While Trump Seeks Elimination of ACA, Pelosi Re-focuses Americans, Media Heading into 2020

As coverage of the coronavirus streams 24-7 on the airways, updating cases and casualties as well as policy shifts and other breaking developments, it is understandable Americans might find their attention riveted to day to day events linked to the pandemic, making it hard to even think about larger political contexts or issues raised by the pandemic.

We rarely even hear, for example, about the Democratic primary, much less about the approaching presidential election in November, on which many American interests hang in the balance.

Last March 23, read more

10 Years After Passing Affordable Care Act, Obama Says It’s ‘Progress Worth Protecting’ Against Republican Attempts To End It

In conjunction with a political organization called “Protect Our Care,” which seeks to provide “outreach, rapid response, research and messaging center in the fight to protect health care,” former President Barack Obama released a video in which he celebrated and touted the reforms passed in the Affordable Care Act.

The ACA, commonly called Obamacare by critics and supporters alike, passed Congress and was signed into law 10 years ago on March23.

“It’s been 10 years since we passed the Affordable Care Act. With your help, it’s the closest we’ve ever come to universal coverage in America,” Obama said in the video.

The former president touted the law for helping millions of Americans, noting how people are “alive today” who might not have been had it not been for the act’s passage.

The ACA, according to Obama in the video message, helped to protect 135 million people in the United States from being denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions. It also helped young people stay on their parents coverage plans longer, helped seniors with affording prescription medicines, and worked to ensure women weren’t charged more “just because they’re women,” Obama said.

In spite of all the positives that the law has produced, however, Obama warned that Republican lawmakers were still trying to dismantle his signature legislative accomplishment. The 2018 midterm elections were a rebuke to those efforts, he said.

“But even with a House of Representatives committed to building on the Affordable Care Act, Republicans will keep trying, both in Congress and in the courts, to rip away the care that millions of Americans rely on, and to raise costs for millions more,” Obama added. read more

Opinion: Fuller Picture Shows Trump’s Policies are Devastating to Americans’ Economic Well-Being

 

In response to news that the economy created 266,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate dipped to 50-year lows, CNN editor-at-large Chris Cillizza rehashed the tired but nonetheless damaging and deceptive narrative that “the economy” is indeed strong, providing Trump a clear path to re-election if only he were politically deft and disciplined enough to stay on it.  Cillizza suggests he isn’t and that it is precisely his inability to stay on point about the success of the economy that threatens his 2020 re-election bid.

We have heard this narrative again and again.

What is damaging and deceptive in this narrative is the premise. The assertion that the economy is strong is, if not entirely wrong or untruthful, problematic and distorted.  As I’ve written elsewhere in PoliticusUsa, democrats would be wise not to concede this premise and, in fact, to make Americans’ economic well-being a central issue in 2020.

“The economy” is not the same thing as people’s economic life and livelihood.

As Steven Horwitz, Distinguished Professor of Free Enterprise at Ball State University, reminds us, “The economy isn’t a thing.” He explains, “Things are not ‘good/bad for the economy.’ They are good or bad for the people . . . Trump’s policies may well enrich many firms, but they will impoverish the average American.”

When we paint a fuller, more detailed, and indubitably more accurate picture of the economy, we can see very clearly the way Trump’s policies on healthcare, education, the environment, taxes tariffs, food stamps, and more, have inflicted and promise to inflict more pain on Americans’ pocketbooks and lives.

One place to start in providing a more accurate view of Trump’s handling of the economy is with the deficit.

Reports indicated that in October the federal government’s budget deficit ballooned 34% from a year earlier to $134.5 billion, projecting that the annual deficit will top $1 trillion for the first time in eight years.

Hmmm. If the economy is booming, shouldn’t the federal government’s coffers be filling up and not depleting?

We can certainly understand how in a time of recession the government would need to provide economic stimulus and thus run a deficit, but when the economy is supposedly experiencing record performance?

When Trump slashed corporate tax rates from 35 to 21 percent, we were told, as usual, that these tax cuts would pay for themselves, create an economy that enriches us all.

But deficits actually take money from Americans. How? Well, first, more of our tax dollars are diverted from paying for services and infrastructure (education, healthcare, roads, etc.) we all use and need, to simply paying interest for which we receive nothing in return.

The American people, then, thus receive less for each tax dollar. Our tax dollars are going to enrich corporations and the wealthy rather than pay for the services and infrastructure we are used to receiving for those same dollars.  It’s like going to the grocery store and having the cashier take your milk and bread, which you can typically afford with your budget, when you check out.

Consider that Trump’s proposed 2020 budget called for significant cuts to education and services, even though we know, for example, that investing in education promises to serve the health of the economy overall as well as helping individuals increase their earnings over the course of their lives, thus also creating more tax revenue. In short, these cuts are harmful to ordinary citizens as well as the overall health of the economy.

And the ballooning deficit resulting from the Trump tax-cuts, for example, cultivated a fertile context for Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell to loudly renew their insistence that cuts to Medicare and Social Security are necessary to address the out-of-control deficit their own policies immediately exacerbated. Far from benefiting Americans, these tax cuts, which were supposedly to trickle down, just keep cutting Americans and increasing economic precarity, not prosperity. How about we measure that?

And while we need to support farmers for our national and individual well-being, the reason taxpayers are contributing $28 billion to bail them out is precisely because of Trump’s failing trade war with China and the tariffs he has levied.

Again, this is $28 billion dollars effectively taken out of Americans’ pockets for which they receive nothing in the return. In fact, they will lose more, as these payouts lead to cuts elsewhere as well as rising deficits.  Now that cashier just took your bag of apples as well.

And consider healthcare.   Last year a federal judge in Texas threatened millions of Americans’ healthcare, declaring the entirety of the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional. The Trump administration effectively supported the suit, doing nothing to support or defend the federal law.  As of yet, despite promises, Texas legislators have done nothing to develop a replacement should the Affordable Care Act disappear in Texas.

Healthcare is an economic issue for Americans.  Is Trump doing anything to improve their financial well-being through healthcare policy? No, he is only undermining people’s ability to secure affordable and quality healthcare, hugely impacting Americans’ lives.

And consider the costs of his hostility to addressing climate change in meaningful ways.

Trump’s own  scientists issued a report on climate change in November 2018, focusing on its environmental and economic impacts, highlighting the need for urgent short-term action to ensure our long-term survival. Among many alarm bells, the report warns,

“Extreme weather and climate-related impacts on one system can result in increased risks or failures in other critical systems, including water resources, food production and distribution, energy and transportation, public health, international trade, and national security.” read more

A GOP Disaster Looms in 2020 Due to Trump’s Moves on Social Programs

Donald Trump’s self-destructive decision to try to completely dismantle the Affordable Care Act, as the race for the 2020 election is just beginning, has Republican lawmakers and GOP consultants panicking. They know something that he apparently doesn’t know: that Trump’s moves on healthcare and other social programs will assure that he loses in 2020. And they also will severely harm the chances of all other Republican candidates in next year’s elections.

According to

a new report in the Washington Post read more

Trump Suffers Huge Losses in Court on Healthcare Rules

Donald Trump keeps trying to undo the nation’s healthcare protections, and he keeps losing in court.

The latest loss came when a federal judge struck down a Trump administration rule aimed at enabling millions of Americans to buy cheap health insurance plans that do not comply with key Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) requirements. The rule was part of Trump’s efforts to chip away at the healthcare law after he could not get Congress to repeal it.

The judge said that Trump’s attempt to make cheap health insurance plans available that avoid the requirements of Obamacare was illegal.

It was the second loss in court for Trump in as many days.

The day before, another U.S. District Judge blocked the administration’s plans for Medicaid recipients in Kentucky and Arkansas to be subject to work requirements in exchange for health benefits.

The newest ruling, came from U.S. District Judge John D. Bates of the District of Columbia, who expressed his contempt for what Trump was trying to do.

“The final rule is clearly an end-run around the Affordable Care Act,” Bates, an appointee of President George W. Bush, wrote in the ruling, before adding:

“Indeed, as the president directed, and the secretary of labor confirmed, the final rule was designed to expand access to cheap, noncompliant association plans to avoid the most stringent requirements of the Affordable Care Act.” read more

Bill Barr Moves to Destroy ObamaCare and the Republican Party

William Barr’s latest move as Trump’s attorney general is intended to destroy the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) but also may destroy the GOP.

Last December a federal district court judge issued a ruling saying the Obamacare individual mandate is now unconstitutional because of a provision of the 2017 GOP tax scam law. At the time we reported that the decision could give Democrats control of the Senate in 2020.

And now Barr’s Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed a motion supporting the district court opinion and calling for ObamaCare to be struck down in its entirety.

By siding with the federal district court that had ruled the individual mandate is unconstitutional the DOJ has taken a new position that will create new controversies and uncertainties in America’s healthcare system. It will also be very unpopular.

Previously the DOJ was focused on eliminating mandatory coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, a position that helped give Democrats control of the House in the 2018 midterm elections.

But now, under Barr, the federal government’s position has changed for the worse.

In a letter, shown below, to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals the DOJ states it “has determined that the district court’s judgement should be affirmed,” meaning it will not appeal the judge’s ruling declaring the individual mandate unconstitutional.

The DOJ’s letter in the affordable care act case in the Fifth Circuit.

The Justice Department is apparently all in on defending Judge O’Connor’s (deeply problematic) ruling invalidating the _entire_ Affordable Care Act.

So much for DOJ’s obligation to defend the constitutionality of federal statutes when reasonable grounds exist for doing so… https://t.co/v31R8YWNPu read more

Trump Continues To Destroy Obamacare and Raise Health Insurance Rates

In an unusual Saturday announcement, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMMS) said it will no longer collect and pay out money under the “risk adjustment” program of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) also known as Obamacare. 

By freezing risk adjustment payments the move will add significantly to health insurance premium increases next year.

Under Obamacare the program of risk adjustment was designed to protect health insurers from financial losses caused by very sick patients who run up large medical bills.

Billions of dollars in payments to health insurers with sicker customers will be lost due to the surprise CMMS announcement.

This latest action by the Trump administration action will continue to disrupt the ACA, the controversial yet popular health care law that has come under attack as Trump and Congressional Republicans attempted to repeal it. Although GOP repeal efforts failed, Trump has taken many steps through the executive branch to weaken it which has resulted in millions of people losing health coverage while also significantly raising the medical costs of tens of millions of Americans.

In its announcement yesterday CMMS said they are taking this action because of conflicting court rulings in different lawsuits filed by some small health insurance companies who have complained that they are not being fairly treated under the program.

The risk adjustment program takes payments from insurers with healthier customers and redistributes that money to companies with sicker enrollees. Payments for 2017 were $10.4 billion.

The purpose of the risk adjustment program is to remove financial incentives for health insurers to “cherry pick” healthier customers, and spread around the cost of insuring sicker customers.

The federal government uses the same approach with Medicare private insurance plans and Medicare prescription drug plans.

The CMMS announcement caused an immediate outcry from health insurance lobbying groups who said that not only would the government’s latest action create unfair financial burdens but it would also disrupt a program that they believe is working very well and achieving its intended results.

Clearly Trump and the GOP Congress don’t understand that people want health insurance and medical care to be less expensive, not more expensive. Democrats, however, hope that Trump’s continued attacks on Obamacare will be politically unpopular and

carry them to victory in November’s midterm elections. read more

Healthcare Premiums Are Skyrocketing Because of the GOP

Virginia and Maryland have just made public health insurance company requests for 2019 premium increases under the Affordable Care Act (ACA, or Obamacare), and the results are shocking.

Health insurers in both states want double-digit increases in monthly premiums for individual medical plans. CareFirst, for example, wants to nearly double the amount it charges on average for coverage in Maryland, and increase the cost in Virginia by 64 percent.

The health insurance companies are saying that President Trump and Congressional Republicans are to blame for the outrageous increases because they eliminated the individual mandates from the ACA.  As a result healthy people are not buying insurance, and more sick people are entering the ACA marketplace, driving costs sky-high.

“Cigna said it anticipates sicker people will be entering the market this year because of the repeal of the individual mandate, which required people to buy insurance or face a tax penalty,” the Hill reported. “The insurer also cited anticipated changes to regulations involving short-term plans and association health plans as the reason for the premium increases.”

These premium spikes are the intentional result of Republican sabotage of Obamacare which Congress passed and Trump signed in 2017.  This occurred after their “repeal and replace” attempts failed.  The GOP strategy was to make health insurance unaffordable under Obamacare, so voters would blame Democrats for passing the healthcare law in the first place.

Virginia Democrats were quick to denounce the premiums spikes as the direct and obvious effects of the GOP’s relentless campaign to make health care more expensive for Americans.  State Rep. Don Beyer wrote on Twitter:

“Trump health Secretary Tom Price *predicted* that this would happen, but he and other Republican leaders still took actions that will drive up premiums anyway. Sabotage of the worst kind, which will hit average people in Virginia hard. And it won’t just be in Virginia either.”

Trump health Secretary Tom Price *predicted* that this would happen, but he and other Republican leaders still took actions that will drive up premiums anyway.

Sabotage of the worst kind, which will hit average people in Virginia hard.

And it won’t just be in Virginia either. https://t.co/dowJUBNy2P read more

House Republicans Keep Obamacare Fixes Out of Spending Bill

The Obamacare fixes that were promised to Senator Susan Collins in exchange for her support of the Republican tax bill in December appear to be in serious trouble.

Earlier this week Republicans in Congress released their plan to stabilize healthcare exchanges under Obamacare (also known as the Affordable Care Act or the ACA).

In this proposed bill there was funding both for reinsurance and for cost-sharing reductions in Obamacare health insurance subsidies.  These are cornerstones of the controversial healthcare law that has reduced the number of Americans without health insurance by tens of millions of people.  Details of the proposed legislation had been published on Monday.

Co-sponsors of the compromise bill are Republican Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Susan Collins of Maine and Republican Representatives Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Ryan Costello, R-Pa., in the House.

These co-sponsors are trying to get the ACA fixes into the omnibus spending bill, which must be finalized by the end of this week to avoid a government shutdown.

According to Politico, the spending bill is running into problems and its passage is not guaranteed unless both sides agree to compromise on some major sticking points.

And, in a serious setback, The Hill has reported that the final version of the House spending bill did not include the ACA language.  Although the Senate is considering a way to add the language into their version of the bill and thereby force the House to accept the ACA fixes, this appears unlikely.

“They’re not in there at this point, and that is unfortunate,” Rep. Walden was reported as saying. “We’re going to see what we can do moving forward, perhaps in the Senate.”

Some of the key elements of the bill that have been published include:

  • Three years of funding for reinsurance, totaling $10 billion per year.
  • Three years of funding for Cost Sharing Reductions.
  • Authorization for new copper plans, which would allow more people to purchase catastrophic coverage.
  • A requirement that Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar issue a rule to allow payers to sell insurance across state lines.
  • Transparency for people who may want to purchase short-term insurance plans, and room for states to add additional regulations.
  • Hyde Amendment provisions that would prevent federal subsidies from funding abortions.
  • read more

    Feed the Beast, Starve the People: What’s Really Been Going on with GOP Tax Policy and Strategy

    Over the last July 4 holiday, in an infamous moment inspiring public outrage, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was captured on film enjoying a public beach with his family. His family were the only ones on the beach, as the beach had been closed to the public because the state, due largely to a Christie veto, had failed to pass a budget, preventing funds from being disbursed to public parks.

    So, Christie was able to enjoy a private family day on the beach at the expense of New Jersey citizens, who had been given no reprieve from their state tax obligations but who, nonetheless, could not access the supposedly public services their taxes were funding.

    While some have interpreted this scene as evidence of Christie’s simply no longer caring, we really need to understand it as more than an isolated political scandal. Rather, we need to understand this moment as emblematic of a larger GOP strategy evident not only in the current tax bill but also in other policies, such as healthcare, that involve government spending. And it’s not new to this Presidential administration but rather than an ongoing Republican project this administration adopted.

    The dynamic we see at work might best be characterized as a “feed the beast, starve the people” strategy.

    It is important to name this dynamic to recognize that the once dominant mantra of Americans for Tax Reform czar Grover Norquist, “Starve the beast,” is no longer the order of the day in conservative politics. Norquist was simply an anti-tax zealot who advocated for withering the state by starving it of revenues.

    Now the order of the day is for congressional leaders to use government to enrich themselves while effectively feeding off the people who, as we see in Christie’s beach episode, continue to pay taxes for services they longer receive.

    Sometimes this dynamic is masked by seductive tax cuts which actually end up leaving less in taxpayer’s wallets than if their taxes hadn’t been cut, as vital services their taxes used to pay for, working collectively with others’ taxes, get cut.

    More obscenely, though, yet more characteristic of contemporary dynamics, is that we the taxpayer to continue paying taxes for fewer and fewer services, as those funds are going to feed the greed of a political class and wealthy elite working hand in hand.

    Those of us living in the state of Illinois can explain this dynamic well, having lived it. We have fed the beast and been starved.

    Up until last July when Republican legislators finally rebelled against Republican Governor Bruce Rauner and passed a budget, the state had been without a budget for two years and was beyond being on the verge of disaster; the state was and is a disaster, still reeling from a near total crumbling. Social services were gutted at great human expense to seniors, children, and families; and public educational institutions, particularly public universities and colleges, were not receiving their typical allocations, leading to thousands of layoffs and, by extension, higher tuitions and less programs and services.

    Keep in mind that all of this happened not because the state didn’t have money. Illinois workers continued to have state taxes deducted from their paychecks, so the state had incoming revenue. Rather, because a budget had not been passed, monies could not be disbursed.

    So, Illinois workers continued to pay the same taxes but received far less in public services such as education, healthcare, childcare services, and more, also leading to the unemployment of many state workers, worsening the situation.

    Meanwhile, the bills the state wasn’t paying, not because it didn’t have money but because it didn’t have budget, were accruing hundreds of millions of dollars in late fees and interest, for which the taxpayers were on the hook but for which they were receiving no goods and services in return.

    Taxpayers are feeding the beast but not getting what they’re paying for.  The intensified deficit spending, fueled by recent tax cuts to those least in need, will create a similar dynamic on the national level.

    Following in Rauner’s footsteps, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez last April abused her veto power similarly, denying funding to higher education. Though later restored, the loss of funding would have resulted in higher tuitions and less programs across the board in public education.

    On the national level, we can see this dynamic in the way the Federal Government has managed the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

    Well before Donald Trump announced last October he would completely stop paying the Obamacare subsidies, which helped keep health insurance premiums down and allowed companies to stay in the exchanges, Congress, according to former health insurance CEO J.B. Silvers, had already reneged on its promises to pay subsidies, having paid only 12% of its pledge. The result of Congress not disbursing the taxpayer money allotted for these subsidies, according to Silvers, was severe market de-stabilization that generated higher premiums and drove companies—and thus competition—out of the exchanges.

    Again, taxpayers fulfilled their obligations, feeding the beast, but the beastly herd of politicians did not disburse those funds as promised, as they were allocated. Taxpayers feed the beast, and are starved in return.

    Even the modest tax cuts the recent Tax Cut and Jobs Act offers to ordinary people—and for the some taxes will increase—promise to result, finally, in a debit. According to the

    Tax Policy Center read more

    From Populism to Donorism: The GOP’s Authoritarian Rule Disregards American Majority

    Remember last July when Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced sanctions against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro Moros and his regime? At the time the Maduros regime was attempting to re-write Venezuela’s constitution to erode provisions enforcing democratic institutions in order to secure dictatorial powers for himself.
    Mnuchin issued a statement last July 31 that, looking back, we can see contains language remarkably resonant with the recent behaviors of not just the Trump administration but, it is important to note, the current GOP regime itself. In this statement, Mnuchin said, “As President Trump said earlier this month, the strong and courageous actions by the Venezuelan people to stand for democracy, freedom, and the rule of law have been continually ignored by Nicolas Maduro who dreams of becoming a dictator. Yesterday’s illegitimate elections confirm that Maduro is a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people.”

    While Mnuchin characterizes Maduro as “a dictator who disregards the will of the Venezuelan people,” certainly the Republican efforts over the last year to ramrod massively unpopular legislation through Congress, from the failed Obamacare repeal to the current tax bill, constitute similar, even equal, disregard for the will of the American people.
    Consider the following examples:

    *Last September myriad major groups and constituencies, including the American Medical Association, the National Council on Behavioral Health, the American Association of Retired People, as well as major Health Insurance Companies such as Blue Cross Blue Shield and the largest health insurance lobby America’s Health Insurance Plans, expressed strenuous opposition to the Graham-Cassidy Bill designed to repeal and replace much of the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare. The legislation failed, to be sure, but what is important to note is that the Republican majorities in Congress pushed forward with the legislation despite this ferocious popular opposition among the industry itself and the masses of Americans.

    *The current tax bill, which all signs indicate will be passed by Congress before Christmas, is also opposed by the majority of Americans. A Gallup poll from earlier this December registered a 56% disapproval rating for the bill, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, while a Quinnipiac Poll from the same time registered a 53% disapproval rating. Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight site compiled data ranking the bill the least popular tax-related bill since 1981, and included two tax-hike bills in the 1990s.

    Despite this clear opposition from an American majority, Congress still nonetheless has promised to pass the current tax bill and President Trump has pledged to sign it, characterizing it as a Christmas present for the American people, who conversely, polls indicate, view the bill as a lump of coal in their stockings.

    While Trump’s campaign was often characterized as a “populist” one, his administration has in the main disregarded the will of the American people, to the point of assaulting the economic well-being of the mass of Americans. Remember his first hour in office when he made mortgages more expensive for millions of middle-class and lower-income Americans?

    Certainly, many have observed and discussed not just his abandonment of a populist agenda but his assumption of a downright authoritarian style of rule. But what really needs to be understood and underlined is that this authoritarianism, what Mnuchin described with Maduro as a disregard for the will of the people, is not limited to Trump himself but, more to the point, characterizes the Republican majority itself.

    What accounts for this authoritarianism of the GOP that governs and legislates with such blatant disregard for the well-being of the majority of Americans? If the GOP isn’t representing the American majority, then whom do they pretend to represent?

    Well, Republicans have been quite candid, according to Dylan Scott of Vox, about their motivations. They serve their donors, a small wealthy sliver of the American population, at the expense of the populous. He cites Representative Chris Collins (R-NY) who told him, “My donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’”
    Populism has become donorism, and representational democracy has been turned on its head, becoming a representational elitism, leaving the majority of Americans inspired with terror at the prospects the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act has in store for them.

    The question now is how the will of the people, so blatantly disregarded by Trump and the broader GOP—both its fringe and establishment wings,–will express itself in the 2018 mid-term elections.