It also goes against a campaign promise that Donald Trump made in 2016, when he told a Colorado news station the state should be allowed to keep observing its marijuana laws. “I think it’s up to the states, yeah. I’m a states person,” Trump said at the time. “I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.”
On the Senate floor Thursday, the usually mild-mannered Gardner was outraged, calling the decision “a trampling of Colorado’s rights, its voters.” He vowed to put a hold on every Justice Department nominee until Sessions reverses course.
He also said the decision by Sessions broke a personal pledge the former Alabama senator had made to Gardner before his confirmation last year: “I would like to know from the attorney general: What changed?”
Gardner spoke briefly with Sessions by phone afterward and the two men plan to meet soon, according to a Gardner aide.
It was the second time in recent months that the senator has very publicly gone against members of his party.
But Gardner, who hails from a state with a libertarian streak, is still a largely reliable vote for Republicans. He holds a leadership position in the caucus as chief of the Senate GOP campaign arm. Despite landing in the headlines recently for challenging those in his own party, it’s unlikely he’ll join the small chorus of Republicans who’ve become outspoken critics of President Trump, a la Sens. Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee.
Still, it was just months ago that Gardner led the risky charge to expel a potential Republican colleague.
As chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, he released a bombshell of a statement in November shortly after The Washington Post reported allegations of sexual abuse against Roy Moore, the Republican nominee in the Alabama US Senate special election.
Gardner said if Moore “refuses to withdraw and wins, the Senate should vote to expel him.” While many Republicans in the Senate urged Moore to drop out of the race, none of them had publicly gone as far as Gardner in saying Moore should be expelled if he were elected.
Even when the Republican National Committee decided to resume its support for Moore’s campaign, despite cutting ties just weeks earlier, Gardner and the NRSC held fast. “Roy Moore will never have the support of the senatorial committee,” Gardner told The Weekly Standard. “I won’t let that happen. Nothing will change. I stand by my previous statement.”
When Moore was defeated days later in an upset win by Democrat Doug Jones, Gardner didn’t need to follow through with his call to expel Moore: “Tonight’s results are clear — the people of Alabama deemed Roy Moore unfit to serve in the US Senate.”
Gardner has also joined Flake and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina in working heavily with Democrats to pursue a deal on immigration — and has stood apart from his party leadership in supporting Graham and Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin’s legislation that would make the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program permanent.
Elected to the Senate in 2014, Gardner, 43, was previously a two-term US congressman and a member of the Colorado House of Representatives. He served as a congressional staffer early in his career.
In the Senate, he’s sought to build up his foreign policy credentials as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, with a focus on North Korea. He is also a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and the Budget Committee.
CNN’s Laura Jarrett and Tal Kopan contributed to this report.
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You can always count on Republicans to do two things: try to cut taxes for the rich and try to weaken the safety net for the poor and the middle class. That was true under George W. Bush, who sharply cut tax rates on the top 1 percent and tried to privatize Social Security. It has been equally true under President Trump; G.O.P. legislative proposals show not a hint of the populism Trump espoused on the campaign trail.
But as a terrible, no good, very bad tax bill heads for a final vote, something has been added to the mix. As usual, Republicans seek to afflict the afflicted and comfort the comfortable, but they don’t treat all Americans with a given income the same. Instead, their bill — on which we don’t have full details, but whose shape is clear — hugely privileges owners, whether of businesses or of financial assets, over those who simply work for a living.
And this privileging of nonwage income isn’t an accident. Modern Republicans exalt “job creators,” that is, people who own businesses directly or indirectly via their stockholdings. Meanwhile, they show implicit contempt for mere employees.
More about that contempt in a moment. First, about that tax bill: The biggest-ticket item is a sharp cut in corporate taxes. While some of this tax cut might trickle down in the form of higher wages, the consensus among tax economists is that most of the break will accrue to shareholders as opposed to workers. So it’s mainly a tax cut for investors, not people who work for a living.
And the second most important element in the bill is a tax break for people whose income comes from owning a business rather than in the form of wages. The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has evaluated the Senate bill, which the final bill is expected to resemble. It finds that the bill would reduce taxes on business owners, on average, about three times as much as it would reduce taxes on those whose primary source of income is wages or salaries. For highly paid workers, the gap would be even wider, as much as 10 to one.
As the Center’s Howard Gleckman notes, this might mean, for example, that “a partner in a real estate development firm might get a far bigger tax cut than a surgeon employed by a hospital, even though their income is the same.” (Yes, a lot of the bill looks as if it were specifically designed to benefit the Trump family.)
If this sounds like bad policy, that’s because it is. More than that, it opens the doors to an orgy of tax avoidance. Suppose that I could get The Times to stop paying me a salary, and instead to pay the same amount to Krugmanomics LLC, a consulting firm consisting of one person — me — that sells opinion pieces. I would probably get a big tax break as a result.
Now, the bill will contain complicated rules intended to limit such gaming of the system, and they’ll probably prevent me personally from taking advantage of the new loophole. But as Gleckman says of these rules, “some may fail and some may work too well” — that is, deny the tax break to some business owners who really should qualify. On average, however, they’re likely to fail: a lot of revenue will be lost to those who game the system. Think about it: We’re pitting hastily devised legislation, drafted without hearings over the course of just a few days, against the cleverest lawyers and accountants money can buy. Which side do you think will win?
As a result, it’s a good guess that the bill will increase the budget deficit far more than currently projected. And meanwhile, after all those promises Republicans made about simplifying our tax system, they’ve actually made it far more complicated.
So why are they doing this?
After all, the tax bill appears to be terrible politics as well as terrible policy. Cutting corporate taxes is hugely unpopular; even Republicans are almost as likely to say they should be raised as to say they should be lowered. The Bush tax cuts, at least initially, had wide (though unjustified) popular support; but the public overwhelmingly disapproves of the current Republican plan.
But Republicans don’t seem able to help themselves: Their disdain for ordinary working Americans as opposed to investors, heirs, and business owners runs so deep that they can’t contain it.
When I realized the extent to which G.O.P. tax plans were going to favor business owners over ordinary workers, I found myself remembering what happened in 2012, when Eric Cantor — then the House majority leader — tried to celebrate Labor Day. He put out a tweet for the occasion that somehow failed to mention workers at all, instead praising those who have “built a business and earned their own success.”
Yes, it was just a gaffe, but a revealing one; Cantor, a creature of the G.O.P. establishment if ever there was one, had so little respect for working Americans that he forgot to include them in a Labor Day message.
And now that disdain has been translated into legislation, in the form of a bill that treats anyone who works for someone else — that is, the vast majority of Americans — as a second-class citizen.
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With Roy Moore’s humiliating loss in the Alabama Senate race, the Trumpified Republican Party finds itself both defeated and dishonored, with no sign that it has yet hit bottom.
At every stage of the run-up to this special election, Republicans could have resisted, pushed back, or drawn lines, but their failure to do so lead them inexorably to this moment: the defeat of an unreconstructed bigot and ignorant crank who had the full-throated backing of the president they have embraced and empowered.
It may be worthwhile charting the party’s descent to this moment.
Think of it as a drama in four acts.
In Act I, the curtain opens to reveal a gaudy golden escalator, and as Donald Trump descends to announce his candidacy for president, the scene has the feel of a French farce. But the humor is tinged with menace, as his lies and insults pile up, targeting women, the disabled and minorities. As the curtain closes, it is unclear whether Republicans will bring themselves to embrace the erratic usurper. (Exit Jeb! stage right.)
The mood is more somber in Act II, as Republicans ponder their choice. A solitary Hamlet-like Paul Ryan paces the stage in a torn doublet and laments the evil days that have fallen on his party; he is accompanied by a Joker (who looks a lot like Lindsey Graham) who tells him that Donald Trump is a “kook,” someone who is “not fit to run the country.” But after several long monologues, in which he rationalizes that “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” the young Mr. Ryan decides that the election is a binary choice and he and other Republicans must go along. He wavers after Mr. Trump engages in what he calls a “textbook definition” of racism and is caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women. Other women come forward, but they are largely ignored. Republicans make the choice to stick with him and to everyone’s surprise, Donald Trump wins. (Exit Mr. Ryan and Joker stage left.)
Act III opens to a scene shortly after the inauguration. One after another, Republican leaders bow the knee to the newly enthroned Orange God King, who is surrounded by a motley court of misfits, sycophants and brigands. Even as Mr. Trump’s behavior becomes increasingly outrageous and often unhinged, the party’s grandees appease and flatter him. Courtiers, who come and go, repeatedly reassure him that he is winning. After all, he is giving them what they want: judges, tax cuts, deregulation and an end to Obamacare mandates. Enter Paul Ryan, who is better dressed and a much more cheerful character in this act. He is asked: What choice would Republicans now make?
And this is the New Normal for Republicans: the surrender of the party now seems complete. When the president retweets racist videos from a British fascist group, Republican leaders simply ignore it. They have grown accustomed to the politics of rationalization and the moral compromises it demands. So, as President Trump’s lies become more flagrant, they shrug. His conflicts of interest generate little attention, his tweet-rages hardly a blink. Even as the special prosecutor’s noose appears to close around the president’s inner circle, party leaders mimic Mr. Trump’s denunciations of the investigation. Despite toxic polling, Republicans have fallen into line behind his tax plan, even though it threatens to explode the deficit. There are dissenting voices, who are quickly hustled offstage, but they leave behind haunting warnings.
By the end of Act III, though, it is increasingly clear that this drama is less Hamlet and more Faust. It has only begun to dawn on the protagonists that in a Faustian bargain, you often get your heart’s delight, only to find out that the price was far more than you expected. (Alarms and excursions offstage.)
Act IV opens with a solitary, dark figure, a sort of infernal Falstaff (Steve Bannon), who, despite his banishment from the White House, remains an avatar of the forces that have been unleashed by Donald Trump’s presidency. Now Mr. Bannon presents the Republican Party with its future: Roy Moore.
Many are horrified by the prospect of this figure of appallingly vileness, who was twice removed from the bench for his refusal to follow the law, has expressed nostalgia for slavery, suggested that homosexuality should be illegal, that women should not be allowed to run for public office, and that Muslims should not be allowed to serve.
But at Mr. Bannon’s urging, Mr. Trump embraces Mr. Moore and the Republican National Committee obediently follows suit. The women who have accused Mr. Moore of harassment, sexual assault and molestation are either disbelieved as “fake news,” or discounted because it was more important to defeat the Democrat than to take the issue of sexual abuse seriously. For many Republicans, this is a reprise of the choice they made a year ago, when they decided to overlook Donald Trump’s own conduct and character. But this time the result is a stunning electoral defeat for Mr. Trump in one of the reddest states in the country and a diminished majority for Republicans in the Senate, putting their entire agenda at risk.
There were voices of resistance. Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders tried to distance themselves from Mr. Moore. The former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney declared: “Roy Moore in the U.S. Senate would be a stain on the G.O.P. and on the nation. Leigh Corfman and other victims are courageous heroes. No vote, no majority is worth losing our honor, our integrity.”
But in this act, the Republican Party learns the full weight of the choices it has made, and their moral and political consequences. There was a certain inevitability to all of this. Step by step, Republicans embraced a politics that was post-truth and post-ethics. Now, in defeat, the party — or at least its leadership — is officially post-shame.
Some will argue that Republicans actually a dodged a bullet in Alabama, because they will not have to deal with the nightmare of a Senator Moore. But Republicans now head into a fearsome storm of outrage, tightly lashed to both President Trump and memories of Roy Moore’s horrific candidacy.
Throughout this final act, the party’s leaders will desperately try to pretend that this is not a tragedy and that they were not the ones who brought this upon themselves. Some of them will know better, but I suspect that in the final scene they will be left with the question “What have we done?”
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Amid the final push to pass the Senate tax plan, which is at a make-or-break moment today, Republicans have now hatched two separate schemes, each designed to win over a different bloc of undecided senators. But the two maneuvers could contradict each other — and the contradiction would neatly reveal the big scam at the heart of this whole enterprise.
Several deficit-hawk senators, such as Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), are demanding that some kind of “trigger” be added to the bill, which would raise taxes later if the plan’s tax cuts end up adding to the deficit. The bill would boost the deficit by $1.4 trillion in the short term. Some Republicans have argued that the spectacular growth unleashed by the plan would offset that, but Corker and company (and many economists) are skeptical; hence the demand for a tax-hike trigger. As of now, how this trigger would work, and whose taxes would go up, are unspecified.
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At the same time, Senate Republicans are currently looking at ways to make the bill more generous to owners of “pass-through” businesses, to win over holdouts Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Steve Daines of Montana. Research has shown that most pass-through income goes to the top 1 percent: As the New York Times put it, to win them over, Republicans are “increasingly tilting” their plan “to benefit wealthy Americans.”
Why the GOP deficit hawks sound a little less hawkish lately
The Washington Post’s Damian Paletta looks at the arguments that Republicans are using to promote their tax overhaul.(Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
But here’s the rub of the matter: As one tax analyst tells me, if Republicans make the plan more generous to the wealthy by doing more for pass-throughs (to win over some senators), this would also add to the deficit (which should drive away the others). And this leads us right back to the con at the heart of this whole affair.
The center of the Senate GOP tax plan is a large permanent cut to the tax rate paid by corporations. These would themselves overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy, because the vast majority of their benefits would go to shareholders and capital. But Republicans face two challenges. The first is to sell this primarily as a middle-class tax cut, so voters accept it. They do this by front-loading a bunch of preferences for the middle class along with cuts to individual rates across the board. The second challenge is to do this while simultaneously making the case that the plan would not balloon the deficit, to hold on to deficit-hawk senators and because if it raises the deficit in the long term, procedural it can’t pass by simple majority with only Republican votes. Republicans address this problem by ending all the middle-class preferences and individual rate cuts after 2025.
But the problem is that the second imperative undermines the first. Because the middle-class benefits must be temporary to avoid busting the long-term deficit, analyses have found that in the long run, it would shower enormous long-term benefits on the rich while the benefits to the middle class fade away and taxes go up later for many less-fortunate earners. The whole point of back-loading the losses on to that latter group later is to prevent the permanent corporate tax cuts from ballooning the long-term deficit, allowing a huge permanent tax cut overwhelmingly benefiting the rich to pass with no Democrats.
The two new maneuvers Republicans are now contemplating both typify and exacerbate this core problem. Senators who want the plan to be more generous to pass-throughs saythey want the small businesses in their ranks (there are some) to get equivalent treatment to wealthy corporations. But Joseph Rosenberg, a senior research associate at the Tax Policy Center, tells me that this itself would add to the deficit.
“Changes that would make the pass-through provision more generous would further increase the cost of the bill and the deficit,” Rosenberg emailed me. What’s more, Rosenberg notes that such a change would likely be something the wealthy in particular can take advantage of, because they’d be more inclined and able to reclassify their income as pass-through. As “taxpayers look for opportunities to take advantage of the tax benefit,” Rosenberg says, this would “disproportionately benefit higher-income households.”
For all of this to go through, consider the most likely way it would happen: The deficit hawks would have to accept a plan that on paper does balloon the deficit in the short term, on the basis of triggers that allow them to claim tax hikes will kick in if growth doesn’t offset that. (Either these triggers remain unspecified, or Republicans will be declaring that some specific groups may be hit with tax hikes later.) Meanwhile, to make conservatives happy, the plan would have to include still more benefits for the rich under the guise of mainly helping small businesses.
All that could very well happen. But if so, it will just underscore how many different ruses are necessary to paper over the basic con at the center of it all: Republicans are giving the wealthy a large permanent tax cut while selling it as mainly a large middle-class tax cut andas something that won’t bust the deficit.
Update: Reporter Steven Dennis points out that Johnson and Daines are proposing to pay for their idea of making the bill more generous to pass-throughs by doing away with some deductions enjoyed by corporations.
But Seth Hanlon, a tax analyst with the Center for American Progress, tells me that we should not presume this offset will prove to be real until we actually see it in the bill and it’s subjected to serious scrutiny. If not, Republicans would have to find the money to pay for this elsewhere, or it would increase the deficit.
Beyond this, the broader point still holds: The underlying problem here has always been that Republicans are trying to push a permanent tax cut that would overwhelmingly benefit the rich, while selling it as primarily a middle-class tax cut and claiming it won’t bust the deficit.
Mike Lee of Utah and Marco Rubio of Florida, for example, appear to be making little progress in persuading party leaders to expand access to the child tax credit for low-income families, by allowing the credit to be refundable against payroll tax liability. Such a move would allow working parents who do not currently face income tax liability to still benefit from the expanded credit envisioned in the bill.
Per usual, it appears the changes are geared toward winning over conservative holdouts, because Republicans who say they want a less regressive bill can be counted on to vote “yes” in the end.
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Three House Republicans on Friday moved to pressure special counsel Robert Mueller to resign over what they contend are “obvious conflicts of interest,” the latest instance of rising GOP resistance to his Russia probe.
Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) and Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), introduced a measure that, while nonbinding,would put the House on record describing Mueller, a former FBI director, as unfit to lead the probe because of his relationship with James Comey, his successor at the bureau.
“[B]e it Resolved, That House of Representatives expresses its sense that Robert Mueller is compromised and should resign from his special counsel position immediately,” the resolution states.
Mueller is investigating whether any Americans aided Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election as well as whether figures in the Trump administration may have obstructed justice in part by moving to oust Comey in May, when the FBI’s Russia investigation was picking up steam. Mueller was appointed by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein after an uproar following President Donald Trump’s decision to fire Comey.
The move by the three lawmakers to seek Mueller’s resignation is a sign of intensifying frustration among Trump’s allies during the same week Mueller issued his first indictments in the probe: money laundering charges against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates. Mueller also secured a guilty plea from George Papadopoulos, a low-level campaign foreign policy adviser, who lied to the FBI about his attempts to arrange a meeting between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.
The anger from Republicans appears to mirror the feelings of Trump, who on Friday unloaded in a series of tweets urging his own Justice Department to investigate Democrats — not him — for transgressions he says occurred during the 2016 election.
“This is real collusion and dishonesty. Major violation of Campaign Finance Laws and Money Laundering,” he said, accusing Democrats of the same charges that Manafort was hit with. “[W]here is our Justice Department?”
Most Republicans, including those in GOP leadership, are not on board with dismissing Mueller.
But the conservative push has worried some on the left, who are urging Democratic lawmakers to step up their defense of Mueller.
“While it might be ideal to wait to speak out until Mueller finishes his investigation, Trump’s defenders in Congress are not waiting to defend the President’s actions or to pass judgment on the investigation,” CAP Action Fund wrote in a memo being prepared for lawmakers and obtained by POLITICO. “The heightened risk to Trump from Mueller’s investigation also means there is a heightened risk to the Mueller investigation from Trump.”
Other conservatives, like Reps. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) and Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.), have already called for Mueller’s departure.
DeSantis, too, has ramped up his efforts to hinder Mueller’s investigation. He recently pushed an amendment, which failed to gain traction, that would have curtailed Mueller’s probe within six months and limited its scope.
And in a Thursday interview with Breitbart Radio, DeSantis blamed Rosenstein for a “clumsy” decision to appoint Mueller without putting strict limits on his scope.
“Rosenstein really muffed this,” he said.
Breitbart News Editor Alex Marlow, who interviewed DeSantis, promised to give his proposal a lot of airtime and ink.
“We’re going to be pushing it heavily or at least content on it heavily,” he said.
In his interview, DeSantis also foreshadowed the end of the House Intelligence Committee’s separate investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
“The good news on the congressional side, at least in the House, is from what I understand, they’ve really increased the frequency of the interviews of the people and I think on the House side this Russia-Trump [probe] is going to come to an end soon,” he said.
DeSantis isn’t on the intelligence panel but said talking to committee members, he’s convinced it’ll be done “certainly before the end of the year.”
He also said he’s been urging Speaker Paul Ryan to curtail the House investigation.
“I said, ‘Mr. Speaker, we’ve been spinning these wheels. There’s no evidence. If there is, produce it. I think we’d all like to see it. But if not, then we’ve got to get on with our business,’” adding, “I think that message has been received.”
While the new resolution faults Mueller for leading the probe despite his professional relationship with Comey, it also includes a broader broadside against the FBI.
The three lawmakers say the agency should be investigated for “willful blindness” over a seven-year-old sale of uranium production facilities to Russian interests, which conservatives have argued was approved in part by the Hillary Clinton-led State Department at the same time a party to the deal was making donations to the Clinton Foundation.
Mueller, they note, was presiding over the FBI at the time the agency was investigating a Russian bribery and extortion scheme connected to the uranium deal, but the agency declined to notify Congress of its investigation and prevented a confidential informant from notifying lawmakers.
“Any thorough and honest investigation into the corruption of American-uranium related business must include investigating the willful blindness of the FBI and its leaders,” according to the resolution.
GOP tax plan would provide major gains for richest 1 percent and uneven benefits for the middle class, report says
By Washington Post StaffSeptember 29 at 2:03 PM
The analysis by the Tax Policy Center, a leading group of nonpartisan tax analysts, challenges President Trump’s promise about the effects of the plan.The top 1 percent would see their taxes drop by more than $200,000 on average, the analysis found.
But nearly 30 percent of taxpayers with incomes between $50,000 and $150,000 would see a tax increase within a decade — despite Republican promises that the plan is designed to provide relief to middle-class Americans, according to the study.
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The majority of those making between $150,000 and $300,000 would also be hit with higher taxes. This is a developing story. It will be updated.
that Republican leaders released on Thursday morning seemingly has something for everyone—but perhaps not enough for anyone.
Seeking to quell a revolt from more than one-fifth of his conference, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell agreed to forego two significant tax cuts for the wealthy and instead pour hundreds of billions of dollars back into the proposal he released two weeks ago. There’s now $45 billion to combat opioid addiction and even more funding to help mitigate higher insurance costs for low-income people and to stabilize the individual markets. An additional $70 billion would go to states to help drive down premiums, on top of $112 billion that was in the original proposal. McConnell’s target was senators toward the center of the Republican ranks, who represented the largest bloc of opposition to his first legislative draft.To woo conservative critics, the majority leader added a provision based on a proposed amendment from Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah—backed by pressure from a number of activist groups—that would allow insurance companies to sell stripped-down, inexpensive plans that don’t conform to Obamacare’s standards as long as they offer at least one policy that does. Well, sort of. McConnell’s draft includes the Cruz-Lee idea in brackets, an indication of its polarizing and therefore precarious status within the GOP health-care debate.
McConnell needs to pick up support from both ends of the ideological spectrum. He can afford only two Republican defections, and at least 10 of his members had come out against the first version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act before McConnell abandoned plans to bring it up for a vote last month. Two of those critics, Senator Susan Collins of Maine in the center and Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky on the right, appear to have hardened in their opposition this week. Collins said it would take “a complete overhaul” to win her support, and Paul has gone on a media tour to rail against the revised proposal, saying that based on what he had heard, it was even worse than the original because it repealed less of Obamacare and included a bigger “bailout” for insurers.
Within hours after the revised draft’s release, both Paul and Collins reiterated their opposition to it an d said they would vote against even bringing it up for debate. As on the final vote, McConnell needs at least 50 Republicans to sign off on the procedural motion, and with Paul and Collins apparently out, he needs every other member of his conference to agree.
In a speech on the Senate floor after unveiling the bill to Republicans, McConnell pleaded with his colleagues to allow it at least to come up for debate. “I hope every senator will vote to open debate. Because that’s how you change the status quo,” he said. “This is our opportunity to really make a difference on health care. This is our chance to bring about changes we’ve been talking about since Obamacare was forced on the American people. It’s our time to finally build the bridge away from Obamacare’s failures and deliver relief to those who need it.”While McConnell picked quick support from several party loyalists, most of the holdouts on the original draft remained undecided. Senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said they would review the bill, as did Senator Dean Heller of Nevada, a sharp critic initially who is under intense pressure in the run-up to a reelection campaign next year. In an ominous sign for McConnell, however, Capito said in a statement she still had “serious concerns” about the proposal.
McConnell all but ignored complaints from moderates to soften the bill’s deepest and most contentious cuts—a $772 billion reduction in Medicaid spending over a decade, with hundreds of billions in additional cuts in the 10 years after that. The cuts, which include a four-year phase-out of Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and a change in the program’s growth rate, would not begin until 2020. According to the Washington Post, McConnell told moderates to support the bill with those cuts included because they would never go into effect.
Though rather cynical, it’s an assumption held by some in Washington-based on the likelihood that Democrats will win control of the House in 2018 or the presidency in 2020 and work with Republicans to put off the Medicaid cuts.While the new bill maintains most of the Medicaid cuts, it changes the formula under which hospitals would be reimbursed for treating patients that can’t pay their bill. And it would allow states some wiggle room if a public health emergency was declared or to seek a waiver to access more funds to cover the elderly and disabled, according to a summary posted by the Senate Budget Committee.
Yet like the entire bill itself, McConnell’s Medicaid bet is a risky one. Senators like Collins, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Heller, Portman, and Capito have strongly opposed the cuts to Medicaid and were already frustrated with the secretive, top-down process McConnell has led on the health-care bill. And conservative activists and senators have pointed to the Medicaid changes as one of the few things they like about a proposal that does not truly fulfill their promise to repeal Obamacare. They had already stomached the Senate’s longer lead-time in ending the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, but will they recoil at McConnell’s reported admission that the reforms might not endure at all?
In another blow to Collins and Murkowski, McConnell also retains provisions blocking federal funds from going to Planned Parenthood and banning the use of subsidies to purchase plans that cover abortion. Both senators had criticized those aspects of the original bill, and if both Collins and Paul vote against the legislation as they’ve indicated, Murkowski’s opposition on those grounds could sink it entirely.
Cruz has demanded the inclusion of his Consumer Freedom Choice Amendment in the underlying Senate bill as the price for his support. But the version that McConnell included was different, Lee tweeted shortly before Republicans were scheduled to see the revised bill for the first time.
While Lee was undecided, Cruz told reporters that he would support the bill as long as his amendment stayed in and no other changes were made. His position appeared to mimic the new stance of conservative activist groups, who have conceded that Republicans can’t fully repeal the Affordable Care Act but in recent days made the adoption of Cruz’s amendment striking at its core regulations their final demand. Even Grover Norquist, the anti-tax activist who has prioritized the repeal of Obamacare’s tax increases, issued a statement signaling he was okay with McConnell’s decision to keep some of them now as long as the leadership committed to getting rid of them in subsequent tax-reform legislation. Norquist told me in an interview last month that keeping the taxes on the wealthy even temporarily was “a bad idea.”
Illustrating McConnell’s challenge in navigating the bill to passage, the changes that Cruz and Lee are demanding could solidify opposition among moderates or lose even more votes among Republicans leery of doing anything that threatens protections for people with preexisting conditions. The health-care industry is aligned against the proposal, which would essentially create separate insurance markets for sick and healthy people. Even the insurance industry’s top lobbying group, America’s Health Insurance Plans, came out in public opposition to the amendment after staying quiet through much of the Senate debate. Whether the Cruz amendment stays in the bill is in doubt. A senior GOP policy staffer said Thursday the provision was put in brackets in the bill text because “the policy is continuing to be worked on as members react to it.” Republicans have asked the Congressional Budget Office to score versions of the bill with and without the Cruz policy, but it’s unclear whether the report released next week will fully assess the amendment.
The next big test for McConnell will come early next week, when the CBO releases its analysis. The original bill fared little better with the CBO than the legislation House Republicans passed in May; the budget office found that the Senate bill would result in 22 million fewer people having health insurance after a decade. McConnell is hoping that the infusion of money into the subsidy and stabilization programs will improve that number and boost support for the bill. But if three or Republicans vote against a procedural motion to bring the proposal to the floor next week, it won’t even see a formal debate.In an indication of how dicey the revised bill’s prospects were, two Republican senators, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, chose the day of its release to unveil their own, competing idea for a partial replacement of Obamacare. Appearing on CNN before a crucial GOP meeting, they proposed a plan that would do away with Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates but keep most of its tax increases. But instead of funding a federal subsidy program, that revenue would be sent to the states so that they could craft their own health-care plans as they saw fit.
“If you like Obamacare and you want to repair it, you can,” Graham said on CNN. “If you want to replace it, you can.”
The idea is in line with an earlier proposal from Cassidy and Collins that would have allowed states to choose whether they kept Obamacare or not. That plan went nowhere, but with Republicans nearing a stalemate on health care, the senators are betting that their colleagues will give it another look.
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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.
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 — one–sixth 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.
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.
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.
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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.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer said President Trump wants Congress to pass a health-care bill that “has heart in it,” on June 20 at the White House. (Reuters)
Senate Republicans are confronting a potentially career-altering decision: whether to vote for a health-care bill that polls show is vastly unpopular and could backfire stupendously. And on Tuesday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer had a chance to provide them some reassurance that President Trump wasn’t going to throw them under the bus if things go sideways.
“The president clearly wants a bill that has heart in it,” Spicer said. “He believes health care is something that is near and dear to so many families and individuals. He made it clear from the beginning that it was one of his priorities.”
If you are a Republican who is thinking about sticking your neck out for this bill, that has to make you think twice.
Last month Trump held a Rose Garden celebration with House Republicans after they passed their version of a health-care bill. Some even thought that festivities were a little over-the-top. But the president clearly wanted to celebrate a first legislative win.
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His actions since then, however, suggest he doesn’t necessarily want his brand attached to this bill and all the sausage-making that goes with it. Recent polls have shown Americans oppose the legislation by a 2-to-1 margin or even a 3-to-1 margin, and the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates indicate it could reduce the number of insured Americans by 23 million over a decade and raise premiums for older, poorer people. And whatever the perceptions and projections are today, the law of unintended consequences certainly applies when it comes to large-scale legislation. It’s a massively difficult vote to take for any member.
The White House will almost surely come around and say all the right things when the Senate ultimately reveals its bill. And for Trump and Spicer, it’s probably smart to withhold your full endorsement to make sure that bill will reflect the things the White House feels are important. But the fact that Trump is saying these things behind closed doors about a bill he once celebrated has to make Republican senators think twice.
What if the bill they are working on does wind up causing major problems? What if it doesn’t even pass, and most all of them put themselves on the record voting for something that can still be used in a pretty brutal attack ad using those CBO numbers? There is basically nothing to suggest that Trump is going to allow himself to go down with this ship. And unlike your normal politician, he’s not going to feel bound by loyalty, his past statements or that Rose Garden celebration. When Trump feels like disowning something politically, Trump will disown it.
Perhaps the White House could be forgiven for not fighting back strongly enough against reports of Trump’s initial “mean” comment last week. But now it’s happened again; Trump and his White House have basically put the House’s bill at arms-length twice in the span of a week. And on Tuesday it suggested that it reserves the right to bash the bill at a later date if Trump feels like it.
Given the bill will need 50 of 52 Republican senators to vote for it, that’s a pretty terrible message to send right now.
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While much of Washington fixates on Donald Trump and his scandals, a small band of Senate Republicans is working—in secret—on a bill that would slash health insurance for tens of millions of Americans and jeopardize access for millions more. And they’re doing this on a so-called fast track meant to preclude debate. The reason for this rushed process? To obscure the obvious: that at heart, the American Health Care Act is little more than a massive tax cut for the wealthiest Americans.
Jamelle Bouie is Slate’s chief political correspondent.
Once the working group emerges from its cloister, the bill will be scored by the Congressional Budget Office, and then—in a sharp break with procedure—bypass the committee process and go straight to the floor without a public hearing. There are even suggestions that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will use legislative gamesmanship to avoid debate entirely, so Republicans can pass the bill without any discussion of its contents and provisions. As Paul Ryan did in the House of Representatives, McConnell intends to restructure one-sixth of the American economy with as little input as possible, freezing out experts, industry representatives, and Democratic lawmakers. This, despite overwhelming opposition from the public; in one recent poll, just 23 percent of respondents said they approved of the Republican health care bill.
And what will the public get if and when the final version of the bill is passed into law? Millions of Americans will either lose their health insurance, see massive new costs, or face added obstacles, from “lifetime” caps on care to limits based on pre-existing conditions.
There’s no indication Republicans are thinking deeply about free market reforms to the American health care system. But let’s just say they are. Perhaps a drastically less-regulated insurance market is worth the cost to ordinary individuals and families. If that’s the case, then Republicans owe the country both honesty and transparency. It will get neither. Instead, every indication is that the GOP will push through with a process that holds deliberation in contempt. That’s not to say Republicans aren’t responding to someone—there are groups, like the Republican base, that want this bill—but the broad public opposes the effort.
As it stands, there’s a chance the Senate health care bill could pass before the July 4 holiday. Compare this to the process behind the Affordable Care Act. It took most of 2009 for Democrats to produce a bill: months of negotiation—including a summer of talks between Democratic and Republican senators—that involved debate and input, as lawmakers produced drafts, defended proposals, and sold their plan to the public. Congress saw testimony from patients and other ordinary people, and citizens were able to lobby lawmakers with their input.
It was as open a process as possible, and while Democrats weren’t immune to misleading rhetoric (“if you like your plan, you can keep it”), the final law wasn’t a surprise. It did what Democrats and the president said it would. And the party was proud of their work. “This is a big fucking deal,” Vice President Joe Biden famously whispered.
None of this is true of Republicans and the AHCA. Theirs is a closed, secretive process. There are no drafts, no inkling of the plan. No speeches defending its major planks or hearings where lawmakers and experts hash out concerns. When pressed with questions, Republicans from the Senate working group refuse to answer. Indeed, asked if it was important to bring a bill to the public, Republicans say, in effect, no. “Well, I think we’re not worried so much about that as we are getting it together so we can get a majority to vote for it,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch.
This might be tolerable if Republicans were open about the effects of their plan. But they aren’t. They’re lying. Tom Price, secretary of health and human services, insists that the bill preserves Medicaid, telling CNN, “We believe the Medicaid population will be cared for in a better way under our program because it will be more responsive to them.” In reality, the bill phases out the Medicaid expansion and makes additional cuts, slashing 14 million people from the program. President Trump has made assurances that the bill “guarantees” coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, which just isn’t true. Vice President Mike Pence promises “a dynamic national health insurance marketplace that lowers costs, increases quality and gives more choices to working families.” Given the massive coverage losses projected under the GOP’s health care plan, there’s no evidence that anything approaching that promise is on the horizon.
Republicans are pushing forward on an unpopular bill that, by every independent account, will harm millions of Americans. To justify this sprint, the White House is actively sabotaging insurance markets while telling the public that the Affordable Care Act is failing. And in taking this course, they’ve shown a breathtaking contempt for democracy, insulating themselves from any political pressure, lying about the policies in question, and hiding this bankrupt process from the country.
This cowardly and factional governing—meant to satisfy a small minority of Republican Party backers, not the public at large—will likely backfire. Given Democratic anger, the president’s unpopularity, and broad discontent with the bill in question, there are decent odds this story ends with a Democratic victory in the 2018 elections and a chance to repair the damage. But between now and then, real people will suffer. Real people will have to decide if they can afford continued treatment. Real people will die. And as far as anyone can tell, the point of all of this—the secrecy and dishonesty and likely pain—is tax cuts. That’s it.
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