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Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

 

Political resistance mounted to the House Republican leadership’s Obamacare repeal legislation Tuesday, with 12 Republican senators criticizing elements of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan as too draconian—especially the proposal’s cuts affecting Medicaid, which covers the poor, children and senior long-term care.

Meanwhile, progressive economists and others digging into the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the House bill found even more dire predictions that were obscured by Monday’s stunning announcement that the bill, if passed as currently written, would lead to upwards of 24 million people losing coverage within a decade. (The CBO estimated 14 million would lose coverage next year via individuals losing subsidies, and another 10 million would lose their coverage by 2026 due to cutbacks in state-run Medicaid programs. Politico reported Tuesday that the White House’s internal estimate was 26 million.)

Of particular interest to the economists was an unexplained footnote in the CBO report on page 33, predicting Social Security would pay out $3 billion less in the next 10 years if the House bill becomes law. While there was debate about whether the law’s passage would mean employees might see higher wages but stingier benefits—meaning more Social Security taxes would be generated—their interpretation was millions of people would be forced to keep working and postpone taking Social Security because they’d need the money for escalating medical costs.

There were similarly stark second-day analyses, such as the bill’s impact on veterans. While most military veterans are covered by Veterans Administration healthcare, not all of them are—just as their family members aren’t—meaning another key constituency, military families, would be hurt by an Obamacare repeal.

“Not all veterans are eligible to receive health care through the VA,” explained VetVotes.org’s Will Fischer. “The Affordable Care Act has resulted in the number of veterans in this country going without insurance to drop drastically. Next, while many veterans are eligible, and do receive high quality health care at the VA, spouses, children—they can’t go to the VA. If we see a repeal of the Affordable Care Act we will also see the number of veteran family members in this country going without insurance to increase.”

Analyses like these prompted a growing number of Republican senators to distance themselves from the House bill by early Tuesday—a gesture that isn’t quite saying they would vote no, but signaling that Ryan’s Obamacare repeal wasn’t going to fly in the Senate. With 52 Republican senators, Obamacare’s defenders need only three Republican defectors to block any repeal bill. Vox counted 12 Republicans expressing a range of doubts as of Tuesday.

Republicans Still Have Ways To Gut Safety Nets

So the question that emerges is not just whether the House repeal effort will be stopped in wholesale fashion, as was the case when Democrats controlled the Senate and held the White House veto pen, but what can Republicans do to modify the House’s draconian approach and pass GOP Senate muster?

In the short run, it is possible GOP infighting could kill the repeal effort outright, as arch right-wingers, those in the House Freedom Caucus and ideologues like Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, are saying Ryan’s repeal doesn’t go far enough. As the Washington Post reported, “most of the changes that the White House seems to be talking about to get House Freedom Caucus members onboard will worsen the coverage numbers and make it harder to win over GOP senators.”

But that scenario is perhaps too wishful for this Congress and administration. There are other ways hardcore right-wingers whose professed desire to rein in spending—regardless of real-life harms—might come on board.

It’s important to remember that Ryan’s bill isn’t only about gutting Obamacare, which extended health coverage to 19 million people. As CBO noted, within a decade 24 million people would lose coverage. That additional 5 million figure comes from cutting Medicaid, whose beneficiaries include children, the elderly on long-term care and other poor people. Ryan’s bill will bring down the federal deficit by nearly half a trillion dollars, CBO’s analysis said, including $880 billion in Medicaid cuts over the next decade.

There are other ways to eviscerate this safety net program that could become part of any Senate “fix” of the House’s errant repeal bill. On Monday, the Senate confirmed Seema Verma as the next administrator of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency that allocates $1 trillion annually for health care for one-third of all Americans. Verma previously restructured Indiana’s Medicaid program—under then-governor Mike Pence—by imposing punitive private-sector practices on that state’s program which “cut” costs: requiring recipients to pay premiums, contribute to private health savings accounts and lose their coverage if a payment was late.

Speaking from the floor Monday, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-WA, noted that Verma “made millions of dollars in consulting fees by kicking poor, working families off of Medicaid for failure to pay monthly contributions similar to premiums,” the New York Times reported. Weeks before at her Senate confirmation hearing, Verma suggested that insurance not be required to include maternity care. The new Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, has praised that approach as giving states “greater flexibility.”

What this means is that the Republican war on safety nets is really just beginning. The House’s cruel Obamacare repeal bill is an opening shot in a much longer and larger political battle—as if kicking 19 million people off Obamacare isn’t enough. The Republicans holding the real reins of powers—in Congress via lawmaking and executive branch via rule making—aren’t considering human needs first. Where they aren’t citing ideological goals like federal debt reduction to cut off safety net subsidies, they’re looking to destroy these programs by penalizing their participants—as Verma did in Indiana—and they’re also allowing their political sponsors to make money by privatization, as Verma also did by requiring state Medicaid recipients to contribute to health savings accounts.

The Republican effort is needlessly preying on the most vulnerable among us while enriching GOP allies (by repealing Obamacare taxes on the wealthy and medical industries, or though privatization). No matter what happens to Ryan’s Obamacare repeal legislation, this political struggle to preserve social safety nets is only beginning.

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

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Eric Holder

The failure of major federal voting rights legislation in the Senate has left civil rights advocates saying they are determined to keep fighting—including by suing in battleground states. But the little bipartisan consensus that exists on election reform would, at best, lead to much narrower legislation that is unlikely to address state-level GOP efforts now targeting Democratic blocs.

“This is the loss of a battle, but it is not necessarily the loss of a war, and this war will go on,” Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general and Democrat, told MSNBC, saying that he and the Democratic Party will be suing in states where state constitutions protect voting rights. “This fight for voting rights and voter protection and for our democracy will continue.”

“The stakes are too important to give up now,” said Damon Hewitt, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which for years has operated an Election Day hotline to help people vote. “Our country cannot claim to be free while allowing states to legislate away that freedom at will.”

In recent weeks, as it became clear that the Senate was not going to change its rules to allow the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to pass with a simple majority, there have been efforts by some lawmakers, election policy experts, and civil rights advocates to identify what election reforms could pass the Senate.

“There are several areas… where I think there could be bipartisan consensus,” said David Becker, executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, in a briefing on January 20. “These areas are all around those guardrails of democracy. They are all about ensuring that however the voters speak that their voice is heard… and cannot be subverted by anyone in the post-election process.”

Becker cited updating the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which addressed the process where state-based slates of presidential electors are accepted by Congress. (In recent weeks, new evidence has surfaced showing that Donald Trump’s supporters tried to present Congress with forged certificates as part of an effort to disrupt ratifying the results on January 6, 2021.) Updating that law could also include clarifying which state officials have final authority in elections and setting out clear timetables for challenging election results in federal court after Election Day.

Five centrist Washington-based think tanks issued a report on January 20, Prioritizing Achievable Federal Election Reform, which suggested federal legislation could codify practices now used by nearly three-quarters of the states. Those include requiring voters to present ID, offering at least a week of early voting, allowing all voters to request a mailed-out ballot, and allowing states to start processing returned absentee ballots a week before Election Day.

But the report, which heavily drew on a task force of 29 state and local election officials from 20 states convened by Washington’s Bipartisan Policy Center, was notable in what it did not include, such as restoring the major enforcement section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was removed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013. It did not mention the Electoral Count Act nor growing threats to election officials from Trump supporters.

“This won’t satisfy all supporters of the Freedom to Vote Act, but this is a plausible & serious package of reforms to make elections more accessible and secure that could attract bipartisan support,” tweeted Charles Stewart III, a political scientist and director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab. “A good starting point.”

The reason the centrist recommendations won’t satisfy civil rights advocates is that many of the most troubling developments since the 2020 election would likely remain.

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(Reuters) -The prosecutor for Georgia's biggest county on Thursday requested a special grand jury with subpoena power to aid her investigation into then-President Donald Trump's efforts to influence the U.S. state's 2020 election results.

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