Experts Tell Congress How To Cut Drug Prices

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF KAISER HEALTH NEWS)

 

Experts Tell Congress How To Cut Drug Prices


(Kaiser Health News)
 December 12 at 5:15 AM
This Kaiser Health News story can be republished for free (details).The nation’s most influential science advisory group will tell Congress today that the U.S. pharmaceutical market is not sustainable and needs to change.

“Drugs that are not affordable are of little value and drugs that do not exist are of no value,” said Norman Augustine, chair of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s committee on drug pricing and former CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp.

The report, “Making Medicines Affordable: A National Imperative,” identifies eight steps to cut drug prices. It also provides a list of specific “implementation actions” for various federal agencies, including Congress, the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services.

Today’s hearing, which is the third in a series by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee, comes as Americans across the political spectrum say lowering the price of prescription drugs is a top priority. Yet, while individual states have passed laws for more transparency and price controls and President Donald Trump has publicly called for lower drug prices, Congress has stalled.

So, will the committee’s recommendations spur action? Kaiser Health News takes the political temperature, talks to experts and rates their chances:

Recommendation No. 1: Allow the federal government to negotiate drug prices

Current law prohibits the U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary from directly negotiating drug prices and the committee says that’s ridiculous.

The committee recommends Medicare and other agencies negotiate which drugs are placed on a list of covered drugs and, when necessary, exclude some drugs. This is not a new idea.

Some states are already restricting high-priced drugs in Medicaid, the state-federal insurance program for low-income Americans. But federal efforts to change Medicare are more complicated.

Just two months ago, top House Democrats introduced another Medicare negotiation bill. But don’t hold your breath, Trump hasn’t responded to multiple letters sent from Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) — including one after the most recent bill was introduced in late October. That bill hasn’t moved past the health subcommittee.

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Recommendation No. 2: Speed approvals of safe and effective generics and biosimilars

This recommendation has a strong ally at the Food and Drug Administration.

Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced a “drug competition action plan” in June and followed it up two months ago with a new set of policies aimed at speeding the drug approval process for complex generics. More changes are expected too, as Gottlieb wrote in his blog post “if consumers are priced out of the drugs they need, that’s a public health concern that FDA should address.”

But the pharmaceutical world knows which games to play to keep competition at bay. The committee specifically recommends the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission should watch for anti-competitive tactics, such as pay-for-delay and extending exclusivity protections. The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on pay-for-delay, saying settlements between brand-name drug makers and generic rivals warranted antitrust review, The total number of these deals has fallen in recent years.

To further encourage generic approvals, Congress could include several proposed bills, such as the so-called CREATES Act, in a final year-end package, said Chip Davis, president of the generics and biosimilars lobby Association for Accessible Medicines.

“People are starting to pay more attention” to anticompetitive patent tactics, Davis said.

Recommendation No. 3: Transparency

The committee takes direct aim at drug prices by saying that Congress should make manufacturers and insurers disclose drug prices, as well as the rebates and discounts they negotiate. It also asks that HHS curate and publicly report the information.

States have taken the lead on price transparency with Vermont the first to pass a law, which requires an annual report on up to 15 drugs that cost the state a lot of money and have seen price spikes. In Congress, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), introduced a bill in June that would impose price-reporting requirements on some drugs. It now sits in the Senate finance committee. The pharmaceutical industry has fended off most price disclosure efforts in the past.

Notably, the committee also recommends that nonprofits in the pharmaceutical sector — such as patient groups — disclose all sources of income in their tax filings. That’s a move that would reveal exactly how much the pharmaceutical companies are supporting advocacy groups.

Recommendation No. 4:  Discourage the pharmaceuticual industry’s direct-to-consumer advertising

The U.S. is only one of two developed countries in the world to allow direct-to-consumer pharmaceutical advertising (the other is New Zealand and doctors there have called for a ban). And U.S. taxpayers support the tax breaks with a deduction that politicians have tried to eliminate in the past.

Now, the committee recommends Congress eliminate the tax deduction pharmaceutical companies are allowed to take on direct-to-consumer advertising.

This is an idea that should have wide support. Polls show that most Americans favor banning the ads and federal lawmakers have tried to change the rules on so-called DTC for years. The American Medical Association called for a ban on pharmaceutical advertising directly to patients in 2015, saying there were concerns that the ads were driving up demand for expensive drugs. The FDA provides guidance for the advertising and, in August, FDA Commissioner Gottlieb said he may reduce the number of risks manufacturers must reveal when advertising a medicine.

In a sign of just how entrenched the tax break is in D.C. politics, Sen. Dick Durbin (D- Ill.) introduced a bill last month that doesn’t eliminate the break but takes a step to rein in the advertising. Durbin’s bill would require manufacturers to provide the wholesale price of a drug in their advertisements.

Recommendation No. 5: Limit what Medicare enrollees pay for drugs

The committee ticks off a to-do list for Congress when it comes to what older Americans and those with disabilities are paying for drugs.

Their recommendations include asking Congress to establish limits on total annual out-of-pocket costs for Medicare Part D enrollees and telling Congress to make sure the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services efforts to guarantee enrollee cost-sharing is based on the real price of the drug as well as how well the drug works.

Turns out, there is already some limited movement on this one.

Medicare allows negotiations between the corporate insurers and pharmacy benefit managers who help administer the Part D program. CMS announced last month that it is exploring how to pass on the behind-the-scenes manufacturer rebates to patients, though it warns premiums may rise if they make this move.

Recommendation No. 6: Increasing oversight of a very specific federal drug discount program

The committee is stepping into a hot-button political issue by recommending increased transparency and oversight of a program that Congress created in 1992.

The program, known as 340B, requires pharmaceutical companies to sell drugs at steep discounts to hospitals and clinics that serve high volumes of low-income patients. Congress held two hearings this year, questioning who is benefiting from the discounts and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recently announced it was slashing Medicare reimbursement to some hospitals enrolled in the program.

Hospitals are fighting back, filing a lawsuit over the reimbursement cut. The committee, echoing concerns from House Republicans, recommends making sure the program helps “aid vulnerable populations.”

Recommendation No. 7: Revise the Orphan Drug Act

The committee wants to make sure the 1983 Orphan Drug Act helps patients with rare diseases.

The law, intended to spur development of medicines for rare diseases, provides financial incentives for drugmakers such as seven years of market exclusivity for drugs that treat a specific condition that affects fewer than 200,000 people.

The program has been under fire this year after Kaiser Health News, whose investigation is cited by the committee, reported that approved drugs often gamed this system and won won blockbuster sales for more common diseases. The Government Accountability Office has begun an investigation into the program after receiving a request from top Republican senators and FDA’s announced a “modernization” plan for the agency this summer.

The committee’s requests include limiting the number of exclusivity periods a drug can receive and making sure drugs that win the financial incentives really do treat rare disease. Finally, the committee says HHS should “obtain favorable concessions on launch prices, annual price increases,” and more.

Recommendation No. 8: Make sure doctors prescribe drugs for the right reasons

Medical practices, hospitals and doctors should “substantially” tighten restrictions on office visits by pharma employees, and the acceptance of free samples, the committee recommends.

This isn’t the first time the national group has recommended controlling drug samples and visits. In 2009, the then Institute of Medicine said doctors and medical schools should stop taking free drug samples. It may have worked — to some extent. A study this year found that academic medical centers that limited visits saw changes in prescribing patterns.

Now, the National Academies committee says doctors in private practice should also stop taking free samples and welcoming pharmaceutical visits. The AMA, which is nation’s largest membership group doctors, supports physicians using samples on a voluntary basis, particularly for uninsured patients.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Congress Will Vote On Concealed Carry Reciprocity Bill

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

House will vote on concealed carry reciprocity bill

Pres. Trump’s complex relationship with guns

Washington (CNN)The House will vote Wednesday on a bill that would let gun owners with permits to carry concealed weapons travel to other states with their concealed firearms.

The bill is a top priority of the National Rifle Association, and since leaving committee it has been combined with an additional measure that is designed to update the federal background check system after holes were exposed by November’s mass shooting at a church in Texas.
The move to merge the two pieces of legislation makes it a difficult vote for Democrats.
Second Amendment advocates maintain that gun owners should not lose their right to bear arms as they travel across state lines, and current laws that vary in different states could mean that licensed owners might unintentionally violate the law. Under the proposed law, gun owners would be required to abide by the local and state regulations in place for concealed weapons.
The part of the legislation that aims to update background checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, held bipartisan support when it was being considered by the House Judiciary Committee, after more than 20 people were killed at the church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
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The gunman in that shooting was a former member of the Air Force, and had been imprisoned for domestic abuse. This information hadn’t been relayed by the Air Force to the NICS, which should have prevented him from buying the guns he used in the crime.

Former Conyers aide: ‘Most of us’ have seen him in his underwear

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Former Conyers aide: ‘Most of us’ have seen him in his underwear

  • Weiner defended Conyers’ “surly moments” with staffers

(CNN)A former top communications aide to Democratic Rep. John Conyers of Michigan offered a defense of his former boss amid Tuesday growing allegations of sexual harassment, saying it wasn’t uncommon for staffers to accidentally see the congressman in his underwear.

One former employee, Melanie Sloan, came forward with allegations last week, including one instance where Conyers called her to his office when he was in his underwear.
“I was pretty taken aback to see my boss half-dressed,” she told The Washington Post. “I turned on my heel and I left.”
Bob Weiner, who served as Conyers’ communications director from 1994 to 2000, spoke to reporters and photographers assembled outside the Congressman’s office, disputing Sloan’s allegations.
“Something else that people need to know: his closet is in his office right here. He changes clothes in his office. Most of us have walked in on him accidentally without knocking and have seen him in his underwear. Big deal. That’s where his closet is, he changes his clothes there. So to say that somebody came to a meeting and that’s how it was, that’s an untrue statement. That is the kind of thing that needs to be explored before there’s any acceptance to that kind of an allegation,” Weiner said, later clarifying that all members of Congress have closets in their offices.
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Weiner also defended Conyers’ “surly moments” with staffers, saying that is commonplace among politicians. “That’s not sexist. That’s just being aggressive as the member of Congress or the Cabinet member or the VIP that you are. It has nothing to do with being anti-women. I got it too.”
The House Ethics Committee announced last week it has opened an investigation into allegations against Conyers after BuzzFeed reported that he settled a wrongful dismissal complaint in 2015 after allegedly sexually harassing a staffer. Conyers denied wrongdoing in that case, but acknowledged that there had been a financial settlement to that complaint. Another former staffer, Deanna Maher, told CNN that Conyers made three sexual advances toward her when she worked for him in his district office in Detroit from 1997 to 2005. Through his lawyer, Conyers also denied wrongdoing in that case.
Conyers stepped down from his position as top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee on Sunday.
Weiner said he was going to recommend that Conyers hold a town hall in Detroit on how should men and women act in the workplace: “And let him say, I want to learn, I want to do better, and let him have that kind of a learning experience.”
Weiner, who also helped set up Conyers’ leadership PAC, said the mood in the congressman’s office is “very depressed” and current staffers are hoping he can complete his term amid growing pressure to resign.
“His staff is very depressed and think that people are trying to make the die cast against him, and everybody’s trying to work out statements of what to say that’s the right thing to say and it’s very complicated,” he said. “People are hoping that the die hasn’t been cast too far too soon already, and as I said, the staff is hoping very much that, at a minimum, that he gets the chance to complete his term as a member of Congress. That’s the objective right now of the staff.”

So, Does Anyone Really Need Washington?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT)

By Susan Milligan, Senior Writer | Sept. 22, 2017, at 6:00 a.m.

As Nevada Sen. Dean Heller was trying to convince his colleagues to back the most recent GOP effort to undo the Affordable Care Act, his state’s Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, was thwarting it, signing his name to a bipartisan letter from governors opposing the bill and putting the legislation in peril. Meanwhile, in New York, as President Donald Trump fielded criticism for a United Nations speech many saw as isolating and combative, California Gov. Jerry Brown was doing his own version of diplomacy, meeting with world leaders, including the U.N. Secretary-General, to talk about climate change and adherence to the Paris agreement Trump has lambasted. The previous week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that a bipartisan coalition of 14 states and Puerto Rico were already on track to meet or exceed the Paris standards for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

So who needs Washington?

Congress may be unable or unwilling to pass major legislation. Trump might be threatening to pull out of international agreements on trade, the environment and nuclear security, shrinking America’s footprint on the world stage. But governors and states, lauded as laboratories of democracy at best and recalcitrant junior players at worst, are stepping up to fill the power void. And less than a year into Trump’s presidency, one the commander-in-chief pledged would mark a major upending of policy and politics, it is the governors and state attorneys general who are wielding the influence.



“Governors tend to be more pragmatic than members of Congress,” so while they may have ideological agendas, they are focused on problem-solving and keeping within mandated budget limits, says John Kincaid, a Lafayette College government and public service professor who teaches a course in federalism. And while governors are more empowered to stop federal policies or legislation than to force their enactment, the state players can have a great deal of influence over how the whole nation – and not just their constituencies – live, experts say.

Governors have long pushed back against the policies and mandates of administrations in the other party, notes Robert Mikos, a law professor at Vanderbilt University and an expert of state-federal relations. But the trend may be exacerbated because of Trump’s presidency and Democrats’ minority status in the nation’s capital, he says.

“In part, it reflects the change in administration and having a single party in control of Washington that makes people turn more to the states. It may be accentuated now, given this administration. There may be more hostility to it than there was with prior administrations,” Mikos adds. But while Democratic governors have aggressively pushed back on predictable issues – such as mandating birth control coverage by health insurers, as Oregon has done, or becoming a “sanctuary state” to protect undocumented immigrants, as California is doing – governors are setting the agenda on a bipartisan basis as well.

But there is a great deal of bipartisan efforts by governors as well of late. Most recently, 10 governors (five Democrats, four Republicans and a conservative independent) sent a letter to congressional leaders opposing the Graham-Cassidy bill to undo key elements of Obamacare. The measure would give more authority to the states in implementing details of the law, which is typically appealing to governors. But it also block-grants Medicaid, raising fears that a pot of federal cash many states rely on to pay for constituents’ health care would be cut. Some governors also have already built assumptions of federal Medicaid payments into their budgets – and unlike the federal government, all states except for Vermont are legally required to have balanced budgets.

The letter – which called for a bipartisan approach and “regular order,” meaning congressional hearings and consideration of Congressional Budget Office estimates – is notable because it includes the signature of Alaska Gov. Bill Walker and Sandoval. Alaska’s senior senator, Lisa Murkowski, is a swing vote on the measure, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) plans to put up for a vote next week. Sandoval, the chair of the National Governors Association, openly rejected a bill co-sponsored by Heller, who is considered the most vulnerable GOP incumbent senator next year.

Anyone who thinks the governors’ views will get lost in a cacophony of special-interest dissent need only look at Arizona, says John Dinan, a politics and international affairs professor at Wake Forest University. “In casting the deciding vote to kill the earlier repeal effort this summer, Sen. McCain said he was voting no in part because of the concerns of his own state’s governor,” Dinan notes but given Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey’s support for Graham-Cassidy, the governor also “could therefore be decisive in enabling Sen. McCain to vote for the current repeal bill and therefore lead to its passage.”

Meanwhile, as Congress fiddles with legislation to repeal Obamacare, a bipartisan team of governors, Colorado Democrat John Hickenlooper and Ohio Republican John Kasich, are working on their own offer, a plan that would tinker with Obamacare around the edges without undoing its basic tenets, such as the individual mandate.

“The ACA stuff is interesting because it involves bipartisanship among governors in a way Congress has been unable to do,” Mikos says. While Congress is under no obligation to consider a legislative approach proposed by governors, the state chief executives can put pressure on the feds or go their own way in the absence of action from Washington.

Even on matters normally reserved for the nation’s chief executive, governors are taking the lead, ignoring – and arguably underscoring – Trump’s responses. The president, for example, has been criticized for placing blame on both the white supremacist marching in Charlottesville as well as the protesters who opposed them. The NGA, meanwhile, issued an unequivocal statement on the deadly conflict, saying, “The nation’s governors strongly condemn the violent attack perpetrated by white supremacists in Charlottesville.”

On climate change, too, governors in both parties are implementing environmental policies Trump has rejected as too onerous on business. At the U.N., Brown announced that 14 states and Puerto Rico were on schedule to meet the environmental protection standards of the Paris accords, despite Trump’s announcement he intends to withdraw from the pact.

Individual state efforts can go a long way in making de facto national policy, experts note. If states and localities indeed continue their commitments despite new federal policy, the nation will end up meeting half its Paris commitments by 2025 anyway, according to a recent report by NewClimate Institute and The Climate Group.

And while federalism” and “states rights” have historically been connected to anti-civil rights positions, the concepts can also be used to advance minority rights, Yale Law School Dean Heather Gerken points out in a piece on “the new progressive federalism” in the journal Democracy. For example, Gerken notes, the momentum for same-sex marriage built after Massachusetts and San Francisco just went ahead and did it, accelerating an effort that had been limited to editorial pages and public marches. And, advocates have noted, the domino-like approval of same-sex marriage by states made it hard for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule against it.

The sheer size and economic influence of states can push national policy and trends as well. Texas, with its big buying power in school textbooks, has an outsized influence on details such as questioning evolution in science textbooks. And while California’s greenhouse emissions standard might not be much liked by industry, which one would refuse to do business with the Golden State, which has the sixth-biggest economy in the world? And when states can’t stop Washington from passing policies, they can slow-walk their implementation or scream so loudly Washington is forced to regroup. When states complained it was impossible to meet the standards of No Child Left Behind, for example, the Obama administration offered them waivers (and Congress later tweaked the law).

The failure of the White House and Congress to agree on a number of issues, then, may just create the vacuum for governors to step in – and step up, analysts and individual governors say. “America is not run by Donald Trump,” California Gov. Brown said in New York during the U.N.’s annual meeting. “We are a nation of diverse power centers.” And they are already flexing their collective muscles.

Tags: Donald TrumpgovernorsAffordable Care Act


Susan Milligan is a political and foreign affairs writer and contributed to a biography of the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, … full bio »

‘Trump betrays everyone’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

‘Trump betrays everyone’: The president has a long record as an unpredictable ally

 Play Video 2:39
Trump confounds conservatives by siding with Democrats
 September 9 at 8:00 AM
President Trump prepared for the pivotal meeting with congressional leaders by huddling with his senior team — his chief of staff, his legislative director and the heads of Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget — to game out various scenarios on how to fund the government, raise the debt ceiling and provide Hurricane Harvey relief.But one option they never considered was the that one the president ultimately chose: cutting a deal with Democratic lawmakers, to the shock and ire of his own party.

In agreeing to tie Harvey aid to a three-month extension of the debt ceiling and government funding, Trump burned the people who are ostensibly his allies. The president was an unpredictable — and, some would say, untrustworthy — negotiating partner with not only congressional Republicans but also with his Cabinet members and top aides. Trump saw a deal that he thought was good for him — and he seized it.

The move should come as no surprise to students of Trump’s long history of broken alliances and agreements. In business, his personal life, his campaign and now his presidency, Trump has sprung surprises on his allies with gusto. His dealings are frequently defined by freewheeling spontaneity, impulsive decisions and a desire to keep everyone guessing — especially those who assume they can control him.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), flanked by Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), left, and Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) speaks Wednesday at the Capitol after President Trump overruled Republicans and his treasury secretary to cut a deal with Democrats. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

He also repeatedly demonstrates that, while he demands absolute loyalty from others, he is ultimately loyal to no one but himself.

“It makes all of their normalizing and ‘Trumpsplaining’ look silly and hollow,” said Rick Wilson, a Republican strategist sharply critical of Trump, referring to his party’s congressional leaders. “Trump betrays everyone: wives, business associates, contractors, bankers and now, the leaders of the House and Senate in his own party. They can’t explain this away as [a] 15-dimensional Trump chess game. It’s a dishonest person behaving according to his long-established pattern.”

But what many Republicans saw as betrayal was, in the view of some Trump advisers, an exciting return to his campaign promise of being a populist dealmaker able to cut through the mores of Washington to get things done.

In that Wednesday morning Oval Office meeting, Trump was impressed with the energy and vigor of Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) relative to the more subdued Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.). Far from fretting over the prospect of alienating McConnell and Ryan or members of his administration, he relished the opportunity for a bipartisan agreement and the praise he anticipated it would bring, according to people close to the president.

On Thursday morning, he called Pelosi and Schumer to crow about coverage of the deal — “The press has been incredible,” he told Pelosi, according to someone familiar with the call — and point out that it had been especially positive for the Democratic leaders.

At the White House later that day, Trump asked Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) how he thought the deal was playing. “I told him I thought it was great, and a gateway project to show there could be bipartisan progress,” King said. “He doesn’t want to be in an ideological straitjacket.”

In some ways, White House officials said, Trump is as comfortable working with Democrats to achieve policy goals — complete with the sheen of bipartisan luster — as he is with Republicans. Though he did not partner with Democrats to spite McConnell and Ryan, aides said, he has long felt frustrated with them for what he perceives as their inability to help shepherd his agenda through Congress, most notably their stalled efforts to undo former president Barack Obama’s signature health-care law.

On Thursday, Trump took to Twitter to express dissatisfaction with his adopted political party, complaining about Obamacare: “Republicans, sorry, but I’ve been hearing about Repeal & Replace for 7 years, didn’t happen!” He also bemoaned the legislative filibuster, which requires Republicans to work with Democrats to meet a 60-senator threshold for most votes, writing, “It is a Repub Death wish.”

Ari Fleischer, press secretary under President George W. Bush, said that Trump deserves credit for staving off, at least in the short term, a possible default and government shutdown.

“It’s going to internally hurt him that he didn’t work with Republicans on this one, but by avoiding a mess, he likely saved Republicans from themselves,” Fleischer said. “I consider it a small victory that congressional Republicans didn’t once again trip themselves up over this issue. At least for now.”

King, a moderate who represents a Long Island district that Trump carried, said: “I think this could be a new day for the Republican Party.”

Trump’s agreement with the Democrats is hardly the first time the president has flouted his allies, including those around the world, sending them skittering nervously in response to a threat or a sudden turnabout.

In April, Trump thrust Canada and Mexico — as well as many of his advisers and Cabinet officials — into a state of panic during a frenetic, if brief, period when he threatened to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement. In May, speaking in front of NATO’s sparkling new headquarters, Trump alarmed European allies when he chastised them for “not paying what they should be paying” and refused to embrace the treaty’s cornerstone — that an attack on one represents an attack on all. And in September, as the crisis with North Korea escalated, Trump abruptly threatened to withdraw from a free-trade agreement with South Korea.

Foreign diplomats euphemistically describe the president as “unpredictable,” and even those with good relationships with the United States say they are “cautiously optimistic” that Trump’s behavior will continue to benefit their nations.

On the issue of the debt-ceiling extension and short-term government funding, a GOP aide familiar with Wednesday’s meeting said many Republicans viewed Trump’s decision as “a spur-of-the-moment thing” that happened because the president “just wanted a deal.”

“He saw a deal and wanted the deal, and it just happened to be completely against what we were pushing for,” said the aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer a candid assessment. “Our conclusion is there isn’t much to read into other than he made that decision on the spot, and that’s what he does because he’s Trump, and he made an impulsive decision because he saw a deal he wanted.”

From the outset, the meeting did not go as Republican leaders and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had hoped. They began by pushing for an 18-month extension of the debt ceiling, with Mnuchin lecturing the group of longtime legislators about the importance of raising the debt ceiling, according to three people familiar with the gathering who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“It was just odd and weird,” one said. “He was very much a duck out of water.”

The treasury secretary presented himself as a Wall Street insider, arguing that the stability of the markets required an 18-month extension.

At one point, Schumer intervened with a skeptical question: “So the markets dictate one month past the 2018 election?” he asked, rhetorically, according to someone with knowledge of his comment. “I doubt that.”

At another, Pelosi explained that understanding Wall Street is not the same as operating in Congress. “Here the currency of the realm is the vote,” she told reporters in a news conference Thursday, echoing the comments she had made privately the day before. “You have the votes, no discussion necessary. You don’t have the votes, three months.”

The Republican leaders and Mnuchin slowly began moderating their demands, moving from their initial pitch down to 12 months and then six months. At one point, when Mnuchin was in the middle of yet another explanation, the president cut him off, making it clear that he disagreed.

The deal would be for three months tied to Harvey funding, Trump said — just as the Democrats had wanted.

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On Friday morning, at a closed-door meeting of House Republicans, numerous lawmakers vented their frustrations to Mnuchin and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney. One of them, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), stood up to say he thought Trump’s snub of Ryan — who had publicly rejected Democrats’ offer hours before Trump accepted it — was also a snub of Republicans at large.

“I support the president, I want him to be successful, I want our country to be successful,” Zeldin said in an interview afterward. “But I personally believe the president had more leverage than he may have realized. He had more Democratic votes than he realized, and could have and would have certainly gotten a better deal.”

Democrats remain skeptical about just how long their newfound working relationship with Trump will last. But for Republicans, the turnabout was yet another reminder of what many of them have long known but refused to openly admit: Trump is a fickle ally and partner, liable to turn on them much in the same way he has turned on his business associates and foreign allies.

“Looking to the long term, trust and reliability have been essential ingredients in productive relationships between the president and Congress,” said Phil Schiliro, who served as director of legislative affairs under Obama. “Without them, trying to move a legislative agenda is like juggling on quicksand. It usually doesn’t end well.”

Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

The Gators In ‘The Swamp’ Are Being Drowned By Trump’s Sewage

 

During the Presidential campaign season of 2016 one of the many slogans that Donald Trump spoke of was about how he would ‘drain the swamp’ which were the politicians in Washington D.C.. We are now a little more than six months into this total disaster which is the Trump Presidency so I ask you the question, how is that promise of his coming along? I am a registered Independent voter who last November could not get my self to vote for Mr. Trump of for Mrs. Clinton so I voted for Mr. Johnson. The reason I could not vote for either of the ‘big two’ was because I knew that both are habitual liars and I believed that both were/are crooks. Personality wise I have long believed that both of these two candidates are hate filled egomaniacs and I did not want either of them to be our President even though I knew that one or the other would win the job. Now six months in I believe that I should have voted for Mrs. Clinton as sickening as that prospect sounds to me. I base this thought on the reality that I believe that Hillary is at least an intelligent person who does have basic knowledge of world events and realities. I knew that Mr. Trump was an idiot but he has proven himself to be the most ignorant person to sit in the Oval Office in my lifetime.

 

What is even more worrisome to me is that I now believe that Mr. Trump as well as almost all of his direct family and several of his appointees are actually traitors as far as their dealings with Russia’s President Putin is concerned. As we have all witnessed Mr. Trump lies to the American people, all of our Nations Allies and to the rest of the world daily. None of our Allies now trust anything that he says because he changes the BS he says everyday. Mr. Trump by no means has emptied any of the D.C. swamp, all he has done is to empty his toilet water into that swamp. Mr. Trump has proven that he does not give a damn about the American people or anyone else except himself. I believe that if the Congress somehow were able to force him to release his taxes for the past ten years that they would find that not only is he guilty of massive tax fraud but that he has deep financial roots in Russia and now he and his family are using his position to make more billions dealing with the Communist leaders in China. As bad as most of ‘we the people’ know that the Congress and the Senate have become all that this idiot and his group of traitors have done during this past six months is to make themselves richer at the expense of  the freedom of the people of Our Country. The only thing that Mr. Trump has done as far as cleaning out the D.C. swamp is if he is trying to do this by having all the Gators gag and die on all the feces he is daily dumping into that swamp.

CONGRESS AND SENATE PASS BILL PUTTING NEW SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA–TRUMP HATES IT

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

CONGRESS AND SENATE PASS BILL PUTTING NEW SANCTIONS ON RUSSIA

 

(CNN) The House and Senate reached a deal Saturday to slap Russia with fresh sanctions and give Congress new veto power to block any easing of those sanctions — an agreement that could send a new bill to President Donald Trump’s desk before the end of the month.

House and Senate negotiators announced an agreement was reached Saturday morning for a bill that would include new sanctions against Russia, Iran, and North Korea.
Despite the White House lobbying for changes to the measure, the legislation will give Congress a new ability to block the administration from easing sanctions on Moscow. Democrats and some Republicans have expressed concerns that Trump is considering giving Russia back two compounds in Maryland and New York that were seized by the Obama administration in December.
“Given the many transgressions of Russia, and President Trump’s seeming inability to deal with them, a strong sanctions bill such as the one Democrats and Republicans have just agreed to is essential,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. “I expect the House and Senate will act on this legislation promptly, on a broad bipartisan basis and send the bill to the President’s desk.”
The House will vote on the bill on Tuesday, according to House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s schedule, and the Senate is likely to take it up after that, although Senate leaders haven’t said when they will bring it to the floor. Congressional aides say they expect Trump will sign the bill because it will likely pass both chambers with strong, veto-proof majorities.
In a text message to CNN, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he sees the agreement “quite negatively.”
The agreement on the sanctions was the result of an often contentious, month-long back-and-forth between the House and Senate after the Senate passed a bill for new sanctions against Russia and Iran 98 to 2 in June.
The bill faced a so-called blue slip constitutional problem that revenue generating legislation must originate in the House. That was fixed after a negotiation between the two chambers, but then House Democrats objected to another tweak that removed their ability to force a vote to stop the easing of sanctions.
McCarthy then said he wanted to add North Korean sanctions legislation that the House passed in May to the measure, prompting Democrats to accuse Republicans of stalling the bill on behalf of the White House, which was lobbying against the congressional review provision.
Numerous US companies also wanted changes over concerns the bill could inadvertently impact their businesses.
“My preference over the last month had been for the House to take up and adopt the legislation that passed the Senate 98-2; however I welcome the House bill, which was the product of intense negotiations,” said Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on the Senate foreign relations committee. “I believe the proposed changes to the bill have helped to clarify the intent of members of Congress as well as express solidarity with our closest allies in countering Russian aggression and holding the Kremlin accountable for their destabilizing activities.”
CNN reported Friday that the deal addressed some of the concerns of US companies while keeping in the congressional review portion, besides making technical changes. To address House Democrats’ complaints, the bill gives any House member the ability to force a vote to disapprove of sanctions if the Senate passes it first.
“The legislation ensures that both the majority and minority are able to exercise our oversight role over the administration’s implementation of sanctions,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said in a statement Saturday. “I look forward to seeing this legislation on the Floor next week, where I’m confident it will receive strong, bipartisan support.”
The bill was also changed to ensure that it didn’t affect a major pipeline used to transport oil from Kazakhstan through Russia to Ukraine as well as a natural gas pipeline that goes between Russia and Germany.
The revised bill also clarifies that American companies cannot do business with already-sanctioned defense interests in Russia, as there were concerns US companies that want to finalize transportation deals could be barred from doing so under the initial bill’s restrictions.

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?

AG Jeff Sessions: Seems He Can’t Remember Anything Except How To Lie To Congress

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS AND REUTERS)

AG Jeff Sessions says he can’t recall more meetings with Russian officials before admitting he ‘possibly’ had one

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he had “no recollection” of any additional meetings with Russian diplomats during the 2016 presidential campaign, before acknowledging that he “possibly” had one.In testy testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee investigating Russian interference in the election on Tuesday, Sessions also defended his role in firing FBI Director James Comey while repeatedly refusing to answer questions about his conversations with President Trump.

The attorney general acknowledged that Trump hadn’t evoked “executive privilege” — legalese for an ability to protect private conversations with the President — but still refused to answer any questions from senators regarding his conversations with Trump, including whether he and Trump had discussed the Russia investigation when talking about firing Comey.

Sessions’ repeated dodges and refusals to answer questions led to building frustration from Democrats throughout the hearing.

Columbia professor turns over James Comey documents to FBI

“You’re not answering questions. You’re impeding the investigation,” Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said. “You are obstructing the congressional investigation by not answering questions.”

“I’m protecting the right of the President to assert it if he chooses” to executive privilege in the future, Sessions said.

Sessions also insisted he had every right to be involved with Trump’s decision to fire Comey, even though the FBI head was leading the Russia investigation Sessions had been forced to step away from.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrives to testify during a U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrives to testify during a U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

(SAUL LOEB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

“The scope of my recusal, however, does not and cannot interfere with my ability to oversee the Department of Justice, including the FBI,” he said.

In aftermath of Comey’s bombshell testimony, Trump goes golfing

Sessions refused, however, to offer further explanation for his support in firing the former FBI director even though he’d recused himself from the investigation into whether President Trump’s team colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election.

And he used carefully selected language to give himself an out about a potential unreported third meeting with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S., saying only that he did not “have any recollection of meeting or talking to the Russian Ambassador or any other Russian officials” during a Trump event at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., during the campaign.

Later, he muddied up that denial even further.

“I could say that I possibly had a meeting but I still do not recall it,” he said.

Senators had asked Comey to investigate Sessions’ Russia talks

“I don’t recall” was his favorite phrase of the day, as Sessions fell back on the pat answer time and again throughout the day.

While he was evasive in his answers, Sessions was fiery off the bat in defending his character against what he painted as “scurrilous and false allegations.”

“The suggestion that I participated in any collusion or that I was aware of any collusion with the Russian government to hurt this country, which I have served with honor for over 35 years, or to undermine the integrity of our democratic process, is an appalling and detestable lie,” he said.

He claimed that he’d planned to recuse himself from the Russia investigation from the start, even though he had refused to commit to do so during his confirmation hearing, saying he “not aware of a basis to recuse myself,” and made no moves towards recusal until after he’d been caught in a lie about his previous contacts with Russian officials.

Trump says he’d testify on Comey claims, but won’t talk tapes

“If merely being a supporter of the President during the campaign warranted recusal from involvement in any matter involving him, then most typical presidential appointees would be unable to conduct their duties,” Sessions said in his January confirmation hearing. “I am not aware of a basis to recuse myself from such matters. If a specific matter arose where I believed my impartiality might reasonably be questioned, I would consult with Department ethics officials regarding the most appropriate way to proceed.”

Sessions even waited days to announce his recusal after the news of his previously undisclosed meetings with Russia’s ambassador came to light.

The attorney general blamed his false testimony that he hadn’t met with Russian officials, when it turned out he did at least twice, on a misunderstanding of what Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) was asking him at the time, though he went much further to declare that he hadn’t met with any Russians when that wasn’t what Franken had asked.

Sessions recused himself from the investigation into whether President Trump or his team colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election.

Sessions recused himself from the investigation into whether President Trump or his team colluded with Russia to meddle in the 2016 election.

(JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS)

Sessions said he has “confidence” in Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the FBI probe into Russia. He said that he hadn’t talked to Trump about him after one of Trump’s friends said he was considering firing the special counsel on Monday, but stated he didn’t “think it would be appropriate” to fire Mueller.

While he defended his role in firing Comey and claimed there were performance issues, he repeatedly refused to discuss whether he’d recommended it or if Trump had asked him to come up with a rationale for a decision he’d already made, repeatedly saying he wouldn’t talk about any private conversations with the President.

“I’d come to the conclusion that a fresh start was appropriate and did not mind putting that in writing,” he said, though he admitted he didn’t discuss any job performance problems with Comey before the firing.

And he said while it “appears” Russia interfered in the 2016 election, he said he’d never asked about it at the DOJ, a stunning disinterest in the attack on democracy.

He returned to a favorite answer when Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked him whether he’d confronted Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak about Russia’s meddling in the election when they met twice last year: “I don’t recall.”

Tags:
JEFF SESSIONS
JAMES COMEY
RUSSIA
FBI
CONGRESS
DONALD TRUMP
2016 ELECTION
ROBERT MUELLER
AL FRANKEN
MARTIN HEINRICH

The Senate Parliamentarian Warns Republicans That Their Healthcare Bill Can’t Pass

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HILL NEWSPAPER)

The Senate parliamentarian has warned Republicans that a key provision in their healthcare reform bill related to abortion is unlikely to be allowed, raising a serious threat to the legislation.

The parliamentarian, Elizabeth MacDonough, has flagged language that would bar people from using new refundable tax credits for private insurance plans that cover abortion, according to Senate sources.

If Republicans are forced to strip the so-called Hyde language from the legislation, which essentially bars federal funds from being used to pay for abortions unless to save the life of a mother or in cases of rape and incest, it may doom the bill.

MacDonough declined to comment for this article.

Unless a workaround can be found, conservative senators and groups that advocate against abortion rights are likely to oppose the legislation.

Republicans control 52 seats in the Senate; they can afford only two defections and still pass the bill, assuming Democrats are united against it. Vice President would break a 50-50 tie.

Normally controversial legislation requires 60 votes to pass the Senate, but Republicans hope to pass the ObamaCare repeal-and-replace bill with a simple majority vote under a special budgetary process known as reconciliation.

The catch is that the legislation must pass a six-part test known as the Byrd Rule, and it’s up to the parliamentarian to advise whether legislative provisions meet its requirements.

The toughest requirement states that a provision cannot produce changes in government outlays or revenues that are merely incidental to the non-budgetary components of the provision.

In other words, a provision passed under reconciliation cannot be primarily oriented toward making policy change instead of impacting the budget. Arguably, attaching Hyde language to the refundable tax credits is designed more to shape abortion policy than affect how much money is spent to subsidize healthcare coverage.

 

The abortion language that conservatives want in the healthcare bill may run afoul of a precedent set in 1995, when then-Senate Parliamentarian Robert Dove ruled that an abortion provision affecting a state block grant program failed to meet reconciliation requirements, according to a source briefed on internal Senate discussions.

One GOP source identified the parliamentarian’s objection to the Hyde language along with Republican infighting over how to cap ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion as two of the biggest obstacles to passing a bill.

A Republican senator confirmed that negotiators have wrestled with the procedural obstacle facing the anti-abortion language.

“That has come up and there well could be a challenge,” the lawmaker said.

The lawmaker, however, said that the problem is surmountable, arguing “there are ways around it.”

One possibility would be to change the form of assistance to low-income people by changing it from a refundable tax credit to a subsidy filtered through an already existing government program that restricts abortion services, such as the Federal Employee Health Benefits program or Medicaid.

A second Republican senator said discussions on the topic are ongoing.

GOP negotiators picked up the pace of their discussions with the parliamentarian after the Congressional Budget Office released an updated score for the House-passed bill in late May.

President Trump is pushing the Senate to pass its version of the legislation by July 4.

If GOP leaders are forced to strip the Hyde language from the healthcare bill and cannot find an alternative way to seal off insurance tax credits or subsidies from abortion services, they would lose the support of anti-abortion rights groups, a devastating blow.

“We’ve made it clear in a lot of conversations and some letters that any GOP replacement plan has to be consistent with the principles of the Hyde Amendment,” said David Christensen, vice president of government affairs at Family Research Council, a conservative group that promotes Christian values.

“Abortion is not healthcare and the government should not be subsidizing elective abortion,” he added.

Christensen predicted that activists would be up in arms if abortion services aren’t barred under the bill.

“If the Byrd Rule were to be an obstacle to ensuring the GOP replacement plan in the Senate does not subsidize abortion, that’s something that would be a serious problem for us and the pro-life community,” he said.

Republican senators who are thought to be safe votes to support the GOP leadership’s ObamaCare repeal and replace plan may suddenly shift to undecided or opposed.

“Would that be a deal killer? I’d have to think about it. I’m inclined to think it would [be],” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who has jurisdiction over the tax credits in the healthcare bill, acknowledged it could be tough to pass the bill without the anti-abortion language.

“I think a lot of people do think that’s essential,” he said.

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