• Ryan Sells Healthcare Bill, Underwhelms
• Brookings Study Says 15 Million People Will Lose Insurance If House Bill Passes
• What Is Trump's Plan B?
• Cruz Suggests that Pence Overrule the Senate Parliamentarian
• Can the Dots Be Connected?
• Huntsman Tapped for Russia Ambassadorship
• Four More States Will Sue Trump on Muslim Ban v2.0
• White House, Ethics Office Butt Heads
• D.C. Wine Bar Sues Trump
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) yesterday made an important comment on the new health-care bill:
I don't think the Senate would vote on that bill. The bill that was introduced Monday night cannot pass the Senate. And I don't think it will be brought to the Senate for a vote.
Cotton said that many of his colleagues hold the view that the House is proceeding all wrong, introducing a bill on Monday and ramming it through the two relevant committees on Wednesday, before the Congressional Budget Office has even had a chance to score it. Cotton, of course, knows that it would take only 3 Republican defections to kill the bill in the Senate, and apparently he knows of at least three senators who have told him they won't vote for the bill as it stands now. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) rubbed it in by pointing out that the ACA itself took 14 months to pass and involved hundreds of hearings. It wasn't introduced out of nowhere and then passed in a week.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is less pessimistic than Cotton. Yesterday, he called on Republicans to put aside their differences and pass the House bill. He said that when the other party occupies the White House, you can aim for perfect solutions, but when your party is in charge of everything, people expect results, even if they are not 100% perfect in every way. Whether McConnell can actually control his caucus, however, is a different story. (V)
Thursday morning, Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) got to work selling the GOP healthcare bill to the press and the general public. He gave a professorial 35-minute PowerPoint presentation that was attended by a large cadre of reporters and broadcast on three cable networks. Like the bill itself, it appeared to have been put together in rather rushed fashion, because it featured a number of missteps from the Speaker that opened him up to criticism.
To start with, as we might expect in Donald Trump's Washington (see below), Ryan was pretty hamfisted in cherry-picking statistics to support his case. For example, he lamented the 59 percent increase in premiums in the Minnesota ACA exchange, and the 116 percent increase in Arizona, but he did not mention the mere 2% increases in Ohio, Arkansas, or Hew Hampshire, or the fact that premiums actually fell in Indiana and Massachusetts.
Ryan also made a surprising number of sloppy statements or outright misstatements. For example, he said that Obamacare is in a "death spiral." This term has a specific meaning—that the premiums being paid are unable to keep up with costs—and is not currently accurate. He also declared that Obamacare encourages "job lock," which means that people are unable to change jobs for fear of losing their healthcare. This is also incorrect; Obamacare allows people to keep their insurance when they leave their jobs. What Ryan actually meant is that Obamacare may disincentivize work (or working more), since higher earnings mean fewer subsidies. Of course, the GOP plan has that same potential (but to a lesser extent), so it's not surprising that Ryan preferred not to present this issue correctly.
The real head scratcher, however—and the line that all of Ryan's critics jumped on—came when the Speaker said:
So take a look at this chart. The red slice here are what I would call people with preexisting conditions. People who have real health-care problems. The blue is the rest of the people in the individual market—that's the market where people don't get health insurance at their jobs where they buy it themselves. The whole idea of Obamacare is the people on the blue side pay for the people on the red side. The people who are healthy pay for the people who are sick. It's not working...
This certainly made it seem like Ryan does not understand how insurance works, since—of course—the description he gives is exactly how insurance is supposed to work. At any given time, a large number of people who don't need the insurance are paying for a small number of people who do. Again, though, it's possible to figure out what Ryan actually meant, namely that he thinks the balance between payers and receivers is out of whack. That said, an audience should not have to work so hard to figure out what a speaker actually means.
In the end, Paul Ryan aspires to the big show—when he looks in the mirror in the morning, he sees a U.S. president. Speaker-to-White House is a tough road to travel (only James Polk has done it), and Ryan's less-than-impressive performances when the spotlight is most intense certainly do not make it seem like he's going to be able to buck those odds. (Z)
While the CBO hasn't scored the new health-care bill yet, other groups are already working hard on it. Yesterday the Brookings Institution, a well-respected D.C. think tank, issued a report that concludes that under the House bill, 15 million people will lose their insurance. The media sometimes call Brookings a liberal think tank, but studies show that conservatives refer to its output almost as much as liberals do, and on a scale of 1 to 100, it earned a score of 53, just a tad more liberal than the exact middle of the spectrum. Thus there is no reason to doubt this report, and the CBO's score is likely to give a similar result when it is available.
Clearly this does not bode well for the bill. Congressional Republicans could call the reports fake news and just pass it anyway, but they know that when their constituents lose their insurance, they are not going to regard that as fake news. Most likely House Republicans were expecting something like this, so they have worked to get the bill passed as quickly as possible, ideally before the CBO scores it. (V)
With so much opposition to the ACA replacement, from the right in the House and from the center and left in the Senate, there is a real possibility it might not pass. What would Donald Trump (and the congressional Republicans) do in the event there is no plan that satisfies 218 representatives and 50 senators? Greg Sargent suggested that plan B for Trump is to do nothing, announce that ObamaCare has failed, and blame the Democrats. The Republican base already knows that it is "failing badly," because Fox News and other Republican news outlets have been telling them so for 7 years. News sources that work with real facts, as opposed to alternative facts, would say that 10-20 million people have been insured through the ACA but Trump could just deny that. He could also legitimately find a few cases where premiums have gone up in the past year and talk endlessly about how premiums are skyrocketing (see above). Actually, they have gone up for only about 3% of ACA enrollees.
Would Trump's approach work? It might, although a lot of loyal Republicans might be thinking: "For 7 years you have told us that if we gave you the keys to the kingdom you would repeal that abomination. We gave you the keys and you didn't do it. Can we ever trust you again?" On the whole, it is better for the GOP if a repeal and replacement bill can actually pass and be signed into law, but with the enormous amount of opposition that has crept out of the woodwork in only 4 or 5 days, it might be wise to have a plan B, just in case. (V)
Under the Budget Act of 1974, which governs the reconciliation process, only bills that have a major effect on the budget can use the reconciliation process, which needs only a simple majority to pass. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has now suggested that the health-care bill be loaded up with things that have no impact on the federal budget, such as allowing insurance companies to sell across state lines (which most of them don't want to do). Then when the Senate parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, objects, Mike Pence, who is constitutionally the president of the Senate, should overrule her and simply declare that allowing insurance companies to sell across state lines does affect the federal budget.
Once the president of the Senate starts ignoring the parliamentarian, de facto the filibuster has been unilaterally abolished. Democrats instantly rejected Cruz's proposal as a violation of Senate procedure. One of them said: "You could authorize a war with a simple majority and argue that it affects spending." If McConnell wants to abolish the filibuster, this is probably not the route he would take, though. (V)
Nicholas Kristof raised an interesting question yesterday: Why is Trumpland so obsessed with Russia? He points out that there are so many different bits of evidence that something odd is going on. Can the dots be connected? Here are some of his observations:
- More than 20 times Trump has falsely denied contacts between his staff and Russia.
- Why are there so many contacts involving so many people and why is everyone denying them?
- Why was a Trump server communicating with the Russian Alfa Bank, and only during business hours?
- The British and Dutch have reported numerous meetings between Trump officials and Russian intelligence.
- Former British spy Christopher Steele, who is known for his accuracy, said Trump's team colluded with Russia.
- Trump has been incredibly friendly toward Russia, something that is actual bad politics for a Republican.
- Trump's associate, Roger Stone, foretold the dump of John Podesta's email before it happened.
- Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, has longstanding ties to Russia.
- Donald Trump, Jr., said in 2008 that money was pouring in from Russia.
Kristoff forgot former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski's trip to Russia last summer. Maybe a couple of these are red herrings (Kristof thinks the Sessions connection might be), but an awful lot of people in Trump's orbit seem to have an inordinate amount of interest in Russia. Why? Was there a deal? Was there a quid pro quo? Was there some kind of implicit understanding of "we help you and you help us" even if it wasn't explicit? What's also noteworthy is that there is virtually no contact between Trump's staff and China, even though the U.S. does far more business with China than with Russia, and as a businessman, Trump should be focused on where the business is. It doesn't add up. (V)
Jon Huntsman, onetime governor of Utah and presidential candidate, and former ambassador to Singapore (under George H. W. Bush) and China (under Barack Obama), has been appointed as Donald Trump's ambassador to Russia. He's a grown-up who is respected on both sides of the aisle, so he should be confirmed with ease.
This is a very strange appointment. Huntsman doesn't know a lot about Russia, but knows a huge amount about China, having served as ambassador to that country from 2009 to 2011. He also speaks fluent Mandarin. Why not use all his expertise on China by sending him back there again instead of sending him to a country he knows little about? Trump's pick for ambassador to China is Gov. Terry Branstad (R-IA). While Iowa sells a lot of corn and soybeans to China and Branstad knows Chinese President Xi Jinping from his trips to China to sell corn and soybeans, Branstad doesn't speak Mandarin or Cantonese. He has also never held any diplomatic position. If Trump follows through with his promise to impose a 45% tariff on Chinese goods, Branstad will need a quick course in diplomacy.
This will be the toughest assignment of Huntsman's career, and one of the most difficult ambassadorial postings in American diplomatic history. The relationship between the United States and Russia is, of course, already a subject of much scrutiny and scandal. Normally, an ambassador's job is to improve relations with the country to which he is deployed, but in this case doing so could cause Huntsman (a complete outsider from Donald Trump's circle) to be tainted for the rest of his career. On the other hand, if he pushes Russia further away, that's not very diplomatic. He's going to need all his talents to weather this storm. (Z)
Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced yesterday that he was going to sue the federal government to block the new Muslim ban, claiming it is as defective as the old Muslim ban. The attorneys general of New York, Oregon, and Massachusetts will join him in the suit. These four states aren't even first, though. Earlier this week Hawaii was the first state to file suit, claiming the ban violated the equal protection and establishment clauses of the Constitution.
Having Washington lead the pack could be important because a Washngton federal judge, James Robart, was one of the judges who issued a restraining order to block Muslim Ban V1.0. No doubt Ferguson is hoping Robart gets this case as well. (V)
It was really only a matter of time until that headline was written. The subject of the tension between the Trump administration and the Office of Government Ethics is Kellyanne Conway's rule-violating television pitch for Ivanka Trump's products. The White House has decided that Conway's act was not "malicious" and so there's nothing wrong. OGE Director Walter Shaub believes that Conway's "misuse of position" is a serious problem, and that failure to sanction Conway, "risks undermining the ethics program." In the end, the White House has all the power here, so Conway is going to skate. And it's probably just a matter of time until the budget for the Office of Government Ethics is cut to pay for a wall or a tax cut. (Z)
Speaking of ethics, Washington, D.C.'s Cork Wine Bar has sued Donald Trump. The existence of the lawsuit is not in and of itself interesting, as presidents get sued all the time. The interesting part is the case that the wine bar is making: That Trump's D.C. hotel is gaining an unfair competitive advantage from his presidency, in violation of the Constitution's emoluments clause.
Thus far, it has been difficult for anyone to challenge Trump on the emoluments issue for lack of standing to sue. Cork is on much stronger ground there, and they have a case that is worthy enough to get its day in court. It will not be difficult to connect Trump with his hotel, since he's never divested himself of it, has not taken his name off the lease, and still has his name on the front door. He's visited the hotel has president, and White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer has encouraged people to visit. The much harder part of Cork's case will be proving that the drop in revenue that they have been experiencing in recent months is tied directly to Trump's hotel. That part of the argument is doable, but far from a slam dunk. (Z)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
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Mar09 AARP Comes Out Against GOP Health Plan
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