Originally Published: 6/24/2017
Secret Bill: I told you about this last week. (TWW, Healthcare Bill, 6/17/17) Senate Republicans and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, KY) constructed a new “repeal and replace” bill completely in the dark, with no hearings, no meetings, no discussion. Watch what Stephen Colbert has to say about it. (You Tube) Clearly they wanted to pass this with no input from the public but they also avoided input from other senators. There will be no hearings until the bill goes to the floor for a vote. According to the Wall Street Journal, the vote is being rushed for the express purpose of getting it done before the July 4th recess because the failure to do so “could open Republican lawmakers up to pressure from constituents,” some of whom might be “concerned about losing their health coverage.” So, the strategy is designed to shield lawmakers from public exposure and questioning about the human toll, like what happened when the House passed its bill. (TWW, Trumpcare, 5/6/17) According to a Common Dreams analysis, the 13 Republican senators - notably all both white and male - who worked in secret to write this thing, “received approximately double the amount of campaign contributions from the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries than their Senate colleagues who have been so far excluded from the process.” Check out the list. They all represent states that did not take the Medicaid expansion under ACA, so those states have little to lose. Trumpcare Toolkit posted a list of the 14 senators who are most likely to vote against the bill. It has their phone numbers to make it easy for you to call. But there’s an even more strategic reason for keeping this secret. Congress critters working in secret - and their staff - are in a position to make a boatload of money from insider trader information. (The Nation) I believe they’ve already placed their bets.
The Bill: They finally released the bill on Thursday and, like the House version, it’s not a healthcare plan, it’s a transfer of wealth - from the middle and lower classes to the wealthy. (NY Times) You’ll notice that Title I is titled “Elimination of Limitation on Recapture of Excess Advance Payments of Premium Tax Credits.” This is the section related to taxes for funding ACA, and it’s the first section of the bill. The bill itself is very similar to the House version, with one major exception: it makes even deeper cuts to Medicaid over time. It would repeal key provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), restructure healthcare subsidies, and cut funding for Medicaid. It would keep income-based tax credits and subsidies, unlike the House bill which tied them to age. Both the House and Senate plans eliminate the mandate for individuals and employers, allows states to change what qualifies as essential health benefits - like maternity care, emergency services, and mental health treatment. (NY Times) Both impose a 1-year freeze on Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood. The Senate allows states to opt out of the ban on lifetime caps for coverage. The Washington Post has a great comparison of ACA, the House version, and the Senate version. The big problem is with the Medicaid cuts.
Medicaid Cuts: Roll Call calls the bill an entitlement overhaul. The Washington Post calls it “one of the biggest cuts to the social safety net in history.” According to the NY Times, the changes to Medicaid “impose a radical diet on a 52-year-old program that insures nearly 1 in 5 Americans.” It would also stagger the cuts to Medicaid expansion, rolling back spending on the healthcare program over 4 years. After the 2020 election, funding for Medicaid would be a per capita amount, or block grant. For states that had expanded Medicaid under ACA, the government would pay a smaller portion of the cost starting in 2021. (Washington Post)
Taxes: This version of the bill also changes who gets premium tax credits. Currently the upper limit is at 400% of the poverty level. This bill limits that to 350%. And it also determines those credits based on age and income. The House version is largely based on age. And it changes what people can buy with their tax credits on the exchanges. (NPR) And then there’s the tax cut, the reason for the whole thing. The Senate version is largely the same so we can assume that the benefits of tax cuts will be largely the same as the House version. What is that? Well, the Tax Policy Center reported in May that the House version of this bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), would overwhelmingly benefit higher income Americans.
Opposition: With an “avalanche” of opposition to the bill (The Hill) and with only 17% of Americans supporting it (Business Insider), will this thing pass? It needs 50 senators to vote for it to pass - 51 total but they can count on VP Mike Pence to vote for it in case of a tie. Right now only 4 senators have announced they “are not ready to vote for this bill.” They are Republicans Ted Cruz (TX), Mike Lee (UT), Ron Johnson (WI), and Rand Paul (KY), all who want a full repeal and no replacement. (NY Times) Health insurance companies don’t appear to be too pleased with the plan. The CEOs of 10 major companies wrote a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, KY) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D, NY) saying “we are united in our opposition to the Medicaid policies currently debated by the Senate.” The Association of American Medical Colleges wrote: “We are extremely disappointed by the Senate bill released today. Despite promises to the contrary, it will leave millions of people without health coverage, and others with only bare bones plans that will be insufficient to properly address their needs.”
Russian Hacking: According to a report from the Washington Post, Obama was informed by the CIA last August, “drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government,” that “detailed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.” The intelligence “captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives - defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.” This report details how uniquely secretive this information was and what the Obama administration did in response. The Washington Post also has a great timeline of the events.
Comey Tape: The question of whether or not Trump taped his conversations with former FBI Director Jim Comey (TWW, Comey Firing, 5/20/17) has been answered. He said he made no tapes. (NY Times)
Michael Flynn: Investigators are looking at Flynn’s lobbying and his partner in his firm, Bijan Kian. “Investigators are also looking at whether payments from foreign clients to Flynn and his company, the now-inactive Flynn Intel Group, were lawful. . . That includes payments by 3 Russian companies and a Netherlands-based company, Inovo, controlled by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin.” (Reuters) But while Trump and other senior officials knew of Flynn’s ties and that he could be blackmailed for them (TWW, Sally Yates, 5/13/17; Michael Flynn, 2/18/17), “nearly every day for 3 weeks, the new CIA director, Mike Pompeo, sat in the Oval Office and briefed President Trump on the nation’s most sensitive intelligence - with Mr. Flynn listening.” (NY Times)
Jeff Sessions: The Attorney General has hired a personal lawyer. (Washington Post)
AIDS Policy: 6 members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS quit, saying Trump has no interest in the council. (NY Times)
David Clarke: The Milwaukee County Sheriff (TWW, David Clarke, 5/20/17) has withdrawn his name from consideration as Assistant Secretary for the Department of Homeland Security. (Washington Post)
Russian-Iran Sanctions: The sanctions bill passed by the Senate last week (TWW, Russia & Iran, 6/17/17) has gone to the House. However, the House parliamentarian “has determined it violates the Origination Clause of the Constitution.” This is the clause that states that revenue provisions must originate in the House. (Roll Call) I was unable to determine what “revenue provisions” were in that bill. In response to the new proposed sanctions, Russia canceled a meeting between senior U.S. and Russian officials “that was aimed at resolving problems in the relationship between the 2 countries.” (CNN)
Syria: A U.S. fighter jet shot down a Syrian warplane “after it dropped bombs near local ground forces supported by the United States.” (NY Times) Russia, a Syrian ally, fought back saying “it will target any plane from the U.S.-led coalition flying west of the Euphrates river in Syria.” (Guardian) Because of this threat, Australia has pulled out of air combat missions. (Guardian) But the U.S. kept going. Another U.S. F-15 shot down a Syrian drone, the 3rd this month. (Washington Post) A Russian fighter jet came “within several feet” of an RD-135 reconnaissance plane over the Baltic Sea “and lingered by the side of the U.S. plane for several minutes.” (Washington Post)
Missouri: The city of St. Louis has an ordinance that prevents employers and landlords from discriminating against women because of their reproductive health choices. Governor Eric Greitens (R) was upset about this and called a special session to pass a bill allowing this kind of discrimination. SB5 was passed in the state senate. Tuesday the house passed an expanded version “that included more anti-abortion restrictions.” After Greitens signs the bill, “landlords could refuse to offer housing to women based on their reproductive health choices, while employers could fire female staff members who are using birth control, or refuse to hire them.” Landlords and employers will have the right to ask women what forms of reproductive health care they are using.” (Newsweek) I don’t suppose they can treat men with vasectomies the same way. Or men using Viagra. Or condoms. Hmmm.
Torture: The U.S. Supreme Court blocked a class action lawsuit against ex-federal officials who tortured. They ruled 4 to 2 that “Congress has not allowed the judicial branch to permit the lawsuit, which was based on alleged Fourth and Fifth Amendment violations.” The suit was filed by 6 Arab and South Asian men “who were detained immediately after 9/11.” The suit sought damages from former Bush officials: Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller, and Immigration and Naturalization Services head James Ziglar, accusing them of “crafting policies that led to their mistreatment while in jail.” Dissenting were Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan recused themselves and Justice Neil Gorsuch didn’t participate because he didn’t hear the oral arguments. (District Sentinel)
Sex Offenders: In a unanimous 8 to 0 opinion, the Supremes reversed and remanded the conviction of a man under North Carolina’s law banning convicted sex offenders “from accessing websites where minors can sign up.” The Court said the law is a violation of one’s First Amendment rights. (Washington Post)
Habeas Corpus: The Supreme Court reversed, again, a 6th Circuit Court of Appeals decision that granted a habeas corpus petition to a death row inmate. In Jenkins v. Hutton, the Supremes concluded that the 6th Circuit “was too quick to excuse” a procedural default. The case was remanded. In McWilliams v. Dunn, the court ruled 5 to 4 in favor of the death row inmate, holding that the Alabama courts “had unreasonably denied” the petitioner “the assistance of a qualified mental health expert to help prepare his defense.” Dissenting were Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Neil Gorsuch. (Washington Post)
Naturalization: The Supremes, in a unanimous decision, ruled that the government cannot strip someone’s citizenship for lying during the naturalization process “without proving the falsehood is relevant.” Simply proving someone lied is not good enough. Justice Elena Kagan, who wrote the opinion, said that this would give the government too much power. But, at oral arguments, the justices indicated that the government might, in a new hearing for the petitioner, prove that the lies were material. (Washington Post)
Undisclosed Evidence: The Supreme Court ruled 6 to 2 that the men “convicted of the notorious D.C. gang murder of Catherine Fuller do not deserve a new trial because prosecutors withheld some evidence in the case.” Justice Stephen Breyer, writing the majority opinion, said it was not reasonable to think that the withheld evidence would have made a difference. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan dissented. (Washington Post)
Bad Lawyering: The Supremes ruled 6 to 2 that a man’s right to effective counsel was violated when he got bad advice from his lawyer. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented. (Washington Post)
Trademarks: The Supremes ruled that the law banning the registration of potentially offensive names violates the First Amendment. It was a unanimous decision, “but the justices were divided on the reasoning.” (NY Times)
Trump’s Budget: His proposal calls for sharply reducing funding for programs that shelter the poor and combat homelessness - except that it “leaves intact a type of federal housing subsidy that is paid directly to private landlords.” One of those landlords is Trump. (Washington Post)
Indian Programs: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testified in the Senate, defending Trump’s proposal of massive cuts to his department. Zinke “went to the mat” for Trump’s proposal, despite its hitting Indians very hard. $23.3 million will be taken out of social service and welfare programs for the Bureau of Indian Education. Zinke said that “more money may not produce a better solution.” (District Sentinel)
Deportation: U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith in Michigan temporarily blocked the deportation of more than 100 Iraqis, mostly Chaldean Christians, who allegedly would face death or persecution if returned to Iraq. “Most of the people arrested were ordered removed several years ago because of criminal convictions or for overstaying their visas, but the government had released them under orders of supervision that required them to check in regularly” with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). “They had not been prioritized for deportation under past presidential administrations.” The order includes all Iraqi nationals within the jurisdiction of the Detroit ICE field office. The judge will revisit the issue later. (Guardian)
Rural Divide: The Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a survey of nearly 1,700 Americans, “including more than 1,000 adults living in rural areas and small towns.” They found that there is a “deep-seated kinship in rural America, coupled with a stark sense of estrangement from people who live in urban areas.” Thus, they concluded: “The political divide between rural and urban America is more cultural than it is economic, rooted in rural residents’ deep misgivings about the nation’s rapidly changing demographics, their sense that Christianity is under siege, and their perception that the federal government caters most to the needs of people in big cities.” Rural residents expressed widespread concerns about the lack of jobs in their communities, although the poverty rate in both areas is similar. Rural residents are more than 3 times as likely to believe that immigrants are a burden on the country but immigrants “are more closely tied to respondents’ party affiliations than to where they lived.” And there are sharp differences in race with 1 in 5 rural Americans being nonwhite which is seen as a barrier to the sense of shared identity that connects many rural Americans.
Renewables: In March the U.S. generated 10% of its electricity from wind and solar, “marking the first such milestone in U.S. history.” The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects that when April numbers are in they too will show 10%, another first. (Scientific American)
Coal: After the announcement last week that the Acosta mine in Pennsylvania opened a new coal mine which will employ 70 people (TWW, Coal, 6/17/17), John Oliver did a very instructive piece on the industry. If you are interested in the industry’s demise and what’s driving it, this is great. It’s a good history of coal mining and the abuse of coal miners. (You Tube)
Boeing: Last January Trump visited the Boeing factory in South Carolina proclaiming, “We are going to fight for every last American job.” This week Boeing announced it would be laying off about 200 people from its North Carolina plant. (Washington Post)
Murphy Oil Case: The Acting Solicitor General “switched the government’s position” in a case brought by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) against Murphy Oil. The change “represents a stark departure from standard practice. It is the clearest indication yet of where the Trump administration stands with corporate interests and against working people.” (Economic Policy Institute)