Friday, April 28, 2017

Will Ryan Make His Members Walk The Plank For TrumpCare 3.0 Today? Tomorrow?


Since the Congressional Budget Office announced that they're nowhere near scoring TrumpCare 3.0-- and won't even have it for next week either-- Ryan could surprise everyone today and announce an instant vote. I think if the House Republicans have the votes to pass it-- regardless of how flat on its face it would fall in the Senate-- Ryan and McCarthy could actually succumb to Trump Regime pressure and call for the vote in a few hours. But I doubt it. First off, it looks like for every Freedom Caucus crackpot they gained by eliminating the popular preexisting condition coverage requirement, they lost a more mainstream conservative. (Late last night McCarthy's office said they still didn't have enough votes to pass this pig.)

Mike Coffman, (R-CO) represents a suburban Denver district that was won by Obama over Romney 51.6% to 46.5% and then by Hillary over Trumpanzee 50.2% to 41.3%. He says if Ryan calls the vote today-- before he's finished analyzing it-- he'd vote NO. Very tough district. Adam Kinzinger, represents an Illinois district Trump one substantially but he's shifted from a YES on the original TrumpCare to a "maybe" on this version. Staten Island's Dan Donovan is in a swingy district which is the only district in NYC that went for Trump (53.6% to 43.8%)-- after going for Obama in 2012. He says he was a NO on TrumpCare 1.0 and 2.0 and says 3.0 has made him even more certain he's voting NO. Majority Whip Steve Scalise says he's given up on Donovan. The Ohio GOP-held district which Trump did worst-- OH-10-- is represented by Mike Turner. Yesterday he said he was against the first version and that there's nothing in the new version that's moving him to change his mind.

Texas wing nut Pete Sessions has been counted on to support every far right crackpot scheme that's ever come down the pike-- until now. Hillary won-- shockingly-- his suburban district north of Dallas 48.5% to 46.6%, enough to scare the crap out of Sessions. Yesterday he was quoted saying that he sees "no net advantage" in votes for AHCA with the MacArthur/Meadows changes. "I don't see any impact by it." Other announced NO votes include Mark Amodei (NV), Andy Biggs (AZ), Barbara Comstock (VA), Jeff Denham (CA), Charlie Dent (PA), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA), Walter Jones (NC), John Katko (NY), Leonard Lance (NJ), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), Thomas Massie (KY), Patrick Meehan (PA), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL), Chris Smith (NJ), Daniel Webster (FL), David Young (IA). Many more are hiding under their desks and refusing ti take a position-- praying that Ryan doesn't make them vote. In that category we have Darrell Issa (CA), John Culberson (TX), Steve Knight (CA), Will Hurd (TX), John Faso (NY), Paul Cook (CA), Dana Rohrabacher (CA), Pete King (NY), Elise Stefanik (NY), Don Young (AK), David Valadao (CA), Ed Royce (CA), Rod Blum (IA), David Joyce (OH), Bruce Poliquin (ME), and Fred Upton (MI).

James Hohmann, writing for the Washington Post reports that the Regime (Bannon) is trying to pressure Ryan with the threat that if repeal collapses, he's getting the blame. "The pressure," he wrote, "is suddenly on the Speaker, not the president, to convince potentially vulnerable members to walk the plank for an unpopular bill that’s still going to be dead on arrival in the Senate. Such a vote which could also cost some their seats next November. It will be the guys in the Tuesday Group, not the Freedom Caucus, who get swept out in a 2018 wave because they tend to come from more purple districts. Many are balking, but still undecided, about the revised proposal. A lot of Ryan allies are exasperated by the Trump push to rush a vote before the week is over. There are even rumors of scheduling one for Saturday-- to coincide with Trump’s 100th day. (This seems unlikely.) But it was a similar fixation on optics over substance that prompted Trump to demand a now-or-never repeal vote last month that would coincide with the seventh anniversary of the Affordable Care Act being signed into law. This is part of an emerging pattern. Trump has repeatedly set up the Speaker to be the fall guy by making unrealistic demands and sticking with infeasible promises. Once again, the burden is falling on Ryan to either make them happen or explain why they didn’t."

Last night another Ryan ally, Ryan Costello, whose Philly suburban district went for Hillary over Trump, announced he's a NO on TrumpCare. The House Leadership can only afford to lose 22 votes-- unless they can lure some shit-eating Blue Dog like Sinema, Lipinski or Peterson-- and Costello brought the count to 19-- with over 50 members on the fence. "On the fence" means they don't want to vote for it. Everybody wants to know which Republican was overheard telling a staffer "If I vote for this healthcare bill, it will be the end of my career." Could be any of a couple dozen.

Orange County Congresswoman Mimi Walters tries to pass herself off as vaguely mainstream. Her district is but she isn't. In November Hillary beat Trump pretty substantially, 49.8% to 44.4%. Trump did more than ten points worse than Romney had! That district is a major target for 2018 and one of the top prospects, consumer advocate Katie Porter, a colleague of Elizabeth Warren's, noticed that the L.A> Times was reporting that Walters, who backed the first versions, is now backing the now and far worse version 3.0-- the hell with pre-existing conditions. Porter: "This is indefensible. OC residents' health shouldn't be used as a political bargaining chit, but that's exactly what Donald Trump and Congresswoman Mimi Walters are doing in Washington." She has reminded voters that that Walters already voted for TrumpCare 1.0 as a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee despite the fact that the CBO estimated that bill would cause 24 million Americans to lose health care coverage, including tens of thousands of her own constituents.

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Thursday, April 27, 2017

Women's Choice Is Not A Cultural Issue Democrats Are Allowed To Compromise Away


The less bad anti-Choice candidate in Omaha?

Activist Jodi Jacobson, founder of Rewire, was one of the people who rang the alarm bell on many elements within the Democratic Party for seemingly giving anti-Choicers a wink and a nod recently. There's a lot of misinformation floating around about the Democratic candidate for Omaha mayor, Heath Mello, and the circumstances of the hubbub around his relationship to the party. Yesterday Jodi endeavored to straighten it out and make it all clear and understandably. Let me just reiterate what I've already said: Blue America doesn't endorse anti-Choice candidates and we didn't endorse Mello. "Mayoral candidates also don’t normally draw national headlines," wrote Jodi, "but Mello did, because the endorsements also shed a glaring light on his past anti-choice record. Although he is running as a Democrat and lauded for progressive positions on numerous issues, as a Nebraska state senator, Mello co-sponsored and helped pass some of the worst state-level restrictions on abortion care in the country."
Those laws remain in place, and Mello has neither denounced them nor made clear whether he now understands why they are so damaging. His elevation to a national stage has opened old and new wounds, once again raising the issue of whether the Democratic Party, and progressives writ large, truly understands the intrinsic connections between the most fundamental rights of women and the ostensible goals of a progressive agenda. It underscores the persistent but erroneous idea that abortion rights are just a “cultural issue” that can be subject to “beliefs,” rather than facts, medical evidence, and public health goals. It promotes the notion that you can restrict women’s rights and still be a progressive. It has also posed the question of whether the future leaders of the party will not only protect, but promote women’s health and rights by taking responsibility for repealing existing barriers, some of which they themselves have put in place. The initial answer to the last question seems to be no.

...Criticisms of the party’s embrace of Mello by leaders such as NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue led to a cycle of mansplaining (“You’re blocking our agenda with your wedge issues!”), misinformation (“Mello’s record isn’t that bad!”), and defensiveness (“But Bernie is pro-choice!”). And Democratic Party leaders demonstrated that after all this time, they can’t seem to grasp that there is no justice without reproductive justice; that women can’t enjoy full citizenship if they can’t decide whether, when, and with whom to have children; that access to abortion is a public health imperative; and that childbearing and childrearing are fundamentally economic activities no matter what tent you are pitching or where you pitch it.

When women’s rights leaders protested, party leaders very quickly trotted out the most common Democratic Party shibboleths-- with the least basis in fact-- to quell the firestorm. Women were schooled about what it takes to win races in “red” states, never mind that time after time, poll after poll, ballot initiative after ballot initiative shows that no matter how they self-identify, voters in states controlled by right-wing legislatures do not desire to rob people of their fundamental rights and routinely vote against abortion restrictions when given the chance (take Colorado, Mississippi, or South Dakota for example). Never mind, either, that throughout the country women are literally running the resistance and fueling the resurgence of grassroots electoral power at the state level.

The first people to effectively tell women to sit down were Sanders and DNC chair Tom Perez-- both of whom should have known better and who later reversed course to publicly support reproductive rights, because, let’s face it, a great deal of PAC money and organizing power is involved. But some of the loudest pushback to women’s rights advocates came from other self-proclaimed progressives, such as D.D. Guttenplan at The Nation, who, though he is not known as an abortion rights expert, decided that we were all complaining too much and that, by the way, we had our facts wrong.

We do not.

Here are the facts.

Mello’s record on abortion rights is very bad. Full stop. As a state senator in 2010, for example, Mello co-sponsored a 20-week abortion ban, one of the first in the nation and the first to rely on the false claims of “fetal pain” cooked up by anti-choice groups to shop this kind of model legislation. In 2011, Mello voted for LB 22, which prohibited insurance coverage of abortion in the state by using a false claim that federal funds in state exchanges were being used to fund abortion. Before passage of the Affordable Care Act, the majority of women with private insurance were covered for abortion care. Thanks in large part to the machinations of former Democratic Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson (for whom Mello previously worked) and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, millions of women lost insurance coverage of abortion care as the states used Nelson’s amendment to justify eliminating it. Mello helped finish his one-time boss’ work.

In 2011, Mello also voted to effectively kill telemedicine abortion in Nebraska via LB 521, which required the physical presence of a doctor for any abortion. This is another tool in the arsenal of the anti-choice playbook to make abortion so difficult to access that patients are faced with forced pregnancy. Such legislation raises the costs of abortion (by requiring office visits and the presence of a doctor even when not necessary and even for a medication abortion), makes it harder for rural women to access abortion (because they have to travel to clinics, of which there are only three in that very large state), and, ironically, results in many abortions taking place later than they might otherwise. This would seem to defeat the purpose of the bills-- but then, the purpose really is to shame women.

In running for mayor, Mello has said he would “never do anything to restrict reproductive health care.”
We'll get back to Jody in a second. I just want to point out, though, that when I interviewed another fake progressive, anti-Choice Democrat, Tom Perriello in 2008, he used the exact same words to lie to me and manipulate me into recommending him for a Blue America endorsement. He took our donors' money, got elected, showed his true colors by running up a ProgressivePunch "F" and then breaking his specific pledge to "never do anything to restrict reproductive health care." He is now the "progressive" choice for the Democratic nomination for governor of Virginia (against an even more conservative Democrat). Jodi handled that pledge from Mello by pointing out two problems: "As mayor, he will need to actively promote access to abortion care by enforcing the FACE Act, ensuring clinics are respected, and taking other steps. More to the point, however, he participated in the substantial and irreparable damage done to abortion rights in his state, and those votes can’t just be excused by votes for child care, Medicaid expansion, education, or other progressive goals. The reason is simple, and it bears repeating: Access to abortion is a public health imperative. It is a medical and individual health imperative. It is a fundamental human right, without which women can’t control their futures or fully participate in societies and communities. Denial of abortion care makes women poorer and less able to achieve their own goals. Access to abortion care improves maternal survival and health and increases infant and child survival."
This is not about “beliefs,” it’s about decades of medical and public health evidence and basic, profound questions of human rights. We’ve all become conditioned to treat abortion as some thing subject to religious dictates at the social level in ways that are not at all dissimilar and only matters of degree different from excuses used to promote female genital mutilation, child marriage, and the sequestering of women as “religious” dictates. We’ve come to treat lies and misinformation about abortion as somehow different than lies and misinformation about climate change. They are no different.

It is true that Mello is running against a Republican who is as bad on abortion rights and far worse on many other issues of concern. It is true that some in Omaha defend Mello based on his broader record and that they are the ones who vote for their representatives. But that does not obviate broader questions. Because it is simultaneously true that others in the state, and throughout the country, are in fact deeply and legitimately concerned about the failure of the party and various leaders to grapple openly and honestly with the implications of sidelining fundamental rights going forward. It is also true that Mello has not, at least publicly, actually come to grips with what his past record suggests and has not, at least publicly, disavowed his actions. Finally, it’s not enough to say that as mayor he won’t do any more bad things, because in a state in which there are three clinics and one-third of the population lives in rural areas, his past actions continue to affect people who need care.

This is not an abstract issue. Under the ACA and with the permission of Democratic leaders we have seen the greatest erosion in abortion rights in this country in over two decades, and that is not just a problem of Republicans. What is at stake here is the future of the party. What is at stake is whether the largely white, largely male-dominated Democratic Party actually means to promote and protect women’s rights from here on after. What is at stake is what it actually means to be “pro-life,” if you are willing to pass legislation that stigmatizes, criminalizes, and makes inaccessible essential reproductive health care.

The question, now, is not only whether Mello understands the damage he is done and is willing to advocate to undo it, but whether the DNC, DCCC, Sanders, and others understand it. The question is what Mello’s supporters will do to push him on these issues as he seeks higher office in the state, because he will. The question is whether the party and leaders like Sanders will dedicate themselves to addressing the harm done to women’s rights by being complicit with the corporate and religiously fundamentalist Republican Party at the national and at the state level under the guise of a so-called big tent that inevitably undermines women’s health and rights, gives cover to the Catholic Bishops and white males, but leaves more than half the population out in the cold.

It can no longer be OK to substitute anti-choice lies and “religious” beliefs for the fundamental rights and health of women. Moreover, anti-choice positions are not necessary to win elections, though that is the least of the issues right now. If the situation with Heath Mello shows anything, it is that this is a conversation that has only just begun.
If Democratic leaders start making it ok for the party's nominees for office to be anti-Choice, how long before it's OK to be anti-LGBT? Xenophobic? Racist? Anti-working family? A Climate Change denier? Where does it end? Really-- where? With the Democratic Party standing for nothing very solid at all other than the careers of the corrupt assholes in elected office? Is that what it's all about? It is for them. Oh, and one more thing, if Mello wins the mayor's race, isn't is better than the Republican winning? Sure-- except the Republican isn't going to wind up tarnishing the Democratic Party brand or one day becoming a Democratic congressman, senator or governor.

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Did You Ever Imagine That The Trump Regime WOULDN'T Try To Kill Net Neutrality?


While everyone was obsessing over the Trump Regime's Reverse-Robin-Hood tax proposal and the jolt of electricity the Frankstein monster known as TrumpCare just got, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, moved to kill net neutrality. He said that "high-speed internet service should no longer be treated like a public utility with strict rules, as it is now. The move would, in effect, largely leave the industry to police itself."

At The Nation, John Nichols, went so far as to write that "no act of the recklessly authoritarian Trump administration poses a greater threat to the democratic discourse than the now-announced plan to gut net-neutrality rules. With newspapers dying, radio syndicated, broadcast television commercialized beyond relevance, and cable television mired in scandal and dead-end punditry, the Internet is the essential tool for the communication of ideas and the mobilization of those who choose to resist the autocratic impulses of Trump and his crony-capitalist cabal... Pai, wants to throttle net neutrality-- the first amendment of the Internet that guarantees equal protection for all voices in the digital universe where we now live."
Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps warned that, “By reopening the FCC’s historic 2015 Open Internet Order, the FCC is jeopardizing core protections for online free speech and competition. Chairman Pai appears more interested in currying favor with cable and telecom industry lobbyists than in serving the millions of Americans who wrote and called to urge the commission, during the original rule-making, to provide strong protections against online blocking, throttling, or censorship.”

“Chairman Pai is kissing the ring of the Big Money lobbyists who too often call the shots in the Trump Administration,” declared Copps, who now works with Common Cause and other groups seeking to defend an open Internet. “Ending net neutrality would be a body blow to the open dialogue upon which successful self-government depends. It would be a red light for democracy and a green light for cable and telecom giants to control where we go and what we do on the internet.”

...“FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is determined to give control of the internet to companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon, no matter the cost to our economy and democracy,” says Craig Aaron, the president of the media reform group Free Press. “He’s continuing to ignore the mountains of evidence showing that the agency’s Net Neutrality rules are protecting internet users while spurring on investment and innovation.”

...Gutting net neutrality, as Pai proposes, opens the way for telecommunications giants to colonize the Internet in the same way that they have done to broadcast and cable platforms-- replacing civic and democratic values with commercial and entertainment dictates. Despite claims made to the contrary, if Trump and Pai succeed, the United States will end up with an “information superhighway” for messages favored by corporate elites who can pay the tolls and a dirt road for messages from citizens who hold to the quaint American faith that human beings should have rights and corporations should have regulations.

“It makes no sense,” says Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, a longtime advocate for an open Internet. “We cannot keep the promise of net neutrality openness and freedom without the rules that ensure it.”
As the NY Times explained, "The plan is Mr. Pai’s most forceful action in his race to roll back rules that govern telecommunications, cable and broadcasting companies, which he says are harmful to business. But he is certain to face a contentious battle with the consumers and tech companies that rallied around the existing rules, which are meant to prevent broadband providers like AT&T and Comcast from giving special treatment to any streaming videos, news sites and other content."
Pai has opposed the current rules for years, and he voted against them as a commissioner. Critics of his ideas for changing the rules say making any commitments only voluntary would pave the way for the creation of business practices that harm competition.

“It would put consumers at the mercy of phone and cable companies,” said Craig Aaron, president of the consumer advocacy group Free Press. “In a fantasy world, all would be fine with a pinkie swear not to interrupt pathways and portals to the internet despite a history of doing that.”
AT&T and the other Internet providers that were so happy when the GOP voted to allow them to sell their customers' personal data without seeking permission, are overjoyed about this as well. AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, who has spent gargantuan amounts of money lobbying and bribing congressional conservatives: "We applaud F.C.C. Chairman Pai’s initiative to remove this stifling regulatory cloud over the internet. It was illogical for the F.C.C. in 2015 to abandon that light-touch approach and instead regulate the internet under an 80-year-old law designed to set rates for the rotary-dial-telephone era."
About 800 tech start-ups and investors, organized by the Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator and the San Francisco policy advocacy group Engine, protested the unwinding of net neutrality in a letter sent to Mr. Pai on Wednesday.

“Without net neutrality, the incumbents who provide access to the internet would be able to pick winners or losers in the market,” they wrote in the letter.

So far, Google and Netflix, the most vocal proponents of net neutrality in previous years, have not spoken individually about Mr. Pai’s proposal. Speaking through their trade group, the Internet Association, they said the broadband and net neutrality rules should stay intact.

“Rolling back these rules or reducing the legal sustainability of the order will result in a worse internet for consumers and less innovation online,” Michael Beckerman, chief executive of the Internet Association, said in a statement.
The Congressman from Silicon Valley, Ro Khanna-- who had previously warned that Pai would be "one of the worst picks possible" for FCC chair and is nothing but a mouthpiece for the telecom industry and an opponent of free competition. Yesterday he said that "Pai needs to cease his endless assault on internet freedom and net neutrality. This proposal would concentrate power to a handful of internet service providers and hinder innovation for both startups and consumers. FCC commissioners should refuse to accept Pai’s proposal and keep the current legal framework that guarantees a free and open internet. To do otherwise puts our economy and what this country stands for at risk."

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Are There Democrats Who Want To Help Trump And Ryan Rob From The Needy And Give To The Greedy? You Bet There Are!


Yesterday, after reading the Trump Regime's blueprint for for what they're calling "tax reform," Caifornia Congressman Ro Khanna issued a statement to his constituents explaining that "Trump’s plan takes money out of the pockets of working families to pay for a tax cut for the wealthiest individuals and corporations. Any tax reform plan must focus on closing loopholes that allow companies to avoid paying taxes. This one does the opposite. The United States could collect billions of dollars in new revenue and discourage companies from going offshore. Tax reform proposals must also recognize how to keep companies and jobs in the U.S. I encourage my congressional colleagues to engage in a thoughtful debate on how to change tax laws to incentivize corporations to create jobs here at home.” This morning's NY Times was even more direct: "a laughable stunt by a gang of plutocrats looking to enrich themselves at the expense of the country's future."

Neil Irwin, writing in last night's NY Times, took a look at who the losers and who the winners are in the Trump Regime's tax plan. The winners:
Businesses with high tax rates. The plan would cut the 35 percent corporate income tax to 15 percent. While few businesses pay the full 35 percent rate, those that pay something close to it are in line for a huge tax cut.

High-income earners. The plan would reduce the top rate on individual income tax-- now 39.6 percent for income over around $470,000 for a married couple-- to 35 percent. But that’s only part of the gain for high-income earners. It also would eliminate a 3.8 percent tax, used to help fund Obamacare, that applies to investment income over $250,000 for a couple.

People with creative accountants. The 15 percent business tax rate could open a huge loophole for people to receive business income through a limited liability company or other pass-through entity instead of as wages. Depending on how the law is drafted, that could enable some people to pay that low 15 percent rate on their earnings instead of an individual income rate up to 35 percent. People who already receive their income through investment vehicles wouldn’t have to change anything for a windfall.

Multimillionaires who want to pass money to their heirs tax-free. The plan would eliminate the estate tax, which currently applies to individuals with estates of $5.5 million or couples with estates worth $11 million.

People who still fill out their tax returns by hand. Administration officials said the plan would simplify paying taxes, particularly emphasizing plans to eliminate the alternative minimum tax. The A.M.T. can definitely be annoying, and costly, but if you use an online tax preparation service, the software does most of the work.

Retailers and other companies that feared a “border adjustment tax.” The Trump administration did not embrace House Republicans’ big strategy to pay for the tax cut, which was strongly opposed by the retail industry and others that thought they would be losers.

Donald J. Trump. It is striking how many of the categories listed above affect the president and his family. He is a high-income earner. He receives income from 564 business entities, according to his financial disclosure form, and could take advantage of the low rate on “pass-through” companies. According to his leaked 2005 tax return, he paid an extra $31 million because of the alternative minimum tax that he seeks to eliminate. And his heirs could eventually enjoy his enormous assets tax-free.
And the losers... most everyone else, especially upper-middle-income people in blue states like California and New York since the plan would eliminate the federal tax deduction for state and local income tax.

Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) had a similar message for her constituents after she read the blueprint yesterday. "While our broken tax code badly needs reform, today’s White House proposal misses the mark by slashing rates for the biggest corporations and creating even more ways for the wealthiest Americans to avoid paying their fair share. This proposal would be a corporate giveaway, plain and simple, slashing rates for the wealthiest while preserving unfair loopholes and lucrative deductions written by lobbyists that allow huge corporations like Exxon Mobil to pay zero in federal taxes and instead claim millions in rebates. I continue to advocate for an honest, bipartisan discussion on tax reform that prioritizes tax relief for working families and small businesses in order to address our nation’s income inequality crisis. But I will not support any plan that exacerbates income inequality by giving away even more to the wealthiest 1% and the biggest corporations already favored by our tax code, while asking working Americans to bear the brunt of draconian budget cuts in the name of deficit reduction. I am deeply concerned by reports these corporate giveaways may not even be paid for, and I will insist that Congressional Republicans walk the walk on responsible deficit reduction in any tax plan."

All of the Democrats I've been hearing from since yesterday have been on the same page as Khanna and Shea-Porter. But there was a lot of anger from people watching MSNBC yesterday who kept seeing a collection of clueless stooges-- their daytime anchors-- referring to the Estate Tax in Republican-talk as a "death tax," exactly what you would expect from Fox News. But why MSNBC?

Gene Sperling, who was was Director of the National Economic Council and Assistant to the President for Economic Policy under both Obama and Clinton, penned a piece for The Atlantic this week that should be mandatory reading for all MSNBC anchors, Don't Cut the Estate Tax-- Raise It.
Repealing the estate tax—a tax on assets transferred from a deceased individual to their heirs—has become a staple cause among conservative Republicans. Eleven Republican candidates explicitly called for its elimination during the 2016 election. By calling it a “death tax,” and implying that it would hurt tens of millions of ordinary families, and force the sale of long-held family farms and family businesses, Republicans have successfully cast the estate tax as a ubiquitous and pernicious burden. That’s helped them win the public-relations battle over it so far.

The problem is that the main talking points that conservatives rely on when making this case are untrue. After years of looking, estate-tax repealers have not been able to come forward with even a handful of farms that, due to the estate tax, were forcibly sold off. And the notion that the estate tax somehow inhibits middle-class Americans from passing down savings to their heirs now, more than ever, falls somewhere between a hoax and a joke: The estate tax today kicks in at about $5.5 million for an individual, or $11 million for a couple. That means that there is a zero percent estate tax for every family estate under $11 million. A married couple that managed to save and leave $10.9 million to their children would not pay a single penny.

Even putting aside the claims used to galvanize support for cutting the estate tax, the Trump administration would be wise to consider that this might not be the time to go through with an expensive tax cut that only benefits a handful of America’s wealthiest families. This tax cut would coincide with the growing awareness of wealth inequality in the United States, where the top one-tenth of 1 percent have as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. This inequality has only become more skewed in recent years. After substantial declines in wealth inequality from 1937 to 1977, the share of wealth going to the richest 0.1 percent has nearly tripled, from 8 percent in 1980 to 22 percent in 2012—the highest it’s been since 1917. This may not be the best political or economic environment to propose a tax cut that over 10 years gives $269 billion to only 5,000 of the wealthiest inheritors each year.

The facts do not even indicate that the 5,000 estates that pay some estate tax (out of 2.7 million deaths each year) are significantly burdened by it. While this mysteriously remains a top priority from some leading farm and small-business lobbies, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that only 50 farms or closely-held family businesses in the U.S. will pay any estate taxes in 2017-- working out to an effective tax rate of less than 6 percent on each of those estates. And while the 40 percent estate-tax rate might seem high to some, it’s only applied to the amount passed down beyond the $11 million per couple, leaving the effective rate much lower. Consider that the Tax Policy Center estimates that the average effective tax rate for estates meeting the tax threshold is 17 percent, and that even the rare $20 million estate that took advantage of no deductions, exemptions, or loopholes would not pay more than an effective rate of 18 percent. If the estate tax is repealed, large amounts of accumulated wealth would go untaxed forever. As Chye-Ching Huang and Chloe Cho of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities have written, when it comes to the very wealthiest families in the United States, “unrealized capital gains account for a significant proportion of the assets held by estates.” Studies have shown that 55 percent of the value of estates worth over $100 million are never-taxed gains.

There is also is evidence that repealing the estate tax will be a tougher sell as more Americans come to understand how the estate tax really works. A prominent study published in the American Economic Review found that providing Americans with the facts about who actually pays such taxes raises support for increasing it. When the study’s authors told participants the threshold for the tax’s application, the number of Americans currently wealthy enough to have to pay it, and how unlikely they were to ever have to worry about it, support for a higher estate tax more than doubled. This is noteworthy since economists, including University of Michigan’s Joel Slemrod, have found that public opposition to the estate tax can be partially explained by misconceptions about who is subject to it.

The current case for repeal will be weaker if progressives come out in support of an estate tax that leaves the wealth of over 99 percent of Americans untouched and affects only the handful who want to leave eight-figure estates to their heirs. In 2008, as I finished a taping for a cable-TV show, a cameraman told me he agreed with everything I had said, except for my position on the estate tax. He dreamed of leaving his money to his children and didn’t want it to be taxed. I asked whether he would support a proposal that would allow him and his wife to leave up to $7 million to their children without paying any tax, and only tax people on the amount they left that was more than that. He didn’t hesitate to say he would.

Even if Trump and his team do not share my feelings about the unfairness of cutting the estate tax, pushing for this change could lose the support of voters who recognize that it is being prioritized over health-care protections or other types of tax cuts. For the $269 billion that it would cost the U.S. Treasury to give multimillion-dollar tax breaks to the 5,000 wealthiest estates each year, the administration could give nearly 27 million hardworking families a tax cut of $10,000 over the next decade. How could any member of Congress possibly argue that there was no choice but to cut Medicaid for millions of families, or say that it was impossible to afford the protections for pre-existing conditions or benefits like maternity care available under the Affordable Health Care Act, when they could afford nearly a quarter-of-a-trillion dollars to enhance the wealth of the already wealthiest Americans? On the other hand, if, as Hillary Clinton proposed, the president returned the estate tax back to the 2009 threshold of $7 million a couple-- with a 45 percent rate on anything over that threshold-- he would have an additional $160 billion in revenue to fund his other priorities without intruding on the aspirations of 99.5 percent of Americans to leave a nest egg to their children. Indeed, a September 2016 Bloomberg poll of high-income voters even found that 53 percent supported Clinton’s plan to broaden the estate tax to apply to individual estates worth more than $3.5 million.

Cutting the estate tax would do little to dampen accusations that Trump and his immensely wealthy cabinet are looking out more for the economic interests of their families and their financial peers than for typical working families. The likes of Senators Ted Kennedy and Jay Rockefeller showed that coming from a wealthy family doesn’t mean someone can’t be a champion for working America. But they proved that by fighting for a more progressive tax system that helped fund investments in workers, health care, and poor children. In Trump’s case, Americans would see him cutting investments for urban and rural America and threatening Medicaid, while (if he is as wealthy as he says he is) changing the tax code to save his family $4 billion, not to mention the savings for the rest of his cabinet.

Finally, there is the question of whether passing on huge amounts of untaxed wealth from generation to generation is consistent with long-held American values. President Theodore Roosevelt, in 1906, proposed a progressive tax on “all lifetime gifts and death-time bequests” for the direct purpose of limiting the amount of wealth that one person could transfer to another, thereby breaking up large concentrations of wealth. Three decades later, FDR echoed, “inherited economic power is as inconsistent with the ideals of this generation as inherited political power was inconsistent with the ideals of the generation which established our government.” In 2001, Warren Buffett compared repealing the estate tax to picking the 2020 Olympic team from the first-born children of the 2000 team. Bill Gates Sr. has been one of the most eloquent advocates for the estate tax, recognizing that even those like his son, who’s often the richest person in the world, owe their success in some part to the investment and hard work of generations of Americans before them and thus have a moral obligation to pay forward a return to invest in the success of current and future generations.

In past years, the worst of the corrupt conservative Democrats have voted with the Republicans to repeal the estate tax. Example, on April 16, 2015, Kevin Brady brought up a typical reactionary bill, H.R.1105-- the Death Tax Repeal Act of 2015. It passed the House 240-179. 3 Republicans crossed the aisle to vote with the Democrats against it-- Walter Jones (R-NC), Scott Rigell (R-VA) and David Jolly (R-FL)-- but they passed 7 really slimy right-wing Democrats going in the other direction. Happily one, Brad Ashford, an "ex"-Republican from Omaha was quickly defeated after one ugly term. But the other six are still in Congress, still pretending to be Democrats inside the Big Tent while sneaking out the back door and voting with the GOP virtually all the time. This is congressional slime:
Brad Ashford (Blue Dog-NE)
Sanford Bishop (Blue Dog-GA)
Jim Costa (Blue Dog-CA)
Henry Cuellar (Blue Dog-TX)
Collin Peterson (Blue Dog-MN)
Dutch Ruppersberger (MD)
Kyrsten Sinema (Blue Dog-AZ)
How can we expect congressional Republicans to watch out for the interests of ordinary American working families if we can't even guarantee that so-called Democrats will endeavor to do so?

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Obama Harvests His Presidency


 The Great House on billionaire Richard Branson's private Caribbean island prior to a devastating 2011 fire (source). It has since been rebuilt (click for tour). Cost to rent: $60,000 per night. Branson recently hosted the Obama family there for a post-presidential getaway.

by Gaius Publius

My words fly up, my deeds remain below.
Words without deeds never to heaven go.

    —Barack, Prince of Denmark, Act III, Scene 3

This is a story I didn't want to produce, but fully expected to. For years I've been writing about Barack Obama and his legacy, the one he wants to have and the one he actually has. In 2013 I listed the four economic items Obama wanted to achieve to complete what he considered his legacy list before his presidency ended:
Privatized “Medicare expansion” (the ACA). Benefits cuts for SS and Medicare. Keystone [pipeline built]. TPP [passed]. If Obama gets these four, he’s a happy man, and in his mind he goes out in glory.
He succeeded on the first; tried and tried and tried on the second; bailed on the third only when forced to by popular opposition; and pulled out all the stops, every last one of them, to pass the fourth in the last months of his last year, even as his chosen Democratic successor, Hillary Clinton, under pressure in the primary, finally came out as opposed. (Obama's chosen DNC chair, Tom Perez, was never opposed, nor was anyone else close to his administration, though Perez doesn't talk about that much these days.)

If it weren't for Tea Party and Freedom Caucus Republicans, he'd have been three for four — Social Security "reform" and TPP would have passed. Obama didn't lose for lack of trying.

Obama's real legacy also includes zero bankers jailed for fraud despite the rampant criminal behavior of Wall Street in the run-up to the 2008 economic devastation. As he told a group of Wall Street CEOs in 2009, "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks." He was right, and proved an effective shield.

For all of those efforts, those that succeeded (passing ACA, protecting Wall Street CEOs) and those that failed (cuts to SS and Medicare, TPP, Keystone), he fully expected to be granted a "Bill Clinton future" — the big money, the big foundation, the international love and acclaim.

You can read about his fundraising for the foundation here. It's quite a story in its own right. You can hear the international acclaim grow stronger by the day, thanks to the serendipitous contrast with his successor, Donald Trump. And now the money is starting to flow.

"Bill Clinton Money" 

Fresh from his vacation on privately-owned Necker Island with billionaire Richard Branson, Obama has just inked his first lucrative speaking deal. The fee: $400,000. The venue: Wall Street.

Mark Hensch at The Hill:
Obama to net $400K for Wall Street speech: report

Former President Obama has agreed to speak at a Wall Street conference for $400,000, according to a new report.

Obama will appear at Cantor Fitzgerald LP’s healthcare conference in September, Fox Business Network first reported Monday.

Fox Business said it confirmed Obama’s appearance with senior members at Cantor, a financial services firm.

Obama will serve as the keynote speaker for one day at the company's event, sources there told Fox Business.
The following is from the underlying Fox Business report by Charlie Gasparino and Brian Schwartz, who broke the story. Note the criticism that looks to us like praise (my emphasis):
When he was president he called them “fat cats,” but now he’s likely thanking them for a huge payday.

Former President Barack Obama, less than 100 days out of office, has agreed to speak at a Wall Street conference run by Cantor Fitzgerald LP, senior people at the firm confirm to FOX Business. His speaking fee will be $400,000, which is nearly twice as much as Hillary Clinton, his secretary of state, and the 2016 Democratic Party candidate, charged private businesses for such events. [...]

News of Obama’s speaking deal with Cantor, which had yet to be reported, comes as the former president made on Monday his first public comments since leaving office after an extended vacation. In those comments to college students at the University of Chicago, the president spoke broadly about the need for public service and studiously avoided any mention of the current president, Republican Donald Trump, or how he intends to make a living now that he’s a private citizen.

It’s also likely to be a source of criticism against the former president given Obama’s record of attacks against Wall Street bankers for making huge salaries while average Americans were suffering from the ravages of the 2008 financial crisis. Obama, a progressive Democrat, spoke frequently about Wall Street greed during his eight years as president, and now he’s accepting a speaking fee from the industry he singled out as the main culprit of the banking collapse.
I'll return to the Fox piece in a moment. First, about the timing, compare Obama's first post-presidential days to Bill Clinton's immediate post-presidential trajectory (my emphasis):
On December 21, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed a bill called the Commodities Futures Modernization Act. This law ensured that derivatives could not be regulated, setting the stage for the financial crisis.

Just two months later, on February 5, 2001, Clinton received  $125,000 from Morgan Stanley, in the form of a payment for a speech Clinton gave for the company in New York City.  A few weeks later, Credit Suisse also hired Clinton for a speech, at a $125,000 speaking fee, also in New York.  It turns out, Bill Clinton could make a lot of money, for not very much work.
Notice that just like Clinton was fresh off his late December win for Wall Street deregulation, Obama is fresh off his highly focused effort to pass TPP in the final days of his own presidency. Unlike Clinton, who won, Obama ultimately failed, but Obama's win would have been much more monumental than Clinton's. Commodities futures deregulation enriched just one industry, though it did help wreck the whole economy. TPP was truly "NAFTA on steroids," a multi-industry monopoly protection scheme, and nearly everyone in America with real money would have benefited, not just the bankers.

By the way, if you compare Obama's speaking fee with Clinton's early fees, you may notice the price has gone up. (Clinton's later fees grew in line with those prices. His 2015 fee was $500,000 per speech.) A good example of asset inflation — and that's not sarcasm. Everything the rich are buying these days is rocketing up in price. See "Art and real estate are the new gold, says Blackrock CEO."

Word and Deeds

I quoted Gasparino and Schwartz's piece for a reason. In it you can see the double benefit Obama gets — Wall Street reward money, plus undeserved credit for opposing Wall Street while in office.

Fox, in hitting him for hypocrisy — "given Obama’s record of attacks against Wall Street bankers for making huge salaries while average Americans were suffering from the ravages of the 2008 financial crisis" — actually praises him as an kind of "anti-Wall Street warrior" during his presidency, something (a) he certainly was not, but (b) something he desperately wants to be thought to have been.

After all, you can't retire as a "champion of the people" if you don't at least appear to champion the people. And you can't be internationally loved in your "retirement" years if the world sees you as a quid-pro-quo greed head. Managing how the world sees him will be crucial to Obama's success going forward.

And typical of Obama, the issue is words versus deeds. That "record of attacks" was entirely verbal. Obama's deeds were the opposite of attacks; they were entirely supportive. Which is entirely to be expected given the level of funding Wall Street poured into making and keeping him president in the first place:
Wall Street Responsible For One-Third Of Obama's Campaign Funds

One-third of the Obama re-election campaign's record-breaking second-quarter fundraising came from sources associated with the financial sector, the Washington Post reports.

That percentage is up from the 20% of donations that came from Wall Street donors in 2008, and contradicts reports that a growing Wall Street animosity towards the Obama administration may jeopardize his re-election bid.
And please don't forget that Obama's real legacy, the one involving actual deeds, includes what David Dayen called "the greatest disintegration of black wealth in recent memory." Of that I wrote this:
Occasionally, when there's justice in the world, one is not just branded by the manicured and curated image one tries to project. One is branded instead by what one actually does in the sight of others.

Will Obama see more justice than the millions whose homelessness he caused? I guess that part of the story is still being written.
One can hope. It will be interesting to watch this unfold.

You Get What You Pay For

Bottom line — Wall Street invested millions in Barack Obama's career in 2008 and 2012. That investment paid off over the eight years of his presidency to the tune of billions upon billions in profit and millions upon millions per year in executive compensation and bonuses.

It would not be at all surprising if Wall Street bankers were now saying "thank you" by giving him money he can keep. In fact, it would be entirely surprising if they weren't.

UPDATE: I discussed this issue and post on "The Attitude with Arnie Arnesen," WNHN-FM, progressive radio on New Hampshire. You can listen here; start at 30:00 (or earlier to listen to Garth Brooks sing "It Pays Big Money").


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The Extremists In The Freedom Caucus Have A Secret Weapon Undermining Healthcare: Tom MacArthur (R-NJ)


A headline at Axios yesterday: GOP health care plan has momentum. This is the new plan where, aside from kicking 24 million people off health insurance, the Republicans gut protections for the sick (by eliminating protections for people with pre-existing conditions)-- and all to allow a tax cut for the super-rich. The far right extremists at the Freedom Caucus think it does enough damage to have earned their support. Whats known as the Meadows-MacArthur amendment allows states to waive a set of "essential health benefits" and a ban on charging sick people higher premiums in limited circumstances and if the state has established a high-risk pool. Radical anti-health care extremists like Dave Brat (R-VA), Raul Labrador (R-ID) and Jim Jordan (R-OH) are urging other extremists to vote for it-- and that may come as soon as Friday.

The bill's impacts will be so bad for consumers that congressional Republicans exempted themselves and their staffers from the worst of the provisions, something that didn't go unnoticed by Democrats. Madison-based Democrat Mark Pocan called then right out on it: "House Republicans showed their hand when they exempted themselves from their own plan. If this latest version of Trumpcare isn’t good enough for Members of Congress, it’s not good enough for the American people. The reason Trumpcare failed, was that the American people took a long hard look at what the President and Speaker Ryan put on the table and flatly rejected it. Now, House Republicans are trying to introduce a worse version of Trumpcare that will likely cause more people to lose health insurance, make it harder for people with preexisting conditions to get coverage, and leaves people at the mercy of insurance companies."

Meanwhile the Regime has some healthcare sabotage up its sleeve-- just in case. Mick Mulvaney spoke with Nancy Pelosi Tuesday night and threatened to cut off crucial ObamaCare payments as soon as next month.
Canceling the payments to insurers, known as cost-sharing reductions (CSRs), would cause chaos in the insurance market. The payments are the subject of ongoing litigation, with a judge ruling them unconstitutional last year because Congress had not appropriated the money.

"Mulvaney indicated that while the Trump administration had continued the CSR payments, they had not yet decided whether they would make the May payment," the aide said. "Mulvaney made clear that, absent Congressional action, the judge's order would stand and the administration would cease making payments."

Pelosi is pushing for the payments to be funded in the spending bill Congress is negotiating this week.

If Mulvaney follows through on his comments, then that would raise the pressure on Congress to appropriate the payments so that they are not canceled, as the administration is threatening.

Top congressional Republicans, though, are resisting funding ObamaCare payments in the spending bill, leading to a standoff.
That could be awkward for mainstreamish conservatives in swingy districts. Politico and the rest of the Beltway media refers to them as "moderates," which they're not, but Politico's Kyle Cheney and Rachel Bade were correct in pointing out that much of this resuscitation mess is the fault of fake-moderate Tom MacArthur (R-NJ). "MacArthur," they wrote, "has singlehandedly kept the embers of the failed repeal-and-replace effort burning, huddling with the hard-line conservative Freedom Caucus to try to forge a deal. The negotiations have allowed the White House and GOP congressional leaders to insist that despite their embarrassing failure to pass health care legislation last month, they're still making progress. But the MacArthur-as-Republican health care savior narrative has bothered some GOP moderates, who say the New Jersey lawmaker is flying solo in negotiations with the Freedom Caucus. Though he's one of three co-chairs of the Tuesday Group-- a 50-member bloc of House Republican moderates-- MacArthur has negotiated without the group's blessing in his quest to keep the health care talks alive, other Tuesday Group members say."

Some in the group “are pretty hot about this thing right now,” said a Tuesday Group member. “MacArthur is kind of on his own.”

MacArthur acknowledged as much in an interview with The Hill, suggesting his effort to find compromise was not on behalf of the Tuesday Group.

As a result, it's not clear that any deal MacArthur strikes can actually deliver the votes of moderates that President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan need to get their legislation, dubbed the American Health Care Act, across the finish line. That's a dangerous dynamic that could sink the revived health care discussion just as Freedom Caucus members are warming to the bill.

So far, House moderates have remained quiet about reports of progress between MacArthur and the Freedom Caucus, chaired by North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows. The two were seen huddling daily in the back of the House chamber before lawmakers departed for their two-week Easter recess. But other Tuesday Group members have been wary of working with the Freedom Caucus, which came under fire from Trump and mainstream Republicans last month for rejecting the first iteration of the GOP health care plan.

At the time, Rep. Chris Collins, a Tuesday Group member and Trump ally, accused the Freedom Caucus of proposing negotiations simply to deflect blame for scuttling the first bill.

“The Tuesday Group will never meet with the Freedom Caucus. Capital N-E-V-E-R,” Collins said in late March.

As reports of a deal surfaced during the recess, moderates remained silent. Even MacArthur's Tuesday Group co-chairs-- Reps. Charlie Dent and Elise Stefanik of New York-- said they weren’t yet sold on the negotiations.

...[I]t's unclear whether MacArthur's efforts have moved any moderates closer to "yes" on the stalled health care bill. Politico reached out to the offices of more than two dozen moderate Republicans who had either signaled their opposition to the AHCA or hadn’t yet taken a position. Though many declined to respond, none said they had been swayed by the negotiations.

"The amendment doesn't address the things that I had concerns about-- the things I think are detrimental to the people I represent," said Rep. Dan Donovan, a centrist, who added that he learned about the proposal when details leaked to the press Friday.

...At the heart of the negotiations is a trade-off. Conservatives are seeking a proposal that would let states opt out of Obamacare's regulatory framework, including provisions intended to keep costs down for people with pre-existing conditions. In exchange, MacArthur negotiated to reinstate Obamacare's minimum coverage requirements and to require that any state choosing to opt out of the Obamacare regulations must set up a high-risk pool intended to help cover sick patients whose premiums might surge.

Freedom Caucus sources indicated these changes could win over at least some of their holdouts, putting the AHCA tantalizingly close to passage. House leaders are hopeful they can nudge just enough moderates to back the bill to send it to the Senate. With no Democrats expected to support the bill, Republicans must secure support from 216 members of the 238-member caucus to pass it.

Since talks collapsed last month, House leaders and President Donald Trump have indicated they were heartened by continued negotiations among lawmakers. Vice President Mike Pence and White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney continued shuttling to and from Capitol Hill in search of votes. Then, as Trump's 100-day mark in office approached, the White House began indicated it expected a vote on an amended health care package as soon as this week.

The Meadows-MacArthur talks were at the heart of it.

For MacArthur, the impromptu talks aren't just risky for the Republican agenda, they could imperil his own political future. He represents one of a few dozen swing districts. Though his district narrowly voted for Trump in November, it backed Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. MacArthur's role in salvaging a health care plan that energized protesters on the left and drew poor marks across the political spectrum has only enhanced the target on his back for Democrats.

MacArthur's efforts have also put him on the president’s radar. Trump personally thanked MacArthur, a former insurance executive, the day before leaders pulled the legislation for lack of support.

But during the presidential campaign, MacArthur, 56, kept his distance from Trump, endorsing the GOP standard-bearer after his primary rivals quit the race. MacArthur survived his reelection campaign despite relentless efforts by Democrats to tie him to Trump.

In recent weeks, conservative and liberal activists squeezed MacArthur with attack ads in his district for his role in AHCA talks. But the conservative Club for Growth may help provide him some cover.

Keep in mind that the DCCC has already signaled that they will not be trying to unseat either Meadows or MacArthur in 2018. Yesterday the AP reported that Charlie Dent doesn't like what he's seeing of the MacArthur/Meadows "compromise," since it ignores his concerns that TrumpCare will "cut too deeply into the Medicaid program for the poor and leave many people unable to afford coverage."

Trump and the GOP's threats against the Affordable Care Act have created the kind of uncertainty for the insurance market that is forcing premiums up for millions of Americans.
Many experts have already warned that if Trump refuses to enforce the Affordable Care Act’s, or ACA’s, individual mandate or fund subsidies for low-income enrollees, consumers will see premiums skyrocket. But even without taking direct action, the Trump administration is still pushing insurers to raise premiums. Trump’s rhetoric creates a climate of uncertainty for health insurers that puts upward pressure on rates and discourages them from future participation in the exchanges.

We expect this generalized market uncertainty will itself raise premiums for 2018. If insurers raise rates by an additional 8.5 to 17 percent to account for a 25 to 50 percent risk that the Administration will undermine ACA subsidies and mandate enforcement, the average annual premium would rise by an extra $480 to $960 in 2018. While ACA subsidies will protect most enrollees from these uncertainty rate hikes, millions will see their premiums rise and taxpayers will foot the bill for increased subsidy costs.

The administration has already taken steps that will hurt the market and increase premiums, including halting outreach efforts at the end of the 2017 open enrollment period and drastically shortening the enrollment period for next year. The administration can prevent even larger premium hikes, but, given the widespread uncertainty that the president and congressional Republicans have already created, they need to act now. Trump and Congress must take concrete steps in the coming weeks to make clear that subsidy payments will be made on a permanent basis, that the individual mandate will be fully enforced, that the administration will conduct similar outreach and operational efforts as in past years to drive enrollment, and that they will stop their damaging efforts to repeal the ACA.

...Trump is already attempting to use millions of Americans’ health insurance as a bargaining chip for his own political gain. In an effort to force Democrats to negotiate with him on repealing the ACA, Trump threatened to hold hostage subsidies for low-income enrollees.

...A study by The Commonwealth Fund suggests that eliminating cost-sharing reductions payments could increase premiums by 14 percent, in addition to causing a large number of insurers to leave the exchanges. Other studies have suggested an even higher increase if the compensating premium increase occurs among silver plans alone, from 19 to 29 percent. Similar estimates have been put forward by insurers, actuaries, and insurance commissioners, as well as by hospitals, doctors, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

To remove this uncertainty, President Trump and Congress must make clear that they will not play political games with people’s lives, that they will fulfill their obligations under the ACA, and they will fully fund cost-sharing reduction payments on a permanent basis.

The size of the uncertainty rate hike would vary by state, as shown in Table 2. If we assume an uncertainty rate hike of 8.5 percent above the normal increase, equivalent to insurers hedging against a 25 percent chance of loss of the mandate and cost-sharing reductions, the extra annual premium increase would range from $300 on average in Massachusetts to an average of $1,060 in Alaska. If insurers build in a 50 percent chance the administration takes both these major actions to undermine the exchanges, the average rate hike would be more than $1,000 in close to half the states.

UPDATE: Doctors Write To Congress

This is the letter that went to Congress Wednesday:
Dear Speaker Ryan and Minority Leader Pelosi:

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi Minority Leader
U.S. House of Representatives Washington, DC 20515 Our organizations, which represent over 560,000 physicians and medical students, remain concerned with ongoing efforts that in our view could destabilize our nation’s health care system. We believe that pending legislation proposals would dramatically increase costs for older individuals, result in millions of people losing their health care coverage, and return to a system that allows for discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions. We are especially concerned about the changes to Medicaid and Medicaid financing contained within AHCA.

Our members are the frontline physicians who provide physical and mental health care services to millions of men, women, and children each day. They provide care to children, the aged, those with chronic conditions, people battling substance use disorders, and the many individuals who are seeking prevention and wellness services in an attempt to be healthier. Our members see firsthand the important role that health care coverage and access to affordable, high quality care plays in people’s lives and their pursuit of better health and well-being. They also recall those days when patients faced discrimination based on their age, gender, or health conditions, and remember when those with mental and behavioral health needs were denied coverage.

This experience with the health care system is why our organizations strongly oppose the compromises that have been recently reported. These compromises are built on the flawed foundation of the American Health Care Act (AHCA), which would result in millions of Americans and, according to the CBO, over 7 million with employer-sponsored insurance, losing their coverage.

Further, these compromises would allow individual states to obtain waivers to opt-out of important benefit and patient protection provisions in current law. Under the proposed “Limited Waiver” authority, insurers in such states would once again be allowed to charge unaffordable premiums to people with pre-existing conditions based on their individual health risks, and decline to cover ten categories of essential services including prescription drugs, physician and hospital visits, preventive services, and mental and behavioral health benefits. We are especially concerned that these changes would:
 Allow insures to deny millions of people facing addiction access to treatment and therapy, when such services are needed more than ever to address the opioid epidemic in the United States.
 Make health care even more expensive and further reduce access to care for millions, especially those over the age of 50;
 Force individuals with multiple chronic conditions into underfunded state-sponsored high risk pools, which have been proven ineffective numerous times;
Allow for gender rating by enabling states to opt out of maternity care coverage.
We urge Congress to reject these “compromises” and instead focus on enacting policies that improve upon current law, thus ensuring that more people have access to affordable health care coverage. Our organizations have provided several recommendations on how current law could be improved to accomplish these goals. A few of those recommendations are:
 Ensure that coverage remains affordable by maintaining premium and cost-sharing subsidies available under current law.
 Stabilize the individual market.
Take immediate action to provide long-term, adequate funding for the CHIP program.
 Identify and implement policies that make primary, preventive, and mental health more 
readily available to all Americans.
 Identify and implement policies that lower costs for individuals and families, especially 
the costs of pharmaceutical treatments.
Reform our medical liability laws.
 Reduce the administrative and regulatory burdens that add costs and inefficiencies to 
our delivery and insurance systems, and take away valuable time for us to care for our patients.

We recognize that our health care system is not perfect and reforms are needed. Our organizations and our members stand ready to work with Congress and the Administration to improve our health care system. However, we urge Congress to reject the AHCA and instead focus on the implementation of policies that aim to improve our health care system versus those that seek to destabilize it and would make quality health care less available to millions of Americans.


American Academy of Family Physicians

American Academy of Pediatrics

American College of Physicians

American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists American Osteopathic Association

American Psychiatric Association
And the AARP added this to the debate this morning:

40% of older adults ages 50-64-- or about 25 million people in this age group-- could be denied health coverage because of a preexisting condition if they sought to buy an individual plan.

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