Originally Published: 7/1/2017
Senate Bill: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has completed scoring the Senate bill, dubbed the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA). CBO says that it will lower federal spending by $321 billion over the next 10 years. The House version lowered it by $119 billion. It will also increase the number of uninsured by 22 million by 2026, slightly less than the House version’s plan of 23 million. Just next year alone 15 million would become uninsured. (NY Times) The analysis also found that the plan will cause premiums to explode, “increasing by 20% in the first year.” The average increase for exchange enrollees will be $2,294. For enrollees aged 60 to 64 the increase would be $5,527. (Center for American Progress) It will also cause deductibles to “skyrocket” (Center for American Progress) and create more useless insurance plans with high deductibles. (Washington Post) As to the cuts to Medicaid, the CBO noted that the bill sharply reduces funding for the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) Medicaid expansion. If states want to keep the expansion, they’ll have to as much as quintuple their spending on those enrollees. Check out the map of the increases in the states at the Washington Post. On Thursday the CBO came out with a supplemental report on the longer-term effects of the BCRA. It estimates that Medicaid spending will decrease by 26% over the first 10 years and 35% over the next 2 decades under this plan. States will have to find different ways to deliver Medicaid services - such as committing more of their own resources, cutting payments to providers, or restricting eligibility. And Joe Davidson, writing at the Washington Post, provided a list of all the problems this bill will cause for veterans.
More Opposition: The Koch network has come out against the Senate proposal, saying it doesn’t go far enough. They want a full repeal with no replacement. (Washington Post) The American Medical Association has come out against the bill, saying it violates the oath to “Do No Harm.” (The Hill) And 40 economists, including 6 Nobel laureates, sent a letter to the Senate outlining their opposition. The U.S. citizenry isn’t in favor of the bill. According to a new NPR/PBS News Hour/Marist poll, just 17% approve the Senate’s plan, although 35% of Republicans approve. And a USA Today/Suffolk University poll found that just 12% of Americans support any of the Republican plans. (Politics USA) Suffolk University also did some polling and found that, of all adults polled, more than 80% believe keeping Medicaid coverage for low-income people is very important or somewhat important. Even about 70% of Republicans think it’s important. Check out the chart. (Washington Post)
Delayed Vote: On Tuesday Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R, KY) delayed the vote on this bill “following the weekly GOP policy luncheon.” (Roll Call) But on Wednesday McConnell announced he was aiming to have modifications done and get the bill to the floor on Friday. (Washington Post) One modification being proposed is a provision “that would penalize consumers for not keeping their plans by imposing a 6-month waiting provision before they could re-enroll.” The change is intended to satisfy insurance companies and “minimize the number of Americans who may drop their plans.” (Washington Post) Another modification is adding in $45 billion for opioid funding, “a concession that Senators Rob Portman (R, OH) and Shelley Moore Capito (R, WV) had been seeking for weeks.” (Washington Post) Apparently there are other modifications - but they’re not talking about them. (Washington Post) By Thursday, however, after the second CBO report came out, it was apparent that they weren’t going to be able to modify the bill enough to pass it and so it didn’t go to the floor on Friday. (NY Times) Modifications are still being proposed. They have to do something because they have to get the tax cuts through. GOP donors have threatened them that if they don’t get their tax cuts they won’t give them any more money. (Crooks and Liars) Watch what Stephen Colbert has to say about it. (You Tube)
Russian Connection: The day before election day, Jared Kushner’s real estate firm received a $285 million loan from Deutsche Bank. At the time the bank was negotiating to settle federal and state charges “that it aided a possible Russian money laundering scheme.” The case was settled in December and January. This is one of the financial matters that special counsel Robert Mueller is looking at. (Washington Post)
Russian Hacking: Investigators looking into Russian meddling in the election examined intelligence reports “about how hackers wanted to get emails from Clinton’s server to an intermediary and then to Mike Flynn.” The Wall Street Journal report “also referenced a Republican operative who was convinced emails missing from Clinton’s server were in the hands of Russian hackers, and who implied in conversations that he was working with Flynn. The newspaper said it was not clear whether Flynn had played any role in the quest of the operative, Peter W. Smith, who died shortly after speaking with the newspaper.” (Guardian)
Paul Manafort: The former Trump campaign chair (TWW, Russian Connection, 5/27/17; Paul Manafort, 3/25/17; Exxon and Russia, 2/25/17; Trump on Russia, 7/30/16) disclosed that his consulting firm received more than $17 million over 2 years “from a Ukrainian political party with links to the Kremlin.” (NY Times)
Jay Sekulow: One of Trump’s lawyers is “pressuring hard-up Americans to donate money to the Christian not-for-profit group that pays his family millions of dollars, saying the funds are urgently needed to repeal the Affordable Care Act.” (Guardian)
Fossil Fuel Lobbyists: According to a new database from the Center for American Progress Action Fund, called Trump’s Dirty Deputies, Trump has recruited officials to fill its top energy and environmental staff positions from fossil fuel lobbying groups, Koch Brothers-funded think tanks, and climate-denying lawmakers’ offices. Of the more than 100 political staff working on energy and environmental issues, close to 33% have ties to the fossil fuel industry and petrochemical billionaires the Koch Brothers.
Global Poll: A survey of 37 countries by the Pew Research Center found a “diminishing” standing of the United States. However, Russia is the bright spot. Russians say they have confidence in Trump and Russian attitudes toward the U.S. have improved since he took office. Everywhere else, though, it’s not so good. The U.S. favorable rating at the end of Obama’s presidency was 64%. Now it’s 22%. (Washington Post)
Private Security: I told you before about the involvement of TigerSwan, a private security firm, at the Dakota Access pipeline protests. (TWW, Dakota Access, 6/3/17) With no more protests there, TigerSwan is looking for new opportunities. They are claiming that the “anti-DAPL diaspora” is spreading to Iowa, New York, Florida, and Arkansas. And it’s particularly interested in Chicago, where it is beginning to infiltrate area anti-Trump activist groups. (The Intercept) Militarism is no longer just about police departments.
AUMF: Rep. Barbara Lee (D, CA) finally, after 16 years, made some headway on her crusade to dump the Authorization for Use of Military Force. Now, don’t get your hopes up yet. It only passed the House Appropriations Committee. Lee attached it as an amendment to the annual defense spending bill. The amendment states that AUMF should be repealed 240 days after the amendment is enacted into law. “It would apply to all military operations conducted under the authorization.” (District Sentinel)
China: Trump has placed new sanctions on a Chinese bank “accused of laundering money for North Korean companies.” He also approved a $1.4 billion arms sales package for Taiwan. The Washington Post calls this “a pair of measures that is certain to ruffle feathers in Beijing.” And, indeed, China is outraged. (Reuters)
Germany: The parliament voted to legalize same-sex marriage. Germany now joins most other western democracies “in granting gay and lesbian couples full rights, including adoption.” (Guardian)
Syria: The White House claimed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad “appeared to be preparing another chemical weapons attack” and warned that Assad would “pay a heavy price” if another attack took place. Military officials were caught “off guard” by the statement. “Any intelligence gathered by the United States or its allies . . . would by nature be classified. But any American president has absolute power to declassify anything he chooses to release.” (NY Times) Let me remind you that there is a lot of disagreement as to whether Syria was behind the previous chemical attacks. (TWW, Chemical Attack Evidence, 4/15/17) Foreign Policy pointed out that Ezra Cohen-Warnick, the NSA senior director for intelligence, and Derek Harvey, the National Security Council’s top Middle East advisor, are “pushing to broaden the war in Syria, viewing it as an opportunity confront Iran and its proxy forces on the ground there.” [Emphasis added.] Then the White House announced that its “warning” had “succeeded in stopping a chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government.” (NY Times) Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, said that “Trump’s ‘rolling shock of the chaos and spectacle’ distracts from radical actions both at home and abroad.” While we’re all watching his tweets, hearings on the Russian connections, and the chaos in Congress, Trump is “ramping up a stealth escalation of our military involvement across the Middle East.” [Emphasis added.] (Washington Post) Pay attention, folks. Don’t be distracted. Wars are where the money is.
Turkey: There’s a G20 summit in Germany next week. Turkey’s president, Recap Tayyip Erdogan will be attending. However, Germany has warned him that his security team that was involved in the brawl in Washington last month (TWW, Turkey, 5/27/17) is not welcome. (CNN)
California on Travel: Did you know California has a travel ban? Yup. Based on certain laws in other states, California’s attorney general Xavier Becerra bans his employees from traveling to them. The latest added to the list is Texas, which just passed a law allowing child welfare providers to refuse adoptions based on “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Alabama, Kentucky, and South Dakota are also banned because of similar legislation. Other states banned are Tennessee, North Carolina, Mississippi, and Kansas. (Washington Post)
California on Glyphosate: Glyphosate is being added to California’s list of chemicals known to cause cancer - effective July 7th. (Reuters)
Illinois: It’s facing its 3rd year without a budget. At least one credit agency has threatened to downgrade its credit rating to junk. Everything is in danger. “Road construction and bridge repairs may come to a halt.” The multi-state lotteries, Mega Millions and Powerball, are going to be suspended. “After 2 years without a budget, many people who depend on state services - public university students, drug addicts, troubled teenagers, the elderly - have already felt the repercussions.” Up to now things have gone along largely uninterrupted due to court orders and “other stopgap measures.” But if a budget isn’t reached this year, everyone will feel the pain. (NY Times)
Texas: The state supreme court unanimously threw out a lower court ruling that said that “spouses of gay and lesbian public employees are entitled to government-subsidized same-sex marriage benefits.” It ordered the case back to the trial court to reconsider its decision. (Texas Tribune)
Church & State: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7 to 2 that religious institutions “may not be excluded from state programs with a secular intent.” Dissenting were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. (Washington Post)
Travel Ban: The Supremes allowed, in a 6 to 3 decision, a limited version of Trump’s travel ban to go into effect. It said the ban “may not be enforced against foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.” The opinion was unsigned. The Court will consider the president’s broad powers in immigration matters in the fall. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Neil Gorsuch “would have let the ban take effect as written, and objected to what they called the court’s ‘compromise.’” (Washington Post)
Property Rights: In a 5 to 3 decision, the Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals that, in assessing the effect of a governmental takings, the owners of lot properties should be considered a single unit. Dissenting were Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. (SCOTUSBlog)
Clean Air Act: The Supreme Court denied to take a case by American Municipal Power “to create an Exxon-Valdez-sized loophole in the Clean Air Act’s protections against toxic industrial pollution.” The case started when about 20 companies and trade associations challenged the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) refusal “to say that major polluters can violate emission limits without consequence whenever their equipment malfunctions.” By denying the case, the challenge is denied. (Earth Justice)
Cross Border Shooting: The Supremes declined to take a case that involved the shooting of an unarmed Mexican teenager on the border, “returning the matter to a federal appeals court for reconsideration.” The parents of the teenager sued but U.S. courts said “the Constitution does not reach across the border - even 60 feet - to give rights to those without a previous connection to the United States.” The order was unsigned but Justices Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented saying the parents did have a right to sue for damages. Justice Clarence Thomas also dissented, saying he wanted to affirm the lower court’s decision. (Washington Post)
Concealed Weapons: The Supreme Court declined to review California’s concealed weapons law. A lower court had decided that the Second Amendment does not protect the right to carry a concealed weapon in public. The California law gives local sheriffs the power “to require that those seeking concealed-carry permits show a particular need, such as a threat.” They also declined to take a case, upholding laws in Maryland and New Jersey that impose such restrictions on concealed-carry permits. Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch dissented, saying the court should have accepted the case. (Washington Post)
VA: The Supremes declined to take the case where a lower court created “a presumption of competency for all U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical evaluators” to provide an expert opinion on any medical issue. Justice Neil Gorsuch dissented. (SCOTUSBlog)
School Vouchers: The Supreme Court remanded a case back to Colorado to look again at a school voucher program that it had struck down as unconstitutional. “Douglas County’s voucher program would have provided publicly funded scholarships to 500 students who want to go to private schools, including those offered by churches.” (Denver Post)
New Budget: While little is going on in the House regarding the new budget, some things have been decided. There will be a significant increase in the Defense budget and they will ignore everything in Trump’s plan. (Roll Call)
Voting: The head of Trump’s new Voting Integrity Commission (TWW, Voting, 5/13/17), Kris Kobach, designer of the voter deletion method Operation Crosscheck (TWW, Suppression Efforts, 6/17/17), sent a letter to all 50 states requesting their voter roll data, “including the name, address, date of birth, party affiliation, last 4 Social Security number digits, and voting history back to 2006 of potentially every voter in the state.” Virginia’s Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) said he has “no intention of honoring this request.” Connecticut’s Secretary of State, Denise Merrill (D), said she would “share publicly-available information.” (Washington Post) California, Massachusetts, Virginia, Kentucky, and New York immediately declined to turn over the information saying they are not legally allowed to disclose it. (Washington Post) By this morning 24 states had refused. (Guardian) Earlier this month, a federal judge fined Kobach $1,000 for “presenting misleading arguments in a voting-related lawsuit.” (Politico) This isn’t all. According to The Nation, the Trump administration “is planning an unprecedented attack on voting rights.” [Emphasis added.] In addition to the above request, Trump appointed Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation to the commission. Spakovsky has “done more than anyone other than Kobach to spread the myth of voter fraud and enact suppressive policies.” Dubya nominated him to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) (TWW, Federal Elections Commission, 6/9/07) but his history of voter suppression kept him from getting approved. (TWW, FEC, 6/28/08) Also, the Justice Department sent a letter to all 50 states “informing them that ‘we are reviewing voter registration list maintenance procedures in each state covered by the NVRA [National Voter Registration Act]’ and asking how they plan to remove voters from the rolls.” And the House Appropriations Committee voted to defund the Election Assistance Commission, “the only federal agency that helps states make sure their voting machines aren’t hacked.” This ain’t good, folks.
Travel Ban: In light of the Supreme Court decision (see above), the State Department has decided who has a “bona fide relationship.” According to the NY Times, “Step-siblings and half-siblings are allowed, but not nieces or nephews. Sons- and daughters-in-law are in, but brothers- and sisters-in-law are not. Parents, including in-laws, are considered ‘close family,’ but grandparents are not.” It didn’t take long. Less than an hour before the new ban was to go into effect an emergency motion was filed in the U.S. District Court by the State of Hawaii contesting Trump’s new ban. They are contesting the fact that Trump has excluded grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law as not being considered “close family” members. (CNN)
Laptop Ban: The Department of Homeland Security is still working on the laptop ban. (TWW, Laptop Ban, 5/20/17) Now people flying to the U.S. from foreign airports will be allowed to bring their laptops and tablets into cabins in carry-on bags, but their baggage and electronic devices will undergo more rigorous screening. (NY Times)
Student Loans: Education Secretary Betsy DeVos appointed Wayne Johnson to be the new head of the Office of Federal Student Aid. Johnson is currently CEO of Reunion Financial Services Corporation, a private student loan company. (NPR) Anyone else see a conflict of interest?
Transgender Troops: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis delayed the plan to begin allowing transgender recruits to join the U.S. military. The plan was set last year by the Obama administration and was to begin this month. Mattis delayed it until January 1, 2018. The delay was requested by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Washington Post)
Medicare vs. Commercial Insurance: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analyzed hospital prices for commercial and Medicare Advantage plans. If you’re confused about the difference between Medicare and Medicare Advantage, see Facts About Medicare Cuts. They found that the average commercial payment rate for a hospital admission is about $21,400 but the average for Medicare’s fee-for-service (FFS) plan is about $11,400. Therefore, on average, Medicare’s FFS costs are 47% lower than commercial rates. However, they found that the rates for Medicare Advantage are roughly equal to Medicare’s FFS rates.
Carbon Dioxide: For the past 2 years carbon monitoring stations have been “flashing a warning” that the excess carbon dioxide “scorching the planet” has been rising. In 2015 and 2016 they rose to the highest rate on record. This year it’s still rising but at a slightly slower rate. Scientists are concerned that the amount of carbon dioxide that we are pumping into the air seems to have stabilized in recent years but the amount that is staying in the air is going up faster than ever. Up to now about half of the carbon that we produced was remaining in the atmosphere and warming the planet. Now more is staying in the atmosphere. They believe that the oceans’ sponges have been cleaning the rest and the increase in the atmosphere may mean that the sponges can no longer keep up. (NY Times)
Clean Water Act: The EPA formally proposed repealing the regulation that extends protection to small waterways. (The Hill) These waterways provide drinking water for about a third of the U.S. population. (Guardian)
Global Mayors: 7,400 cities worldwide have vowed that Trump’s “decision to withdraw from the Paris accord will spur greater local efforts to combat climate change.” (Guardian)
Plastic Straws: There is a movement to eliminate plastic straws. “They have been found wedged in the nose of a sea turtle, littering the stomachs of countless dead marine animals, and scattered across beaches with tons of other plastics.” “Straws are among the most common plastic items volunteers clean from beaches, along with bottles, bags, and cups.” Americans use half a billion straws every day. (Washington Post)
Google: The European Union has fined Google a record $2.7 billion in an antitrust case over search results. It said “the powerful Web search leader illegally steered users toward its comparison shopping site and warning that other parts of Google’s business were in the crosshairs.” (Washington Post)
Credit Score: Starting July 1st national credit reporting agencies - Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion - will wipe many tax liens and civil judgments from credit scores. “The change stems from a lengthy crusade by consumer advocates and government officials to force the credit bureaus to improve the accuracy of their reports, which are often speckled with errors and outdated information.” By using stricter reporter rules, nearly all civil judgments and at least half of the nation’s tax liens will be eliminated. (NY Times)