Senate Republicans are working behind closed doors to draft a bill that will do as much damage as they can to the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) through the budget reconciliation process, since they lack the votes, in a chamber that is split 52-48, to repeal Obamacare in the regular order of business in the face of a Democratic filibuster.

Senate Republicans plan to send their health care bill to the Congressional Budget Office for analysis but don’t have a plan to release a draft of the bill for public scrutiny, Axios.com reported (6/12). “We aren’t stupid,” a Senate Republican aide said.

It’s perhaps understandable that Senate Republicans would want to shine as little light as possible on an unpopular bill that could cause millions of people to lose their health insurance, Aaron Rupar noted at ThinkProgress.org (6/12).

The Senate bill reportedly looks very similar to the so-called American Health Care Act (AHCA) passed by the House in May. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the House version would cost 23 mln Americans their health insurance while dramatically increasing costs for older Americans and people with pre-existing conditions, in part because of the bill’s $834 billion cut to Medicaid over the next decade.

A Fox News poll (6/9) indicates that the AHCA is more unpopular than ever, with just a 17% approval rating. A Gallup poll in April found 55% of Americans supported the ACA, the first time a majority of Americans have approved the health reform law since Gallup asked in November 2012. Gallup found only 30% wanted Obamacare repealed.

Axios reports that the Senate bill is nearing completion, but that doesn’t mean that the American public will learn about details anytime soon. When completed, Republicans plan to send the secret bill to the CBO for evaluation. That should take about two weeks—leaving Republicans with just enough time to vote on it before the July 4 recess.

Kevin Drum of Mother Jones noted Senate rules don’t permit a filibuster of budget bills. “Anything that significantly affects spending or taxing is subject to a procedure called reconciliation, which allows passage by a simple majority. Thus, the health insurance subsidies and the new taxes in Obamacare could be eliminated via reconciliation because they affect the budget. However, nothing extraneous to taxing and spending is allowed in a reconciliation bill. Another rule—the Byrd rule—defines exactly what ‘extraneous’ means.”

Under a strict reading of the rule, Republicans couldn’t repeal the ACA’s requirement that insurance companies cover pre-existing conditions at the same price they’d sell it to anybody else, because that doesn’t affect the federal budget. More than two-thirds of the country approve of this provision and Trump has said he wants to keep it.

“But who interprets the Byrd rule? In practice, the Senate parliamentarian—an obscure official who guides lawmakers though the Senate’s byzantine rules and precedents—does this. So one possibility for Republicans is to argue that Obamacare should be considered a single entity that affects the federal budget, and that it can therefore be repealed as a single entity. If they put enough pressure on the parliamentarian, they might get a favorable ruling. In fact, back in 2001 Senate Republicans simply fired the parliamentarian when they didn’t get the rulings they wanted. But without the insurance mandate, uninsured people could buy insurance as soon as they found out they were sick. Insurance companies would have to raise premiums for everybody or pull out of the individual markets. “Millions of people would be left with nowhere to get insurance at all,” Drum wrote.

“If Republicans take this route and get a favorable ruling, then once again Obamacare is dead. Repub­licans simply include reconciliation instructions in the budget bill, and when the budget is eventually passed, a full Obamacare repeal is included.”

If the Senate parliamentarian rules against the majority, Drum wondered at (6/9), “will Mike Pence have the stones to just overrule her? A few months ago, I didn’t think Pence would do it. Today I’m not so sure.”

In the meantime, the Trump administration’s efforts to sow uncertainty over the Affordable Care Act’s future have caused enough insurance companies to withdraw from Obamacare marketplaces so that there are now 47 counties scattered across Missouri, Ohio and Washington with no health plans signed up to sell marketplace coverage in 2018.

“Approximately 38,000 Obamacare enrollees now live in places where no health plans want to sell Obamacare coverage in 2018. This is a small fraction of Obamacare enrollees — about 0.3% — who mostly live in rural, sparsely populated areas,” Sarah Kliff wrote at Vox.com (6/9).

“The Obama administration worked hard to recruit health insurers to sell to these empty areas. The Trump administration, however, seems to want to stand aside and let Obamacare run on autopilot so it can explode or survive on its own.

“President Donald Trump has given little reassurance to health plans that might be on the fence about entering Tennessee or other markets. His administration has waffled on whether it will continue funding key Obamacare payments. He has said he expects the marketplaces to ‘explode’ on their own.

“Many health executives have become frustrated with the Trump administration’s unwillingness to clarify whether it will continue to pay a key Obamacare subsidy program, which lowers copays and deductibles for low-income patients.”

CAL TAKES FIRST STEP TOWARD SINGLE-PAYER HEALTH PLAN. While Donald Trump and congressional Republicans struggle to repeal Obamacare, the California Senate (6/1) passed a bill (23-14) that would set up a single-payer system that would provide comprehensive treatment to all residents.

The program, to be called Healthy California, would replace insurance from work or Medicaid and would feature zero out-of-pocket costs for patients, Patrick Caldwell wrote at MotherJones.com (6/7). The bill now heads to the state Assembly, which has to figure out a way to pay for it.

The Senate committee in charge of the bill calculated that Healthy California would cost the state $400 bln per year. That’s more than double the state’s current budget. Of course, last year, individuals, the state, and the federal government spent an estimated $367 bln on health care in California and left 3 mln Californians uninsured.

The Senate report estimated $200 bln in funding for the single-payer plan could be scraped together from existing federal and state health spending, including Medicaid and Medicare. Of the remaining $200 bln in needed funding, employers in the state already spend somewhere between $100 bln and $150 bln on health insurance, so new spending would be about $50 bln to $100 bln under the bill.

The California Nurses Association, which has spearheaded the single-payer push, commissioned a study from economists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst,which projected that the single-payer bill would cost just $331 bln, thanks to the state’s ability to negotiate lower costs for prescription drugs and reimbursement rates for doctors.

The Senate report suggested a 15% payroll tax increase could provide all the necessary revenue. The CNA study instead proposed a 2.3 percentage point increase to both the sales tax and business revenue taxes.

Caldwell noted that the single-payer bill relies on the state being able to redirect current federal health spending—Medicare, Obamacare, Medicaid, etc.—into the Healthy California program. That would require waivers from the Trump administration, and given national Republicans’ demonization of any government health care initiatives, it’s hard to see Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price allowing California to end private insurance, Caldwell noted. There are also a few complications from federal laws governing how employer-provided insurance operates that might make it unfeasible for any administration to grant those waivers without congressional action.

The bill needs to clear the Assembly’s policy committee by 7/14, be passed by the full Assembly, go back to the Senate and be signed by the governor by early September.

The Assembly must figure out how the necessary revenue will be generated. In California, new taxes require a two-thirds majority in both chambers. The Senate version, without a funding mechanism, fell four votes short of the two-thirds majority. A poll by the Public Policy Institute of California recently found that while 65% of adults in the state and 56% of likely voters support a single-payer plan, that drops to 42 and 43 percent respectively if the plan would raise taxes.

‘INFRASTRUCTURE WEEK’ DIDN’T SHOW MUCH. The White House promoted the first week of June as “Infrastructure Week,” which was supposed to be a a five-day roll-out of President Trump’s long-awaited plan to revitalize the country’s transportation network, Ned Resnikoff noted at ThinkProgress.org (6/9). It began on an odd note on Monday (6/5), when the president vowed to privatize air traffic control — hardly an urgently desired infrastructure improvement — and then signed a set of air traffic control “principles” in what can only be described as a pantomime of a bill signing.

In hindsight, that might have been the most substantive component of Infrastructure Week. The president visited Cincinnati, Ohio, on Wednesday to deliver a campaign rally-style pitch for his proposed infrastructure plan, though he offered none of the specifics that would bring the plan into focus. Instead, he veered off topic for long enough to praise the king of Saudi Arabia and rant about Democratic opposition to his health care plan.

The following day, Comey told the US Senate that the president had tried to squash a criminal investigation into a top-ranking member of his administration. That same day, Vice President Mike Pence announced from the White House that it has “already been a banner week for infrastructure.”

Then on Friday — with the national press still focused on Comey’s explosive allegations and national newspapers carrying his most incendiary remarks on A1 in large type — Trump capped off Infrastructure Week with a speech at the Department of Transportation. He once again called for the privatization of air traffic control, said his administration would speed up the permitting process for infrastructure projects, and did some awkward prop comedy involving unwieldy binders. That was about it. Resnikoff noted.

The left-of-center Economic Policy Institute noted that “the most common theme in the Trump administration’s approach to infrastructure is pure obfuscation about how it will be paid for. If you’re not willing to say forthrightly how you’re going to pay for infrastructure investments, you really cannot be serious about it. As the old adage goes, ’Show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value’.”

The recently released Trump federal budget plan guts infrastructure, period, Josh Bivens and Hunter Blair wrote for EPI,

“The problem holding back increased investment in American infrastructure is simple: politicians are simply unwilling to increase public spending in a transparent way. This must be overcome—America needs a significant investment in public assets, and it needs this investment to be transparent, subject to democratic accountability, and long-lived.

“The sketch of the new Trump infrastructure effort included in their budget shows clearly that they do not get this. Instead, the plan is more obfuscation and magical thinking. They claim their plan will lead to $1 tln in new investments. Yet only $200 bln in new federal spending is specified (and again, this must be balanced against the enormous cuts to public investment already embedded in their overall budget plan). Where does the rest of the funding come from? In a word, nowhere.”

The plan would prioritize projects that can provide profits to private entities (like toll roads to airports) rather than projects that provide the largest welfare boost to vulnerable communities, such as replacing lead-laced water pipes for communities like Flint, Mich., Bivens and Blair wrote.

“National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn summed up the Trump approach well: ‘We like the template of not using taxpayer dollars to give taxpayers wins.’ Who wouldn’t? And there are legitimate ways to give taxpayers wins without using taxpayer money. Raise the federal minimum wage, for example. Or restore workers’ rights to bargain collectively. Or pursue genuine full employment. But if you’re trying to spend money on public assets, the idea that this can be done while ‘not using taxpayer dollars’ is a pure dodge.

“Infrastructure investment should be taken seriously. The stakes are large: each $1 bln in such investment has the potential to support more than 18,000 jobs—and these jobs are disproportionately well-paying (so long as no strings are attached to the investments that spurred them — like the erosion of workers protections). And as private sector investment has lagged in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the most obvious path to boosting productivity growth is through an increase in public investments. An optimal plan would pair infrastructure investments in the nation’s physical capital stock with a big increase in public investment in human capital, with early childcare and education being an obvious place to earn big returns.”

US REFUSES TO ENDORSE G7 STATEMENT ON CLIMATE CHANGE. The US was literally only a footnote in the 15-page communiqué released by G7 environmental ministers (6/12).

The meeting of environmental ministers from leading industrialized nations ended with the US refusing to sign a joint statement on climate change. In the statement, the remaining six nations — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the UK — reiterated their commitment to reducing carbon dioxide emissions, Mark Hand noted at ThinkProgress.org (6/12).

The US did not join the other nations in reaffirming their “strong commitment to the swift and effective implementation of the Paris Agreement.” In a footnote on page 2 of the document, the US is quoted as saying, “We the United States do not join those sections of the communiqué on climate and [multilateral development banks], reflecting our recent announcement to withdraw and immediately cease implementation of the Paris Agreement and associated financial commitments.”

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt had left the weekend meeting in Italy more than a day early after being told by his counterparts they were disappointed with President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, according to several media reports.

ELECTRIC CAR SALES DOUBLED LAST YEAR. Fossil fuel producers won’t like it, but the number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the road doubled worldwide to 2 mln in the past year with 40% of EVs being in China. If the number of EVs went on doubling annually, they’d take over the world in short order, Juan Cole noted (6/11).

Moreover, all-electric automobiles outsold plug-in hybrids in Europe for the first time in six quarters last quarter.

Batteries for EVs only cost one-fifth of what they did a decade ago and electric cars are most environmentally friendly if they are run on the owner’s solar panels. But even without that key element, they are cleaner than gasoline cars for 97% of Americans.

In the Netherlands, 6% of all new car sales were EVs last year, as the northern European country of 17 million aims to have 50% of all car purchases be electric in 2025.

Meanwhile, India’s government is even more ambitious, saying it wants only electric cars to be sold in that country by 2030.. Some 3 mln passenger vehicles are sold every year in India, a country of 1.3 bln.

EPA CHIEF WAY OFF ABOUT NEW COAL JOBS. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt claimed that the US has gained 50,000 new coal jobs since last October. “Since the fourth quarter of last year until most recently, we’ve added almost 50,000 jobs in the coal sector. In the month of May alone, almost 7,000 jobs,” he said on NBC’s Meet the Press (6/4), and he made similar claims on ABC and Fox News, although he added that the number includes “mining” jobs.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 51,000 coal mining jobs in May, Glenn Kessler noted in the Washington Post’s Fact Checker column (6/6). In the last four months of the Obama administration, September to January, there was a gain of 1,400 jobs. In the first four months of the Trump administration, there was a gain of 1,000 jobs. If all mining jobs are included, there was a gain of 47,000 jobs since October, including 6,600 from April to May.

But most of the “mining” jobs have nothing to do with coal. Most of the new jobs were in a subcategory called “support activities for mining,” which accounted for more than 40,000 of the new jobs since October and more than 30,000 of the jobs since January. About 75% of the jobs in the “support for mining” subcategory are in oil and gas operations, which lost nearly 200,000 jobs since the plunge in oil prices in 2014. Recent stabilization of oil prices has helped bring some of those jobs back. It has little to do with administration policy—and nothing to do with coal mining, Kessler noted.

“So, rather than the gain of 47,000 jobs touted by Pruitt, the reality is that 1,000 coal jobs have been added since Trump became president. For the month of May, the gain was 400 jobs, not 7,000.”

Pruitt got four Pinocchios for the whopper.

TRUMP HAS A RECORD AS A LIAR. When it comes to considering whether to believe former FBI Director James Comey or President Trump in their conflicting claims over what happened in their meetings before Trump fired Comey over the investigation of Trump’s campaign ties with Russian officials and computer hackers, one relevant factor is Trump’s record on the truth of his statements. PolitiFact has checked 410 Trump statements since 2011, and has found that in only 5% of those cases did Trump tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth and in nearly half of cases he was entirely false. In 12% he was mostly true, 15% half true, 20% mostly false, 33% false and 16% Pants On Fire lies (6/12).

In comparison, PolitiFact has checked 597 statements by former President Barack Obama and found 21% true, 27% mostly true, 27% half true, 12% mostly false, 12% false and 2% Pants on Fire.

PolitiFact checked 294 statements by Hillary Clinton and found 24% true, 26% mostly true, 23% half true, 14% mostly false, 10% false and 2% Pants on Fire.

PolitiFact checked 113 statements by Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) and found 12% true, 38% mostly true, 21% half true, 17% mostly false, 12% false and no Pants on Fire lies.

PolitFact checked 75 statements by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and found 13% were true, 20% mostly true, 25% half true, 27% mostly false, 9% false and 5% Pants on Fire.

Even Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who Trump taunted as “Lyin’ Ted” in the Republican primary in 2016, had a better record of veracity than Trump, as PolitiFact checked 121 statements and found 6% true, 16% mostly true, 13% half true, 30% mostly false, 28% false and 7% Pants on Fire.

PolitiFact does not have a file on Comey’s statements.

TRUMP SAYS QATAR FUNDS TERROR. QATARIS WONDER IF TRUMP IS MAD THEY DIDN’T FUND HIM. Donald Trump, his daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner all repeatedly sought financing for various investments in recent years from leading figures in Qatar, Clayton Swisher reported at (6/11), citing sources with direct knowledge of the meetings.

Those previously unreported overtures have taken on new relevance as President Trump aggravated a diplomatic crisis that left the small Gulf nation blockaded and isolated by its rivals, increasing tensions in the Middle East.

Trump (6/9) characterized Qatar as “historically” a “funder of terrorism at a high level,” an accusation that came just an hour after his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, appealed for “no further escalation” in the Gulf Cooperation Council squabble, urging dialogue to quickly resolve the crisis, which pits Qatar against Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE and Bahrain. Tillerson noted the Qatari emir “made progress in halting financial support and expelling terrorist elements from his country,” comments echoed by the US ambassador to Qatar, Dana Smith, who tweeted “Qatar is a strong partner in combating terrorist financing.”  

That partnership is not merely rhetorical. Qatar is home to Al-Udeid air base, the regional Central Command headquarters from which US bombers depart on daily missions against ISIS and al Qaeda. Reacting to the GCC dispute, the Defense Department praised Qatar’s commitment to fighting ISIS as its secretary, James Mattis, expressed his confidence that the turmoil would not interrupt Qatar’s contribution to those efforts.

The Trump Organization (now under the stewardship of son Donald Jr.) is reportedly in talks with Emirati tycoons to receive several billion dollars of investment in addition to owning two golf courses in Dubai. The New York Times reported that Trump has had as many as eight business entities registered in Jidda, Saudi Arabia, alone. In 2015, Trump spoke about his admiration for the Saudis and attributed it to his business dealings with them.

Several Qataris expressed concern to Swisher that Trump’s bias against their country might stem from a series of failed business overtures that he (along with his son-in-law Jared Kushner) made seven years ago, which are only now being reported. They did not go as swimmingly as the deals made with the Saudis and Emiratis.

Trump visited Doha in 2010 fo meetings with Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) executive board members. A source close to the 2010 talks said Trump made the Doha stopover (along with stops in Dubai and Abu Dhabi) to raise money for a distressed real estate fund he was assembling. Trump opened the discussion with QIA by bragging about the success of Trump International and many deals he had personally put together. Trump had hardly got through his own biography when Dr. Hussain Al-Abdullah, QIA’s senior executive, interrupted to say words to the effect of: We know who you are and what you have done. Tell us what you can do for us right now.

That single, curt interruption apparently left Trump stunned, the source told Swisher. Trump had expected his hosts to be impressed, if not grateful, that a person of his stature would visit the Qatari capital. Apparently distracted by the lack of decorum, Trump barely continued with his pitch. The meeting abruptly ended, according to one account, with Trump exiting the room visibly angered.

Another source said the meeting ended pleasantly and the decision not to invest in Trump was simply about Trump’s lack of track record in doing real estate funds. The same source also said any coldness to Trump was more a function of Dr. Al-Abdullah’s becoming numb to the same repetitive proposals—QIA, which manages $338 bln in assets, routinely received such pitches. In the Qataris view, if not Trump’s, all that distinguished his proposal from so many others was his own celebrity status.

Trump family interactions with Qatar expanded as Ivanka Trump returned to Doha within several months with husband Jared Kushner, who was desperate to secure funds to recapitalize his 666 Fifth Avenue property in New York, which, then as now, was severely underwater. But in high-level meetings in Doha, neither QIA nor Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani showed interest in Jared’s building. This was the same issue with follow-up meetings between Ivanka and Qatari investors held in New York in 2011.

The hunt for capital continued after Jared ended his pursuit of Qatari investors last year, Swisher noted. In March 2017, Bloomberg reported that Kushner Companies was close to securing “unusually favorable terms” in talks with the Angbang Insurance Company, despite its ties to the “highest echelons of China’s Communist Party.” On the same day Trump attacked Qatar as a financier of terrorism, lawyers from his Justice Department offered an advisory opinion arguing that as president he could accept payments from foreign governments after all, which would presumably include countries like Qatar and China.

Swisher noted, “Today, with Trump allying himself and the United States with those blockading their tiny country, Qataris can’t help but wonder: is this all about Trump’s hurt feelings over business deals that didn’t pan out?”

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2017


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