what you wish for. You might get it." In 1996, when Paula Jones sued then-president Bill Clinton for inappropriate sexual conduct, Republicans were rooting that the Supreme Court would rule that no one was above the law, not even the president, and that private citizens could sue the president. They got what they wanted when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the president could be sued. Jones' lawyer was George Conway III, the husband of Kellyanne Conway.

Now that precedent is about to come back and hit Donald Trump hard, because yesterday Summer Zervos, a former contestant on "The Apprentice," sued Trump for defamation. In October she said publicly that he attacked her in a hotel room in 2007. Trump denied that he ever met Zervos in a hotel room and called her a liar. She is suing him for defamation to restore her reputation. Zervos is represented by celebrity attorney Gloria Allred, who has handled many high-profile cases before. Allred is no doubt excited about getting the opportunity to depose Trump under oath, knowing full well that Bill Clinton's lies under oath in the Paula Jones case were the basis for his impeachment. Just in case anyone doubts what Allred thinks about Trump, she once said to him: "You are nothing but a fourth rate politician and a fifth rate human being ..." (V)

Trump Doesn't Like Tweeting?

Donald Trump sat for an interview with Fox News on Tuesday, and was asked about his frequent use of Twitter. He replied:

Look, I don't like tweeting. I have other things I could be doing. But I get very dishonest media, very dishonest press. And it's my only way that I can counteract. When people make misstatements about me, I'm able to say it and call it out. Now if the press were honest, which it's not, I would absolutely not use Twitter. I wouldn't have to.

This, of course, is complete nonsense. A great many of his tweets have nothing to do with the media or its coverage of him. And beyond that, there is little that the media could do to satisfy the notoriously thin-skinned Trump, short of becoming his propaganda arm (like, say, Breitbart). This is just another case of him deflecting the blame for his own behavior and his choices to someone else. (Z)

Obama Commutes Chelsea Manning's Sentence

In 2013, Chelsea Manning (then Bradley Manning) was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking classified information about the Iraq war, the longest sentence ever for leaking information. She has already served 7 years of the sentence. Yesterday, President Obama commuted her sentence to the time already served. She will be released on May 17, 2017.

Manning, who is transgender, has had mental health issues for years. She tried to commit suicide twice, and was punished for it by being put in solitary confinement. The commutation of her sentence immediately brings up the question of whether Obama will also pardon Edward Snowden, another famous leaker. It is unlikely, because the two cases are very different. Manning was tried, convicted, and sentenced in a military court. Snowden fled the country after releasing classified information and has never even been put on trial. (V)

Inaugural Concert Lands Sam Moore

We're less than 48 hours away from the inauguration, and the bottoms of barrels are being scraped for entertainers who can be persuaded to show up for the event. Organizers have just landed Sam Moore, known primarily as half of the soul duo Sam and Dave. Dave will not be attending, due to his having been dead since 1988. Sam, an outspoken Republican, is not exactly an A-lister, since his last big hit was about 40 years ago. As long as they're collecting half-duos, perhaps the organizers can call up Art Garfunkel, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Rakim, Bill Medley, and Meg White to see if any of them are available.

Meanwhile, the menu for Trump's first lunch as president has been released. He and his new team will be dining on lobster with saffron sauce, angus beef, high-end California wines, and chocolate souffles, among other delicacies. Truly a meal for the candidate of the working class. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jan17 Trouble for Trump Appointees
Jan17 Trump Has Been Trying to Do Business in Russia for Decades
Jan17 Trump's Opinions on Russia Have Shifted
Jan17 Trump, Price, and Hatch Don't Agree on What the ACA Replacement Should Look Like
Jan17 White Supremacists No Longer Hailing Trump
Jan17 Poll: Trump Can Keep Businesses but Should Release Tax Returns
Jan17 Obama Leaves Office with a 58% Approval Rating
Jan17 Trump Reaches 20M Twitter Followers
Jan16 CIA Director Brennan Rips into Trump
Jan16 Feinstein Says Russia Altered the Election Outcome
Jan16 Trump Calls NATO Obsolete
Jan16 Trump Won't Visit African-American Museum After All
Jan16 Thousands Rally to Resist Repeal of the ACA
Jan16 Constituents Ask ACA Questions, Their Congressman Flees
Jan16 Inauguration Gets Some Performers
Jan16 Mr. Trump: Please Attack Me Next
Jan14 Trump's Cabinet Is Not on the Same Page as Trump
Jan14 What Will Trump Do? We Should Know February 6
Jan14 Senate Committee Will Investigate Russian Interference
Jan14 Inauguration Day Will Be Tense in D.C.
Jan14 Mexico Will Respond Immediately to a Border Tax
Jan14 Lee May Propose Tariff Bill
Jan14 For Liberal Media, Trump is Good For Business
Jan13 Senate Committee Approves Waiver for Mattis
Jan13 FBI, DOJ to Be Investigated
Jan13 Russia Could Now Focus on Hacking Members of Congress
Jan13 Trump Gets Pushback on Plan to Move Israel Embassy
Jan13 Obama Ends Automatic Residency for Cuban Refugees
Jan13 Both Parties Have Unstable Coalitions
Jan13 Why Trump Can't Let Go
Jan13 Majority of Americans Want Trump to Quit Twitter
Jan13 Bush Daughters Write Letter to Obama Daughters
Jan12 Trump's Presidency Will Be Like No Other
Jan12 Senate Takes First Step Toward Repealing Obamacare
Jan12 Tillerson Evades Senators' Questions
Jan12 Booker and Lewis Testify Against Sessions
Jan12 Chao Sails Through Easily
Jan12 Mattis Aggravates House Democrats
Jan12 Cubs to Visit Obama on Monday
Jan11 Russia May Have Dirt on Trump
Jan11 Sessions Denies Racism Charges
Jan11 Is McConnell Pulling a Fast One?
Jan11 Clinton's Cabinet Shortlist Leaks
Jan11 Trump Wants the ACA to Be Replaced Quickly
Jan11 Trump Meets With RFK, Jr.
Jan11 Obama Bids Farewell, but Is Not Leaving on Jan. 20
Jan11 Majority of Voters Don't Like Trump's Transition
Jan11 Bad News Just Keeps Coming for Crowley
Jan10 Booker to Testify Against Sessions
Jan10 Jared Kushner to Be Named Senior Adviser to the President