The Senate strikes back with the Flake flip

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ‘HILL’ NEWS)

 

The Senate strikes back with the Flake flip

Defending the Senate is not exactly the popular take these days. It’s easy to beat up on the upper house of Congress.

Many of those are fair indictments of the institution that George Washington once dubbed, “the cooling saucer of democracy.” But let’s give the ultimate institution of all the Beltway institutions it’s due. This week, notwithstanding the public spectacle of a hearing featuring Supreme Court hopeful Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, the Senate worked.

Republicans wanted to shove Brett Kavanaugh through a rushed committee process with scant vetting of the credible allegations against Kavanaugh and force-feed him onto the Supreme Court. Another notch in the belt for President Trump and Senate Republicans going into the midterm elections.

And, to be clear, they still may do that. But the world’s greatest deliberative body did what it was supposed to do. What it was designed to do. It’s slowed the process down. And the process wasn’t slowed down by a powerful committee chair or a 2020 hopeful or any member of leadership. It was slowed down by Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). A retiring, unpopular, and often unremarkable Senator who will leave Congress next January without much of a discernible legacy.

But the Senate makes that possible. Arcane rules and customs that are hard for even the most experienced Senate alumni to explain allow someone like Jeff Flake to gum up the works. The idea that Flake can pull together a small gang of moderates to flip the emergency brake at the last-minute is exactly what the body is set up to do. In the Senate, change is supposed to be slow and deliberate and difficult. That’s the whole point. If you don’t get that, you don’t get the Senate.

Also, the fact that it was Flake is notable. His relationship with someone like Chris Coons (D-Del.), another member from the other party who lives in relative anonymity, was also critical here. Not every member of the Senate should be running for or posturing for a higher office. The sequence of events amplify why the Jeff Flakes and Chris Coons’ are essential to the effectiveness of the Senate. Two Senators who can get in a room and make an imperfect, but nevertheless important deal.

Some people may think it just delays the inevitable for a week. That’s certainly possible. Most of the betting odds would probably still suggest that Senate Republicans are determined to put Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.

But as somebody who was raised by the Senate and worked for former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) from 2009-2011 during the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), I can speak with firsthand experience about the unpredictability of time inside those chambers. When pursuing a legislative priority, time can be your biggest enemy.

The biggest complication with the passage of the ACA was the extra time that was forced upon Senate Democratic leadership in 2009 and 2010. That extra time allowed public opinion to work its way against the bill, allowed the bill itself to be weakened and watered down and created unforeseen circumstances like the passing of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) and the unlikely special election of Scott Brown (R-Mass.) to fill his seat which significantly weakened the leverage of the Democratic majority. All resulting in a slow roll-out of the bill and ultimately igniting Republicans ability to recapturing control of Congress.

Let’s be clear. The “Profiles in Courage” being written up for Sen. Flake are a bit overdone. Especially because despite his outspokenness against President Trump, the now-senior senator from Arizona votes with the president more than 83 percent of the time according to FiveThirtyEight.com. And he still likely intends to support the Kavanaugh nomination after the one-week delay he negotiated for a FBI investigation into the Kavanaugh accusations to be completed.

But regardless, a reliable conservative stepped in the way to at least slow down a conservative coronation of a second Trump Supreme Court nominee. And yes, we should all give a shout out to the brave protesters, Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher, who inspired the Flake Flip. They exemplify why no American should underestimate their role or take a backseat in our democracy.

But I think we would also be mistaken to withhold another shout out for the United States Senate. In an era where our institutions are being challenged and questioned daily, the Senate proved durable and helped to validate its unique role in our democracy.

Joel Payne is a former deputy press secretary for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and former director of African-American advertising for the Hillary for America 2016 campaign. He is currently a vice president with MWWPR.

I Am A Conservative Christian And The Evangelical Leaders Do Not Speak For Me

 

I was already planning to write an article today about the so-called Christian Right and Republican Politics and I was just putting the pieces together in my mind on how to write it. Then just before I clicked over to this platform I checked in once more to the Google news site that I read every day and found the embers on which to start my fire.  The top Google News story a few moments ago was from a Writer from the New York Times named Mike Cohen. The story line was “Evangelical Leaders Are Frustrated At G.O.P. Caution On Kavanaugh Allegation.” There was a picture of a man named Ralph Reed whom the article calls “the Social Conservative Leader”, okay, lets stop right there for a moment. Personally I consider myself to be a social conservative Christian and I personally have never heard of Mr. Reed and after reading some of his opinions I am fully sure that he does not represent me at all. I have often wondered how people here in the U.S. who call themselves Christians can possibly throw their support behind either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. I realize that many do lean toward one Party or the other simply because our system only gives us two real choices here in the U.S. and both are obviously saturated in evil. I still believe that we voters must dump both of these evils and give the voters several more choices. For us Christians to condone the evil that is both Parties is to greatly diminish the love and the teachings of Christ whom we say we are followers of. Back in November of 2016 we all witnessed pure evil at the top of both of the Republican and the Democratic Tickets, we the people had a no win situation, many people were simply voting for what they felt was the least of the two evils. If we Christians condone that which is evil then we are and we will be counted among the evil, we must separate ourselves from them.

 

According to Mr. Reed “the Senate Republicans and the White House are not (PROTECTING) Judge Kavanaugh forcefully enough from a sexual assault allegation.” Mr. Reed goes on to say “if Republicans were to fail to defend and confirm such a (obvious and eminently qualified and decent nominee) that it will be difficult to energize the (faith-based) conservatives in November.” I have a few questions about having Mr. Kavanaugh sitting on the Supreme Court of our Country other than “just” this sexual assault case from when he was 17 years old though, but I will start my thoughts to you with this assault allegation. It appears that the events of that night became quite well-known in the school that the girl attended so it is not some just now made up story. There is a letter that has popped up now about 65 girls that Mr. Kavanaugh went to school with that are saying that he was a great guy who showed no signs of this type of behavior. My question on this is that MR. Kavanaugh went to an all boys prep school and the girl who said she was attacked by him went to an all girls prep high school. So, none of these 65 girls went to school with him, it would be a bit odd that they could have known him so well unless he was quite the ‘party animal.’

 

When Mr. Kavanaugh got his first job on the Bench his boss had a very bad reputation for sexual misconduct and in fact he resigned from the Bench because of all of the allegations against him. Mr. Kavanaugh said this past week that he was unaware of his Bosses reputation even though it was well know where he worked at. So, even now, is Mr. Cavanaugh just oblivious to the reality going on around him, is he just ignorant, or is he a liar? The New York Times also reports about how Court Clerk’s (the women) who wanted to get a job under Mr. Kavanaugh needed to have that certain “Model” look as he wanted all his female Clerks to be very good-looking. So, talent and knowledge didn’t seem to mean as much with him as a tight butt and a short skirt does seem to.

 

Now, another very important issue that is being swept under the table by the Republicans in the Senate concerning Mr. Kavanaugh is his finances and his financial records. Bank records show that he has never had more than $60,000 in the bank at any time of his adult life yet he came up with a 20% down payment on a house note of 1.25 million dollars and $107,000 entrance fee for a local Country Club. His finances do not match up with his expenses and his tax records do not match up with where he got the money for his life style. When a person is being considered for a position on the Supreme Court it is normal for the FBI to do a thorough investigation into the person, this has not been done with Mr. Kavanaugh and the Republicans who control the Senate and Mr. Trump do not want to wait long enough for the FBI to run an investigation before they want to vote him onto the Court, why? There are other hypocrisies in Mr. Kavanaugh’s writings like his opinions on the impeachment of President Bill Clinton because of his low character and how he is now willing to over look President Trumps Plethora of examples of no morals.

 

Here is what I am getting at concerning Judge Kavanaugh and concerning the so-called Christian right. First, sexual assault is something that must be taken seriously and should be investigated by the FBI being that this man is seeking a job in which he will sit in judgement of you, me, our children and grandchildren. For a so-called religious leader to act like even the possibility of such an event is something that doesn’t matter, I beg to differ with you on calling such a person a ‘Religious Leader.’ The White House and the Senate are totally treating the Supreme Court as a Political Toy when it is supposed to be totally independent of Politics all together. Procedures need to be followed, including a full FBI investigation into Judge Kavanaugh morals and sexual assault does fall into this category. Also, the FBI needs to do a full investigation into the financial back ground of Judge Kavanaugh to find out who it is that has been funneling hundreds of thousands of dollars to him and why it is that there is no record of this money on his tax reports. We the people need honesty from our government, it is obvious that there is little to no honesty in either the Congress or in the White House so it is very important for we the people to at least have some honest people sitting on the Court Benches and for them to be more than just political monkeys.

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

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

JUN 22 2017, 3:47 PM ET

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

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

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

Related: Senate Health Care Bill Includes Deep Medicaid Cuts

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

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

Medicaid cuts

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

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

Play

Protester Shares Her Reasons For Opposing Health Care Bill0:57

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

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

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

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

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

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

Private insurance subsidies

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pre-existing conditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

The individual mandate

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

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

Play

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

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

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

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

Taxes

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

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

Does it have ‘heart?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Senate Health Care Bill Includes Deep Cuts to Medicaid

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Video

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where Senators Stand on the Health Care Bill

Senate Republican leaders unveiled their health care bill on Thursday.

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

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

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

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

GRAPHIC

How Senate Republicans Plan to Dismantle Obamacare

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

OPEN GRAPHIC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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