Senior Obama Official On Handling Of Russia Hacks: ‘We Sort Of Choked’

 

WORLD

Senior Obama Official On Handling Of Russia Hacks: ‘We Sort Of Choked’

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SAAGAR ENJETI
Reporter

Some senior Obama officials lament that they did not do enough to stop Russian attempts to influence the 2016 election, The Washington Post reported Friday.

Former President Barack Obama’s handling of the response to Russia’s attempts have come under intense scrutiny from Republicans and Democrats. The only public warning of the Russian governments’ efforts came in an Oct. 7 memo from the Director of National Intelligence ascribing Democratic National Committee hacks to Russia.

Obama and many of his senior advisers have publicly defended their handling of the investigation.

“There has been this theory we didn’t do anything, which I take issue with,” former White House senior advisor Lisa Monaco told Politico Magazine in April.

Another senior administration official, however, admitted to WaPo that the response to Russian actions in the election “is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend.”

“I feel like we sort of choked,” he declared.

“Everyone agreed you had to push back at the Russians and push back hard. But it didn’t happen,” a senior Department of State official lamented to The New York Times in December. Without any response from the White house, Russia continued its hacking campaign. Obama may have even held off on a more aggressive response to try and save one of his many failed ceasefire deals for the Syrian Civil War.

The strongest apparent response from the Obama administration came in a reported face to face meeting between Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Obama reportedly told Putin the U.S. “knew what he was doing and [he] better stop or else.”

“We weren’t able to put all of those pieces together in real time,” former White House  deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes told WaPo. “In many ways that complete picture is still being filled in.” Rhodes declined to discuss any sensitive information,” he lamented.

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Inside the Health Care Bill: Trump Wanted ‘Heart.’ He Didn’t Get It

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

JUN 22 2017, 3:47 PM ET

Inside the Health Care Bill: Trump Wanted ‘Heart.’ He Didn’t Get It

WASHINGTON — The 142-page Senate health care bill released on Thursday is easy to summarize: It cuts health care spending for low-income and middle-income Americans and uses the savings to finance large tax cuts for the wealthy and the medical industry.

How it accomplishes this is simple as well: It makes large cuts to Medicaid and to subsidies for private insurance, meaning large chunks of money that the government would have spent on helping Americans afford coverage, pay for long-term care and reduce their out-of-pocket costs would instead be paid either by states or by the customers themselves.

Related: Senate Health Care Bill Includes Deep Medicaid Cuts

In this regard, the bill, which is called the Better Care Reconciliation Act, is broadly similar to the American Health Care Act that passed the House in May. There are some significant differences within that framework, however, especially when it comes to private insurance subsidies.

Let’s go through the main planks of the Senate plan:

Medicaid cuts

Medicaid covers about 70 million Americans, including low-income residents, seniors in nursing homes (over 60 percent of whom are on Medicaid) and people with disabilities.

The Senate bill would restructure the program, cap its spending and reduce its funding significantly over time.

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Protester Shares Her Reasons For Opposing Health Care Bill0:57

First, the Senate GOP bill would eliminate a major expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare.

The Affordable Care Act gave states federal funding to expand Medicaid coverage to people whose incomes were between 100 percent and 138 percent of the federal poverty line (the current cap is about $34,000 for a family of four). The Supreme Court later made the funding optional, but 30 states and the District of Columbia accepted it. The Senate bill would gradually end this expansion between 2020 and 2024.

But it would go a lot further than repealing Obamacare’s changes. It would also cap the amount of funding states can get on a per-recipient basis rather than continue the current system, in which states decide how much to spend and then have the federal government match their contribution.

Starting in 2025, the plan would then grow those per-recipient caps at a rate that’s unlikely to keep pace with increasing medical costs. A similar change in the House bill was projected to reduce Medicaid spending by $839 billion over a decade and cover 14 million fewer people. The Senate bill kicks in later, but its cuts would be even deeper than the House plan.

To make up the difference, states would either have to raise taxes, cut programs elsewhere or reduce benefits and coverage for recipients. That prospect has governors, including some Republicans like Ohio Gov. John Kasich, nervous that the reduced funding will hamper their ability to respond to health crises like the current opioid epidemic. The bill provides an extra $2 billion next year for substance-abuse treatment, a small number compared to its looming cuts.

But the Medicaid cuts also have small-government conservatives nervous. Congress has a history of passing cuts to services or tax increases and then delaying them down the line. The more time before they kick in, the greater the chance that government control might change hands or public opposition could prompt a reversal.

Private insurance subsidies

When it comes to Obamacare’s subsidies to buy private insurance, the Senate bill keeps the same basic structure, but provides less money for fewer people to purchase insurance that is less generous. These changes would also raise premiums for older people.

Under the current system, people who don’t get health insurance through work or a government program can qualify for help buying a private plan on Obamacare’s exchanges. The maximum amount you’re expected to contribute is capped based on your income.

There are limits, though. If your income is higher than 400 percent of the federal poverty line — about $98,000 for a family of four — you don’t get those subsidies. This is one of the biggest gripes about Obamacare: While most people qualify for aid, those who miss the cutoff have to pay full price, which can be difficult to afford.

The Senate bill would expand this complaint to a wider group. It would cut the subsidies off at 350 percent of the federal poverty line instead, about $86,000 for the same family. On the other hand, it would also cover some lower-income people who currently fall in the “Medicaid gap” in states that didn’t take the federal expansion.

Image: Healthcare.gov site
A screen view of the healtcare.gov site is shown on May 5, 2017. File Richard B. Levine / Zuma Press

Those who qualify for subsidies could also pay higher premiums. Under current law, no Obamacare recipients are expected to contribute more than 9.5 percent of their income in premiums. But the Senate bill changes this and make the caps more generous for younger customers and less generous for older customers. A 60-year-old making $42,000 would now have to contribute as much as 16 percent of their income to premiums.

In addition, the subsidies would be pegged to less comprehensive insurance. Under the current law, they’re calculated based on a “silver plan” that covers an average of around 70 percent of medical costs. The new bill would peg them to plans that cover only 58 percent of costs. That means higher deductibles, which have also been a major complaint among Obamacare users.

Out-of-pocket expenses would actually go up even higher for many Americans. Obamacare provided “cost-sharing reduction” payments to insurers, which they used to lower expenses for customers making up to 250 percent of the federal poverty line (about $61,500 for a family of four). For those at 150 percent of the line, these payments reduced the average deductible from $3,609 to just $255, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. But the Senate bill ends those subsidies starting in 2019.

This is still a big difference from the House bill, which would have offered only fixed tax credits. Those credits would have likely fallen far short for many people, especially older, lower-income customers in places with high health care costs, which are often rural areas. Now the subsidies will scale up to meet the costs in their area, even if they fall short of current levels.

In addition to the subsidies, the bill provides significant funding to help stabilize insurance markets in the short-term (which have been jittery, partly due to the health care debate) and a $62 billion fund over eight years to help states potentially cover more expensive patients. But the funding is temporary, making the future uncertain.

Pre-existing conditions

The Senate bill does not let insurers deny people coverage based on a pre-existing condition or charge them more based on their health, which keeps two core pieces of Obamacare in place.

However, this doesn’t mean those with pre-existing conditions won’t potentially be affected. The bill does give states flexibility to waive Obamacare’s “essential health benefits,” a list of 10 broad categories of coverage every insurance plan needs.

Image: U.S. Capitol Police remove a woman from a protest in front of the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell
U.S. Capitol Police remove a woman from a protest in front of the office of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Mark Wilson / Getty Images

Republicans argue states should be able to eliminate those requirements in order to lower overall premiums and provide more flexibility to insurers and customers. In the pre-Obamacare era, insurance companies often didn’t cover items like maternity care or mental health treatment, two items that are included in “essential health benefits.”

Some health experts fear that insurers will try to shepherd healthier patients into cheaper plans that cover fewer items, leaving patients with pre-existing conditions struggling to find an affordable option that covers their treatment. So even though insurers will not be able to discriminate based on pre-existing conditions, the effect could be to make their care less affordable.

Importantly, items that aren’t considered essential health benefits could be subjected to lifetime or annual limits by insurers, a practice that Obamacare eliminated.

The individual mandate

There would be no individual mandate requiring that people buy insurance, which penalized people who went without coverage.

The goal was to encourage younger and healthier people to enter the market so insurers weren’t left on the hook for only more expensive patients who were more likely to seek coverage. It didn’t work as well as intended, however, and insurers complained that the penalties were too weak and left them with a sicker crop of patients who required them to raise premiums to cover.

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Schumer, Pelosi Denounce Senate GOP’s ‘Heartless’ Health Care Bill 1:19

This bill eliminates the penalties entirely, though, and instead counts on healthier people deciding coverage is affordable enough for them to get covered. That could be a problem if they conclude that the new insurance, which could have higher deductibles, is not worth the trouble.

“I just don’t see why people would sign up,” Joe Antos, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, told NBC News.

If they don’t come off the sidelines, or if they drop their existing coverage, premiums could rise for everyone as markets become dominated by sicker customers. The Society of Actuaries indicated in a statement on Thursday they would be watching this issue closely.

Taxes

Unless you were paying a penalty for not carrying insurance, it’s unlikely you’ll notice any change in your taxes as a result of the Senate bill.

For rich people, though, the Senate bill is a nice income boost. It eliminates a surtax on income and investment gains for individuals making over $200,000 a year and married couples making over $250,000 a year. The bill also cuts taxes on health companies like medical device manufacturers and prescription drug companies.

Does it have ‘heart?’

President Donald Trump said recently that the Senate bill should be “something with heart.”

“Heart” is a subjective idea, but Trump laid out very specific standards as a candidate and as president. By those standards, the bill falls short.

Trump explicitly pledged he would make no cuts to Medicaid. Instead, the bill will cut Medicaid by hundreds of billions of dollars. He promised “insurance for everybody” backed by federal spending: Instead the bill will likely cover millions fewer people than current law. He repeatedly promised lower deductibles: Instead a core feature of the bill pushes customers towards higher deductible plans. He argued his dedication to providing more generous health care distinguished him from conservative Republicans who sought smaller government.

“This bottom line is that this bill will result in a very significant reduction in insurance coverage, as well as large increases in premium and out-of-pocket costs for those who manage to retain coverage,” Matthew Fiedler, a fellow at the Brookings Institute, told NBC News.

Should the bill become law, these will be unambiguous broken promises.

The U.S. Constitution Says All Are Created Equal, GOP House And Senate Say Hell No

 

Once again the GOP federal Congress and Senate show their disdain (the feeling that someone or something is unworthy of one’s consideration or respect; contempt) for the poor and the working class American people. The GOP in their healthcare bill they are pushing down the throats of the American people show how much they despise at least the bottom 90% (incomes) of the people. I live in Kentucky so Senator Mitch McConnell is one of my two Senators so I am hoping that the next time he comes up for reelection that the people of this State vote this horses behind out of office. I am a registered voting Independent, I personally can’t stand either the Republican or the Democratic Party leaderships as in my opinion neither have any interest in being honest with the American people.

 

Even though this next ‘idea’ is not one I invented I have felt this way for many years concerning health care in America. There is only one health plan that should be allowed here in our Country and that is: every single person in America should have exactly the same insurance as the Congressmen, Congresswomen, the U.S. Senators and the President have, exactly the same as theirs. They are supposed to be the servants but they have illegally made themselves into our slave masters. I do not know anything about what their plans are, I do not know if they have to pay anything out of their own pockets for the monthly costs or if they have deductibles but shouldn’t ‘We The People’ be allowed to have at least as good of healthcare as ‘our servants’? For these people to be bringing ‘other’ healthcare bills to the ‘floor’ for a vote is pure and total hypocrisy! Okay, these are just my thoughts on this issue, what are your thoughts on this issue?

Senate Health Care Bill Includes Deep Cuts to Medicaid

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is the chief author of the Senate’s health care bill.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans, who have promised a repeal of the Affordable Care Act for seven years, took a major step on Thursday toward that goal, unveiling a bill to cut Medicaid deeply and end the health law’s mandate that most Americans have health insurance.

The 142-page bill would create a new system of federal tax credits to help people buy health insurance, while offering states the ability to drop many of the benefits required by the Affordable Care Act, like maternity care, emergency services and mental health treatment.

The Senate bill — once promised as a top-to-bottom revamp of the health bill passed by the House last month — instead maintains its structure, with modest adjustments. The Senate version is, in some respects, more moderate than the House bill, offering more financial assistance to some lower-income people to help them defray the rapidly rising cost of private health insurance.

But the Senate measure, like the House bill, would phase out the extra money that the federal government has provided to states as an incentive to expand eligibility for Medicaid. And like the House measure, it would put the entire Medicaid program on a budget, ending the open-ended entitlement that now exists.

 

Video

How the G.O.P. Health Bill Would Change Medicaid

The reporter Margot Sanger-Katz examines how the Republican health plan aims to roll back a program that insures nearly one in five Americans.

By MARGOT SANGER-KATZ, ROBIN STEIN and SARAH STEIN KERR on Publish DateJune 22, 2017. Photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times. Watch in Times Video »

It would also repeal virtually all the tax increases imposed by the Affordable Care Act to pay for itself, in effect handing a broad tax cut to the affluent, paid for by billions of dollars sliced from Medicaid, a health care program that serves one in five Americans, not only the poor but almost two-thirds of those in nursing homes. The bill, drafted in secret, is likely to come to the Senate floor next week, and could come to a vote after 20 hours of debate.

If it passes, President Trump and the Republican Congress would be on the edge of a major overhaul of the American health care system — onesixth of the nation’s economy.

The premise of the bill, repeated almost daily in some form or other by its chief author, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, is that “Obamacare is collapsing around us, and the American people are desperately searching for relief.”

Mr. Trump shares that view, and the Senate bill, if adopted, would move the president a great distance closer to being able to boast about final passage of a marquee piece of legislation, a feat he has so far been unable to accomplish.

Where Senators Stand on the Health Care Bill

Senate Republican leaders unveiled their health care bill on Thursday.

Democrats and some insurers blame the Republicans and Mr. Trump for sabotaging the law, in part by threatening to withhold subsidies used to help pay for deductibles and co-payments for millions of poor people covered by the law.

In the Senate, Democrats are determined to defend a law that has provided coverage to 20 million people and is a pillar of former President Barack Obama’s legacy. The debate over the repeal bill is shaping up as a titanic political clash, which could have major implications for both parties, affecting their electoral prospects for years to come.

Mr. McConnell faces a great challenge in amassing the votes to win Senate approval of the bill, which Republicans are trying to pass using special budget rules that will allow them to avoid a Democratic filibuster. But with only 52 seats, Mr. McConnell can afford to lose only two Republicans, with Vice President Mike Pence breaking the tie. He may have already lost one — Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, has indicated repeatedly that the bill is too liberal for him.

Democrats are unified in opposing the repeal efforts, and they have already assailed Republicans for the work they have done so far, criticizing them for putting the bill together without a single public hearing or bill-drafting session.

GRAPHIC

How Senate Republicans Plan to Dismantle Obamacare

A comparison of the Senate health care with the Affordable Care Act.

OPEN GRAPHIC

In the short term, the possible electoral consequences are more muted in the Senate than in the House, as only two of the Senate Republicans who face re-election next year, Dean Heller of Nevada and Jeff Flake of Arizona, are seen as vulnerable.

But Republican leaders still must contend with internal divisions that will be difficult to overcome. Numerous Republican senators from states that expanded Medicaid are concerned about how a rollback of the program could affect their constituents, and they face pressure from governors back home.

Some senators have concerns based on other issues specific to their states, including the opioid epidemic that has battered states like West Virginia and Ohio. And some of the Senate’s most conservative members could resist a bill that they view as not going far enough in dismantling the Affordable Care Act.

Senators will not have long to sort out their differences. Mr. McConnell wants to hold a vote before lawmakers return home for the Fourth of July recess. If the repeal bill is still looming over the Senate, Republicans are certain to face intense pressure from constituents who wish to see the Affordable Care Act remain in place.

The assessment being made by senators will be shaped in part by an analysis of the bill to be released by the Congressional Budget Office, the official scorekeeper on Capitol Hill.

The budget office found that the bill passed by the House last month would leave 23 million more people without insurance in a decade. Mr. Trump recently told senators that the House bill was “mean,” though weeks earlier he had celebrated its passage.

Supreme Court narrows grounds for revoking citizenship of naturalized citizens

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Supreme Court narrows grounds for revoking citizenship of naturalized citizens

The US Supreme Court is seen in Washington, DC, on January 31, 2017.

Story highlights

  • The case concerned a naturalized citizen who was deported after lying on her naturalization application
  • The ruling will come as relief to advocates of immigrant rights groups

Washington (CNN) The Supreme Court on Thursday narrowed the grounds on which naturalized citizens can have their citizenship revoked.

The case concerned Divan Maslenjak, a naturalized citizen who was deported after lying on her naturalization application. Maslenjak, an ethnic Serb who was born in a Serb village in what is today Bosnia and Herzegovina, arrived in the United States in 2000 as a refugee and was ultimately granted naturalization in 2007.
In 2013, however, a jury found her guilty of making false statements on her application for naturalization and she was stripped of her citizenship.
The court unanimously ruled in favor of Maslenjak, holding that the offense had to be materially related to the decision to grant naturalization.
“If whatever illegal conduct occurring within the naturalization process was a causal dead-end — if, so to speak, the ripples from that act could not have reached the decision to award citizenship — then the act cannot support a charge that the applicant obtained naturalization illegally,” Justice Elena Kagan wrote.
Newly appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch issued his first separate opinion in the case, which concurred with the judgment.
The ruling will come as relief to advocates of immigrant rights groups who feared that the lower court opinion that went against Maslenjak would give the government the power to take away citizenship and jail people based on any minor misstatement in their citizenship application.
The decision also comes at a time of concern in the human rights community that the Trump administration will aggressively seek to strip citizenship, said Steve Vladeck, CNN Supreme Court analyst and professor of law at the University of Texas School of Law.
Kagan said the government’s position, “wholly unmooring the revocation of citizenship from its award” would open the door to a “world of disquieting consequences — which would need far stronger textual support to believe Congress intended.”
Maslenjak’s lawyers challenged the jury instruction in the case because the jury was told it could convict her even if the false statement at issue did not influence the government’s decision to approve her naturalization.
The government argued that it could strip citizenship from an individual who lied during the naturalization process — without having to prove that the lie was significant to the decision to grant naturalization.
Lower courts were split on the issue of whether the government must prove that the offense was material to the decision to grant naturalization.
In court, Christopher Landau, a lawyer for Maslenjak, conceded that she had lied. But he said the jury instruction in the case “didn’t require the government to prove that the underlying violation of law had any effect whatsoever on the naturalization decision.” He argued that his client should be able to go back to court to argue the material question before the jury, and he acknowledged that even then she would have a “tough row to hoe.”
During arguments for the case, Roberts had a memorable moment when he reviewed a naturalization form used by the government and was concerned about how broad the questions were and of the impact the government’s position could have if someone did not fully answer every single question. He launched his own line of inquiry.
He noted that one question asks whether the applicant has ever attempted to commit a crime for which he was not arrested.
“Some time ago, outside the statute of limitations, I drove 60 miles an hour in a 55-mile-an-hour zone. … I was not arrested,” he said, as the audience laughed.
“Now you say,” Roberts continued, that if he had failed to note the offense on the form “20 years after I was naturalized as a citizen, you could knock on my door and say, ‘guess what, you’re not an American citizen after all?'”
Roberts later said he thought the government’s position could lead to a problem of “prosecutor abuse.”

Abortion Adds Obstacle as Republicans Plan to Unveil Health Bill

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, hopes to unveil the contents of Republicans’ health bill on Thursday and pass it next week. CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Abortion flared up Wednesday as the latest hot-button issue to complicate passage of a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, which Senate Republican leaders hope to unveil on Thursday and pass next week.

The repeal bill approved last month by the House would bar the use of federal tax credits to help purchase insurance plans that include coverage of abortion. But senators said that provision might have to be jettisoned from their version because of complicated Senate rules that Republicans are using to expedite passage of the bill and avoid a filibuster.

If that provision is dropped, a bill that has already elicited deep misgivings among moderate Republicans — and stiff resistance from Democrats, health care providers and patient advocacy groups — could also generate concern among abortion opponents, as well as conservative lawmakers.

Further complicating the measure’s prospects, insurance companies, which took a leading role in the health care fights of 1993-94 and 2009-10 but have been conspicuously quiet this year, released a blistering letter objecting to Republican plans to remake Medicaid and cut its funding.

Continue reading the main story

The changes being considered in Congress could “amount to a 25 percent shortfall in covering the actual cost of providing care to our nation’s neediest citizens,” the top executives of 10 insurance companies wrote this week. “These amounts spell deep cuts, not state flexibility, in Medicaid.”

As senators struggle to develop a health care bill, their handiwork appears to be too moderate for some Senate conservatives and too conservative for some Senate moderates. The latest version, without the abortion-coverage prohibition and with steep Medicaid cuts, may prove unacceptable to some in both camps. To pass it, Senate leaders can afford to lose only two Republican votes of the 52 in the chamber.

Republican senators got a glimpse Wednesday of the highlights of the bill, which was drafted in secret by the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and top aides. White House officials were granted a formal briefing, which risked irking many senators who had yet to see the actual bill.

The House abortion provision has sweeping implications because many health plans subsidized under the Affordable Care Act include coverage for abortion services. The provision has encountered outspoken opposition from officials in states like Oregon, where most health plans on the public insurance exchange cover abortion.

But senators said the provision might have to be dropped for a more prosaic reason: It may not comply with the Senate rules that Republicans are using to speed the health care bill through the Senate.

The bill is scheduled to go to the Senate floor next week under these procedures, which limit debate and preclude a Democratic filibuster.

“It’s one of the problems we have to work with,” Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Republican of Utah and the chairman of the Finance Committee, said of the abortion issue. “We’re not quite sure how that’s going to be resolved.”

Mr. McConnell is determined to get a vote on the bill by the end of next week, before a break for the Fourth of July holiday, but he still does not have enough committed votes to ensure passage.

Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, made clear on Wednesday that he was not on board with the Republican bill.

“I’m still hoping we reach impasse, and we actually go back to the idea we originally started with, which is repealing Obamacare,” Mr. Paul said, adding, “I’m not for replacing Obamacare with Obamacare lite.”

Document: Health Insurers Speak Out

The House bill and the Senate version, like the Affordable Care Act, would provide tens of billions of dollars in tax credits to help people pay insurance premiums.

The federal government is expected to spend more than $30 billion this year on tax credits to help lower- and middle-income people pay premiums. The Senate bill would provide more assistance to lower-income people than the House bill, which bases tax credits on a person’s age.

The Senate bill would also repeal most of the taxes imposed by the Affordable Care Act. It would delay the effective date of a tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health coverage, but Republicans plan to offer an amendment next week to eliminate this “Cadillac tax,” which is opposed by labor unions and employers.

Senators Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine, both Republicans, said they understood that the House restrictions on the use of tax credits for insurance covering abortion had encountered parliamentary problems.

“What I heard earlier from the parliamentarian is they didn’t think it would pass” muster under Senate rules, Mr. Tillis said.

Mr. Tillis and Ms. Collins said they understood that Senate Republican leaders were hoping to devise some kind of workaround to address concerns of anti-abortion lawmakers. But it was not clear whether those anti-abortion lawmakers would be satisfied with such a plan, which could involve separate legislation.

Republicans have been promising to repeal the health law ever since it was signed by President Barack Obama in 2010. On Wednesday, in the final hours before the Senate repeal bill was to be unveiled, members of Congress, consumer groups and health care executives engaged in frenetic advocacy in hopes of shaping the bill.

Women’s groups and at least two moderate Republicans, Ms. Collins and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, continued to object to a provision of Mr. McConnell’s bill that would cut off funds for Planned Parenthood.

In a letter to Mr. McConnell on Wednesday, more than two dozen House members in the conservative Republican Study Committee listed several parts of the House bill they view as crucial, including cutting funds to Planned Parenthood and restricting the use of the tax credits. The bill, they wrote, fulfills “an important conservative commitment to promote life and protect the unborn.”

Leaders of the 10 insurance companies told Mr. McConnell that proposed caps on federal Medicaid spending would cause “an enormous cost shift to the states,” which could force them to raise taxes, reduce benefits, cut payments to health care providers or eliminate coverage for some beneficiaries. Among those signing the letter were top executives of AmeriHealth Caritas, Molina Healthcare, Blue Shield of California and Healthfirst, in New York.

But Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, said the Medicaid provisions were one of the bill’s chief attractions for him.

“In my state,” Mr. Kennedy said, “we are now spending 47 percent of our budget on Medicaid. That’s up from 23 percent in 2008. It’s crowding out money for universities and roads and public safety and coastal restoration, and it just keeps climbing.”

Even senators who might support the legislation said they did not want to be rushed.

Asked how he felt about the prospect of voting for a bill a week after its release, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said, “I feel terrible about it.”

12COMMENTS

Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, said, “I need the information, I need to hear from constituents, and that’s going to take some time.”

Debate on the Senate bill will be shaped by an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office, which will estimate the impact on federal spending and the number of people without health insurance. Under the House bill, the office said, the number of uninsured would be 23 million higher than under the Affordable Care Act in 2026. And for some older Americans and sick people, it said, premiums and out-of-pocket costs could be significantly higher.

President Trump Proves National Security Clearances Are Not A High Priority To Him

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top aide Jared Kushner should “absolutely” have his security clearance suspended, Rep. Mike Quigley told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in an interview Wednesday afternoon.

Appearing on “The Situation Room,” the Illinois Democrat said Kushner “shouldn’t have clearance at this point,” echoing a letter from House oversight committee ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings and citing a “whole series of activities,” including “concerns about Mr. Kushner’s activities prior to the Inauguration.”
Cummings’ letter criticized the White House for allowing fired national security adviser Michael Flynn to keep a security clearance despite concerns raised by then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates that he could be vulnerable to blackmail based on intelligence assessments that she reviewed; the letter raised “parallel concerns” about Kushner’s security clearance over previously undisclosed calls to Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergei Kislyak and undisclosed meetings Kushner had with Kislyak and the CEO of Vnesheconombank, a state-run Russian bank under US sanctions.
In his letter, Cummings cited an executive order requiring employees to have their security clearance preemptively suspended if they are suspected of being a national security risk.
“In general, when there are credible allegations that employees may be unfit to continue accessing classified information, security clearances are supposed to be suspended while the allegations are investigated,” Cummings wrote in the letter, sent June 21.
A spokeswoman for House oversight committee Chairman Trey Gowdy declined comment on the letter Wednesday.
The White House declined to offer comment on Wednesday about Democrats’ requests to look into Kushner’s security clearance.
“I will have to get back to you on that,” spokeswoman Lindsay Walters told reporters aboard Air Force One.
In his interview with CNN, Quigley indicated there were additional concerns about Kushner’s security clearance, referencing “a whole series of activities that I can’t get into at this point in time, but they raise concerns about his judgment and his ability to keep our nation’s secrets.” When pressed by Wolf Blitzer, Quigley said, “I can’t get into details, because some of those things were also discussed in classified settings.”
Kushner arrived in Israel earlier Wednesday, where he’s scheduled to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders in an attempt to negotiate a peace deal, a role Quigley also questioned.
“Look, I like that we are always moving forward on peace deals. This is exactly what our country should do,” Quigley said. “First of all, he is wholly unqualified to make those efforts. Second, to what Mr. Cummings was referencing — that’s what I was referencing — he shouldn’t have clearance at this point.”

Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman elevated to Crown Prince  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed bin Salman elevated to Crown Prince

FILE PHOTO: Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman waves as he meets with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 11, 2017. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout/File Photo via REUTERS
By Stephen Kalin and William Maclean | DUBAI

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman made his son his successor on Wednesday, removing his nephew as crown prince and giving the 31-year old almost unprecedented powers as the world’s leading oil exporter implements transformation reforms.

A royal decree appointed Mohammed bin Salman crown prince and deputy prime minister. He retains defense, oil and other portfolios.

It said Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a counter-terrorism chief admired in Washington for putting down an al Qaeda campaign of bombings in 2003-06, was relieved of all positions.

Although Mohammed bin Salman’s promotion was expected among close circles it came as a surprise at a time the kingdom is facing heightened tensions with Qatar and Iran and is locked in a war in Yemen.

The royal decree said the decision by King Salman to promote his son and consolidate his power was endorsed by 31 out of 34 members of the Allegiance Council, made up of senior members of the ruling Al Saud family.

Always intent on dispelling speculation of internal divisions in the Al Saud ruling dynasty, Saudi television was quick to show that the change in succession was amicable and supported by the family.

Throughout the early morning it aired footage of Mohammed bin Nayef pledging allegiance to the younger Mohammed bin Salman who knelt and kissed his older cousin’s hand.

“I am content,” Prince Mohammed bin Nayef said. Prince Mohammed bin Salman replied: “We will not give up taking your guidance and advice.”

Analysts said the change ends uncertainty over succession and empowers Prince Mohammed bin Salman to move faster with his plan to reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil, which includes the partial privatization of state oil company Aramco.

“The change is a huge boost to the economic reform program…Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) is its architect,” said John Sfakianakis, director of the Riyadh-based Gulf Research Center.

Bernard Haykel, professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton, said the king’s decision was aimed at avoiding a power struggle between his son and Mohammed bin Nayef by setting the line of succession clearly.

“It’s clearly a transition that has happened smoothly and bloodlessly. Now it’s clear, it’s straightforward. That kind of clarity lowers the risk, there’s no question as to who’s going to be in charge.”

ESCALATING REGIONAL TENSIONS

“Some people were predicting that this would lead to a division in the family and strife and some kind of revolt. I don’t see that happening.”

A senior Saudi official said the decision was taken due to what he called special circumstances presented to the members of the Allegiance Council. He added that Mohammed bin Nayef supported the decision in a letter sent to the king.

The royal decree did not nominate a new deputy crown prince. The position is relatively new in Saudi Arabia where a king has traditionally chosen his own successor.

As deputy crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman has been responsible for running Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, dictating an energy policy with global implications and spearheading plans for the kingdom to build an economic future after oil.

That the royal succession in the world’s top oil exporter is closely scrutinized only makes the rapidity of Mohammed bin Salman’s rise to power, and the speed with which his better known cousins were brushed aside, more astonishing.

The announcement follows 2-1/2 years of already major changes in Saudi Arabia, which stunned allies in 2015 by launching an air war in Yemen, cutting back on lavish subsidies and proposing in 2016 the partial privatization of state oil company Aramco.

Financial analysts said Prince Mohammed’s promotion gave further assurance that key parts of radical reforms to diversify the Saudi economy beyond oil would continue.

“We do not expect to see any major changes to key areas of policy, including economic,” said Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank.

Last year Mohammed bin Salman, or “MBS” as he is widely known, announced sweeping changes aimed at ending the kingdom’s reliance to oil, part of his campaign to tackle systemic challenges that the kingdom has previously failed to address.

 

POWER BEHIND THE THRONE

Until his father Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud became Saudi Arabia’s seventh king in January 2015, few people outside the kingdom had ever heard of Prince Mohammed.

MBS as he is widely known is now Defense Minister, a role that in Saudi Arabia gives its incumbent command of one of the world’s biggest arms budgets and makes him ultimately responsible for Saudi Arabia’s military adventure in Yemen.

He also heads the Council for Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA), a group of cabinet ministers who meet weekly and which oversees all elements of policy that touch on the economy or social issues like education, health and housing.

Prince Mohammed chairs the supreme board of Aramco, making him the first member of the ruling family to directly oversee the state oil company, long regarded as the preserve of commoner technocrats.

But perhaps most importantly, he also holds the critical position of gatekeeper to his father, King Salman, who in Saudi Arabia’s absolute monarchy retains the final say in any major decision of state.

Outside Saudi Arabia, that rapid advance and the sudden changes to longstanding policies on regional affairs, energy and its economy have prompted unease, adding an unpredictable edge to a kingdom that allies long regarded as a known quantity.

Inside, they have prompted admiration among many younger Saudis who regard his ascent as evidence that their generation is taking a central place in running a country whose patriarchal traditions have for decades made power the province of the old.

Saudi Arabia’s stock market surged more than 3 percent in early trade on Wednesday after Prince Mohammed’s promotion was announced.

After 70 minutes of active trade, the stock index .TASI was 3.4 percent higher. National Commercial Bank 1180.SE, the biggest listed lender, which is expected to play a major role in funding some of the non-oil industries which Prince Mohammed aims to develop, was the top gainer and soared 10 percent.

Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main rival for regional influence, called Prince Mohammed’s appointment a “soft coup”.

Iran’s leadership was critical of comments by Prince Mohammed last month that the “battle” should be taken into Iran.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei labeled the Saudi leadership then as “idiots”.

(Reporting by Stephen Kalin, William Maclean, Rania El Gamal, Sylvia Westall, Sami Aboudi, Andrew Torchia, Reem Shamseddine, Angus McDowall; Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Angus MacSwan)

Venezuela Opposition Lawmakers Protest At Gates Of Military Headquarters

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

By Andreina Aponte and Diego Oré | CARACAS

Venezuela opposition lawmakers placed pretend coffins and body bags at gates of the National Guard headquarters on Tuesday in protest after the latest fatality in anti-government unrest that has killed at least 75 people since April.

Footage and photos from demonstrations on Monday showed at least three members of the National Guard – a military unit with public order responsibilities – aiming and firing pistols in clashes on a major Caracas highway.

A 17-year-old demonstrator was shot in the chest and died, while several others were injured.

“You cannot keep killing people in the street!” opposition lawmaker Tomas Guanipa shouted during the early-morning protest in the middle-class El Paraiso zone of Caracas.

“Who gave the order to shoot?” asked another lawmaker Jose Olivares as soldiers watched silently from inside their base.

Venezuelan authorities said two National Guard members had been detained on Monday for what the interior minister called “presumed improper and disproportionate use of force” when thousands of protesters flooded the streets.

And President Nicolas Maduro announced that the general in charge of the National Guard, Antonio Benavides, was being replaced by another military man, Sergio Rivero.

“Win peace! That is our aim,” Maduro told Rivero, without giving reasons for the change.

Opposition leaders accuse Rivero and other military leaders appointed by Maduro of human rights violations during the recent protests.

“Generals and admirals that we denounced before the state prosecutors’ office for committing atrocities against Venezuelans are being given honors and promotions,” wrote opposition legislator Gabriela Arellano via Twitter.

The Defense Ministry and the Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the issue.

As well as the fatalities, thousands of people have been injured or arrested since Venezuela’s opposition began its latest street campaign against Maduro’s socialist government in early April.

They accuse Hugo Chavez’s successor of becoming a dictator and wrecking the once-prosperous OPEC member’s economy, demanding a presidential election to end his rule.

Maduro, 54, narrowly won election in 2013 to replace Chavez after his death from cancer, but has seen his approval rating halve to just above 20 percent during four years of an economic crisis causing hunger and shortages.

VICTIMS ON ALL SIDES

Maduro says “terrorists” and “fascists” are leading the protests in an effort to topple him by force as briefly happened to Chavez in 2002. Government supporters, bystanders and some members of the security forces have also been victims of the violence, with gunshot wounds the most common cause.

Though thousands turned out on Monday, many grassroots opposition supporters feel intimidated by the daily violence in cities around Venezuela, where masked youths barricade streets and hurl stones and Molotov cocktails against security forces with tear gas and water cannons.

Pro-government gangs with guns sometimes join the fray.

There is also some exhaustion setting in within protester ranks after 80 days of what the opposition calls “resistance” and the government terms “armed insurrection”.

Opposition leaders have, however, vowed to step up tactics to increase pressure on Maduro. They are seeking to halt Maduro’s plan for July 30 elections for a special assembly to rewrite the constitution, a move they say is rigged to keep him in power.

Chief state prosecutor Luisa Ortega has been leading dissent against the plan from within government, earning her a barrage of accusations from officials ranging from corruption to insanity and promoting violence.

The Supreme Court on Monday accepted a request by a ruling Socialist Party lawmaker to begin the process of taking her to trial for committing “serious offenses.”

Before any trial could take place, the Supreme Court would first have to hold a preliminary hearing to determine whether a trial is warranted.

(Additional reporting by Diego Ore and Victoria Ramirez; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Grant McCool and James Dalgleish)

Morocco, Tunisia: No Military Solution to Libyan Crisis

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Morocco, Tunisia: No Military Solution to Libyan Crisis

Protest against the UN to draft agreement talks headed by the Head of United Nations Support Mission in Libya, Bernardino Leon in Benghazi

Rabat – Morocco and Tunisia have announced their support to a political solution to the crisis in Libya, namely the Skhirat Agreement, which was signed in late 2015 under the auspices of the United Nations.

In a joint statement issued at the end of the 19th session of the Tunisian-Moroccan High Joint Commission in Rabat, the two countries praised efforts that are aimed at “supporting our Libyan brothers and accompanying them in the path towards a comprehensive political settlement.”

The meeting, which was co-chaired by Moroccan Prime Minister Saadeddine al-Othmani and his Tunisian counterpart, Youssef Chahed, stressed the two countries’ rejection of the military options.

The statement underlined the importance of reaching a political solution as the only means to overcome the current situation by preserving the country’s territorial unity.

The two sides expressed their condemnation of all forms of terrorism, highlighting the need to unify efforts to fight terrorist groups in the Maghreb region and the world.

In this regard, the two countries urged the five Maghreb states to “promote cooperation, consolidate dialogue and increase security cooperation in order to face terrorism according to an organized mechanism that aims at prioritizing common interests and rejecting all forms of introversion.

Tunisia and Morocco also called for the need to overcome all deadlocks within the Maghreb Union, as well as activating the work of institutions.

“This requires a strong political will and serious work by the five Maghreb countries in line with the noble goals which were set in the Marrakesh agreement,” the statement said.

It also called for fulfilling the aspirations of the Maghreb population with regards to growth, stability and decent living.

The two sides also condemned the violations committed by Israel and the attacks against Al-Aqsa Mosque, urging the international community to force the Jewish state to abide by the international legitimacy.

The commission discussed means to boost bilateral cooperation and signed 10 agreements in various sectors, including agriculture, investment, civil aviation, vocational training, higher education, and employment.

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