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Committees Begin Marking Up Health-Care Bill

Two House committees rolled up their sleeves and got to work yesterday marking up the new Republican health care bill. The chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee said that they were going to rescue Americans from the dreadful Affordable Care Act. They also emphasized that the new bill would eliminate the taxes on businesses and wealthy Americans used to finance the subsidies to poor people. The ranking Democrat on Ways and Means, Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), asked: "Is this health care, or is this a tax-cut bill?" The Democrats are likely to savage the bill in the coming days as a plan to take health care away from ordinary Americans in order to pay for tax cuts for rich people.

Having a markup session only two days after a bill is introduced is extremely unusual. Normally, members get much more time to study the bill. However, in this case, Republicans want to move extremely fast, before the opposition to it can get organized. They are also afraid that when the Congressional Budget Office scores the bill, it may announce that it covers many fewer people than the ACA and will cost the government more money than the ACA. Better to get it passed before the scoring can be done. Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee did their best to slow the train down by insisting, as is their right under House rules, that a clerk read the entire bill out loud. Normally, all committee members agree to waive the reading of the bill. However, since Republicans have majorities on both committees, the conclusion is foregone: All Democratic amendments will be rejected and the committees will report the bills out for a vote on the House floor.

Indeed, House Republicans are so eager to ram this thing through that the Ways and Means Committee remained at their posts until the work was done. After 18 hours, and well after 4:00 a.m. EST Thursday morning, they voted to approve the bill. If the Energy and Commerce Committee follows suit on Thursday, the bill could conceivably be before the whole House by the end of the week. (V)

American Medical Association is Against the Ryan Plan

On Tuesday the American Hospital Association came out against the health plan being proposed by Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). Yesterday the doctors chimed in as well. The 235,000-member American Medical Association is also against the new plan. The doctors' group says that it opposes the plan because the number of people covered will sharply decrease and many of them will be vulnerable. (V)

AARP Comes Out Against GOP Health Plan

The AARP, which has 38 million members 50 or older and is the nation's single largest lobbying group, came out yesterday against the new health plan. The organization's beef is that it allows insurance companies to charge older Americans (i.e., its members) five times as much as they charge younger members. The AARP is now running a TV ad in which a lumberjack explains the nature of "age rating" to a toy squirrel using a chart that he has conveniently at hand in the woods. While this is definitely easier than, say, explaining the differential calculus to a cockroach, it is still a tough sell. Still, the ad ends by asking the 38 million members to contact their senators and representatives and tell them what they think of the plan. No doubt many of them will and equally no doubt many Republicans in Congress are not going to like what they hear. The AARP's support of the ACA was one of the main reasons it passed. This is a very big deal for the AARP and representatives and senators up for reelection will ignore the 38 million members at their peril. (V)

Seven Pitfalls that Could Sink the Republican's Health-Care Plan

With more and more major groups coming out against the replacement for the ACA (see above), a pitched battle is being set up. The plan could be scuttled for any number of reasons. Politico has compiled a list of the top seven:

  • If the CBO computes the cost and says it will cost more than the ACA, deficit hawks in Congress will get skittish
  • If the Freedom Caucus, which calls the plan "ObamaCare Lite," votes as a bloc against it, it will die
  • Four GOP senators who are not up in 2018, have said unless the Medicaid cuts are restored, they are voting no
  • Donald Trump, who now supports the bill, could change his mind one or more times today or tomorrow
  • Sixteen states with Republican governors expanded Medicaid and are adamantly opposed to having it phased out
  • Industry groups, including insurance companies and drug companies, may decide they prefer the status quo
  • The 2018 elections are only 20 months away and taking insurance away from millions may not be a winner then

It's a rather daunting set of hurdles for Paul Ryan & Co. to overcome. (V)

Trump: Don't Worry, I'll Blame the Democrats

Donald Trump is busily selling the new health care plan around Washington. On Wednesday, he met in the Oval Office with leaders of several conservative groups, including Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, FreedomWorks, the Heritage Foundation, and the Tea Party Patriots, and told them, "This is going to be great. You're going to make it even greater." However, he also said that if it doesn't work out, then Plan B is to let Obamacare fail and to stick the Democrats with the blame.

To start, it is far from clear that Obamacare would fail, unless Congressional Republicans took overt steps to cut it off at the knees (for example, scaling back Medicare funding). In that case, blame would surely attach to the GOP as much as to the Democrats. Further, even if such steps are not taken, it may be a hard sell to point the finger solely at the blue team for the demise of RyanCare, given how many moderate and conservative Republicans hate the bill. Not to mention the conservative media, with Breitbart leading the charge. And, of course, the hospitals, doctors, and retired people, as noted above.

Perhaps the biggest question, however, is this: If Trump is already planning his exit strategy, has he inadvertently telegraphed more than he intended about how much he actually believes in Paul Ryan's bill? Very possibly. (Z)

Will the New Health Care Bill Pass the House?

In principle, the 40-member House Freedom caucus is against the new bill and if they all vote against it, it will die. But when push comes to shove, individual members will have to decide which is more important: sticking to their long-held principles or kowtowing to power. It is far from clear how many will choose the latter option. The Hill has put together a scorecard to try to see who is definitely committed to a "no" vote and who is on the fence. In the list, there are six definite "no votes," these being from Representatives Justin Amash (MI), Dave Brat (VA), Louie Gohmert (TX), Walter Jones (NC), Jim Jordan (OH), and Steve King (IA). That is not enough to kill the bill. However, another 13 House members are on the fence, most of whom voted against the budget resolution. If all vote "no," that brings the total to 19, which is still not enough to kill the bill. Still, there are other members who haven't made a public statement one way or the other.

If the House passes the bill, it goes to the Senate, where Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is a definite "no." There are a dozen other senators who are on the fence. The problem with these (or any other) whip counts is that to get Representative X on board, Ryan might be willing to tweak the bill a little, but this might cause Senator Y to switch from "yes" to "no." There are a lot of moving parts here and since the opposition within the Republican Party comes from both the right and left, it is hard to say what will happen. (V)

To Fund the Border Wall, Trump Will Slash National Security

Donald Trump knows that if he simply asks Congress to appropriate the $20 billion or so needed to build his wall on the Mexican border, the answer will be "no." So, he is scrounging up the money by taking it away from selected government agencies. For example, the Coast Guard, which guards the coast and looks for smugglers, terrorists, and undocumented immigrants trying to enter the country by sea, would see its budget slashed from $9.1 billion to $7.8 billion. Apparently stopping smugglers, terrorists, and undocumented immigrants is not a priority any more. The TSA, which guards airports, would have its budget cut by 11%.

Some of these cuts would seem counterproductive to national security. Just as one example, some of the TSA programs that will be eliminated are as follows:

  • A $20 million program (Armed Pilot) to train pilots on what to do in the event of an armed takeover attempt
  • A $57 million program (VIPR) that sends highly trained agents to sweep airports, train stations, and bus terminals
  • A $45 million program to have local police patrol around airports
  • A $65 million program that uses trained specialists at airport checkpoints to look for suspicious behavior

Another agency, FEMA, will suffer draconian budget cuts. FEMA doesn't catch terrorists, but tries to help people after a natural disaster such as a hurricane or flood. It isn't exactly "national security" in the narrowest sense, but to the people affected, it might feel like one.

However, not all border security agencies will be cut. Immigration and Customs Enforcement will go up by 36% and Customs and Border Protection will get an extra 27% in the new budget. (V)

New Polls Today about Trump, Sessions, and Special Prosecutor

Several new polls were released yesterday on a variety of hot topics. The good news for the administration is that a new USA Today/Suffolk University poll has Donald Trump (barely) above water. His approval/disapproval is now at 47%/44%, the best he has done in months. Most other polls show him deeply underwater. However, this poll was taken in the days after his speech to Congress, which was generally well received by the media. That may have given him a boost. The poll gives him high marks for leadership but low marks for temperament.

Next up is a Quinnipiac University poll about Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 52% think he lied to the Senate and 40% think he didn't. A slight majority (51%) think he should resign vs. 42% who think he should keep his job.

Finally, the touchy question of whether a special prosecutor is needed to investigate the numerous ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians: 56% want a special prosecutor to look into the matter where 30% don't want one. That's almost 2 to 1 for a special prosecutor. The person who is about to have the authority to appoint one, Deputy Attorney General-designate Rod Rosenstein, was questioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee today. He was asked if he would appoint one and he weaseled out of answering, claiming hew didn't know enough yet to make a call. Since the Republicans on the committee have a majority, Rosenstein is going to be approved by the committee and sent to the Senate for a vote, no matter what the Democrats do. (V)

Graham Says He Will Subpoena Information about Trump Wiretap

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has not been a great friend to Donald Trump over the course of the last year, says he will use his subpoena power to acquire any warrant applications or court orders related to wiretaps of Trump, Trump Tower, or the Trump campaign. "All I can say is that the country needs an answer to this," explained Graham. "The current President has accused the former President of basically wiretapping his campaign."

Graham's a sharp fellow, and surely does not expect to actually come up with anything. So, this certainly appears to be designed to cut Trump off at the knees, and to cement the Senator's status as the leader of the anti-Trump Republicans (and, just maybe, the GOP nominee in 2020 if Trump does not run). Further, even if Graham does come up with something, it will still almost certainly be bad news for Trump, since it would likely confirm that the FBI legitimately believed there was a Trump-Russia connection. The Senator certainly knows this, as well, so flexing his muscles a bit ends up being a win-win for him almost regardless of the outcome. (Z)

Trump May Strike Out With Armed Services Secretaries

First, Secretary of the Army-designate Vincent Viola withdrew from consideration, unable to separate himself from his financial interests fully enough to satisfy Federal ethics laws. Then, Secretary of the Navy-designate Philip Bilden withdrew from consideration for the same reason. And now, Secretary of the Air Force-designate Heather Wilson is getting close to making it a silver sombrero, as they call it in baseball.

Wilson's problem, unlike Viola and Bilden, is not her vast financial holdings. Instead, the issue is that since she left Congress (having represented New Mexico as a Republican) she has been a paid adviser for several defense contractors, most notably Lockheed subsidiary Sandia Corp. Since one of the Secretary's primary jobs is to make judgments about new acquisitions, and since Lockheed is the Air Force's biggest supplier, we have something of a problem. She could recuse herself from decisions involving former employers, but in that case she would end up punting on a huge number of critical decisions. She may still weather the storm, but the odds are growing better by the day that the President will have to go back to the drawing board for all of his armed services secretaries. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar08 WikiLeaks Posts CIA's Hacking Tools
Mar08 Lewandowski Approved Trump Adviser's Trip to Moscow in July
Mar08 Russian Billionaire's Jet and Trump's Jet Met Five Days before the Election
Mar08 Some Republicans Are Rejecting the ACA Replacement
Mar08 Hawaii Will Sue over Travel Ban
Mar08 Franken Says Sessions Perjured Himself
Mar08 White House Plagiarizes...from ExxonMobil
Mar07 Muslim Ban v2.0 Is Announced
Mar07 Is Trump Confusing the Alfa Bank Investigation with a Wiretap?
Mar07 GOP Releases ACA Replacement
Mar07 Senate Judiciary Committee to Hold Hearings on Deputy Attorney General Today
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Mar07 Ben Carson is Back at it Again
Mar06 Comey Asked Justice Dept. to Reject Trump's Wiretap Claim
Mar06 New Travel Ban Coming Soon
Mar06 Reince Priebus' Time May Be Short
Mar06 About the Economy, Mr. President...
Mar06 The Battle of the Wall Is Starting
Mar06 2020 Is the End of the Line for Boomer Dominance
Mar06 Politics Meets Geometry
Mar06 Oprah 2020?
Mar05 Trump Was Furious about Sessions Recusing Himself from Russia Probe
Mar05 Trump Accuses Obama of Ordering Wiretaps
Mar05 Russia Problem Is Not Going Away Any Time Soon
Mar05 Obama's First Address Watched by More People than Trump's
Mar05 Trump is Already Doing Fundraising for 2018
Mar05 Democrats Are Using a New Tactic to Get Trump to Release His Tax Returns in 2020
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Mar04 New Version of ACA Replacement Leaked
Mar04 Trump Mocks Schumer for Eating Donuts with Putin
Mar04 Evidence Against Sessions Mounts
Mar04 Pence: "No Comparison" Between My E-mails and Hillary's
Mar04 So Far, Tillerson Is an Invisible Secretary of State
Mar04 Trump Working to Raise Money for 2020
Mar04 How Midterms Differ from Presidential Elections
Mar03 Sessions Recuses Himself from Investigating Sessions
Mar03 Pence Used Private E-Mail Account
Mar03 The Fight for Trump's Brain
Mar03 Supreme Court Weighs In on Gerrymandering
Mar03 Yemen Raid Yielded No Intelligence
Mar03 Ohio Secretary of State Said that 82 People Voted Illegally
Mar03 McMaster Was Rebuked by the Army in 2015
Mar02 Sessions Looks to Be in Deep Trouble
Mar02 Handicapping Trump's Promises
Mar02 NYT: Five Takeaways from Trump's Speech
Mar02 CNN: Six Takeaways from Trump's Speech
Mar02 The Hill: Five Takeaways
Mar02 USA Today: Six Takeways
Mar02 Response to Trump Speech is Largely Positive
Mar02 Graham Wants a Law Requiring Presidential Candidates to Release Their Tax Returns