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McConnell’s Obamacare Replacement Guts Coverage, Raises Costs For Tens Of Millions

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

The latest Trumpcare bill released by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is a political dealmaker’s version of putting lipstick on a pig—taking a colossally destructive bill hurting tens of millions and dressing it up so it can win enough votes to pass.

A side-by-side comparison of the text reveals that the GOP hasn’t budged an inch in its intention to cut federal subsidies of state-run Medicaid by one-third, which will severely hit the poor, single mothers with children and seniors in nursing homes.

For those buying private insurance, in addition to ending federal Obamacare subsidies, by incorporating more deregulation from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, anyone who is not youthful and naturally healthy will see premiums rise while what is covered in those plans will shrink. That translates into a double hit, on employers buying coverage for employees and on families and individuals facing higher out-of-pocket costs in emergencies.

McConnell’s new bill still ends Obamacare’s provisions that stopped insurers from rejecting people with pre-existing conditions, which is almost everybody over age 50. It reinstitutes lifetime coverage caps for insurers, which will leave people exposed to medical bankruptcy. And it eliminates Obamacare’s requirement that commercial insurance policies cover essential benefits, like maternity care.

“I knew this bill was unfixable. What I didn’t count on was that it would get worse,” tweeted Andy Slavitt, who ran Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act for President Obama. “There is an even bigger endorsement of higher deductibles with new catastrophic plan provision.”

Digging deeper into McConnell’s bill, one finds apparent giveaways to try to wrest votes from Republicans who are on the fence for completely different reasons. On the furthest right, the inclusion of Cruz’s amendment will create two risk pools—one for regular policyholders and another for the very sick. People who want wide protection against chronic, catastrophic and life-threatening illnesses will be priced out of the market under the far right’s fictitious banner of giving people more “freedom.”

Also pandering to the tax-cutting and make-the-rich-even-richer wing of the party is the fact that McConnell’s latest bill preserves 80 percent of the taxes that earlier versions were going to repeal. That’s being portrayed in some mainstream media accounts as an improvement and something less than an outright giveaway, which is ludicrous. The hundreds of billions that will be taken away from Medicaid will offset these taxes.

The bill also seeks to win the support of senators from Ohio and West Virginia by putting in more money for opioid addiction treatment, and boosting state subsidies for Florida, Louisiana and other red states. It also creates a $100 billion tax break for people who open health care savings accounts, enlarging the role for those fee-skimming middlemen with an option that only people with high enough incomes can afford to establish and use. And the McConnell bill also creates another industry giveaway, a $70 billion account to shore up insurers against the economic turbulence the rest of this bill will create.

The national trade association for insurance companies is not impressed by any of this, realizing that the GOP’s “fixes” are going to turn them into the most hated industry in America—as if multitudes from coast to coast hadn’t already lost their patience with rising premiums, co-pays and deductibles before 2016’s “repeal and replace” charade. Their lobby group, AHIP, or America’s Health Insurance Plans, railed against Cruz’s proposals in lobbyist-speak earlier this week, in a press release with the sub-heading, “Policies that increase uncertainty or threaten instability should be avoided.”

AHIP concluded, “The individual market faces well-documented challenges to stability, including higher premiums, lower-than-expected enrollment, fewer plan choices, and risk pool problems in certain states and markets. Policy solutions exist to create more stability in the market by reducing premiums and attracting enrollment of younger and healthier individuals. In this context, it is important that policymakers avoid policies that threaten to further increase uncertainty or threaten stability. Such policies include opening up non-compliant plans to new enrollees, bifurcating the risk pool, or allowing plans covered by different rules to compete in the same market.”

This isn’t Bernie Sanders; this is the insurance lobby. As for Sanders, he posted a video on his Twitter page saying this GOP-created insanity is making the strongest possible case for a national singer-payer, Medicare-for-all system. “The UK can do it, Canada can do it, France can do it, Scandinavia can do it,” he said.

Meanwhile, other Washington-based health consumer lobbyists said the time has come to trash the GOP and start bipartisan talks about creating a system that meets people’s needs. How that will happen, when the GOP wrote this bill in secret and ducked meetings with their constituents is anybody’s guess. But that is the line being offered on Thursday.

“Today’s release of the updated Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) confirms what we already knew: this broken bill can’t be fixed,” said Joe Baker, president of the Medicare Rights Center. “This tweaked BCRA still ends Medicaid as we know it, and it still yanks health coverage out from under millions of Americans, including older adults, people with disabilities and those with pre-existing conditions.”

“Most Americans oppose the BCRA’s untenable cuts to Medicaid and its disregard for the families who need guaranteed, affordable health coverage,” Baker continued. “In drafting the BCRA, Senate leaders have avoided public debate, hearings and even their own constituents… The American people have asked for, and deserve, an open, bipartisan approach to making health care more affordable for everyone.”

What comes next in this process? The Congressional Budget Office will score the bill, meaning it will say how many people will be hurt by the cuts in government subsidies and coverage cuts, and how many will benefit from tax cuts and other giveaways. Then McConnell will try to bring the bill to the floor, where if necessary, he will introduce more vote-getting amendments that will not be reviewed by the CBO.

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).

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


5 Republican Disgraces You Missed This Week

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Every day in Donald Trump’s America is seemingly dumber, crueler, and more exhausting than the one that preceded it. This week alone saw the president’s pick for labor secretary withdraw his name from consideration, a story that was all but eclipsed by the still greater scandal of Michael Flynn’s resignation from the National Security Council amidst charges of collusion with the Russian government.

While it’s tempting to believe the centrifugal force of Trump’s cracked brand of authoritarianism will pull his presidency apart, the reality is that he remains enormously popular with Republican voters and the party’s craven politicians are unlikely to take any kind of action that could alienate them. Even if he were miraculously impeached or removed from office through the 25th Amendment, America would be left with President Mike Pence, arguably an even darker fate than the dystopian timeline in which we find ourselves.

What is clear is that to a man, from the preening “mavericks” to the proud white supremacists, the GOP is entirely complicit in the horrors of this administration. Every unconstitutional executive order, every denigration of the country’s citizenry and press comes with the party’s seal of approval. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may not like what the president is saying, but he likes what he’s doing.

What follows are five Republican disgraces you might have missed this week watching Donald Trump combust:

1. Rep. Steve King (R-IA) huddles with National Front Leader Marine Le Pen

The Iowa congressman has been one of Donald Trump’s most vocal supporters since the Republican primary. He’s also infamously argued that white people have contributed more to civilization than any other “subgroup.” Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that he sat down Monday with Marine Le Pen, a French reactionary making her own bid for president on a campaign of unapologetic xenophobia.

Le Pen made headlines of her own last week when she called on French Jews to renounce their dual citizenship with Israel and abandon use of yarmulkes in public spaces — part of a larger ban on religious attire primarily targeted at French Muslims. That didn’t stop King from glowing about the two countries’ “shared values” on Twitter, although with Steve Bannon’s liver pulsing in the West Wing, it’s safe to wonder if the congressman’s words contain more than a flicker of truth.

2. Rep. Jason Chafetz (R-UT) won’t even mask his villainy

The Utah congressman, who once said he wouldn’t be able to look his daughters in the face if he continued to support Donald Trump, began the week by accusing rowdy demonstrators at a recent town hall of being paid protesters. But he was only getting warmed up. Three days later, on the heels of Michael Flynn’s stunning ouster from the National Security Council, the chairman of the United States House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform declared there was no need for further inquiry. “It’s working itself out,” he told reporters with a smirk.

Chaffetz finally called for an investigation on Thursday — not of the national security advisor who could have shared sensitive intelligence information with a hostile foreign government, but of the leakers responsible for his resignation. And yet the coup de grce arrived the following morning when he announced that he would be seeking criminal charges against the State Department employee who helped Hillary Clinton set up her server.

If America emerges from Trump’s authoritarian regime mostly intact, Chaffetz may be remembered as his single greatest enabler.

3. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) lets the truth slip

Rep. Jason Chaffetz makes no apologies about putting party over country, but he’s hardly alone. Sen. Rand Paul echoed the Utah congressman by suggesting that membership in the GOP itself should preclude an elected official from public scrutiny. “I just don’t think it’s useful to be doing investigation after investigation, particularly of your own party,” he droned to the “Kilmeade and Friends” radio show. “We’ll never even get started with doing the things we need to do, like repealing Obamacare, if we’re spending our whole time having Republicans investigate Republicans. I think it makes no sense.”

Paul has no interest in the Trump administration’s possible ties to a violent autocrat. He just wants to get down to the hard work of stripping tens of millions of Americans of their health insurance, if you don’t mind.

4. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) says he’s committed to fighting authoritarianism with a straight face

The Arizona senator was in Germany this week as part of party-wide blitz to assure Western Europe that the U.S. is still committed to its alliances — a campaign that has, incidentally, proven largely unsuccessful. “[The founders] would be alarmed by an increasing turn away from universal values and toward old ties of blood and race and sectarians,” he told the Munich conference. “They would be alarmed by the growing inability — and even unwillingness — to separate truth from lies. They would be alarmed that more and more of our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent.”

Noble sentiments one and all. If only John McCain hadn’t endorsed a proto-fascist who openly mocked his war record; or waited until the release of an audio tape cataloguing his sexual abuses before retracting said endorsement; or taken literally any action to impede the rise of the very politician he now coyly refuses to identify by name. Let’s give Gizmodo’s Alex Pareene the final word on the maverick who isn’t.

5. The Senate Committee confirms Scott Pruitt to the EPA

By a vote of 52-46, a Republican-controlled Senate confirmed Scott Pruitt as the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency Friday — four days before the release of emails between Pruitt and fossil fuel companies ordered by a federal judge in Oklahoma. The two Democratic votes belonged to Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), hailing from oil-rich and coal-rich states respectively.

As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt has challenged the existence of man-made climate change and sued the EPA over its efforts to limit carbon emissions, regulate smog pollution ,and protect wetlands and streams, all of which apparently qualifies him to lead the federal agency itself. In a related story, scientists warn Arctic ice melt could trigger uncontrollable climate change at a global level.

Jacob Sugarman is a managing editor at AlterNet.

IMAGE: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul speaks at the Growth and Opportunity Party at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines, Iowa, October 31, 2015.  REUTERS/Brian C. Frank

Obama at UChicago: Garland Is ‘Indisputably Qualified’ For The Supreme Court

“Merrick Garland is an extraordinary jurist who is indisputably qualified to serve on the highest court in the land, and nobody really argues otherwise,” President Obama said Thursday, in a conversation at the University of Chicago Law School. “And I just want to be clear here: If the question is qualifications and excellence, it is uniformly viewed by not just Democrats but also Republicans and those who have served with him — lawyers, judges, legal scholars, members of the current Supreme Court — that he is as good of a judge as we have in this country right now.”

Although Merrick Garland is a veteran D.C. Circuit Court judge who’s earned  plenty of respect on both sides of the aisle, Senate Republicans, for the most part, aren’t budging on his nomination.

Out of fifty-four Republican senators, only two—Mark Kirk of Illinois and Susan Collins of Maine— have met with Garland and are pushing for their fellow Republicans to hold hearings for the nominee. John Boozman of Arkansas met also with Garland, on Tuesday, but hasn’t called for hearings. Jerry Moran of Kansas and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska previously shared this sentiment, but have since changed their minds. Both are facing re-election this year.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, tore into Chief Justice John Roberts on Tuesday, blaming his leadership for the ongoing nomination controversy and for many of the progressive reforms of the Obama administration. In a floor speech, Grassley said “the confirmation process has gotten political precisely because the court itself has drifted from the Constitutional text and rendered decisions based instead on policy preferences,” referencing Roberts’s prior refusal to strike down the Affordable Care Act.

Grassley then added, “[Roberts] would be well-served to address the reality, not perception, that too often there is little difference between the actions of the court and the actions of the political branches. So, physician, heal thyself.”

In other words: the Supreme Court has politicized itself. Senate Republicans blocking the court’s nomination process have nothing to do with it!

Following the sudden passing of Justice Antonin Scalia in February, the Supreme Court found itself in a state of limbo. With the court standing at a fifty-fifty split between conservative and liberal justices, Scalia’s successor will likely decide many of the court’s cases for years to come.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is leading the charge against Obama’s pick, strong-arming his conference into blocking any nomination until the next president takes office. In a February Facebook post, McConnell avowed, “I am committed to ensuring that the American people have a voice in deciding the next nominee to the Supreme Court. Very rarely in the history of our country has a Supreme Court Justice ever been confirmed in a presidential election year – and 2016 should be no different.”

McConnell could use a history lesson: Nominations in election years are far from uncommon. According to the SCOTUSblog, there have been five instances of confirmations during election years in the twentieth century alone. There were two instances of contested nominations in 1956 and 1968, to appoint William J. Brennan and to find a replacement for Chief Justice Earl Warren. Nevertheless, both controversies ended peacefully, as Brennan was confirmed the following year, and Warren decided to remain in his seat.

In other words, there’s never been any tradition of a lame duck president leaving an empty seat for his successor to fill. And the Supreme Court needs all of its justices — at the very least to avoid 4-4 ties in key decisions. As the old saying goes, a tie is like kissing Mitch McConnell.

Senate Republicans’ hostility towards filling the Supreme Court’s vacancy represents a new chapter in the radicalization of the Republican Party. Congress has turned down more than a few Supreme Court nominees for political reasons, but the prospect of long-term gridlock between the three branches is unprecedented. Can the GOP survive much longer if it divides government not only along ideological lines, but administrative ones as well?

With a devastatingly low 11 percent approval rating, Congress may not have time to find out, especially if a Donald Trump presidential nomination manages to bring record numbers of Democrats out to vote in the general election. Should Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders win the 2016 election, each would likely nominate a justice far more left-leaning than Garland.

Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama (C) greets Judge Merrick Garland (R) after announcing Garland as his nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, in the White House Rose Garden in Washington, March 16, 2016. Vice President Joe Biden is at left.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Seven Years Late, Media Elites Finally Acknowledge GOP’s Radical Ways

This article originally appeared on Media Matters

Now they tell us the Republican Party is to blame? That the Obama years haven’t been gummed up by Both Sides Are To Blame obstruction?

The truth is, anyone with clear vision recognized a long time ago that the GOP has transformed itself since 2009 into an increasingly radical political party, one built on complete and total obstruction. It’s a party designed to make governing difficult, if not impossible, and one that plotted seven years ago to shred decades of Beltway protocol and oppose every inch of Obama’s two terms. (“If he was for it, we had to be against it,” former Republican Ohio Sen. George Voinovich once explained.)

And for some of us, it didn’t take Donald Trump’s careening campaign to confirm the destructive state of the GOP. But if it’s the Trump circus that finally opens some pundits’ eyes, so be it.

Recently, Dan Balz, the senior political writer for the Washington Post, seemed to do just that while surveying the unfolding GOP wreckage as the party splinters over Trump’s rise. Balz specifically noted that four years ago political scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein examined the breakdown in American politics and zeroed in their blame squarely on Republicans.

“They were ahead of others in describing the underlying causes of polarization as asymmetrical, with the Republican Party — in particular its most hard-line faction — as deserving of far more of the blame for the breakdown in governing,” Balz acknowledged.

“We have been studying Washington politics and Congress for more than 40 years, and never have we seen them this dysfunctional,” Mann and Ornstein wrote in The Washington Post in 2012. “In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party.”

They continued:

The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.

Tough stuff.

And what was the Beltway media’s response when Ornstein and Mann squarely blamed Republicans during an election year for purposefully making governing impossible? Media elites suddenly lost Mann and Ornstein’s number, as the duo’s television appearances and calls for quotes quickly dried up. So did much of the media’s interest in Mann and Ornstein’s prescient book.

“This was far too much for the mainstream press,” noted New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen. “They couldn’t assimilate what Mann and Ornstein said AND maintain routines and assumptions that posited a rough symmetry between the two parties. (‘Both sides do it.’) It was too much dissonance. Too much wreckage. So they pushed it away.”

For anyone who still harbors the naïve notion that the political debates staged by the Beltway press represent freewheeling discussions where anything goes, the Mann/Ornstein episode helped shed some light on the fact that certain topics and analysis remain off limits for public debate for years — even topics that are accurate, fair and essential to understanding our government’s current dysfunction.

Mann and Ornstein stepped forward to accurately describe what was happening to the Republican Party and detailed the calamitous effect it had on our democracy, and the mainstream media turned away.

So committed was the pundit class to maintaining its safe narrative about “bipartisan gridlock” and Obama’s puzzling inability to find “middle ground” with Republicans (i.e. why doesn’t he just schmooze more?), the press was willing to ignore Mann and Ornstein’s solid, scholarly research in order to wish the problem away.

Quite predictably, that problem has only worsened since 2012, which is what Mann and Ornstein address in their latest offering, “It’s Even Worse Than It Was.”  

“It is the radicalization of the Republican party,” they recently wrote, “that has been the most significant and consequential change in American politics in recent decades.”

“The radicalization of the Republican party” — talk about the topic the Beltway press simply doesn’t want to dwell on, let alone acknowledge. Instead, the press has clung to its preferred narrative about how the GOP is filled with honest brokers who are waiting to work in good faith with the White House. Eager to maintain a political symmetry in which both sides are responsible for sparking conflict (i.e. center-right Republicans vs. center-left Democrats), the press effectively gave Republicans a pass and pretended their radical, obstructionist ways represented normal partisan pursuits. (They didn’t.)

Today’s Republican Party is acting in a way that defies all historic norms. We saw it with the GOP’s gun law obstruction, the Violence Against Women Act obstruction, the sequester obstruction, Supreme Court obstruction, minimum wage obstruction, 9/11 first responder obstruction, government shutdown obstruction, immigration reform obstruction, Chuck Hagel’s confirmation obstruction, Susan Rice secretary of state obstruction, paid leave obstruction, Hurricane Sandy emergency relief obstruction, the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act obstruction, and the consistent obstruction of judicial nominees.

The 2014 obstruction of the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act was especially galling, as a single Republican senator blocked a vote on the crucial veterans bill.

At the time of the bill’s blockade, Media Matters noted that there was virtually no coverage of the radical obstructionism on CNN, Fox News, ABC, CBS, NBC or PBS, as well as news blackouts in the nation’s six largest newspapers: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, New York Post, The Washington Post, Chicago Sun-Times, The Denver Post, and Chicago Tribune

In other words, the GOP’s radical brand of obstructionism not only doesn’t get highlighted as something notable, radical, and dangerous; it’s often met with a collective shrug as the press pretends these kind of nonstop impediments are commonplace.

As Obama works his way through his final year in office, at least pundits like Balz are highlighting that Mann and Ornstein (and yes, Media Matters) were right about the GOP and the asymmetrical blame the party deserves for trying to wreck our functioning government.

It’s never too late for truth telling.