Originally Published: 3/11/2017
Trumpcare: It’s happened. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is being replaced with the American Health Care Act. The plan has already passed muster with the House Ways and Means Committee by 23 to 16 and with the House Energy and Commerce Committee by 31 to 23, both along party lines. (Washington Post) Not surprisingly, the new Republican plan breaks every promise Trump made about health care. The buzz word you’ll hear over and over is that it provides “access” to health care. Well, I have access to a new Tesla, too, but I can’t afford it. Having “access” to something doesn’t mean you can afford it. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R, UT) thinks Trumpcare will do little more than force Americans to decide between health care and a new iPhone. (Think Progress) Christopher Ingraham at the Washington Post did a comparison between iPhones and health insurance. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has not yet scored the legislation so we don’t know how much it’ll cost us. There’s already a lot of resistance to the bill, especially from Senators. (Roll Call) There are only 52 Republican senators. If all Democrats and Independents oppose the bill, that means that they can lose only 2 Republican votes.
Why Dismantle ACA?: The main argument you’ll hear for dismantling Obamacare is that costs are going up. The NY Times did an interesting piece on how many people are affected by premium increases under Obamacare. After going through the math they report that 85% of the few people who are actually buying insurance “receive federal subsidies, which generally shield them from premium increases.” The groups that are affected by premium increases only account for 3% of all Americans. And don’t forget that much of the increase is due to Senator Marco Rubio’s (R, FL) provision that eliminated risk corridors. (TWW, Premium Increases, 11/5/16) So, who is it that needs shielding from the effects of Obamacare? You can tell by this new plan that they’re concerned with helping the wealthiest Americans at the expense of everyone else. In fact, the plan would increase costs for the average consumer by more than $1,500 a year. (Vox)
Details: Here’s a sketch of some, not all, of the key items. And, of course, things will change as the bills work through the process. I’ll try to keep up. But be sure to watch Stephen Colbert’s take on the new bill. (You Tube)
Tax Credits & Subsidies: While everyone refers to the ACA’s “subsidies,” these are really tax credits. The new plan will reduce tax credits, making coverage less affordable. The credits will be age-based rather than income-based. Meaning older billionaires will receive a much greater credit than young, working class folk. (Guardian) According to a study by the Center on Budget Policy Priorities, the elimination of a federal tax credit that subsidizes health insurance premiums likely would result in a massive windfall for wealthy households and a financial setback for low and moderate-income people. The 400 highest income taxpayers - with average annual incomes of more than $300 million each - would receive an estimated average annual tax cut of $7 million. That would result in a $2.8 billion a year loss of national revenue. About 160 million households with incomes below $200,000 would get nothing. Additionally, people who currently receive subsidies will no longer receive them, effectively increasing their tax liability. The Nation has a great piece demonstrating how the Republican plan will result in higher premiums and deductibles.
Penalties: There would no longer be penalties for not having health insurance. However, if you go 63 with no insurance, referred to as a “gap,” there is a 30% surcharge when you do get insurance. It should be pointed out that currently the penalties go to the government to help pay the subsidies. The 30% surcharge will go to insurance companies. Congress critters can’t get their hands on government money but they get kickbacks, known as campaign contributions, from the insurance companies.
Medicaid: It phases out Medicaid expansion, to be ended by 2019 (Guardian), and sets the stage for deep cuts to Medicaid funding through per-capita caps. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, this will shift $370 billion in costs to the states over the next 10 years. And don’t forget that Medicaid pays long-term care for some seniors. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services noted that at least 70% of seniors will need it and Medicaid currently pays for more than 60% of nursing home residents. The cuts will leave these people out in the cold. (National Opinion Research Center)
Medicare: The Medicare trust fund “will come 4 years closer to depletion.” (Nation) According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Medicare’s revenue will drop by $346 billion. The bill drains Medicare to give tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations.
Employer-Provided Insurance: The mandate on larger companies to provide coverage is gone. But the bill “creates incentives for companies to throw people off insurance, sticking you in the . . . hazardous individual market.” (Nation)
Insurance Companies: Under ACA insurance companies can only deduct up to $500,000 annually for executive compensation as a business expense. Remember, most insurance company pay their executives millions of dollars every year. Under the new plan this total amount would be deductible. By increasing corporations’ deductions, their tax bill will be lowered, with the federal government losing about $400 million a year. (CNBC)
Contraception: It appears that the new plan preserves the requirement that contraception be covered. (Washington Post)
Pre-Existing Conditions: It preserves the ban on denying coverage or charging more for people with pre-existing conditions. (CBS)
Mental Health Coverage: The bill eliminates, beginning in 2020, an ACA requirement that Medicaid cover basic mental health and addiction services in the states that expanded it. (Washington Post)
Health Savings Accounts: It provides increases to the amount of money individuals and families can place in health savings accounts, giving wealthy people another tax shelter for their money.
Older People: Under Obamacare insurers could charge older people up to 3 times more than younger people. Under Trumpcare they can charge up to 5 times more. (Guardian)
Young Adults: It preserves letting young adults stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26.
Selling Across State Lines: This apparently is a centerpoint to the GOP plan. According to the American Academy of Actuaries, “The ability to lower premiums by allowing cross-state sales of insurance is limited because a key driver of health insurance premiums is local costs of health care.” And, of course, cross-state sales are already allowed “and yet basically doesn’t happen.” (Bloomberg)
Planned Parenthood: It defunds Planned Parenthood. People with Medicaid could no longer get regular health care at their clinics.
Healthcare and Longevity: This should be a good time to really look at what healthcare in the U.S. really is accomplishing. According to this chart provided by Oxford economist Max Roser, “U.S. life expectancy continues to lag far behind other developed countries, despite spending way more on medical treatments aimed at keeping us alive.” The chart plots per-capita healthcare spending against life expectancy for the world’s wealthiest countries over the past 40+ years. It’s clear that in wealthy countries more spending on health leads to a longer life expectancy. However, “not all healthcare spending is created equal.” In the U.S., the inflation-adjusted per-capita annual health spending has exploded from 1970, when it was less than $500 a year, to 2014, when it was about $9,000 a year. “That’s $2,000 more per person per year than the second highest-spending country on the chart, Switzerland. In other words, all of our spending isn’t helping us live longer. There are lots of factors that influence longevity but, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the United States is the only country on the chart that doesn’t have universal health coverage. (Washington Post)
Wiretapping: As you’ve probably heard, Trump is accusing Obama of wiretapping his office in the Trump Tower during the presidential campaign. He’s asked Congress to help him find evidence to support this claim - because he doesn’t have any. (AP) I don’t know how likely this is as Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R, UT), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the committee that would be in charge of such investigation, said he hasn’t seen any evidence to corroborate Trump’s claim. (Washington Post) Trump’s only evidence “relies on sketchy anonymously sourced reports.” The Fact Checker requires an accuser “to provide the evidence for a dramatic claim. We asked Saturday and received no answer.” But press secretary Sean Spicer referred to “reports” and Robert Costa reported that White House aides “have internally circulated an article on Breitbart.” However, another White House spokesperson said that they were relying on reports from BBC, Heat Street, NY Times, Fox, and others. So Fact Checker got busy and gave Trump 4 Pinocchios. (Washington Post) FBI Director James Comey is incensed. He’s asked the Justice Department “to publicly reject” Trump’s accusation. “Mr. Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected . . . but the department has not released any such statement.” (NY Times) Watch Keith Olbermann’s take on Trump’s conspiracy peddling. (You Tube)
ExxonMobil: Now that the Trump administration’s connection to Exxon is well established with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson being the former CEO of Exxon, I found this very interesting. In a news release Exxon highlighted its plan to spend $20 billion over the next 10 years to build 11 chemical and natural gas projects and “create 45,000 jobs.” Of course, Trump claimed this as his own. (Washington Post) So maybe jobs will be created but we’ll destroy our environment even more.
Michael Flynn: Trump’s former National Security Advisor resigned or was fired (no one knows which) after it came out that he had conversations with the Russian ambassador (TWW, Michael Flynn, 2/18/17). Now it’s come to light that from September to November, during which Flynn was working as a top adviser to Trump’s campaign, he was also lobbying for a firm linked to the Turkish government, earning $530,000. (Politico) He has now filed retroactive documents with the Justice Department to register as a foreign agent. (Guardian)
Trademarks: China has granted Trump preliminary approval of 38 trademarks, “giving the U.S. President and his family protection were they to develop the ‘Trump’ brand in the market.” The trademarks cover a “wide sweep” of business “from hotels to mobile libraries and escorts,” and “underline the complexities and potential concerns over conflicts of interest facing President Trump, who has a sprawling business empire using the Trump name around the world.” (Reuters)
Federal Employees: If you’re curious about the people Trump has hired to run the federal government, ProPublica has a great piece on the dysfunctional array of weirdos that are now running things.
Scott Gottlieb: He’s been chosen to head the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). He’s a “conservative physician and businessman with deep ties to the pharmaceutical industry.” He’s not seen as someone who’ll dismantle the FDA but “he is still likely to try shaking it up in significant ways.” (Washington Post)
Rod Rosenstein: Rosenstein went before the Senate Judiciary Committee for confirmation as deputy attorney general. He “refused to commit” to appointing a special counsel to oversee investigations of Russian meddling in the presidential election, “though he stressed that he did not yet know the facts of the matter.” (Washington Post)
Rachel Brand: She is Trump’s pick to oversee the regulatory agencies at the Department of Justice. She went before the Senate Judiciary Committee but she “wasn’t prepared . . . to defend” one of Trump’s first executive orders on federal rulemaking - requiring 2 old regulations to be repealed before a new one is implemented. She said: “Any regulatory action taken by any agency of the government has to comply with the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which require reasoned decision-making. . . As to the inter-play between the APA and the executive order, those decisions would fall in the first instance to the regulatory agencies themselves, but I would have to study it further.” (District Sentinel) Say what?
Torture: A death penalty trial of Abd Al-Rahim Al-Nashiri, accused of plotting the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole, was held this week at Guantánamo Bay. A military judge “permitted defense attorneys to call as witnesses 4 former CIA officials with intimate knowledge of the agency’s torture tactics.” (District Sentinel)
WikiLeaks: Another trove of information was released by WikiLeaks. The Washington Post said that the “hacking arsenal” revealed the “secret cyber-tools” used by the CIA “to convert cellphones, televisions, and other ordinary devices into implements of espionage.” AP noted that the documents “describe clandestine methods for bypassing or defeating encryption, antivirus tools, and other protective security features intended to keep the private information of citizens and corporations safe from prying eyes.” Jenna McLaughlin at The Intercept has a great piece on this. And Julian Assange had a press conference and explains a lot of this. (USA Today) However, Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina, did an op-ed piece at the NY Times. She wrote that things aren’t as bad as news organizations would have us believe. “There were 2 culprits: an honest (if careless) misunderstanding about technology on the part of the press” and “yet another shrewd misinformation campaign orchestrated by WikiLeaks.”
Operation Inherent Resolve: A U.S.-led coalition admitted it killed “at least” 220 civilians in air strikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq “amid fears for up to 750,000 people trapped in Mosul.” Humanitarian organizations have warned “that the real total may be far higher, with monitoring group Airwars counting at least 2,400 innocent men, women, and children killed in the anti-ISIS bombing campaign. (Independent)
Florida: Circuit Court Judge Milton Hirsch ruled that Miami-Dade’s policy of holding undocumented immigrants in jail at the request of the federal government is unconstitutional. (NBC)
Virginia: If you remember, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit “relied on the federal government’s guidance that schools should let transgender students use the bathroom that corresponds with the student’s gender identity.” (TWW, Virginia on School Bathroom Policy, 4/23/16) In August the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Appeals Court’s order until they could look at the case. (TWW, Transgender Restrooms, 8/6/16) So, now they’ve looked at it and the Supremes vacated that order and sent the case back to the lower court “after the Trump administration withdrew the federal government’s guidance to public schools.” (Washington Post)
Trump’s Budget: According to the Tax Policy Center, Trump’s campaign proposals would amount to a $6.2 trillion tax cut over the next 10 years, of which 47.3% would go to the top 1% of households. “Federal revenues would fall by $6.2 trillion over the first decade before accounting for added interest costs. Including interest costs, the federal debt would rise by $7.2 trillion over the first decade and by $20.9 trillion by 2036.”
Travel Ban: Trump signed an executive order setting up a new travel ban since his old one was shot down. (TWW, Muslim Ban, 2/11/17) Here’s the full text. It restricts entry into the U.S. of nationals from 6 of the former 7 countries: Iran, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen “who don’t already have a valid U.S. visa.” Iraq was removed from the list. The ban will last for 3 months and suspends refugees for 4 months while the departments of Homeland Security, State, and Justice “tighten vetting procedures.” The order goes into effect on March 16th. (Roll Call) In addition, the U.S. will accept no more than 50,000 refugees in a year, down from the 110,000 previously set. (Washington Post) Just like the last ban, Silicon Valley is throwing a fit. (Washington Post) The United Nations said that the ban “will increase the woes of the world’s refugees.” (Guardian) Hawaii was the first state to sue over Trump’s travel ban (Guardian) but Washington has said it will renew its challenge and U.S. District Judge for the Western District of Washington James Robart has granted Oregon’s and Minnesota’s challenge. Massachusetts said it will be joining in opposing the ban. (Roll Call) But in Wisconsin, U.S. District Judge William Conley issued a temporary restraining order “barring enforcement of the policy to deny U.S. entry to the wife and child of a Syrian refugee already granted asylum in the United States.” The order applies only to this family. (Reuters)
Juries: In a 5 to 3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a guilty verdict because a juror, an ex-cop, was a racist. It “ordered Colorado to reconsider the guilty verdict.” Dissenting were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. (District Sentinel)
Terrorism: Have you heard Trump saying anything about the 2 terrorists here in the U.S. that were caught? No? That’s because they’re not Muslim but white, U.S.-born terrorists. Benjamin McDowell, 29, of Conway, South Carolina was indicted in federal court after buying a gun from an undercover FBI employee. “Court documents show he posted white supremacist hate speech on social media, at one point indicating that he might target a synagogue in the Myrtle Beach area.” (WACH) Then there’s Mark Charles Burnett, a Florida man, “who reportedly was plotting to set off bombs in Target stores in the hopes of driving down the retailer’s stock value.” An ex-convict, Burnett “offered a man $10,000 to place explosives in Target stores on the East Coast.” (Washington Times) If you’re wondering “why Target?” it’s because of several things. They’ve banned firearms in their stores and they allow employees and customers to use bathrooms that correlate with their gender identity. And there’s a slew of other things. A right-wing friend of mine said they don’t allow Salvation Army bellringers at the stores during the holiday season because they want all that money to come into their stores so they can give it to Planned Parenthood. My point is, right-wingers are out to get Target.
White Supremacy: Recruitment on college campuses has stepped up, with more than 100 “events” being recorded since January. (NY Times)
District Attorneys: Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions has asked all 46 remaining Obama administration U.S. attorneys to resign. (Reuters)
Deregulation: Federal agencies, acting under Trump’s orders, and the Congress have, together, delayed, suspended, or reversed more than 90 regulations. (NY Times) And this week another batch of legislation is going to Trump’s desk for signature, rolling back more “Obama-era” rules. (District Sentinel)
FCC: Our new Federal Communication Commission head, Aji Pai (TWW, FCC, 2/11/17; Ajit Pai, 1/28/17), a former associate general counsel for Verizon, is “moving rapidly” to change things. He has reversed or weakened measures that regulate on behalf of the public. John Nichols at The Nation has the details.
Infrastructure: Trump’s promises of rebuilding our infrastructure, he says, will be public/private partnerships. I’ve told you before what this means. (TWW, Trump Policies, 11/26/16) Now, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has confirmed what many have predicted. She said that U.S. drivers may face more toll roads in order to raise infrastructure funds. What she means is that granting tax credits to contractors to rebuild our infrastructure will include some sort of promise that they’ll make good profits from the venture. For roads that means granting them the right to charge tolls. (Washington Post)
Visas: The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which is under the Department of Homeland Security, is suspending expediting H-1B visas as of April 3rd. Called “premium processing,” under this process applicants can be eligible for visa approvals within 15 days. A regular review may take several months. (Reuters)
Mustafa Ali: The head of the environmental justice program at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has resigned, “departing the government with a lengthy letter” to the new director, Scott Pruitt, “urging him not to kill the agency’s programs.” Ali “worked to alleviate the impact of air, water, and industrial pollution on poverty-stricken towns and neighborhoods during nearly a quarter century with the EPA. He helped found the environmental justice office, then the environmental equity office, in 1992, during the presidency of President George H.W. Bush.” (Inside Climate News)
Solar Power: Growth in solar power is up 50% worldwide “thanks to U.S. and China.” (Guardian)
Unemployment: The U.S. added 235,000 jobs in February, “the best month for job growth since July.” Unemployment was down slightly, from 4.8% to 4.7%. (Guardian)