Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Alexander Points Finger At Trump As Opposition to Obamacare Deal Mounts

Sen. Lamar Alexander’s (R-Tenn.) deal to stave off the collapse of Obamacare is meeting with a less than ecstatic response. As the bipartisan framework meets opposition, Alexander pointed to President Trump as the force behind the tentative agreement.

After a phone call with the president, Sen. Alexander claimed that the deal was Trump’s idea in the first place. “Trump completely engineered the plan that we announced yesterday,” Alexander told Mike Allen of Axios. Alexander said that Trump repeatedly called to push him toward a deal that included Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). “He wanted a bipartisan bill for the short term,” Alexander said.

A few minutes after Alexander’s appearance with Allen, President Trump appeared to throw then senator under the bus. Trump tweeted, “I am supportive of Lamar as a person & also of the process, but I can never support bailing out ins co's who have made a fortune w/ O'Care.”

Meanwhile, there are signs that the deal may be a tough sell for Republicans. A spokesman for Speaker Paul Ryan said, “The speaker does not see anything that changes his view that the Senate should keep its focus on repeal and replace of Obamacare.”

Business Insider reported that Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) had announced that he would oppose the Obamacare deal. Hatch, who penned an op-ed in the Washington Post entitled, “Obamacare doesn’t deserve a bailout,” told reporters, “It would last two years and spend a whopping amount of money and not solve the problem.” John Thune (R-S.D.), the Senate’s third highest ranking Republican, said that the bill had “stalled out.”

The effort did pick up several cosponsors as Senators Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) signed on to the bill. There were reports that more cosponsors from both parties would announce their support soon.

The bill could pass with combined support of Republicans and Democrats, even if a large number of conservatives withhold their support. Small Republican majorities in both houses make it difficult to pass a unilateral bill. Republicans alone do not have the numbers to win a cloture vote in the Senate and the loss of only three senators is enough to scuttle a budget resolution that requires only a simple majority to pass. However, a bipartisan coalition could conceivably muster enough support to win a vote as well as end a filibuster by holdouts.

At this point, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has not indicated his position on the deal. As leader of the Senate, McConnell could doom the bill by preventing the Senate from bringing it to a vote.  

If the bill dies, the Trump Administration has announced that it will suspend Obamacare subsidy payments to insurance companies in accordance with a federal court decision earlier this year. The effect that this would have upon insurance markets is uncertain, but insurance company stocks tumbled after the president announced the decision.


Sen. Alexander said that Republicans may reintroduce the Graham-Cassidy bill if the Alexander-Murray deal fails. Graham-Cassidy was withdrawn last month after four Republican senators announced that they would vote against it.  

Originally published on The Resurgent

Bipartisan Deal Would Preserve Obamacare For Two Years

In an “if you can’t beat them, join them” moment, Republicans appear to have reached a deal with Democrats to preserve key components of the Affordable Care Act in the wake of President Trump’s announcement that his administration will stop paying subsidies to insurance companies under the Obama-era law. The tentative agreement was announced by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) on Tuesday.

“Sen. Murray and I have an agreement. We're going to round up co-sponsors as best we can,” Alexander told Politico.

President Trump appeared optimistic about the deal. “Lamar has been working very, very hard with the Democratic, his colleagues on the other side,” Trump said. “And they're coming up and they're fairly close to a short-term solution. The solution will be for about a year or two years. And it’ll get us over this intermediate hump.”

The deal reportedly contains funding for Obamacare’s subsidies to insurance companies for 2017, 2018 and 2019 as well as funding for state Obamacare enrollments. In return, Republicans would get expanded access to state waivers to approve lower cost plans and consumers over 30 would be allowed to purchase “copper plans” that cover only catastrophic illnesses for a lower premium, but have higher out-of-pocket costs.

There would also be an important advantage for Republicans in postponing the shakeout of the insurance industry that would accompany stopping the subsidy payments. No one knows precisely what would happen if the Trump Administration stopped the payments, but the likely chaos in insurance markets would probably not reflect well on Republicans as midterm elections approach. The deal would give Congress two additional years to resolve the issue.

Whether the bill can pass Congress is uncertain. Chairman of the House Republican Study Committee, Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.) tweeted, “The GOP should focus on repealing and replacing Obamacare, not trying to save it. This bailout is unacceptable.” Others, such as Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), adopted a wait and see attitude.

“Most of the members of the conference are finding out about the details for the first time. I don’t think anybody beyond Lamar and a few others know,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said. “The details are important.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) seemed to favor the bill. “We think it's a good solution and it got broad support when Patty and I talked about it with the caucus,” he said. “We've achieved stability if this agreement becomes law.”

If Schumer and Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) can deliver Democrat votes, the bill could become law in spite of almost certain opposition by conservative Republicans. At this point, it seems likely that Democrats would favor the bill, which would preserve most of Obamacare intact and force the Trump Administration to continue paying subsidies.

At this point, there is no indication of how fast the bill will move through Congress. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, “We haven't had a chance to think about the way forward yet.” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) has not publicly addressed the new deal, but told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on Monday that he preferred a comprehensive approach to replacing the Affordable Care Act.


“I think we’ve got to do more to get it fixed, but the answer is not to shovel more money at a failing program that is doubling premiums and causing monopolies,” Ryan said. “The answer is to reform the underlying failure of the law and one of those underlying failures is the lack of choice and competition in health insurance.”

Originally published on The Resurgent

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Poll Shows Alabama Senate Race Tied

surprising new poll shows that Republican Roy Moore is tied with Democrat Doug Jones in the Alabama Senate race. Moore handily defeated incumbent Senator Luther Strange in the Republican primary last month.

In the new poll by Fox News, both Moore and Jones had the support of 42 percent of registered voters. The poll showed that only 53 percent of respondents were extremely or very interested in the race. Of those voters, Jones had a slight led of 46-45 percent.

Previous polling had shown Moore with a lead over Jones. Two polls taken at the end of September showed Moore with a lead of eight and five points respectively. Those polls sampled likely voters, which are historically more accurate than polls of registered voters.

The new poll shows deep divisions in the Republican Party. Forty-two percent of Moore’s supporters have reservations about the GOP candidate, who has a history of controversial behavior and comments. Only 28 percent of Jones voters have reservations.

Moore’s history, including two unfinished terms on the state Supreme Court, explains why a third a Jones voters support the Democrat candidate because they believe that Moore is too extreme. Twenty-one percent say that they are voting against Moore as opposed to voting for Jones.

While campaigning for Luther Strange, President Trump worried that Moore might have problems in the general election. Two months before Election Day, that seems to be a real danger. Thirty-nine percent say that Moore is “out of step” with Alabama compared to 29 percent who say that Jones is too liberal.

In deep red Alabama, the electorate still favors the Republican, but the new poll should be alarming to GOP strategists. Expect both parties to pour money into the state to compete for the 11 percent of voters who are still undecided.

Originally published on The Resurgent

Spurs Coach Blasts Trump As 'Soulless Coward' And 'Pathological Liar'

A pattern has emerged in which President Trump makes some policy gains and earns applause from conservative circles and then blows the whole thing by saying something stupid that distracts from the good that he has done. This was once again the case yesterday when the president made a completely baseless claim in response to criticism that he had not contacted the families of four soldiers killed in Niger. Trump’s claim was such a blatant falsehood that Gregg Popovich, the coach of the San Antonio Spurs, felt compelled to go out of his way to viciously attack the president.

President Trump ignited the firestorm in a press conference yesterday when he claimed that previous presidents did not make condolence phone calls to the families of fallen soldiers. “So, the traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them, didn't make calls,” Trump said. “A lot of them didn't make calls. I like to call when it's appropriate, when I think I'm able to do it.”

 After Trump’s comments, Coach Popovich called Dave Zirin, sports editor at The Nation, and unloaded on the president with both barrels. “I want to say something,” Popovich began, “and please just let me talk, and please make sure this is on the record.”

“I’ve been amazed and disappointed by so much of what this president had said, and his approach to running this country, which seems to be one of just a never-ending divisiveness,” he continued. “But his comments today about those who have lost loved ones in times of war and his lies that previous presidents Obama and Bush never contacted their families are so beyond the pale, I almost don’t have the words.”

After a pause, Popovich continued. “This man in the Oval Office is a soulless coward who thinks that he can only become large by belittling others. This has of course been a common practice of his, but to do it in this manner—and to lie about how previous presidents responded to the deaths of soldiers—is as low as it gets. We have a pathological liar in the White House, unfit intellectually, emotionally, and psychologically to hold this office, and the whole world knows it, especially those around him every day. The people who work with this president should be ashamed, because they know better than anyone just how unfit he is, and yet they choose to do nothing about it. This is their shame most of all.”

The White House defended Trump’s statement later in the day. “When American heroes make the ultimate sacrifice, Presidents pay their respects,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders said. “Sometimes they call, sometimes they send a letter, other times they have the opportunity to meet family members in person. This president, like his predecessors, has done each of these. Individuals claiming former Presidents, such as their bosses, called each family of the fallen, are mistaken.”

It should be noted that no one, including the president, had claimed that past presidents called “each” soldier’s family.

Popovich served in the US Air Force for five years in the early 1970s. During that time, he played for the armed forces basketball team and traveled through Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union on a goodwill tour with the team. Popovich’s military service may have prompted the strong response to Trump’s statement.

Nevertheless, Popovich has never been on the Trump Train. The coach said last year that he was “sick to his stomach” after the election. In a press conference in September 2017, he likened the White House rescinding the invitation for the Golden State Warriors to a “sixth grader” who “disinvites” a friend to party.


The NBA season is just starting, but the Spurs probably should not expect an invitation to visit President Trump in the White House, no matter how well they do. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Monday, October 16, 2017

Liberals Must Have Mixed Emotions As Trump Insults Pence

In what must be an ideologically and emotionally confusing read for liberals, the New Yorker’s Jane Mayer goes on the attack against Vice President Mike Pence and, in the process, manages to paint President Trump in a somewhat sympathetic light for social liberals who are critical of the Christian right.  

The article, “The Danger of President Pence,” is essentially a hit piece on the vice president and a cautionary tale. “The worse the President looks, the more desirable his understudy seems,” Mayer writes, but then warns, “If the job is a gamble for Pence, he himself is something of a gamble for the country.”

It seems that, in spite of his loyalty to the unorthodox President Trump, Mike Pence is (gasp!) “’a full-spectrum conservative’ on social, moral, economic, and defense issues.” Mayer notes that Pence could be easily considered an establishment Republican who has strong connections to deep-pocketed Republican donors including the bogeymen of leftist dark money concerns, the Koch brothers.

Anti-religious leftists will enjoy the most-quoted sections of Mayer’s piece, those which detail how President Trump mocked Pence’s Christian beliefs. Mayer quotes several associates and staff members who say that Trump likes to “let Pence know who’s boss.” Trump reportedly asks people who have met with the vice president, “Did Mike make you pray?”

The president also reportedly teased Pence about his pro-life views and his opposition to the gay rights movement. Sources say that in a meeting with a legal scholar who pointed out that states might choose to legalize abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned, Trump said, “You see? You’ve wasted all this time and energy on it, and it’s not going to end abortion anyway.”

When talk at the same meeting turned to homosexuality, Trump gestured toward Pence. “Don’t ask that guy,” Trump said. “He wants to hang them all!”

The New Yorker article paints Vice President Pence as someone who believes what he says and who acts on those beliefs. Mayer includes a laundry list of socially conservative issues where Pence took stands as governor of Indiana, from tax cuts (“Pence’s commitment to the Kochs was now ironclad”) to the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, although he does get a pat on the back from her for opting in to Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion.

Interestingly, Mayer points out that both the height of Trump’s campaign and the biggest scandal that he has faced are both linked to Mike Pence. Pence’s connections to Republican donors made Trump’s election victory possible. Pence also helped make Trump palatable to Midwestern and Christian voters who were not natural supporters of the brash New Yorker.

At the opposite extreme, Pence was embroiled in the Michael Flynn firing that ultimately grew into the full-fledged Russia investigation. Unlike the other potential VP candidate, Chris Christie, Pence did not raise objections to Flynn’s appointment as National Security Advisor. Flynn was fired in February for lying to Pence about contacts with the Russian ambassador during the transition period.


Although Trump’s mocking comments are what has generated the headlines, Mayer’s main message is that, if Trump is impeached or forced to resign, liberals might like Pence even less. “Democrats should hope Trump stays in office,” said Democrat strategist Harold Ickes, noting that Pence would likely be much more effective at working with Congress and implementing a conservative agenda. 

Originally Published On The Resurgent

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Is Trump's Obamacare Executive Order Constitutional?

There has been a lot of discussion about President Trump’s healthcare Executive Order. Most of the discussion centers around the likely effects of the order while little has been said about the constitutionality of Trump’s executive action. For a party that roundly condemned President Obama’s abuse of executive authority, a big question should be whether Trump has the legal authority to make the changes that he proposes.

The bottom line is that Trump’s Executive Order doesn’t actually make any changes to the Affordable Care Act. What it does do is to order cabinet secretaries to “consider proposing regulations or revising guidance, consistent with law.” In other words, Trump isn’t proposing changes to laws passed by Congress, he is considering changes to regulatory laws enacted by bureaucrats. These changes will be “considered” in three main areas.

First, the president wants to expand access to association health plans (AHPs). Health Affairs notes that these plans are more loosely regulated than traditional insurance plans. They are normally regulated by the states, but can be regulated by the federal government in the case of some national associations. The order instructs the Secretary of Labor to “consider” expanding the definition of “employer” under ERISA to allow more groups to sell AHPs and to “promote AHP formation on the basis of common geography or industry.” To purchase insurance, consumers would have to be a member of the association.

Second, the Executive Order moves to expand Short-Term, Limited-Duration Insurance (STLDI) policies. The order notes that STLDIs are “exempt from the onerous and expensive insurance mandates and regulations” of the Affordable Care Act, but that “the previous administration took steps to restrict access to this market by reducing the allowable coverage period” to less than three months. “To the extent permitted by law and supported by sound policy,” the president directs cabinet members to “consider allowing such insurance to cover longer periods and be renewed by the consumer.”

STLDIs are not considered to be individual health insurance policies and do not fall under the insurance policy requirements of the Affordable Care Act. The policies are governed by rulemaking agencies of the Department of the Treasury, Department of Labor, and Department of Health and Human Services. Therefore, these departments can amend the rules for STLDIs without going through Congress.

Third, the Executive Order instructs relevant cabinet secretaries to “consider proposing regulations or revising guidance, to the extent permitted by law and supported by sound policy, to increase the usability of HRAs, to expand employers' ability to offer HRAs to their employees, and to allow HRAs to be used in conjunction with nongroup coverage.”

HRAs are health reimbursement accounts. They allow employers to contribute money on a pre-tax basis to reimburse employees for health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses. HRAs were created by Congress, but executive branch agencies have leeway in how to regulate them.

President Trump’s decision to halt Obamacare subsidies to insurance companies is not part of the Executive Order, but is on firm legal ground. House Republicans sued the Obama Administration over the subsidies in 2014. In May 2016, a federal judge ruled that Congress had authorized the payments, but had never appropriated money for them. The Obama Administration appealed the ruling, but the decision by President Trump seems to be merely accepting the court’s initial decision.

This doesn’t mean that the Trump Administration will be able to stop making the payments. Several states ultimately joined the appeal, claiming that the Trump Administration was not adequately defending their interests. Now 18 states have filed a new lawsuit seeking an injunction against President Trump’s decision.

Because the President Trump’s Executive Order does not change existing law and only instructs cabinet members to “consider” making changes to bureaucratic regulations within the framework of the law, the order is constitutional. It remains to be seen what regulatory changes the various cabinet secretaries will propose, but the changes will probably be much less sweeping than claimed by either right or left-wing pundits.


President Trump’s Executive Order is legal in large part because it doesn’t do much. The president simply does not have much authority to change laws that have been passed by Congress. The decision to stop insurance company subsidies is a more serious threat to Obamacare, but even this is unlikely to take effect until the lawsuit by the states is settled. 

Originally published on The Resurgent

Friday, October 13, 2017

Cruz Says Tax Reform May Be Delayed Until Next Year


After the disappointment on Obamacare, Republicans looked to tax reform to score an elusive legislative victory. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) set a goal for passing the tax reform bill by the end of the year, but Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is casting doubt on that timetable.

On CNBC, Cruz said, “I believe that we will get tax reform done,” but that it will be “late this year or early next year.”

There are big obstacles in the way. FiveThirtyEight explained that there was one major division among Republicans on healthcare, while there are at least three different GOP divisions on tax reform. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who has been under attack by President Trump in recent weeks, leads a faction of deficit hawks who insist that tax reform not add to the deficit.

There is the question of whether to make the tax cuts permanent or temporary. Under reconciliation rules, the bill cannot increase the deficit after 10 years. One way of preventing the CBO from scoring the bill as increasing the deficit is to make the cuts temporary. Temporary tax cuts can lead to a fiscal cliff like the one Congress faced under President Obama.

A third question is who gets the tax cuts. Senators Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Marco Rubio (R-Fl.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) have indicated that the current plan does not cut taxes enough on the middle class. In particular, Paul said that the bill “should not be a tax hike on anyone.” But if tax cuts are increased for one group, the questions of deficit scoring and whether they are to be permanent are raised once again.

The question of whether to end the federal tax deduction for state income taxes has been particularly thorny. Cruz said, “We can end that deduction if we're lowering the tax rate enough that even people in those blue states are seeing a net tax reduction.”

“I do think virtually every Republican wants to get to yes,” Cruz said, but noted that the slim Republican majority in the Senate made passing any major bill difficult.

“We have an excruciatingly narrow majority, 52 Republicans” Cruz said. “That means if any three Republicans jump ship, we’re toast. Wrangling together 50 out of 52 Republicans with this very diverse, fractious conference is not easy.”

There are already four Republicans who have been identified as potential mavericks on the bill. Bob Corker, who is concerned about the effect on the deficit, as well as John McCain (R-Ariz.) and perennial swing votes Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) will be senators to watch.

The new Alabama senator may present a problem as well. Even if Republican Roy Moore wins the senate race there, Moore is an avowed opponent of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and is unlikely to be a reliable vote. Moore’s position on the tax bill is uncertain, but he had opposed the Republican Obamacare reform bill.


Passing tax reform may be critical for Republicans in the 2018 midterms. Cruz acknowledged that “people are frustrated” because the Republican congressional majority is “not getting the job done.” With former White House strategist Steve Bannon leading a right-wing revolt against incumbent Republican senators, failure to win a victory on taxes could have dire consequences for the party.


Originally Published On The Resurgent