Donald Trump Meets With The President Of The Virgin Islands & Other Briefs

Donald Trump is talking about having met with the President of the Virgin Islands (who technically would be himself). He says that tomorrow he will meet with the Commander-in-Chief of the US armed forces. He has also suggested that Mike Pence schedule a meeting with the President of the Senate. This is the guy who was boasting about his IQ earlier in the week.

Columbia is talking about hiring Hillary Clinton to be a professor. Can they afford her speaking fees? Do university’s have any form of ethics agreements before hiring someone? If so, they should know that she totally ignored the ethics agreement she entered into before taking her last job as Secretary of State.

Question of the Day: Which organization is more wracked in scandal and chaos: The Weinstein Co. or the Trump White House?

It makes perfect sense that Bernie Sanders was picked instead of Hillary Clinton to speak at the Women’s Convention. Unlike Clinton, Sanders has not promoted bombing of women around the world, has not defended the use of cluster bombs where women live, and has not backed taking welfare benefits away from women.

Eighteen states are suing the Trump administration over stopping the ObamaCare subsidies. The Pottery Barn Rule should now take effect with regards to Donald Trump and the Affordable Care Act–You Break It, You Own It.

I’ve been saying all along that the real Russia story is about the money, not altering the 2016 election results. NBC News is reporting that Paul Manafort had a $60 million relationship with a Russian oligarch.

Quote of the Day: “For the last 24 hours, Donald Trump has been the president of busy town. This morning, he signed an executive order to get rid of some key provisions of Obamacare. For instance, the care part.” –Stephen Colbert

Trump Called Schumer To Work On Health Care

Donald Trump lacks long term ties to the Republican Party, and has started to figure out that his best shot of passing legislation might be to work with the Democrats. If he can bring along part of the Republican Party he might have a better chance of passing legislation by working with the Democrats than by trying to pass legislation with Republican votes alone. With the inability of Republicans to repeal Obamacare, Trump has upset many Republicans by calling Chuck Schumer to seek a path forward on healthcare.

Trump previously worked with the Democratic leadership on three-month government funding measure, debt limit hike, and hurricane aid. He has also spoken with them about  Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), with no agreement reached yet.

Trump has verified that he called Schumer on Twitter but so far Schumer has not seen a path for the two to work together. The Hill reports:

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Saturday he told President Trump that Democrats would be open to stabilizing the health-care system, but that another push to repeal and replace ObamaCare was “off the table.”

“The president wanted to make another run at repeal and replace and I told the president that’s off the table,” Schumer said in a statement on his call with Trump on Friday, news of which the president confirmed in a tweet.

“If he wants to work together to improve the existing health care system, we Democrats are open to his suggestions. A good place to start might be the Alexander-Murray negotiations that would stabilize the system and lower costs,” Schumer added.

This could be just the opening round as there is reason for Democrats to work with Trump if Trump is willing to agree to a satisfactory plan to stabilize Obamacare, as opposed to continuing to undermine the markets. Even without having the votes to repeal Obamacare, Trump can do considerable harm to the success of the Affordable Care Act. So far Trump has greatly cut funding for outreach to promote signing up for the plan and his actions are causing an increase in health insurance premiums. This week his administration has also acted to cut back on the mandate to cover birth control.

If Democrats do work with Trump, they will have to make sure that they are not just enabling him to further reduce health care coverage. On the other hand, if Trump is really willing to diverge from Republican orthodoxy, rather than demanding preservation of the Affordable Care Act the better course would be to promote a single payer plan as proposed by Bernie Sanders. While unlikely to happen, Donald Trump just might go for the idea of going down in history for delivering such a great accomplishment while president.

Republicans Surrender On Graham-Cassidy

It was already obvious by Saturday when I last wrote about it that the votes were not going to be there for Republicans to pass Graham-Cassidy. It became official today. Mitch McConnell announced that the Republicans will not be holding a vote on the bill, disappointing Donald Trump.

Republicans still might attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act beyond the current September 30 deadline to do this under budget reconciliation. Vox explained in considerable detail how this might be done. However, this would make changing the tax law more complicated, making many Republicans reluctant to go this route. There are already aspects of Trump’s plan which could cause serious headaches for many Republicans.

Last week Bill Cassidy faced the wrath of Jimmy Kimmel on health care. Last night, prior to the decision to cancel the vote on Graham-Cassidy, CNN held a debate on the law. Alternet reports that Bernie Sanders stole the show with quotes such as:

“These are wonderful gentlemen, and I know nobody up here wants to see anybody die. But you tell me what happens when somebody who has cancer, somebody who has a serious heart condition, somebody who has a life- threatening disease suddenly loses the health insurance that they have.”

“This [current] system is designed to make billions of dollars in profits for the insurance industry. We spend 12 percent to 18 percent to administer the incredibly complex hundreds of plans that we currently have. And with these guys, if they got their way, there would even be more plans, more bureaucracy, more complexity, more money going to the insurance companies.”

“So if we are serious about moving to a cost-effective universal health care, yeah, we do have to take on the insurance companies. They do not play a role in providing health care. Our money should be going to doctors, to nurses, to hospitals, not to the insurance industry or, in fact, the drug industry, which is charging us by far the highest prices in the world.”

While we do not know what the Republicans might do next to try to strip people of their health care coverage, it is a safe bet that the insurance and pharmaceutical industries will not be supporting Bernie Sanders if he runs for president in 2020.

Today’s Good News–Graham-Cassidy Will Not Become Law And The World Is Not Going To End

A week ago we were faced with predictions both that the Republicans might be able to repeal the Affordable Care Act with their new plan and that the world was going to come to an end. Today it is looking like neither will occur.

It does not look like the Republicans have the votes to pass Graham-Cassidy. Rand Paul quickly announced he will vote against it because it does not go far enough in taking away everyone’s health care coverage. Hopefully he remains as forceful in standing up to Donald Trump on issues where he has more sensible positions such as non-interventionism and civil liberties.

The real killer was when John McCain announced he would vote against this bill for the same reasons he voted against the previous Republican attempt to repeal Obamacare While his opposition is appreciated, before he is made out to be too much of a hero we must not forget that in 2008 he ran on a terrible health care plan which would have led to millions who had health care even before Obamacare losing their coverage.

Graham-Cassidy would lead to such terrible outcomes that other Republicans also remain undecided, making it very unlikely to pass. It becomes more difficult for Republicans to repeal Obamacare after the end of September, leading to pressure from conservative donors to make one more attempt.

Earlier in the week I posted two monologues from Jimmy Kimmel which did an excellent job in describing the failings of the Republican plan, including failure to guarantee coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowing insurance companies to reinstate lifetime caps. The Daily Beast has described how Kimmel did his homework. Faced with Republican attacks, Kimmel returned to healthcare a third night on Thursday. Video of round three below:

Comments from Kimmel included:

For Donald Trump, this isn’t about the Graham-Cassidy bill. It’s about Obamacare, which he hates, because Obama’s name is on it. He likes to have his name on things: buildings, vodka, you name it. At this point he would sign anything if it meant getting rid of Obamacare. He’d sign copies of the Quran at the Barnes and Noble in Fallujah if it meant he could get rid of Obamacare…I guarantee he doesn’t know anything about this Graham-Cassidy bill. He doesn’t know the difference between Medicare and Medicaid; he barely knows the difference between Melania and Ivanka.

As for the other prediction, David Meade has backed away from his earlier prediction and says that the world will not come to an end today:

David Meade, who claimed the world is ending Saturday when a mysterious planet collides with Earth, is now backtracking on the calamitous claim.

Meade said the world won’t end on Sept. 23 after all, but instead Saturday will only mark the beginning of a series of catastrophic events to occur over several weeks.

 “The world is not ending, but the world as we know it is ending,” he told the Washington Post. “A major part of the world will not be the same the beginning of October.”

Meade said his prediction is based on verses and numerical codes found in the Bible, specifically in the apocalyptic Book of Revelation. He said recent events, such as the solar eclipse and Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, are omens of the approaching apocalypse.

The significant number is 33, according to Meade.

Others made similar predictions about the beginning of a series of catastrophic events before November 8 and January 20, saying the significant number is 45.

Jimmy Kimmel Again Becoming Major Defender Of Preserving Obamacare

If the latest Republican effort to strip people of their healthcare coverage fails, I Jimmy Kimmel just might become the front runner for the 2020 Democratic nomination. Jimmy Kimmel has once again been speaking out against the Republican efforts. First he had this monologue two nights ago:

Kimmel showed how Bill Cassedy was lying about his health care bill passing the “Jimmy Kimmel Test” with problems including failing to guarantee coverage of pre-existing conditions and failure to have a life time cap as are present under Obamacare. See the full monologe in the video above, with transcript here. Kimmel concluded:

But don’t take my word for it. Here are just some of the organizations that oppose this Graham Cassidy Bill: the American Cancer Society, the American Diabetes Association, the American Heart Association, the American Lung Association, the Arthritis Foundation, Cystic Fibrosis, the ALS Association, the March of Dimes, Multiple Sclerosis Society, Children’s Hospital of LA. Basically, any group you’ve ever given money to thinks this is a bad idea. Do you trust them, or do you trust him? OK?

So if this bill isn’t good enough for you, call your congressperson. That’s the number, go to your congressperson — whoever he or she is — (202) 224-3121. You have to do this; you can’t just click like on this video. Tell him this bill doesn’t pass your test.

And Senator Cassidy, you were on my show, you seemed like you were a decent guy. But here’s the thing. Nobody outside of your buddies in Congress wants this bill. Only 12% of Americans supported the last one, and this one is worse. Right now there’s a bipartisan group of senators working to approve the healthcare system we have. We want quality, affordable healthcare. Dozens of other countries figured it out. So instead of jamming this horrible bill down our throats, go pitch in and be a part of that. I’m sure they could use a guy with your medical background. And if not, stop using my name. Because I don’t want my name on it. There’s a new Jimmy Kimmel test for you. It’s called the lie detector test. You’re welcome to stop by the studio and take it any time.

When Republicans attacked, including their mouthpieces at Fox, Kimmel responded last night:

While other late night comedians are frequently making jokes about Donald Trump and the Republicans, it is unusual for a late night talk show host to get into the details of policy to the degree that Kimmel has with health care. Dean Obeidallah says he is also doing a better job than the Democrats:

Jimmy Kimmel has done again what Congressional Democratic leaders cannot: thrust the debate over how disastrous the GOP’s proposed healthcare plan would be for Americans with pre-existing conditions back into the national headlines. Sure, Democrats in Congress are objecting to the GOP proposal via press releases and on Twitter, but Kimmel has been clearly more effective at attracting media coverage on this issue…

Maybe if the Democrats had done as good a job selling the Affordable Care Act in the beginning, instead of going on the defensive, they wouldn’t be in this position. Fortunately Bernie Sanders is speaking out forcibly about an even more comprehensive alternative, Medicare for All.

Bernie Sanders Brings Us One Step Closer To A Single-Payer Health Plan

Bernie Sanders has introduced legislation to establish a single-payer health care plan, as he promised during his run for the Democratic nomination. In an op-ed in The New York Times he wrote Why We Need Medicare for All beginning with describing the problem we face:

This is a pivotal moment in American history. Do we, as a nation, join the rest of the industrialized world and guarantee comprehensive health care to every person as a human right? Or do we maintain a system that is enormously expensive, wasteful and bureaucratic, and is designed to maximize profits for big insurance companies, the pharmaceutical industry, Wall Street and medical equipment suppliers?

We remain the only major country on earth that allows chief executives and stockholders in the health care industry to get incredibly rich, while tens of millions of people suffer because they can’t get the health care they need. This is not what the United States should be about.

All over this country, I have heard from Americans who have shared heartbreaking stories about our dysfunctional system. Doctors have told me about patients who died because they put off their medical visits until it was too late. These were people who had no insurance or could not afford out-of-pocket costs imposed by their insurance plans.

I have heard from older people who have been forced to split their pills in half because they couldn’t pay the outrageously high price of prescription drugs. Oncologists have told me about cancer patients who have been unable to acquire lifesaving treatments because they could not afford them. This should not be happening in the world’s wealthiest country…

This has divided the Democratic Party. Hillary Clinton ran a dishonest campaign against Medicare for All during the primaries, and remains opposed. Much of the Democratic leadership, which badly needs to be replaced, is also opposed. Several of those being mentioned as candidates in 2020 are supporting the plan, showing that they realize this is where a leader of the party must be.

Al Franken has blown apart Hillary Clinton’s arguments against Sanders, showing that supporting Medicare for All is not an attack on Obamacare or Medicare as Clinton falsely claimed. Politico reported:

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), who has been mentioned as a possible 2020 candidate, also expects to sign on to the single-payer bill, a spokesman said Tuesday. Franken noted that his cosponsorship reflects the bill’s status as a long-term goal while the party continues short-term work on Obamacare.

“This bill is aspirational, and I’m hopeful that it can serve as a starting point for where we need to go as a country,” Franken said in a statement. “In the short term, however, I strongly believe we must pursue bipartisan policies that improve our current health care system for all Americans — and that’s exactly what we’re doing right now in the Senate Health Committee, on which both Senator Sanders and I sit.”

Yes, we can defend Obamacare and support improvements, including a Medicare buy-in and a robust public option if that is something more quickly obtainable, while also understanding that a single-payer plan must be the ultimate goal.

Many centrists, both within and outside of the Democratic Party, remain opposed. Jonathan Chait misses the point when he argues that Bernie Sanders’s Bill Gets America Zero Percent Closer to Single Payer. This is not the first time Sanders has introduced legislation to promote a single-payer plan. This is also not the bill which will ultimately establish it. What Sanders has done has made single-payer the goal of the left and many on the center-left. This is analogous to making support for same-sex marriage the expected position of a Democratic leader to the degree that even Hillary Clinton had to alter her position prior to running in 2016, no matter how much this conflicted with her socially conservative beliefs.

The Affordable Care Act was a tremendous improvement over the system we had before, for the first time providing access to coverage which could not be taken away based upon one’s medical condition. However it did very little to change the reality that coverage on the individual market is expensive. Ironically, Republicans are pushing the inevitability of a single-payer plan without realizing it. This includes Republicans in state governments who have denied access to the expanded Medicaid plan to those in several states, and Donald Trump who is trying to destabilize the marketplace plans.

With the limitations of Obamacare, a single-payer plan is the only idea which makes long term economic sense. A majority of doctors have come around to realizing this. Bernie Sanders is now making the Democratic Party acknowledge this. When Obamacare was first being considered, discussion of single-payer plans was blocked. Bernie Sanders has made single-payer part of any discussion of further health care policy.

Bernie Sanders Winning The Battle On Health Care, Now Max Baucus Caves On Opposition To Single Payer

Bernie Sanders’ proposal for single-payer health care was viciously attacked by Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, but now Sanders is winning the debate in the Democratic Party. Kamala Harris already joined on as a co-sponsor, indicating how she sees this as the expected position for a serious contender for the 2020 nomination. It came as no surprise when Elizabeth Warren also decided to co-sponsor the legislation. The real surprise was when former Senator Max Baucus changed his position:

It’s time for America to consider seriously a single-payer, government-run health system, says Max Baucus, Montana’s longest serving U.S. senator, former ambassador to China and one of the chief architects of Obamacare.

“My personal view is we’ve got to start looking at single-payer,” Baucus said Thursday night at Montana State University. “I think we should have hearings…. We’re getting there. It’s going to happen.”

This is significant as Baucus was a chief author of the Affordable Care Act, and was strongly opposed to even considering a single payer plan eight years ago. David Weigel provides this history lesson:

Eight years ago, as a once-in-a-generation Democratic Senate supermajority debated health-care reform, Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) kept their focus narrow. As the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Baucus was focused on passing a reform bill that moderate Republicans could support. At one point, he had single-payer health-care supporters removed from a hearing; Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), an advocate for Canada-style universal coverage, set up a meeting to tide them over. But he did not expect much from Baucus.

“[Is he open] to single-payer?” Sanders asked rhetorically. “Not in a million years.”

His estimate was just 999,993 years off. At a Thursday night forum in his home state, a now-retired Baucus suggested that single-payer health care could pass, and not too long from now.

It gets worse per this account from Common Dreams:

Baucus declared single payer “off the table” and had single-payer proponents arrested after they disrupted a committee hearing. Those arrested were later called the “Baucus 8.”

Dr. Pat Salomon, who was arrested alongside other physicians and activists, explained why the protests were necessary:

When we looked at the list of 41 people testifying in the three days of the Finance Committee’s roundtable on healthcare, we saw that not a single witness was an advocate of the principle that healthcare should be a fundamental human right for all in America, nor was there anyone to speak for the majority of the American people who support single-payer Medicare for All.

Maybe this is a case of a politician speaking more honestly once out of office, or perhaps it is a sign of how much Bernie Sanders has moved the discussion of health care reform. Just to raise Peter Daou’s blood pressure further in case he happens to read this, I’ll also point out that Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in America, while Hillary Clinton’s favorability has continued to fall since the election, and is below that of Donald Trump. Sanders being right, and Clinton being wrong, in supporting Medicare for All is just one of many reasons for this.

After September It Will Be Even Harder For Republicans To Repeal Obamacare

Donald Trump has, fortunately, been able to accomplish very little as president. Obstacles have included his complete lack of understanding of how government works and widespread opposition to his plans. He has already had considerable difficulty keeping his campaign promise to repeal Obamacare. Should Senate Republicans try again, repealing the Affordable Care Act will become even harder as the ability to pass this with fifty-one as opposed to sixty votes ends September 30.

Bloomberg News reports:

The Senate parliamentarian told lawmakers that Republicans’ ability to pass an Obamacare replacement with just 51 votes expires at the end of this month, Senator Bernie Sanders said Friday.

The preliminary finding complicates any further efforts by Republican leaders in Congress to pass a comprehensive GOP-only replacement for the health-care law.

Sanders, a Vermont independent, in a statement called the determination a “major victory” for those who oppose repealing Obamacare.

Senate Republicans, who control the chamber 52-48, failed to win enough support for their Obamacare replacement in July as three GOP lawmakers joined Democrats to oppose the measure. Republican leaders haven’t ruled out reviving their effort, and some party members — including Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana and Ted Cruz of Texas — say they’re talking to colleagues about a possible broad-based bill.

Earlier guidance from Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough dogged Republicans in their Obamacare replacement effort throughout the summer. In late July, she issued a preliminary finding that key parts of a proposal drafted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell didn’t qualify for the fast-track procedure, dramatically complicating the already slimming prospects of passing a bill.

After the 2017 budget resolution which allows for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act expires at the end of September, both houses would need to pass a new budget resolution to enable repeal to pass with only fifty-one votes. It is considered unlikely that Congress would be able to deal with both health care and rewriting the tax code at the same time this fall, but we are also seeing a lot of things lately which we would have previously considered to be unlikely.

New York Magazine has more on this.

Meanwhile Democrats are attempting to take health care reform further with Bernie Sanders introducing legislation promoting a single payer plan, with Kamala Harris co-sponsoring the legislation. This has no chance of passing the Republican-controlled Congress. It is a favorable sign that a moderate Democrat such as Harris with presidential ambitions finds it more expedient to be on the side of a single-payer plan, in comparison to last year when Hillary Clinton vigorously opposed the idea.

Study Shows Trump Responsible For Double Digit Increases In Health Insurance Premiums

Donald Trump inherited the Affordable Care Act in sound financial shape according to reports by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and other independent studies. Republican attempts to abolish Obamacare have been unsuccessful, but a newly released study from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that Donald Trump’s actions are resulting in double digit increases in premiums for many people, potentially destabilizing the plan. AP reports:

“Actions by the Trump administration are triggering double-digit premium increases on individual health insurance policies purchased by many people, according to a nonpartisan study.

“The analysis released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that mixed signals from President Donald Trump have created uncertainty “far outside the norm” and led insurers to seek higher premium increases for 2018 than would otherwise have been the case.”

From the Kaiser Family Foundation report:

“Insurers in this market face new uncertainty in the current political environment and in some cases have factored this into their premium increases for the coming year. Specifically, insurers have been unsure whether the individual mandate (which brings down premiums by compelling healthy people to buy coverage) will be repealed by Congress or to what degree it will be enforced by the Trump Administration. Additionally, insurers in this market do not know whether the Trump Administration will continue to make payments to compensate insurers for cost-sharing reductions (CSRs), which are the subject of a lawsuit, or whether Congress will appropriate these funds. (More on these subsidies can be found here).

“The vast majority of insurers included in this analysis cite uncertainty surrounding the individual mandate and/or cost sharing subsidies as a factor in their 2018 rates filings. Some insurers explicitly factor this uncertainty into their initial premium requests, while other companies say if they do not receive more clarity or if cost-sharing payments stop, they plan to either refile with higher premiums or withdraw from the market. We include a table in this analysis highlighting examples of companies that have factored this uncertainty into their initial premium increases and specified the amount by which the uncertainty is increasing rates…

“Insurers assuming the individual mandate will not be enforced have factored in to their rate increases an additional 1.2% to 20%. Those assuming cost-sharing subsidy payments will not continue and factoring this into their initial rate requests have applied an additional rate increase ranging from 2% to 23%. Because cost-sharing reductions are only available in silver plans, insurers may seek to raise premiums just in those plans if the payments end. We estimate that silver premiums would have to increase by 19% on average to compensate for the loss of CSR payments, with the amount varying substantially by state.”

Most people enrolled in plans on the exchange receive subsidies and will be at least partially protected from these increases, but this is an extra burden on tax payers, along with those of us who do not qualify for subsidies. Double digit increases in premiums were commonplace on the individual market prior to the passage of the affordable care act, but this trend could have been avoided if not for the actions of Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans.

In May, Mario J. Mario Molina, M.D., former CEO of Molina Healthcare, wrote an op-ed for US News and World Report which also pointed out how Republicans are responsible for higher premiums due to their actions to sabotage the law. He concluded:

“One common thread in all these efforts is that Americans who purchase their health coverage through the individual market are the ones harmed, not insurance companies. The administration and Republicans in Congress want you to believe that insurers raising premiums for their plans or exiting the marketplaces all together are consequences of the design of the Affordable Care Act instead of the direct results of their own actions to sabotage the law. Don’t let them fool you.

“If you think Obamacare is failing, I have one simple message for you: Open your eyes and stop being the emperor.”

Repeal And Replace Fails–Perhaps Congress Had The Wrong Target

The Republicans have failed to repeal and replace Obamacare, primarily because they never had a sensible replacement plan. It took three Republicans to block the final attempt, with John McCain casting the deciding vote. Now that he will not be on the ballot again, it was easiest for McCain to do this, allowing other Republicans who opposed the bill to cast a politically safer party-line vote. McCain might have also felt some satisfaction in thwarting Trump’s agenda after Trump’s past attacks on McCain, claiming McCain was not a war hero because he was captured.

Hopefully attempts at repealing Obamacare are dead–at least until a more liberal Congress has the votes to pass a single payer plan to replace it. Some are still claiming that they can propose a new bill which can achieve fifty-one votes, but any new efforts will have the same problems trying to please both wings of the party.

A more hopeful sign is a bipartisan group in the House which claims to be working together to improve Obamacare rather than repeal it. So far there has been no sign of bipartisan cooperation on health care, but there is a remote chance that matters have changed now that the Senate has been unable to pass any of its attempts at repeal. Sensible Republicans should realize that they will be held accountable for the success or failure of health care. Obamacare is the law of the land. Donald Trump and the Republican Congress now own it.

Maybe repeal and replace isn’t such a bad concept after all, except that Congress had the wrong target.

How about repealing the authorization to go to war and replacing our failed foreign policy? How about repealing the Patriot Act and replacing it with a policy which provides for needed security while respecting our Constitutional rights? How about repealing the drug war and replacing it with treatment where needed?

Of course this will never happen as there will be too much opposition from both parties. Can we just repeal and replace our current dysfunctional two-party duopoly?