Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Trump's Scam is Revealing Itself

The enormity of Trump’s scam is coming into view

Washington Post 
The Congressional Budget Office will release its score of the GOP health-care bill today, and whatever the details, it will confirm once again that the Republican plan would cut hundreds of billions of dollars from Medicaid, leaving many millions uncovered. This, plus continued discussion of President Trump’s budget — which would heap a whole array of other cuts on top of that — will demonstrate that Trump is fully committed to a truly transformative downsizing of social programsthat help lower-income people, packaged with an enormous tax cut for the rich.
But the evidence is mounting that Trump’s economic blueprint — whatever considerable harm it would do to people who didn’t vote for Trump — is also likely to hurt untold numbers of people who did vote for him.
First, I’ve obtained some new polling data from the Kaiser Family Foundation that shows large numbers of Trump voters and their families rely on Medicaid, and large numbers of them oppose cutting the program. Click to enlarge:
This polling, which comes from Kaiser’s February tracking poll and was broken down at my request, shows that 42 percent of Trump voters, and 51 percent of people who approve of Trump, say Medicaid is somewhat or very important to them and their families. More to the point, only 24 percent of Trump voters and 20 percent of people who approve of Trump want to decrease spending on Medicaid, while majorities of both want to keep it the same and many more want to increase it. (A recent Quinnipiac poll also found that 54 percent of Republicans oppose cutting Medicaid.)
Trump’s budget would transform the structure of Medicaid and cut spending on the program by hundreds of billions of dollars on top of the GOP health-care plan’s hundreds of billions in cuts to the Medicaid expansion over 10 years. This would chop down the program by nearly half. It’s hard to know how many Trump voters would be hit by these cuts, but judging by Kaiser’s polling, we’re talking about a lot of them.

Meanwhile, other data suggests many Trump voters in the Rust Belt would be hurt by the Trump budget’s huge cuts to other social programs. Ron Brownstein reports on a new analysis finding that in four key Rust Belt states that flipped from Barack Obama to Trump, large percentages of those who benefit from food stamps and Social Security Disability Insurance — both of which would get slashed by Trump — are non-college whites, a core Trump constituency. Those states are Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Other data shows that large percentages of those who stand to lose health coverage under the GOP health plan in those states are also blue-collar whites. Many of them are likely on Medicaid, and this toll would undoubtedly be made worse by the Trump budget.
Trump took great pains to distinguish himself from Paul Ryan and limited-government Republicans by vowing no cuts to Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, staking out an ideologically heterodox posture that likely helped boost him among working-class white voters. Obviously, that’s no longer operative.
The White House has an explanation for Trump’s reversal on Medicaid. Asked by John Harwood to explain the flip, budget director Mick Mulvaney claimed the promise was supplanted by Trump’s promise to repeal and replace Obamacare. This is nonsense: As Brian Beutler explains, Mulvaney “layered a lie of his own on top of Trump’s,” because Trump’s budget cuts to Medicaid “go hundreds of billions of dollars beyond phasing out Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.”

I’d go further still: There are numerous Trump lies being forced out into the open right now. Trump claimed he would not touch Medicaid and simultaneously that he’d repeal Obamacare and replace it with something better for all. It was a lie for Trump to claim he wouldn’t touch Medicaid; it was a lie to suggest preserving Medicaid and repealing Obamacare were compatible; it was a lie to claim that his repeal-and-replace plan would result in better coverage for everybody. If anything, the White House’s justifications only throw the scale and audacity of these intertwined scams, lies and betrayals into even sharper relief.
The scam may end up running even deeper than this. One might argue that Trump promised his voters something better than safety-net protections: good jobs with benefits. Indeed, as Catherine Rampell reports, the White House is defending its cuts by arguing that the true measure of success is “the number of people we get off of those programs.” This is compatible with Trumpism’s promise to restore an old economic order via a revival of manufacturing and coal — jobs are better than government help, and surely many of his voters made this calculation. But what if those jobs don’t ever materialize? Trump’s renegotiated trade deals and his infrastructure plan are a long way off. If this promise of Trumpism never comes to pass, all that would be left behind is the massive downsizing of the safety net, justified by conventional GOP rhetoric about freeing people from Ryan’s version of the safety net, the dreaded “hammock” of “dependency.” This isn’t what Trumpism was supposed to be about, on many levels.

The hardest job for the C.B.O. is estimating the effects of the MacArthur Amendment, which allows states to waive several insurance regulations … the office’s economists must … estimate how many states will decide to pursue the waivers, how many people live in those states, and which rules they will choose to waive … Some experts have said the waivers will be unpopular, and only a few states will pursue them. Others have argued that they are likely to become widespread. Our panel estimated a wide range of effects, saying as few as 10 percent of Americans would be affected or as many as half.
One big question: what the CBO will project on how many states will waive the prohibition on jacking up rates on preexisting conditions. This could make the bill politically more dangerous.
* TRUMP PRAISES PHILIPPINES PRESIDENT: The Post has obtained a transcript of a call that Trump held with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, and this is notable:
In their call he praised Duterte for doing an “unbelievable job on the drug problem.” … “Many countries have the problem, we have the problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that,” Trump said, according to the transcript.
Duterte has been criticized by human rights observers for killing thousands in his war on drugs, and this praise fits into a broader pattern of Trumpian affection for authoritarian strongmen.
* SCHIFF: WE MAY TRY TO FORCE FLYNN’S COOPERATION: Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the probe of the Russia affair, tells CNN that his committee is considering new steps to force Michael Flynn to turn over relevant documents, as he has refused to do:
“It was our preference initially to get these documents and testimony voluntarily,” Schiff said. “It’s now going to be necessary to subpoena it, and if the General refuses and does so without a good legal basis, then I think we do have to explore the use of contempt.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee is now taking similar steps. Yesterday I laid out some of the options that investigators can deploy to try to compel Flynn’s cooperation.
* TRUMP LAWYERS UP: The Post reports that Trump has hired attorney Marc Kasowitz, who has known him for decades and represented him numerous other times, to “help him navigate” the various Russia probes:
In recent days, Trump has been looking at pulling together a unit of lawyers outside the White House to guide him as he responds to the ongoing federal probe and to congressional investigations … The outside legal team would be separate from the White House Counsel’s Office, which is led by Donald F. McGahn, who served as the Trump campaign’s attorney.
Bright spot: Because Joe Lieberman is senior counsel at Kasowitz’s firm, picking him as director of the FBI (which is probing the Russia affair) could present a conflict, so it might not happen.
The Trump administration, determined to overhaul and modernize the nation’s infrastructure, is drafting plans to privatize some public assets such as airports, bridges, highway rest stops and other facilities, according to top officials and advisers … two driving themes are clear: Government practices are stalling the nation’s progress; and private companies should fund, build and run more of the basic infrastructure of American life.
The big question here will be whether his plan will actually involve a substantial public expenditure designed to create jobs. This suggests the opposite. And whether this can pass is anyone’s guess.
* TRUMP VOWS TO READ POPE’S TRACT ON CLIMATE CHANGE: Trump met with Pope Francis this morning, and per Reuters, this happened:
Francis also gave Trump a signed copy of his 2017 peace message whose title is “Nonviolence — A Style of Politics for Peace,” and a copy of his 2015 encyclical letter on the need to protect the environment from the effects of climate change.
“Well, I’ll be reading them,” Trump said.
Whether he reads them or not, in Trump’s imagination, climate change will forever remain a hoax, or more precisely, not worth spending much time thinking about.
Republican leaders are coming to the bleak conclusion they will end summer and begin the fall with ZERO significant legislative accomplishments … they see the next four months as MORE troublesome than the first four. They’re facing terrible budget choices and headlines, the painful effort to re-work the healthcare Rubik’s Cube in the House (presuming it makes it out of the Senate), a series of special-election scares (or losses) — all with scandal-mania as the backdrop.

Are you tired of all the winning yet?

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Dinner

Washington Post

In a Private Dinner, Trump Demanded Loyalty. Comey Demurred.

WASHINGTON — Only seven days after Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president, James B. Comey has told associates, the F.B.I. director was summoned to the White House for a one-on-one dinner with the new commander in chief.

The conversation that night in January, Mr. Comey now believes, was a harbinger of his downfall this week as head of the F.B.I., according to two people who have heard his account of the dinner.

As they ate, the president and Mr. Comey made small talk about the election and the crowd sizes at Mr. Trump’s rallies. The president then turned the conversation to whether Mr. Comey would pledge his loyalty to him.

Mr. Comey declined to make that pledge. Instead, Mr. Comey has recounted to others, he told Mr. Trump that he would always be honest with him, but that he was not “reliable” in the conventional political sense.

The White House says this account is not correct. And Mr. Trump, in an interview on Thursday with NBC, described a far different dinner conversation with Mr. Comey in which the director asked to have the meeting and the question of loyalty never came up. It was not clear whether he was talking about the same meal, but they are believed to have had only one dinner together.
By Mr. Comey’s account, his answer to Mr. Trump’s initial question apparently did not satisfy the president, the associates said. Later in the dinner, Mr. Trump again said to Mr. Comey that he needed his loyalty.
Mr. Comey again replied that he would give him “honesty” and did not pledge his loyalty, according to the account of the conversation.
But Mr. Trump pressed him on whether it would be “honest loyalty.”
“You will have that,” Mr. Comey told his associates he responded.
Throughout his career, Mr. Trump has made loyalty from the people who work for him a key priority, often discharging employees he considers insufficiently reliable.
As described by the two people, the dinner offers a window into Mr. Trump’s approach to the presidency, through Mr. Comey’s eyes. A businessman and reality television star who never served in public office, Mr. Trump may not have understood that by tradition, F.B.I. directors are not supposed to be political loyalists, which is why Congress in the 1970s passed a law giving them 10-year terms to make them independent of the president.
Mr. Comey described details of his refusal to pledge his loyalty to Mr. Trump to several people close to him on the condition that they not discuss it publicly while he was F.B.I. director. But now that Mr. Comey has been fired, they felt free to discuss it on the condition of anonymity.
A White House spokeswoman on Thursday disputed the description of the dinner by Mr. Comey’s associates.
“We don’t believe this to be an accurate account,” said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy press secretary. “The integrity of our law enforcement agencies and their leadership is of the utmost importance to President Trump. He would never even suggest the expectation of personal loyalty, only loyalty to our country and its great people.”
At the dinner described by Mr. Trump in his interview with NBC, the conversation with Mr. Comey was quite different. Mr. Trump told NBC that Mr. Comey requested it to ask to keep his job. Mr. Trump said he asked the F.B.I. director if he was under investigation, a question that legal experts called highly unusual if not improper. In Mr. Trump’s telling, Mr. Comey reassured him that he was not.
Mr. Trump did not say whether he asked Mr. Comey for his loyalty. Asked at Wednesday’s White House news briefing whether loyalty was a factor in picking a new F.B.I. director, Ms. Sanders said Mr. Trump wanted someone who is “loyal to the justice system.”
The dinner described by Mr. Comey’s associates came in the early days of Mr. Trump’s administration, as the F.B.I. was investigating Russian meddling in the election and possible ties to Mr. Trump’s campaign. That investigation has since gained momentum as investigators have developed new evidence and leads.
Mr. Trump had met Mr. Comey for the first time in January, during the transition, when, along with the intelligence chiefs, the F.B.I. director presented him with evidence of that intervention. Mr. Comey was tasked by his fellow intelligence directors to also pull Mr. Trump aside and inform him about a secret dossier suggesting that Russia might have collected compromising information about him.
The dinner at which the conversation Mr. Comey related took place was on Jan. 27, almost a month later.
Mr. Comey’s associates said that the new president requested the dinner he described, and said that he was wary about attending because he did not want to appear too chummy with Mr. Trump, especially amid the Russia investigation. But Mr. Comey went because he did not believe he could turn down a meeting with the new president.
During the meal, according to the account of the two associates, Mr. Comey tried to explain to Mr. Trump how he saw his role as F.B.I. director. Mr. Comey told Mr. Trump that the country would be best served by an independent F.B.I. and Justice Department.
In announcing Mr. Comey’s dismissal on Tuesday, the White House released documents from the attorney general and the deputy attorney general that outlined why Mr. Comey should be fired.
Mr. Trump said in the NBC interview, “Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey.”
“In fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,” Mr. Trump said.

Friday, May 5, 2017

WaPo on the GOP's "Health-Care" Bill

The Plum Line

Every Republican who
voted for this abomination must be held accountable

Here at the Plum Line, we write a lot about the mechanics of politics — the processes of governing, the interplay of political forces, the back-and-forth between citizens and lawmakers, and so on. We do that because it’s interesting and because it winds up affecting all our lives. But there are moments when you have to set aside the mechanics and focus intently on the substance of what government does — or in this case, what government is trying to do.
I won’t mince words. The health-care bill that the House of Representatives passed this afternoon, in an incredibly narrow 217-to-213 vote, is not just wrong, or misguided, or problematic or foolish. It is an abomination. If there has been a piece of legislation in our lifetimes that boiled over with as much malice and indifference to human suffering, I can’t recall what it might have been. And every member of the House who voted for it must be held accountable.
There’s certainly a process critique one can make about this bill. We might focus on the fact that Republicans are rushing to pass it without having held a single hearing on it, without a score from the Congressional Budget Office that would tell us exactly what the effects would be, and before nearly anyone has had a chance to even look at the bill’s actual text — all this despite the fact that they are remaking one-sixth of the American economy and affecting all of our lives (and despite their long and ridiculous claims that the Affordable Care Act was “rammed through” Congress, when in fact it was debated for an entire year and was the subject of dozens of hearings and endless public discussion). We might talk about how every major stakeholder group — the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, the AARP, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, the American Heart Association, and on and on — all oppose the bill.
All that matters. But the real problem is what’s in the bill itself. Here are some of the things it does:
  • Takes health insurance away from at least 24 million Americans; that was the number the CBO estimated for a previous version of the bill, and the number for this one is probably higher.
  • Revokes the Affordable Care Act’s expansion of Medicaid, which provided no-cost health coverage to millions of low-income Americans.
  • Turns Medicaid into a block grant, enabling states to kick otherwise-eligible people off their coverage and cut benefits if they so choose.
  • Slashes Medicaid overall by $880 billion over 10 years.
  • Removes the subsidies that the ACA provided to help middle-income people afford health insurance, replacing them with far more meager tax credits pegged not to people’s income but to their age. Poorer people would get less than they do now, while richer people would get more; even Bill Gates would get a tax credit.
  • Allows insurers to charge dramatically higher premiums to older patients.
  • Allows insurers to impose yearly and lifetime caps on coverage, which were outlawed by the ACA. This also, it was revealed today, may threaten the coverage of the majority of non-elderly Americans who get insurance through their employers.
  • Allows states to seek waivers from the ACA’s requirement that insurance plans include essential benefits for things such as emergency services, hospitalization, mental health care, preventive care, maternity care, and substance abuse treatment.
  • Provides hundreds of billions of dollars in tax cuts for families making over $250,000 a year.
  • Produces higher deductibles for patients.
  • Allows states to try to waive the ACA’s requirement that insurers must charge people the same rates regardless of their medical history. This effectively eviscerates the ban on denials for preexisting conditions, since insurers could charge you exorbitant premiums if you have a preexisting condition, effectively denying you coverage.
  • Shunts those with preexisting conditions into high-risk pools, which are absolutely the worst way to cover those patients; experience with them on the state level proves that they wind up underfunded, charge enormous premiums, provide inadequate benefits and can’t cover the population they’re meant for. Multiple analyses have shown that the money the bill provides for high-risk pools is laughably inadequate, which will inevitably leave huge numbers of the most vulnerable Americans without the ability to get insurance.
  • Brings back medical underwriting, meaning that just like in the bad old days, when you apply for insurance you’ll have to document every condition or ailment you’ve ever had.
It is no exaggeration to say that if it were to become law, this bill would kill significant numbers of Americans. People who lose their Medicaid, don’t go to the doctor, and wind up finding out too late that they’re sick. People whose serious conditions put them up against lifetime limits or render them unable to afford what’s on offer in the high-risk pools, and are suddenly unable to get treatment.
Those deaths are not abstractions, and those who vote to bring them about must be held to account. This can and should be a career-defining vote for every member of the House. No one who votes for something this vicious should be allowed to forget it — ever. They should be challenged about it at every town hall meeting, at every campaign debate, in every election and every day as the letters and phone calls from angry and betrayed constituents make clear the intensity of their revulsion at what their representatives have done.
Perhaps this bill will never become law, and its harm may be averted. But that would not mitigate the moral responsibility of those who supported it. Members of Congress vote on a lot of inconsequential bills and bills that have a small impact on limited areas of American life. But this is one of the most critical moments in recent American political history. The Republican health-care bill is an act of monstrous cruelty. It should stain those who supported it to the end of their days.