GOP speeding toward vote on altered healthcare bill


The Trump administration and House GOP leaders are making two significant changes to their ObamaCare replacement bill as they seek to add to their whip count ahead of a critical Thursday vote.

The White House on Friday won support from conservative Republican Study Committee (RSC) leaders by agreeing to give states the option to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients and to block grant Medicaid instead of the cap system in the bill.

GOP leaders are using the RSC endorsement — and new words of support from President Trump — to try to build momentum for the measure.

But the far-right Freedom Caucus is still largely opposed to the measure, and there are still serious doubts about whether the bill has enough votes to pass yet.

Asked if the measure has the requisite 216 votes, House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) declined to say yes on Friday, noting: “These changes definitely strengthen our number.”

In addition to the Medicaid agreement with the RSC, the White House and House leaders are also eyeing increasing the tax credits in the bill, something that could bring centrists on board.

Centrist Republicans have been pushing for changes to the tax credits in the bill so that they would give more financial help to low-income people and older people, whom they worry would not be given enough help to afford coverage under the current bill.

During the White House meeting, Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) said Trump gave him a firm commitment to address concerns that tax credits central to the GOP bill are too small to ensure coverage is affordable for some people.

Aderholt told Trump that 80 percent of his district supported him in the election. But the conservative congressman explained that many of his constituents are low-income and elderly and would see enormous hikes in their premiums under the GOP bill.

“I understand those are people who supported me, and we’re not going to let them down,” Trump replied, according to Aderholt. Then he turned to some of his aides in the room and said, “This is going to be taken care of.”

In an extreme example under the current bill, the premium for a 64-year-old making $26,500, after factoring in financial assistance, would rise from $1,700 to $14,600 under the GOP plan.

Earlier Friday, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price huddled with House Republicans in a closed-door meeting and told them that changes to the tax credits are a possibility.

“The Speaker said this a minute ago, he didn’t say the specifics of it, but he said that some tweaks will be made to the tax credits and probably that’s the older — old geezers like me that are 55 and up,” Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) said while leaving a House Republican Conference meeting Friday morning.

But the far-right Freedom Caucus still has strong objections to the bill. Its chairman, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), took issue with work requirements being optional, saying that provision only moves the ball “a couple of yards” down a very large field.

In an interview filmed for C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers,” Meadows said that there are at least 40 House Republicans who are opposed to the legislation, plus another 20 to 30 who are undecided.

The Freedom Caucus chairman made his comments before House GOP leaders announced Friday they were making modifications to the GOP bill.

A Freedom Caucus source on Friday afternoon said the conservative group “remains opposed” to the bill in its current form.

“Today’s announcement of the RSC’s support for the bill doesn’t change that,” the source said. “If the bill were brought to the floor today, it would fail to get enough votes.”

Scalise, who was in the White House meeting, is looking to Trump’s support to bring on additional lawmakers, arguing that the president has increased his backing for the bill after Friday’s changes.

“A lot of members were saying the president’s talking about an open negotiation, which means he’s not yet ready to sign onto this bill,” Scalise said. “What President Trump said very clearly this morning in the Oval Office is with these changes, I am 1000 percent for the bill and I want members to vote for it.”

Trump told reporters: “I want people to know ObamaCare is dead; it’s a dead healthcare plan.”

Some centrist lawmakers like Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) say that they want to see a new Congressional Budget Office (CBO) analysis of the bill before the vote.

But Scalise declined to commit to having a new CBO score before the vote.

“Obviously CBO works a lot slower than we’d like but that’s OK, that’s their method,” Scalise said, “but we’re moving forward with our bill because the American people want relief from ObamaCare.”


Republicans Rail Against President Trump’s Budget, Call for Even Larger Increases in Military Spending

President Donald Trump is determined to fulfill his campaign promise of shaking up Washington with his massively disruptive 2018 budget proposal. To hard-line conservatives in Congress,  however, Trump’s “Hannibal Lecter” budget still doesn’t cut domestic spending or increase military spending enough.

“We wrote it using the president’s own words,” Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney told MSNBC on Thursday morning as the budget was released. “We turned those policies into numbers.” A look at the budget, however, finds funding proposals more directly in line with White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon’s vow — to achieve the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”

Trump’s first budget proposal, which he named “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” would cut the funding of the Environmental Protection Agency 31 percent, the State Department 28 percent and the Department of Health and Human Services 17.9 percent. In total, Trump’s budget strips funding from more than 18 federal agencies.

The administration also proposed completely axing federal support for the Legal Services Corp., the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Department of Housing and Urban Development’s $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program, which funds anti-poverty programs nationwide, would also be eliminated.

There are a couple of discrete areas where the White House has proposed raising spending, however, including for Trump’s “fantastic” U.S.-Mexico border wall and on the military. Trump’s budget would allocate roughly a 10 percent increase or $54 billion more to defense and law enforcement programs than Congress approved this year. Separate from his 2018 budget, Trump also requested an additional $30 billion for defense spending in 2017.

Trump’s budget calls for a $54 billion boost to military spending, a roughly 10 percent increase from what Congress called for this year. Separate from his 2018 budget, Trump also requested an additional $30 billion for defense spending in 2017.

“There’s no question this is a hard-power budget,” Mulvaney said on MSNBC. “It is not a soft-power budget.”

But all these draconian cuts to domestic spending and the substantially increased spending for the Department of Defense doesn’t seem to be enough to satisfy the insatiable appetite of limited government conservatives in Congress who will have to vote on Trump’s budget.

Before the White House even released its official budget on Thursday, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called Trump’s governing priority list “dead on arrival,” based on a reported blueprint.

“What’s most disturbing about the cut to the State Department’s budget is it shows a lack of understanding of what it takes to win the war,” Graham told the BBC late last month. “If you take soft power off the table then you’re never going to win the war,” Graham said, calling Trump’s proposed plan to slash the department’s budget 28 percent “a disaster.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed Graham’s sentiments on Trump’s proposed cuts to U.S. diplomatic efforts around the world: “The diplomatic portion of the federal budget is very important and you get results a lot cheaper frequently than you do on the defense side,” McConnell told reporters earlier this month. “So speaking for myself, I’m not in favor of reducing the (foreign aid) account to that extent.” McConnell said a budget that cuts State Department funds by one-third is unlikely to pass in his chamber.

Republican Rep. Ed Royce of California, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement, “I am very concerned by reports of deep cuts that could damage efforts to combat terrorism, save lives, and create opportunities for American workers.”

In a letter to the White House objecting to the proposed cuts to the State Department, more than 120 former military officers quoted Trump’s Defence Secretary, James Mattis, from his days as a field commander: “If you don’t fully fund the State Department then I need to buy more ammunition.”

Republicans in Congress also remain concerned about Trump’s campaign promise to force Mexico to pay for the construction of a wall along the border between the two countries. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has said his nation will not fund Trump’s border wall. The budget plan released by the White House Thursday calls for about $1.5 billion in immediate funding to build the wall and another $2.6 billion to fund border security in 2018.

“If we’re paying for it, it’s a significant concern,” Arizona Republican Sen. Jeff Flake told the Washington Post on the eve of Trump’s budget release.

“I support border security, but I think we need a little more definition of exactly what the plan is,” Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn cautioned on Wednesday. Another Texas Republican, Rep. Will Hurd, whose district spans more of the border than any other, called Trump’s proposed wall “the most expensive and least effective way to secure the border” in a January statement.

The White House budget is also facing opposition from Republicans on the Hill who fear the spending cuts aren’t deep enough.

“My fear is that the Trump budget will not be austere enough to minimize America’s risk of suffering the kind of debilitating insolvency and bankruptcy that is destroying the lives of Venezuelans right now,” Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama told Reuters this week. Brooks and other members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus want to see even further budget cuts.

As proposed, the Trump budget almost certainly will not pass Congress. A full budget, including economic and tax projections, will come in May, with the goal for Congress to adopt a plan before the new fiscal year begins at the end of September.

Trump Urges Supporters to Unite Behind G.O.P. Health Plan

NASHVILLE — President Trump made a plea on Wednesday for his supporters to unite behind the Republican plan to overhaul Americans’ health care as the only way to squelch Democratic attempts to scuttle the plan. At the same time, facing resistance to the bill from within his own party, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said it would be refined and improved.

“We want Americans to be able to purchase the health insurance plans they want, not the plans forced on them by our government,” Mr. Trump told about 10,000 supporters at the Municipal Auditorium in downtown Nashville. He spoke against the backdrop of a giant American flag to a crowd dotted with red trucker caps bearing his signature slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

“We’re going to all get together, we’re going to get something done,” Mr. Trump said. “Remember this: If we didn’t do it the way we’re doing it, we’d need 60 votes, so we’d have to get the Democrats involved. So we’re doing it a different way, a complex way.”

“It’s going to be fine,” Mr. Trump added.

The remarks were a nod to the complicated and politically risky approach Republicans have taken in pushing through legislation to repeal the health care law. The House plan championed by Mr. Ryan is coming under strain amid resistance, both from conservative Republicans concerned it is too close to Obamacare and from moderates who fear it will provide insufficient coverage for Americans who lack health insurance.

Mr. Ryan, fighting to keep the measure on track, said Wednesday that he was making “some necessary improvements and refinements” to the package to answer the concerns, which intensified this week after the Congressional Budget Office released a report estimating that the legislation would increase the number of people without health insurance by 24 million by 2026.

“Now that we have a score, we can incorporate feedback to improve this bill, to refine this bill, and those kinds of conversations are occurring between the White House, the House and the Senate, and our members,” Mr. Ryan said.

Previously, the speaker had referred to the measure as a “binary choice,” suggesting that Republicans must accept what many of them see as a flawed bill or lose the opportunity to enact a health care overhaul.

Mr. Trump has thrown his full support behind the legislation but is plainly concerned that the arcane legislative process will prompt a backlash that could undermine his presidency.

“If we’re not going to take care of the people, I’m not signing anything,” Mr. Trump said Wednesday evening in an interview with Fox News. “I’m not going to be doing it, just so you understand.”

He said he considered himself “an arbitrator” for Republican factions warring over the bill, and, asked whether the measure was the best his party could offer, said, “I think we’re going to have negotiation.”

Mr. Trump made his case on health care as he prepared to unveil a budget on Thursday that is expected to slash scores of domestic programs and illuminate his vision for radically scaling back the government.

“We have proposed a budget that will shrink the bloated federal bureaucracy — and I mean bloated — while protecting our national security,” Mr. Trump said, to cheers from his audience.

But even as he sought to focus on his own agenda during the second campaign rally of his young presidency, Mr. Trump was being drawn into yet another controversy over his travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries. Just before he was scheduled to take the stage in Nashville, Mr. Trump learned that a district judge in Hawaii had blocked the second iteration of his executive order, and the president took the stage fuming about the setback.

“This is, in the opinion of many, an unprecedented judicial overreach,” Mr. Trump said during his speech. “We’re going to fight this terrible ruling. We’re going to take our case as far as it needs to go, including all the way up to the Supreme Court. We’re going to win.”

Wednesday was supposed to provide a respite for Mr. Trump from the questions and controversies that have consumed him in Washington in recent days. He left behind a capital astir over his allegation that President Barack Obama tapped his phone during the fall campaign, after a top Republican said there was no evidence to back up the claim.

As he strode to Marine One in the morning, he ignored questions shouted by reporters about the leak on Tuesday of a portion of his 2005 tax return, which returned the spotlight to his refusal, unprecedented among recent presidents, to release any portion of his tax returns.

Mr. Trump traveled to Detroit for a speech to automakers highlighting his move to halt Obama-era fuel efficiency standards, arguing that stripping away regulations would allow the manufacture of more cars in the United States.

His decision to hold a rally in Nashville suggested a desire to reach beyond his core supporters. While he won the state of Tennessee handily — claiming 61 percent in the state to Hillary Clinton’s 35 percent — he was deeply unpopular in Nashville, the seat of a largely urban county where he won only one-third of the vote.

But the event contained no glimmer of outreach. It was a raucous re-enactment of the fiery and hyperpartisan rallies that powered his 2016 campaign, complete with Mr. Trump vowing repeatedly to “build that wall” on the southern border — a refrain his supporters chanted loudly in response — and a dig at Mrs. Clinton. He also paused for several moments to allow shouts of “Lock her up! Lock her up!” to echo throughout the hall.

Before the rally, Mr. Trump paid homage to a former American president whom he has often invoked as a kindred spirit, stopping to lay a wreath at the tomb of Andrew Jackson at his home, the Hermitage, to honor Mr. Jackson’s 250th birthday. Mr. Trump, who has styled himself a populist even thought he advocates many policies sought by corporate interests, has often mentioned his admiration for Jackson, who is also considered a fighter for the working man.

“It was during the Revolution that Jackson first confronted and defied an arrogant elite. Does that sound familiar?” Trump told a crowd gathered in front of the Hermitage.

Openly Testy, Republicans Reject the President’s Wiretap Claims

WASHINGTON — In a striking repudiation, Republicans on Wednesday threatened subpoenas and vented openly about the lack of evidence behind President Trump’s tweet that President Barack Obama had wiretapped his phones in Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign.

The Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Devin Nunes of California, told reporters on Capitol Hill that “I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower” and that Mr. Trump, if taken literally, is simply “wrong.”

Jeff Sessions, the attorney general, said he had provided no information to Mr. Trump that might have formed the basis for the president’s claim.

And two Republican senators threatened to block Mr. Trump’s nominee for deputy attorney general until they get clarity from the F.B.I. about the accuracy of the president’s assertions. One of them vowed to issue subpoenas, if needed.

But Mr. Trump appeared defiant. In a Fox News interview, he hinted at a broader meaning to his Twitter messages and suggested that his online assertions would eventually be vindicated, saying that “wiretap covers a lot of different things.”

Mr. Trump added, “I think you’re going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks.”

It is unclear if Republicans will accept an effort by Mr. Trump and his aides to redefine what he meant. Mr. Nunes told reporters on Wednesday that lawmakers will have to confront that issue as hearings of the intelligence committee open on Monday.

In one of the most significant signs of pressure from within Mr. Trump’s own party, Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he would block the nomination of Rod J. Rosenstein to be deputy attorney general unless the F.B.I. answered his questions. Mr. Rosenstein had been expected to win Senate confirmation easily. The Judiciary Committee has primary oversight of the F.B.I.


James B. Comey, center, director of the F.B.I., at a Senate hearing in January. Mr. Comey is to testify Monday at the House Intelligence Committee’s first public hearing on its Russian interference investigation and could presumably resolve questions about the wiretap. CreditAl Drago/The New York Times

Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, joined Mr. Grassley in the threat.

“We’ll hold up the deputy attorney general’s nomination until Congress is provided with information to finally clear the air as to whether or not there was ever a warrant issued against the Trump campaign,” Mr. Graham said on NBC’s “Today” program.

A delay on Mr. Rosenstein’s appointment would create a number of problems for the Justice Department. In particular, he was expected to oversee any department investigations into Russia’s meddling in the presidential election after Mr. Sessions recused himself because Mr. Sessions was an adviser to the Trump presidential campaign.

Previous presidents have faced similar uprisings within their own parties: Democratic lawmakers initially denounced President Bill Clinton’s behavior with an intern that led to his impeachment in the House, and Republican frustration with the Iraq war, as President George W. Bush’s approval ratings fell, hampered Mr. Bush’s second-term agenda.

But rarely does a president clash so forcefully with his own party so early in his first year. Mr. Trump already faces a difficult dynamic on Capitol Hill as he struggles to push through a major overhaul of the nation’s health care system that is already dividing the Republican-controlled Congress.

To overcome that intraparty opposition — not to mention the hostility to his health care plan from Democrats — Mr. Trump will need to woo the very Republicans who are increasingly growing weary of defending his online assertions.

In the days since Mr. Trump’s Twitter post on March 4, the White House has offered a series of shifting response, explanations and clarifications, some of which have been in conflict with each other.

Democrats have been particularly aggressive in assailing the president and his staff. Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the House Intelligence Committee’s ranking Democrat, said Wednesday that if no evidence emerged to substantiate his claim, Mr. Trump should “explain himself.”

“You can’t level an accusation of that type without retracting it or explaining just why it was done,” he said.

Mr. Nunes and Mr. Schiff said the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, would testify Monday at the committee’s first public hearing on its Russian interference investigation. Mr. Comey could presumably resolve the question about the wiretap.


The White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, at a news briefing last week. CreditAl Drago/The New York Times

Mr. Schiff also challenged the statements of Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, who had said that while he was not aware of any investigation targeting Mr. Trump, the president spoke accurately when he said he had been wiretapped by Mr. Obama.

“Those two things cannot both be true unless he is suggesting that the F.B.I. was engaged in a rogue operation unsupervised by a court to wiretap Trump Tower,” Mr. Schiff said. “There is absolutely no evidence of that and no suggestion of any evidence of that.”

As part of the F.B.I.’s investigation into Russian meddling in the election, agents are looking at whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates colluded with the Russian government.

After Mr. Trump made the claim on Twitter that Mr. Obama had tapped his telephone, Mr. Comey asked the Justice Department to make a statement disputing Mr. Trump’s assertion.

So far the Justice Department has refused to say publicly whether it went to a judge to get a secret warrant to eavesdrop on Mr. Trump, putting the department in a difficult position. Silence from the Justice Department has frustrated Mr. Comey.

If the Justice Department says there was no wiretap, it undercuts the president’s accusation. If there was a wiretap, it suggests that F.B.I. agents and federal prosecutors had probable cause to believe that Mr. Trump the candidate was operating as an agent of a foreign power.

It is not clear why Mr. Trump thought he was wiretapped or what led him to make the claim, which was flatly rejected by James R. Clapper Jr., a former director of national intelligence, and by a spokesman for Mr. Obama.

Mr. Graham and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, asked the F.B.I. last week for copies of any warrant applications and court orders “related to wiretaps of President Trump, the Trump campaign or Trump Tower.”

Mr. Graham said Wednesday afternoon that the F.B.I. had offered to respond to the letter from him and Mr. Whitehouse in a classified briefing.

Mr. Comey met behind closed doors Wednesday afternoon with Mr. Grassley, along with Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and top members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

As Many as 24 Million People Could Lose Their Health Care Coverage If GOP Gets Away with Repealing Obamacare

An astounding 24 million Americans will lose health insurance by 2026 under the House Republican leadership’s proposed Obamacare repeal, according to a Congressional Budget Office report detailing the estimated effects released Monday.

The 24-million figure comes in waves. The first is people who now have insurance under the Affordable Care Act purchased through state or federal insurance exchanges. The second wave is from lower-income people who would lose their coverage through state-administered Medicaid programs.

“In 2018, 14 million more people would be uninsured under the legislation than under current law,” the CBO’s summary said. “Most of that increase would stem from repealing the penalties associated with the individual mandate. Some of those people would choose not to have insurance because they chose to be covered by insurance under current law only to avoid paying the penalties, and some people would forgo insurance in response to higher premiums.”

“Later, following additional changes to subsidies for insurance purchased in the nongroup market and to the Medicaid program, the increase in the number of uninsured people relative to the number under current law would rise to 21 million in 2020 and then to 24 million in 2026,” the CBO report continued. “The reductions in insurance coverage between 2018 and 2026 would stem in large part from changes in Medicaid enrollment—because some states would discontinue their expansion of eligibility, some states that would have expanded eligibility in the future would choose not to do so, and per-enrollee spending in the program would be capped.”

Taken together, the CBO estimates that the House Republican plan to repeal Obamacare would deprive 24 million people who now have health insurance of that coverage within a decade.

“In 2026, an estimated 52 million people would be uninsured, compared with 28 million who would lack insurance that year under current law,” CBO said.

Before Obamacare, over 15 percent of U.S. residents were uninsured. Today, that number is less than 10 percent, the Washington-based Economic Policy Institute said. Obamacare has seen 19.2 million newly insured individuals between 2010 and 2015, including 2.8 million children.

Meanwhile, health insurance costs would rise 15-to-20 percent for many buying coverage on the open market as early as next year, CBO said, because those seeking insurance would be generally sicker as a cohort, meaning their medical costs would be more.

“The legislation would tend to increase average premiums in the nongroup market prior to 2020 and lower average premiums thereafter, relative to projections under current law,” CBO said. “In 2018 and 2019, according to CBO and JCT’s [Joint Committee on Taxation] estimates, average premiums for single policyholders in the nongroup market would be 15 percent to 20 percent higher than under current law, mainly because the individual mandate penalties would be eliminated, inducing fewer comparatively healthy people to sign up.”

The CBO report also said the House GOP bill would lead to turmoil in insurance markets as a new mix of health plans, coverage options and deductibles emerge. Younger people would mostly be seeing lower costs, but middle-aged and older people would see sizable increases.

“Although average premiums would increase prior to 2020 and decrease starting in 2020, CBO and JCT estimate that changes in premiums relative to those under current law would differ significantly for people of different ages because of a change in age-rating rules,” the report said. “Under the legislation, insurers would be allowed to generally charge five times more for older enrollees than younger ones rather than three times more as under current law, substantially reducing premiums for young adults and substantially raising premiums for older people.”

The political reaction to the CBO report is as swift as it is predictable. Republicans seeking the repeal of Obamacare at any societal cost have been saying for days that CBO’s numbers can’t be trusted—another version of the right’s fact-dismissing alternative universe. Meanwhile, opponents of Obamacare repeal are saying CBO’s analyses are even more harmful than they anticipated.

“The CBO score only confirms what was already clear, that this bill is not an honest attempt at health care reform, it is instead a tax cut for the wealthy at the expense of the health of millions of everyday Americans,” said Patriotic Millionaires, a coalition of progressive business owners whose experience includes providing employee benefits.

“It is obscene to be cutting the taxes of people like me and my husband for any reason right now,” said Molly Munger, coalition member and co-director of Advancement Project, a nationwide civil rights group. “To cut rich old people’s taxes so that you can take health care away from younger low-income families is especially crazy. We should be investing in these younger people—they are our country’s future. Don’t do me this ‘favor,’ GOP.  It’s greedy and wrong at every level.”

“Because I have diabetes, am over 50, and self-employed, I was paying $5,000 a month for family policy that had a $20,000 deductible. Under the ACA, we now pay $1,400,” said Charlie Fink, director of the New Musical Development Foundation, and another coalition member. “We’re fortunate enough to absorb the hit when prices go back to what they were before, but what about the rest of America’s families, more and more of whom are in our position? A $4,000 tax credit will cover less than 10 percent of the increase in their insurance costs. This will crush them.”


Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s democracy and voting rights. He is the author of several books on elections and the co-author of Who Controls Our Schools: How Billionaire-Sponsored Privatization Is Destroying Democracy and the Charter School Industry (AlterNet eBook, 2016).

Obamacare Creators Tell GOP: We Told You So


President Donald Trump said last week that “nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

But the aides and advisers who worked on health care for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — they knew.

“Maybe I should just say karma is a serious thing,” said Neera Tanden, who was a top health official in the Obama administration. “Health care is hard. Governing is hard. And Republicans are now living with the fruits of never putting forward a plan and making promises they can’t keep.”

It’s a strange place to be for the Democratic operatives and elected officials who saw their party devastated in part by Obamacare. And some can’t help but feel a bit of cosmic justice as they watch Republicans, who passed their plan Friday in the House Ways and Means Committee, stuck in a policy quagmire they know all too well.

Jonathan Gruber, an MIT economist who helped design the Affordable Care Act, said health care policy is both extremely complicated and extraordinarily personal.

“It’s healthcare, it should be easy. Everyone goes to the doctor. But it’s super hard,” Gruber said. “As a result, it’s easy to demonize everything.”

He added, “They (Republicans) have spent years trying to demonize Obamacare and say there was something better, but there was nothing better … It’s overall a sad story. I don’t think anybody can feel good about this.”

Related: Who Wins, Who Loses With the GOP Health Care Bill

Clinton strategist James Carville, a veteran of both recent Democratic reform efforts, has a maxim that “the mover on health care loses,” as he told Democratic donors at a January retreat in Florida. “To do something is to lose.”

After years of unpopularity, nearly six-in-10 Americans now say they want to keep Obamacare or make only minor fixes to it. Fewer than four-in-10 call for repealing it or replacing, according to a new Monmouth Poll.

Republicans “now own the American health care system, which is something that they very effectively said that we owned for seven years,” said Ben Wakana, a former spokesperson for Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services.

“As you see this circular firing squad, part of the problem is they don’t have any principles on health care,” he added. “The thing that kept us grounded when things got hard was we had principles. That kept us all on the same team and in the same room.”

“If you look at the big debates about health care starting with Truman, going to Nixon, going to Clinton, going to now, you find that on the surface, the issues look really straightforward because everybody agrees health care is a big mess. But then you peel it open and it’s unbelievably complex,” said Robert Blendon, a Harvard professor who studies the politics of health care. “It starts to break apart the minute you get into the details.”

That’s exactly what happened after House Republicans rolled out their draft bill to repeal and replace Obamacare Monday night. The response swift and largely negative, leaving a plan seven-years-in-the-making in critical condition less than 24 hours after its public debut.

“The Republicans have done what Democrats couldn’t: Brought the popularity of Obamacare to record levels. They made every election a referendum on Obamacare,” said former Rep. Steve Israel, a Democrat.

Israel led House Democrats’ election efforts during the brutal 2010 midterm, when Republicans rode an anti-Obama backlash to gain 63 seats. Now Israel anticipates Democrats will run on, instead of away from, health care.

“You can expect House Democrats to make the midterm election on ‘Ryancare,” he said.

Democrats have already started collecting sympathetic stories from people who credit the ACA with saving their lives.

Related: American Medical Association Comes Out Against GOP bill

And the party’s campaign arms are zeroing in on a handful of provisions in the proposed draft they think are politically toxic: Funding cuts to efforts to fight the opioid epidemic, penalties for Planned Parenthood, and a tax break for insurance company CEOs who make more than $500,000 a year.

The 2018 midterm elections are still a ways off, but Democrats say they intend to put repeal front and center.

“GOP Senate candidates will now have to defend an agenda that protects the wealthy and well-connected at the expense of Americans who actually work for a living,” said Maryland Sen. Chris Van Hollen, who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “Regardless of whether it gets a vote, we’ll make sure there is no rock Republican Senate candidates can hide under.”

GOP Hill leaders back away from Trump on wiretap allegations

(CNN)The top Republicans investigating Russia’s interference in the US election declined Tuesday to back up President Donald Trump’s claims that then-President Barack Obama wiretapped his Manhattan headquarters last year — leaving the White House on its own to explain the stunning allegation.

When pressed on whether he believed Trump’s allegations, House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes — one of Trump’s strongest supporters in the House and a member of his transition team — brushed aside the President’s allegations.
Republicans leery of Trump wiretapping claims

Republicans leery of Trump wiretapping claims 00:51
“A lot of the things he says, you guys take literally,” Nunes told reporters Tuesday. Nunes later hedged his comments and said that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn may have been wiretapped and that Trump had raised “valid questions” about how his aides were listened in on.
Across the Capitol, Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, who is leading a concurrent investigation into Russia’s interference, said he had not seen any evidence of Trump’s claims.
“We’re going to go anywhere there is intelligence or facts that send us,” Burr told CNN. “So I’m not going to limit it one way or the other. But we don’t have anything today that would send us in that direction, but that’s not to say that we might not find something.”
When asked by CNN if he believed Trump’s allegations, the second ranking Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn, responded: “I don’t know what the basis of his statement is.”
Press Secretary Sean Spicer was asked repeatedly about Trump’s allegation during the White House briefing Tuesday.
“Nothing has changed,” Spicer told CNN’s Jim Acosta when asked whether there was new evidence to support the claims. “It’s not a question of new proof or less proof or whatever, the answer is the same, which is that … there was a concern about what happened in the 2016 election. The House and Senate Intelligence Committee have the staff and the capabilities and the processes in place to look at this in a way that’s objective and that’s where it should be done.”
White House defends unfounded wiretap claim

White House defends unfounded wiretap claim 02:55
Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House’s committee, said he accepts the responsibility of looking into Trump’s claims.
“The President has asked our committee to investigate this,” Schiff told reporters Tuesday evening. “Mr. President, we accept.”
Schiff added later, “It is also a scandal if those allegations prove to be false”
Trump’s own selection for deputy attorney general, who would oversee an investigation into Russia’s connections to Trump’s presidential campaign following Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal, sidestepped the issue during his confirmation hearing Tuesday morning.
“If the President is exercising his First Amendment rights, that’s not my issue,” Rosenstein, a veteran federal prosecutor with bipartisan backing, said when asked about Trump’s claims by Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham.
Throughout the Capitol it has been almost impossible to find any lawmakers who either take the President literally or seriously about his blockbuster claim, laid out in an early morning tweet last Saturday.
Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, laughed for a few seconds when asked by a CNN reporter if the committee would expand its investigation to check out Trump’s allegations.
“We’ll follow the facts wherever they may lead, but he’s not shown us any evidence,” Warner said.
And top Republicans, already hard at work trying to corral votes for the Obamacare replacement, dismissed with questions about Trump’s tweet Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said “No I have not,” when asked if he has seen any evidence of wiretapping.
The President’s allegations add the latest wrinkle to a story which has consumed Washington and the new administration with a seemingly endless stream of revelations about the Trump campaign’s interactions with Russian officials.
Sessions said last Thursday he would recuse himself from any investigation out of the Justice Department a little less than 24 hours after it was reported he met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. The White House then quickly alerted reporters to other meetings top advisers had with Kislyak before that information could be leaked out.
The House Intelligence Committee, meanwhile, has set an aggressive schedule for investigating claims that Russia engaged in widespread interference in the US elections — requesting the delivery of intelligence documents by March 17 and scheduling its first public hearing in the investigation for March 20.

House GOP Begin to Turn on Trump: Republicans Break from Party to Demand President’s Tax Returns


Resistance to President Donald Trump is cropping up in the most unlikeliest of places: the House GOP caucus.

At least four Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives, some of whom have been questioned, booed and heckled at recent town halls by their constituents, publicly called for Trump to release his tax returns in order to review for any potential conflicts of interest that pose a national security risk or violate the Constitution.

“It’s something I feel very, very strongly about,” Republican South Carolina Rep. Mark Sanford told RollCall this week. Sanford, along with North Carolina Republican Walter Jones, signed a letter from New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell calling on the chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee and Senate Finance Committee to compel the United States Treasury Department to release Trump’s tax returns for congressional review.

“Disclosure would serve the public interest of clarifying President Trump’s conflicts of interest in office, the potential for him to personally benefit from tax reform, and ensure that he is not receiving any preferential treatment from the IRS,” the letter stated. “We believe the powerful and respected Committees on Finance and Ways and Means have the responsibility to ensure oversight of the executive branch by requesting a review of President Trump’s tax returns and moving toward a formal release of these documents to the public.”

The letter has been signed by more than 140 Democrats in the House.

“Ultimately, it isn’t about Trump’s tax returns. It’s about the continuation of a policy that’s been in place for 50 years by virtue of tradition. What happens at the federal level has real implications at the state and local level,” Sanford said.

Sanford was one of several House Republicans, including House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, who called on Trump to release his tax returns during the presidential campaign. Sanford even sent a letter in late January to Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, on the matter.

Trump defied a more than four-decade-old bipartisan tradition of presidential candidates releasing their tax returns, insisting that he cannot do so while under audit. He has said that the public doesn’t care “at all” about his returns.

But asked, “Will you call for the release of President Trump’s income tax records?” by a registered Republican at a Pensacola town hall late last month, freshman Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida folded and responded: “Absolutely.”

Iowa Republican Rep. David Young echoed his Republican colleague at his own recent town hall. “You run for president, you’re president, you should release your tax returns. It’s a distraction and I think the American people should know,” the congressman told a town hall last week, calling the decision a “no-brainer.”

A poll released during last year’s presidential campaign found that 64 percent of Republican voters wanted Trump to release his tax returns.

Earlier this week Pascrell tried to get House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-TX, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orin Hatch, R-Utah, to use their jurisdictional authority to push Trump to release his taxes. Pascrell forced a vote on the floor of the House on the issue, but every Republican — including Gaetz and Young — unanimously rejected the motion. Sanford and Jones, who have taken the most concrete steps to force Trump’s hand on tax returns, voted present.

Jones said in an interview with RollCall that Americans “need to know” about their president’s taxes.

“We are not going to be turned back,” Pascrell said after his bill failed to gain traction with more Republicans. “We have several paths.”

Democratic members in the Senate are now pushing for the returns under the same 1924 law that Pascrell unsuccessfully invoked in the House. Under the law, chairmen of the Congressional tax-writing committees are authorized to confidentially review anyone’s return — including the president’s — without that person’s consent if they have cause for concern.

“I’m just watching these Republicans speaking out in the House like Mark Sanford,” Senator Ron Wyden from Oregon, the leading Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, told RollCall. Wyden recently introduced a bill that would require presidents and presidential nominees to release their three most recent tax returns. If they don’t, Wyden’s bill would authorize the Treasury to do it for them. The measure has 19 co-sponsors, all Democrats, but so far no action has been taken.

Democrats have said Trump’s tax returns are needed to examine potential financial links to Russian investors in light of Russia’s interference in last year’s elections. They also contend the tax returns could help determine whether Trump has conflicts of interests when he takes positions on legislation such as tax proposals.

But Republican committee chairmen Brady and Hatch said in a letter to Wyden that there was no “specific allegations of tax-related misconduct” against Trump. As a result, they wrote, “we strongly believe it would be inappropriate for us to use this authority to access and release the president’s tax returns.”

Unlike Republicans in the House, Senate Republicans have surprisingly stuck by Trump and his right to shield his tax returns more than their colleagues in the House. Only Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has somewhat spoken against Trump’s position, telling RollCall this week that “any candidate running in 2020 needs to release their tax returns.”

Republicans have long talk about replacing Obamacare, but no bill yet

Washington (CNN)Congressional Republicans insist they are moving forward on their campaign pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare, but internal divisions over key components mean they will head home for a week-long recess with few details on how they will overhaul the nation’s health care system.

Republicans huddled in the basement of the Capitol for a closed-door meeting Thursday to hear presentations from the two committee leaders leading the effort — Oregon Rep. Greg Walden and Texas Rep. Kevin Brady — who outlined plans to set up tax credits and restructuring how states will administer Medicaid programs that provide coverage for millions.
Members coming out of the meeting continued to stress they were unified on their goal and campaign promise to do away with the Affordable Care Act, but no draft language was was handed out. Most members described a more robust discussion of the House GOP’s “Better Way” health care proposal that they campaigned on in 2016.
“This is a complex issue, one of the members said ‘hey you’ve got to keep this simple.’ You can’t keep this simple. When you are talking about health care and rolling back 2,600 pages of the Affordable Care Act this is going to take some complexity,” Republican Rep. Mark Walker, the head of a group of fiscal conservatives, said after the meeting.
Many conservatives, despite the lack of details, said they are confident that there will be a vote in the first quarter of the year — a goal that House Speaker Paul Ryan has set.
But other members said their new target for moving legislation from committees to the House floor was sometime in mid-April.
In recent weeks, town halls in member’s districts have erupted with angry pushback from voters who are uneasy about the Republicans’ plans to transform the health care system.
At Thursday’s meeting, there was a PowerPoint presentation and members were supposed to get paper versions to bring home, but they weren’t ready in time for the meeting. Instead leaders promised to give each member packets with information so they will be armed with some more answers for voters.
A PowerPoint distributed after the meeting included quotes from Americans who had been negatively affected by the Affordable Care Act and included maps of just how much premiums had gone up in individual states and how few options there were in some places. The slide show included a briefing of the three-part plan to give regulatory relief through administrative action, repeal and replace using reconciliation and then move forward with additional legislation.
Michigan Rep. Bill Huizenga told reporters he wasn’t worried they still hasn’t seen a bill from leaders yet, noting that the Democrats’ efforts to design Obamacare took 14 months.
“We knew we haven’t gotten into this overnight,” Huizenga said. “We are not going to get out of it overnight.”
The official cost estimate of the GOP proposal is still a work in progress by the Congressional Budget Office. Members are awaiting the results.
“If it comes back and it’s out of the roof then it might take some more time to figure out how to pay for this,” Walker admitted.
Missouri GOP Rep. Ann Wagner downplayed the fact that leaders didn’t unveil actual legislation, telling reporters “I think we’ve got the outline of things that will be a part of a bill and part of a reconciliation package going along. We have had this in place for some time, and now we’re getting down to some of the very specifics.”

Trump’s man aims to reassure GOP

Newly installed Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who recently resigned his House seat, attended the meeting and pledged “the president is all-in on this.”
But GOP leaders are concerned that the window for action is tight and they are scrambling to corral members around a proposal. The more time they take the more that counter-pressures from the right and left — to speed up or slow down the process — are making their job more difficult. They are using a budget procedure known as reconciliation to repeal major planks of the law and begin the process of replacing it. This process allows them to pass the measure with a simple majority in the Senate. But they want to use a similar strategy for tax reform so they are mindful of the need to get bill moving soon so they can tackle other issues this spring.
Price discussed the need to stick with the timeline the leaders set out. “Let’s not miss this opportunity. Let’s go shoulder to shoulder, arm to arm,” he said.
But multiple members from across the ideological spectrum stressed that a lot of decisions still hadn’t been made on key issues.
“So there’s obviously unanswered questions and — no shocker here — we have differences of opinion even within our conference,” Huizenga told reporters.

Future of Obamacare taxes, Medicaid programs

Committee leaders walked through several policy issues they are working through such as how to design tax credits for those who will be shopping for health care in the new system and how to address how money will flow to states that administer the Medicaid program.
They went over plans for creating high-risk pools and proposals for incentives for broader use of health savings accounts. In the PowerPoint sent out after the meeting, there was a promise to “deliver relief from the Obamacare taxes,” “eliminate the individual and employer mandate penalties,” and “repeal Obamacare spending for the Medicaid expansion and the new open-ended subsidies.”
But in some areas, there was no clear consensus. For example, the details on how states would handle the Medicaid program are still being worked out. Republicans from Medicaid expansion states have been fighting to keep their expansion money and ensure voters back home who were covered under the program could remain on it, but Medicaid has long been a top target for fiscal conservatives looking to make cuts in the budget. There is wide consensus that states need more flexibility in handling their federal Medicaid dollars, but there still are not clear details on whether that flexibility will come through block grants or per capita allotments is still up in the air.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Brady told reporters that the discussion was also ongoing as to what to do with Obamacare taxes. Conservatives have said the taxes need to be repealed immediately, but others have been arguing that Republicans will need to keep the taxes in place in the short term to fund their own Obamacare replacement.
Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas told reporters that he had no actual budget numbers of how each program- from tax credits to health savings accounts- would be funded, a key factor in whether or not Republicans will be able to rally around the plan.
“They did not overlay the money and that is the big question,” Sessions said. “You cannot pass policy, you have to pass money. It’s about money.”
So far, a leading member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus didn’t sound impressed with what he heard from his leadership.
“So far it just sounds like Obamacare light,” said Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador.

Republicans vote to rebuke Elizabeth Warren (White Feminist), saying she impugned Sessions’s character



Senate Republicans passed a party-line rebuke Tuesday night of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) for a speech opposing attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, striking down her words for impugning the Alabama senator’s character.

In an extraordinarily rare move, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) interrupted Warren’s speech, in a near-empty chamber as debate on Sessions’s nomination heads toward a Wednesday evening vote, and said that she had breached Senate rules by reading past statements against Sessions from figures such as the late senator Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and the late Coretta Scott King.

“The senator has impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama,” McConnell said, then setting up a series of roll-call votes on Warren’s conduct.

It was the latest clash in the increasingly hostile debate over confirming President Trump’s Cabinet, during which Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to force through nominees without proper vetting. Democrats, unable to stop the confirmations that require simple majorities, have countered by using extreme delay tactics that have dragged out the process longer than any in history for a new president’s Cabinet.

The Democratic moves, including boycotting committee room votes on nominees last week and a round-the-clock debate Monday night before Tuesday’s confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, reached a boiling point during the debate over Sessions — which Democrats are vowing to continue overnight.

In setting up the votes to rebuke Warren, McConnell specifically cited portions of a letter that King, the widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., wrote to the Senate Judiciary Committee in opposition to Sessions’s 1986 nomination to be a federal judge.

[Trump’s pick for attorney general is shadowed by race and history]

“Mr. Sessions has used the awesome power of his office to chill the free exercise of the vote by black citizens,” King wrote, referencing controversial prosecutions at the time that Sessions served as the U.S. attorney for Alabama. Earlier, Warren read from the 1986 statement of Kennedy, a senior member of the Judiciary Committee who led the opposition then against Sessions, including the Massachusetts Democrat’s concluding line: “He is, I believe, a disgrace to the Justice Department and he should withdraw his nomination and resign his position.”

The Senate voted, 49 to 43, strictly on party lines, to uphold the ruling that Warren violated Rule 19 of the Senate that says senators are not allowed to “directly or indirectly, by any form of words impute to another Senator or to other Senators any conduct or motive unworthy or unbecoming a Senator.” Pursuant to that rule, Warren was ordered to sit down and forbidden from speaking during the remainder of the debate on the nomination of Sessions.

“I am surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate,” Warren said after McConnell’s motion.

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), a freshman who was presiding over the Senate at the time, issued a warning to Warren at that point, singling out Kennedy’s “disgrace” comment, and 25 minutes later McConnell came to the floor and set in motion the battle, citing the comments in the King letter as crossing the line.

Warren’s speech ended with a simple admonition from Daines: “The senator will take her seat.”

Later, McConnell defended his decision.

“Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech. She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation,” he said. “Nevertheless, she persisted.”

Other Democrats later came to her defense and tried to have King’s letter placed into the Senate record. But Republican senators quickly objected. They did so again when Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), the chamber’s only African American woman, asked that Warren be allowed to resume participation in the debate.

Warren, a liberal firebrand with a devoted national following whom some activists want to run for president in 2020, quickly took to social media and the airwaves to attack McConnell and Republicans for shutting down her speech.

I will not be silent about a nominee for AG who has made derogatory & racist comments that have no place in our justice system.

Banned from reading King’s letter on the Senate floor, Warren instead went to a nearby room and read it aloud on Facebook Live.

Sen. Warren reads Coretta Scott King’s letter about Jeff Sessions outside the Senate

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After Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) struck down Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) attempt to read a letter from Coretta Scott King on the floor of the Senate during the debate on attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, Warren read the letter outside the doors of the Senate and streamed it live. (Facebook/Sen. Elizabeth Warren)

In a brief telephone interview with MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show,” a program watched loyally by many Warren devotees, she explained that “I’ve been red- carded on Sen. Sessions, I’m out of the game of the Senate floor. I don’t get to speak at all.”

Public reaction quickly intensified online., an online clothing website for independent designers, began selling a “She Persisted” T-shirt or sweatshirt — seizing on McConnell’s admonition of Warren. Democrats began using #LetLizSpeak on Twitter and posted copies of King’s letter on Facebook to draw more attention to Warren’s speech.

At least one other Democrat, Sen. Christopher Murphy (Conn.), hinted that he might try to pick up where Warren left off at some point overnight, saying on Twitter, “Go ahead and rule me out of order.”

This is unreal. Senate Republicans have ruled that any Democrat that criticizes Sessions’ record will be stripped of the right to speak. 

I am speaking later tonight. I will be talking about Sessions’ record. With gusto. Go ahead and rule me out of order. 

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