While Republicans in Washington are trying to figure out how to repeal the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) without causing a rebellion among Americans who have come to depend on the health care reforms, two California lawmakers (2/17) introduced legislation to replace private medical insurance with a government health care system covering all 38 mln Californians — including its undocumented residents.

“We’ve reached this pivotal moment and I thought to myself: ‘Look, now more than ever is the time to talk about universal health care,’” one of Senate Bill 562’s authors, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, told the San Jose Mercury News (2/17).

The Healthy California Act, co-authored by Sen. Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, was submitted just before the deadline for new legislation. It doesn’t yet offer many specifics other than the lawmakers’ intent to create a single-payer system that would pay for coverage for everyone.

Proponents argue that single-payer systems make health care more affordable and efficient because they eliminate the need for staffers at health care providers to handle insurance company paperwork, as well as the profit margins demanded by private insurance companies. Opponents say single-payer plans raise tax costs and give government too much power.

Medicare, the federally funded health coverage for the elderly, is often held up as a model of what a single-payer system might look like.

US Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — who strongly challenged Hillary Clinton during last year’s Democratic presidential primary — widened the popular appeal of expanding Medicare to cover everybody.

While other developed nations have achieved universal coverage through single-payer plans, Katy Murphy and Tracy Seipel noted in the Mercury News, no state has been able to implement a single-payer plan.

A plan to create a single-payer plan in Vermont failed in 2014 after state officials couldn’t agree on how to pay for it.

The California Nurses Association is backing SB 562, while insurance lobbyists will no doubt work hard to kill it.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that California’s uninsured rate dropped from 17% in 2013 to 7.1% in 2016, a record low for the state. The national uninsured rate is at an all-time low of 8.8%, down from 14.4% in 2013.

The California senators cite Trump’s 1/20 executive order aimed at beginning the process of dismantling Obamacare. The order states that the federal government should “provide greater flexibility to states and cooperate with them in implementing health care programs.”

Gov. Jerry Brown (D), who decades ago supported switching to a single-payer system, may be able to lean on public opinion for support for a single-payer system.

A Pew Research report in January showed that 60% of Americans — up from 51% last year — say the government should be responsible for ensuring health care coverage for all Americans, compared with 38% who say it should not be the government’s responsibility.

The belief that the government should shoulder that responsibility has particularly spiked among low- and middle-income Republicans, the report said.

Currently, the Pew researchers found, 52% of Republicans with family incomes below $30,000 say the federal government has a responsibility to ensure health coverage for all, up from 31% last year.

Single-payer bills that passed the Legislature in 2006 and 2008 were vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). 

RoseAnn DeMoro, head of the California Nurses Assn. and a longtime supporter of a single-payer system, said she thinks the disarray in Washington around the proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act makes now the perfect time to switch to a single-payer system.

“We’re hoping it sails through and we can introduce the same healthcare system to America,” she said.

TRUMP TRUTH FOUND WANTING AT FLORIDA RALLY. Donald Trump celebrated his administration’s early achievements at a campaign rally in Melbourne, Fla. (2/18), while declaring the media “fake news,” PolitiFact reported.

“I’m here because I want to be among my friends and among the people,” Trump said. “This was a great movement. … I want to be here with you, and I will always be with you, I promise you that.

“I also want to speak to you without the filter of the fake news,” Trump said, later adding, “We are here today to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

Nothing but the truth? Not by a long shot.

PolitiFact noted that Trump took Thomas Jefferson out of context when Trump quoted Jefferson saying, “Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper,” on June 14, 1807. That quote checks out. But in 1787, Jefferson wrote to Edward Carrington and presented a seemingly different opinion:

“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right,” Jefferson wrote. “And were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them.”

Trump told the thousands at his rally that he turned around a troubled contract for the F-35 that had been “seven years late, hundreds of billions of dollars over budget.”

Trump said he negotiated for the defense contractor Lockheed Martin to shave “hundreds of millions of dollars off the price.”

That’s a line he’s used before. It’s Mostly False, PolitiFact found.

“Defense and budget experts told us that the cost reductions have been coming for years, long before Trump’s arrival into the White House,” PolitiFact reported.

Defending his stalled immigration ban, Trump said “there was no way to vet those people. There was no documentation. There was nothing.”

PolitiFact noted, “Trump has said this before. It’s False. A refugee vetting system does exist and has existed since 1980. It involves multiple federal intelligence and security agencies as well as the United Nations. Refugee vetting typically takes one to two years and includes numerous rounds of security checks. Syrians undergo additional checks.”

Trump also defended his immigration ban by maintaining that his ban applies to “countries picked by Obama.”

PolitiFact noted, “But that misses context about the actions of the Obama administration. The Obama-signed law Trump is referring to contains provisions that restrict travel to the United States for people who lived in or visited Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria since March 2011. They must have a visa to enter the United States; they can’t use what is known as the Visa Waiver Program, which allows 90-day US visits to other foreign visitors.

“The law was soon expanded by Obama’s Department of Homeland Security to cover Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. They were identified in the agency’s announcement as ‘countries of concern,’ a phrase used in the law.

“Trump’s action goes much further and includes banning people who have a valid visa to enter the United States.”

Charles Pierce noted at Esquire.com (2/20) that Trump claimed his campaign “was a great movement, a movement like has never been seen before in our country our probably anywhere else.” Among the movements Pierce listed that might be competitive with Trump’s: “Christianity. Islam. The Protestant Reformation. Abolitionism. Daniel O’Connell, Women’s suffrage, the labor movement, Gandhi. The Civil Rights Movement. The movement against the war in Vietnam. Punk rock.”

As for Trump’s statement that the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines would create 30,000 to 40,000 jobs, and Trump stipulated that the pipes would have to be made in America, Pierce noted that the 30,000-jobs figure was debunked years ago. As PolitiFact reported (2/10/14), the Keystone project would involve 3,900 construction jobs and only 35 permanent jobs. Also, the pipes already are on the ground, Pierce noted, and in 2012 TransCanada, the builder of the pipeline, reported that half of it is of US origin, with the rest coming from Canada, Italy and India.

On Trump’s statement that “we believe in two simple rules: Buy American and hire American. We believe it,” Pierce noted, “Except at his winery,” which he handed off to son Eric in 2012 and is seeking permission from the US Department of Labor to hire 23 foreign workers for the Virginia operation.

Pierce also noted that Trump claimed Japan’s Prime Minister Abe thanked him for saving Japan many millions of dollars on the F-35 fighter jet. “Because when I negotiated, I took our allies into the same negotiation. So the first thing he did was thanked me for saving them money and that’s good. Okay. That’s good. I know the media will never thank me so at least Japan is thanking me, right?”

“There is absolutely no evidence this ever happened,” Pierce wrote.

NEWT’S TIME BOMB CLAIMS OBAMA’S REGS. It took the current crop of Republicans to realize the destructive intent Newt Gingrich had for American government, Joan McCarter noted at DailyKos.com (2/20). Back in 1996, when he was speaker of the House, Gingrich got the Congressional Review Act passed. It gives Congress the chance to undo any regulation finalized in the last 60 legislative days, including a previouis session. The rules cannot be reinstated, unless Congress writes the the undone regulation into new law. And it gives a whole new perspective on the do-nothing Congress of last year.

By hardly ever showing up to work last year, the Republican Congress extended its 60-day legislative window dramatically. The law had been used once, in the brand-new George W. Bush administration to undo Clinton-era worker-safety regulations meant to reduce repetitive motion injuries. It took the Trump/Ryan/McConnell triumvirate, however, to fully detonate this time-bomb.

In January, the House has pushed through 13 “resolutions of disapproval” reversing Obama-era regulations, including a Labor Department rule blocking contractors that have repeatedly violated workplace standards from receiving new contracts. The Senate is expected to take up that measure soon, and the House is also eyeing other Labor Department regulations that qualify for CRA action.

What makes passing a disapproval resolution under the CRA so easy is that Republicans only need a simple majority to pass, so Democrats in the Senate can’t use a filibuster to stop it, Laura Barron-Lopez and Arthur Delaney reported at HuffingtonPost.com (2/19).

In the first few weeks of the Trump administration, Congress has passed CRAs undoing a Social Security Administration rule meant to keep mentally ill people from buying guns, and a Securities and Exchange Commission rule requiring oil, gas and mining companies to disclose their payments to foreign governments.

Environmental advocates have been some of the loudest opponents of the CRA. Republicans have already targeted three Interior Department regulations; Trump signed a bill undoing regulations to protect waterways from from coal mining operations. Two other bills targeting rules from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management are expected to come up for a vote in the Senate when lawmakers return 2/27.

“The rules being tossed out now go far beyond worker safety to everyone’s safety,” McCarter noted. “Guns for the mentally ill! Poisoned water for everyone! It’s putting agencies in something of a bind, since there has never been judicial review of the CRA, because it’s only been used once, and there’s no case law guiding how agencies are supposed to proceed when told by Congress to undo everything they’ve been putting into place on these rules. Take for example that SEC rule—the Dodd-Frank financial reform law requires that these companies provide the disclosure of payments to foreign governments to regulators. That’s in the law, not just in the regulation, so there’s now a conflict between the statute and this instruction to the SEC.”

Celine McNicholas, labor counsel for the Economic Policy Institute, sums it up: “We’re in uncharted territory here,” she said.

REALITY SETTING IN ON OBAMACARE—FOR BOTH SIDES. For seven years, few issues have animated conservative voters as much as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. But with President Barack Obama out of office, Jonathan Martin reported in the New York Times (2/19), the debate over “Obamacare” is becoming less about “Obama” and more about “care” — greatly complicating the issue for Republican lawmakers.

“As liberals overwhelm congressional town hall-style meetings and deluge the Capitol phone system with pleas to protect the health law, there is no similar clamor for dismantling it, Mr. Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment,” Martin wrote. “From deeply conservative districts in the South and the West to the more moderate parts of the Northeast, Republicans in Congress say there is significantly less intensity among opponents of the law than when Mr. Obama was in office.”

Intensity is the key word, Kevin Drum noted at MotherJones.com (2/20), since actual opinions about Obamacare don’t seem to have changed more than a eyelash over the past seven years:

“But the intensity of opinion has changed,” Drum wrote. “With Obama out of office, the Republican base doesn’t care as much. Hating Obamacare was mostly just a way of hating Obama. Likewise, the Democratic base cares more. They spent the past seven years griping about how weak Obamacare was—no public option, too friendly to insurance companies, subsidies too low, blah blah blah—under the apparent assumption that it didn’t matter that practically no one was passionately defending the law. With Trump in office, Democrats have finally figured out that it matters, and congressional phones are now ringing off the hook.

“So reality has set in for everyone. The Republican rank-and-file has finally figured out they never really cared all that much about taxing the rich an extra three points to provide health care for everyone. The Democratic rank-and-file has finally figured out that Obamacare is a pretty good program and it’s worth fighting for.

“But did we really have to elect Donald Trump to figure this out?”

TRUMP’S FIRST MONTH TRAVEL EXPENSES COST MORE THAN OBAMA’S ANNUAL COSTS. On 2/20, President Trump returned to Washington, D.C., from his private Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, where he’d spent the last three weekends since his inauguration.

The Washington Post reported that those three trips “probably cost the federal treasury about $10 mln, based on figures used in an October government report analyzing White House travel, including money for Coast Guard units to patrol the exposed shoreline and other military, security and staffing expenses associated with moving the apparatus of the presidency.”

The three Mar-a-Lago getaways, combined with the hundreds of thousands of public dollars spent on Secret Service protection during two international trips Trump’s adult sons have taken to promote their father’s business, cost taxpayers about $11.3 mln over the first month’s of Trump’s presidency, according to the UK-based Independent. President Obama, by contrast, spent an average of $12.1 mln on travel each year.

Aaron Rupar of ThinkProgress (2/20) noted it wasn’t even a year ago that Trump was complaining about taxpayers “paying a fortune for the use of Air Force One.”

Taxpayers are also on the hook for protecting First Lady Melania Trump, who has decided to continue living in New York City. According to the New York Post, police officials estimate the annual cost of guarding Trump Tower could be as high as $183 mln.

Trump also stands to benefit from all these taxpayers expenses. In order to have constant access to the commander-in-chief, the military is forced to rent space in Trump Tower at a taxpayer cost estimated to be $1.5 mln annually, with the money lining the Trump family’s pockets. Relocating the executive branch to Mar-a-Lago each weekend raises the profile of the club and encourages people to pay for the access a $200,000 membership provides. And the Trump sons’ international business trips generate free publicity for the Trump Organization, while their appearances at the White House reinforce the message that doing business with them is a way to gain access to their father.

While Trump spent millions in taxpayer dollars on travel during his first month in office, his team put together a budget proposal that would cut cultural institutions and important services for poor people.

The proposal would eliminate longstanding conservative targets like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Legal Services Corporation, AmeriCorps and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, the New York Times reported (2/17). “Most of the programs cost under $500 mln annually, a pittance for a government that is projected to spend about $4 tln this year.”

IOWA LEGISLATURE LIMITS PUBLIC UNIONS. The Iowa Legislature gave final approval to a bill that will dramatically scale back a four-decades-old collective bargaining law that governs union contract negotiations for the state’s public workers, the Des Moines Register reported (2/16).

House File 291 was approved along mostly party line votes. In both chambers, only Republicans cast votes in favor of the legislation, although in the House six Republicans broke ranks and joined Democrats in voting against the changes.

“This bill, I believe heart and soul, is a win for all Iowans and the delivery of a promise from Republicans that we would reform governments to make it more efficient for the people for Iowa,” said Rep. Steven Holt, R-Denison and the bill’s floor manager in the House. “Smaller, smarter, innovative government is in this bill.”

But Iowa Senate Minority Leader Robert Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, called passage of the legislation a “travesty of the democratic system” that will reduce the wages of public-sector employees. As it became apparent during a roll-call vote that the Senate would pass the bill, a crowd in the Senate gallery booed loudly and chanted, “Shame, shame, shame.”

Under the legislation, most public-sector union contract negotiations will be limited only to base wages. Unions will be banned from negotiating with employers over issues such as health insurance, evaluation procedures, staff reduction and leaves of absence for political purposes. However, public safety workers such as police and firefighters will have a broader list of issues to be considered in contract talks. All unions will be barred from having union dues deducted from public employees’ paychecks and unions would need to be recertified prior to every contract negotiation.

The legislation also changes the arbitration process when contract talks reach an impasse. Currently, the union and management would make their best offers and an independent arbitrator would be required to choose the most reasonable of the two. The legislation requires an arbitrator to consider the employer’s ability to finance any wage increase. It also puts a cap on how much an arbitrator can raise wages. The wage increase could not exceed whichever is lower: 3%, or a percent equal to the cost of living increase outlined in the consumer price index.

From The Progressive Populist, March 15, 2017


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