Sep. 22

Click for www.electoral-vote.com

New Senate: DEM 48             GOP 52

New polls:  
Dem pickups: (None)
GOP pickups: (None)

Previous | Next

Insurance Industry Strongly Opposes Health-Care Bill

After sitting on the sidelines for months, the insurance industry has come out strongly opposing the latest Republican effort to repeat the ACA, the Cassidy-Graham-Heller-Johnson (CGHJ) bill. Yesterday, two of the biggest insurance trade associations, Blue Cross Blue Shield and America's Health Insurance Plans, announced their opposition to the bill. The American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the American Cancer Society, and AARP are also against it. Their complaint is that the bill will destabilize the insurance markets.

But that is not the worst of it. Marilyn Tavenner, the CEO of AHIP, is afraid that because the bill eliminates all the subsidies that individuals get and gives them to the states in a single block grant, some of the states might do something really scary: Implement Berniecare. If a state controlled by Democrats, such as California, decided to have a single-payer insurance system, like Canada, it could just pass a law making medical care free or almost free, and use the block grant to pay for it. The possibility of one or more states eliminating private health insurance could start a trend the insurance industry looks at with dread. In addition, having to deal with 50 state insurance and health systems is far more complicated for the industry than a single nationwide system like the ACA.

At this point, it is far from sure that the 50 votes are there to pass the bill. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) is a definite "no" and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is a probable "no." If one other Republican senator votes against the bill it will die. This puts enormous pressure on two of the Republican senators who voted against the "skinny repeal" in July, Lisa Murkowski (AK), and John McCain (AZ). The Republican leadership is going to offer Murkowski the sun, the moon, and the stars (and maybe throw in an aurora borealis to boot) to get her vote. Among other items on the table would be to keep the ACA more or less intact in Alaska and Hawaii (the latter to make the pork trading slightly less obvious) while decimating it in the other 48 states. Another possibility is to change the formula by which the size of the block grants is determined to give Alaska far more than its proportional share. If Murkowski were to submit a wish list that would get her vote, it would be granted sight unseen. Although her appointment to the Senate was very controversial (her father, the governor, appointed her to a vacant Senate seat), she has become one of the few senators who thinks for herself and doesn't just do what she is told by her betters. She has repeatedly said that she works for the people of Alaska, not for the Republican Party or the president. She's also warned that she's not open to a "buy my vote" arrangement, because "Then you have a nationwide system that doesn't work." Getting her vote won't be easy.

The other tough nut to crack is McCain. He has an aggressive form of brain cancer and won't have many more votes in the Senate. His legacy now is his vote against the skinny repeal bill in July. If he votes for the bill, his legacy will be that of a flip-flopper with no principles. He doesn't want that. On the other hand, one of the authors of the bill is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), his best friend in the Senate and not someone he wants to disappoint. So there is basically nothing the GOP establishment can do buy his vote, as they can try to do with Murkowski. It's his personal decision to make and buying everyone in Arizona a new air conditioner won't help. (V)

Republicans Making Progress on Tax Cuts

When it comes to tax cuts, the GOP appears to have learned a lesson or two from their struggles to repeal Obamacare. They are moving cautiously, discussing options among themselves, and trying to build a consensus among members of the party. Thus far, they seem to have reached agreement on two key points: (1) That their target is roughly $1.5 trillion in tax cuts over the next 10 years, and (2) That they will use wildly optimistic estimates for the economic growth that this will generate, as opposed to the more realistic estimates provided by the Congressional Budget Office and Joint Committee on Taxation.

Presumably, the second "compromise" was not a hard one to reach—Republicans at least as far back as Ronald Reagan have peddled their tax cuts using voodoo economics; so of course they will do the same this time. As to the $1.5 trillion, that's a more important sign of progress, but there's still a ways to go. GOP leaders have not yet reached any sort of agreement on how they will balance the budget (in other words, what spending will get cut), or exactly which taxes will be reduced, or which tax breaks will be repealed, or whether their goal will be a temporary or a permanent cut. These are all, arguably, more thorny issues than the ones the Republicans have already ironed out. And, as we are still in the preliminary discussion stages, there has yet to be any serious criticism or opposition from whatever stakeholders would bear the burden of the GOP's hypothetical plan. In other words, the Koch Brothers shouldn't break out the champagne quite yet. (Z)

Trump's Bodyguard Knew about Felix Sater

A mysterious figure who keeps popping up in the Russiagate probe is a Russian emigre and two-time felon Felix Sater, who has ties to shady Russians. Donald Trump downplays his connections to Sater, but his name keeps coming up. McClatchy is reporting that Trump's personal bodyguard, Gary Uher, is a former FBI agent who was involved in a complex deal to get Felix Sater back from his native Russia in the late 1990s. Sater avoided prison by serving as a U.S. government informant.

Kathleen Clark, a Washington University law professor who specializes in government ethics and national security law, said this revelation is yet another connection between Trump and Russian criminals. Trump has denied knowing Sater very well, despite doing extensive business with the Bayrock Group, a company of which Sater was the managing director. If Trump ever visited Bayrock to talk to Sater and took Uher along for security, surely Uher would have recalled that Trump's partner was a two-time felon. Although it is not part of the job description for "bodyguard," he might have mentioned this tidbit to Trump. The Trump organization didn't respond to questions about whether Trump knew about Uher and his connection to Sater. After leaving the bureau, Uher was referred to Trump by Bernard Kerik, the former one-time DHS secretary nominee who withdrew and was imprisoned in 2010 for tax fraud and lying to federal officials. (V)

Facebook Will Give Russian Ads to Congress

Facebook reversed a previous decision yesterday and agreed to give Congress more than 3,000 ads bought by Russians during the election campaign. Up until yesterday, Facebook said that it couldn't release the ads for privacy reasons, but suddenly privacy is not so important. When announcing his new position, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said: "I don't want anyone to use our tools to undermine democracy."

In reality, Zuckerberg is aware that people on the left and on the right think Facebook and Google have too much power and should be regulated like public utilities. Antagonizing Congress by not giving it information it wants to investigate the Russian hacking probably would speed up the process of regulation, so Zuckerberg decided to give in on this one. (V)

Judge Wants DACA Cases to Move Quickly

After Donald Trump decided to rescind the DACA program, by which undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children can stay, a number of groups filed lawsuits. These suits generally made the same arguments: First, that the Trump administration did not follow the proper administrative procedures and second, that when government promises something to people and then changes its mind, that violates due process.

Yesterday a federal judge in San Francisco, William Alsup, who has a bachelors degree in mathematics as well as a law degree from Harvard, and who was appointed to the federal bench by Bill Clinton, grouped together four of the cases and said he wanted the legal briefs by December. He also said: "I don't like the idea that we're fiddling while Rome burns and suddenly the program is expired." (V)

The Swamp Is Thriving

Of all the various campaign promises that Donald Trump made, and has thus far failed up to live up to, it's arguable that the one that has taken the harshest beating is his pledge to "drain the swamp." It is one thing to make a promise and to merely fail to deliver (for example, the Mexican wall). It's another thing entirely to promise something and then do the opposite, but that has certainly happened a lot on the swamp-draining front.

On Thursday came two more stories of a sort that we've now seen dozen of times. The first is that the President's HHS Secretary, Tom Price, apparently quite enjoys living the high life on the government's dime. Since he took office eight months ago, he has traveled by private, government-funded jet 24 times. Customarily, cabinet officials travel commercial, and only take a private plane when there is no good commercial option. Certainly, that was the policy of the last two HHS secretaries, Sylvia Mathews Burwell and Kathleen Sebelius. It is not Price's policy; however. For example, he could have bought a ticket when traveling from D.C. to Nashville on June 6 for between $200 and $500. Instead, he took a private plane at a cost of $17,760.

Meanwhile, Trump is finally staffing up the USDA. But, according to an examination of 42 candidates by Politico, most don't actually have any experience relevant to the jobs they are being hired for. Some of them—including a long-haul truck driver, a country club cabana attendant, and the owner of a scented-candle company—don't even have college degrees, despite that ostensibly being a requirement for the level of federal job for which they are being hired. What the candidates do tend to have in common, however, is that they worked on Trump's presidential campaign. Needless to say, the spoils system has been a part of American politics for two centuries, and Trump is far from the first president to give jobs to his friends, supporters, and other cronies. However, most of them at least try to pick supporters who are reasonably qualified for their appointments, if for no other reason than those people will be carrying out the president's agenda, and need to know how to do so. It will be much harder to make America great again if the director of the Food Safety and Inspection Service isn't entirely clear which end of the cow is the business side. (Z)

Trump Not So Great With Geography

The good news is that Donald Trump has found a country whose health-care system impresses him. During a speech at the U.N. on Thursday, he expressed admiration that, after all the problems they've faced, "Nambia's health system is increasingly self-sufficient." The bad news is that Nambia is not actually a country.

There are quite a few African countries that he could have been referring to, among them Zambia, Gambia, Liberia, and the one the White House later claimed he actually meant: Namibia. Obviously, everyone is entitled to a slip of the tongue or a typo, but the problem here is that Trump used the incorrect name of the country twice in the speech, and it was also rendered incorrectly in the original text distributed by the White House. This makes it seem a lot less like a slip of the tongue, and a lot more like he and his staff really don't know what they are talking about. Next time, the President should probably stick with better-known countries, like Botswanga, Bulungi, Equatorial Kundu, Mombaka, or Zamunda.

Because of the misspelling, meanwhile, an arguably more troubling passage in the speech has passed without much notice. "Africa has tremendous business potential," said Trump. "I have so many friends going to your countries, trying to get rich. I congratulate you. They're spending a lot of money." That sounds an awful lot like something Theodore Roosevelt might say; in essence that the nations of Africa are there waiting for white folks to plunder them. If that is indeed how Trump—who is kind of the 21st century version of a robber baron—sees Africa, then it's certainly a different vision than the one held by the last dozen or so presidents. (Z)

Alabama Senate Candidates Debate

Roy Moore and Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) met for the only debate they will have before Tuesday's runoff to decide who will be the GOP candidate in the Dec. 12 election to permanently fill AG Jeff Sessions' vacated Senate seat. The primary themes of the debate:

Any Alabama Republican watching the debate almost had to come away feeling like they were going to have to figure out which candidate is the least bad option, since it is clear that both men have some serious flaws as candidates (and, arguably, as people). If it is Donald Trump who carries the day—he's got about a 55% approval rating in the state, better than he's doing anywhere outside Montana and the Dakotas—then Strange will have the upper hand, as the President will be campaigning on his behalf tonight, and over the course of the weekend. Mitch McConnell won't be there, given his dismal approval rating (18% or so), but millions of dollars of his money will be. Most polls give Moore a slight edge, but Alabama is one of the hardest states to poll (due to restrictive laws designed to curtail pollsters and telemarketers), so there should be a fair bit of drama on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, it turns out that it's not just Donald Trump who could use a new spell-checker. Moore's campaign prepared a large-format ad that has been plastered to the sides of buses in Alabama. It includes a URL for Moore's campaign website, alabamadeservesmoore.com. Or it was supposed to, but due to a typo, the URL on the sides of Alabama's buses is actually alabamaderservesmoore.com (note the extra 'r'). The Democrat who will be facing off against Moore/Strange in December, Doug Jones, has already purchased the misspelled domain name and redirected it to his own campaign website. There are certainly much worse ways to spend twenty bucks of a campaign's funds. (Z)


Back to the main page