Reported House Obamacare “repeal” compromise looks like a wimpy dog turd

Late last night, Huffington Post broke news of a reported House compromise to “repeal” Obamacare. This morning, CNN is lending credence to the reporting, suggesting it is not “fake news.” That’s unfortunate, because if the details are as reported by HuffPost, the compromise deal frankly looks like a dog turd… a dog turd that does not, in fact, repeal Obamacare, and will entrench the notion that Republicans are a bunch of gutless wonders lacking the balls to do what they actually ran on for multiple electoral cycles in a row.

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Over to HuffPost:

The deal, brokered between House Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Tuesday Group co-chairman Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), would allow states to get waivers eliminating the so-called community rating provision ― the rule that prohibits insurers from charging higher premiums to people with pre-existing conditions. In order to obtain the waiver, states would have to participate in a federal high-risk pool or establish their own, and satisfy some other conditions.

In exchange for that conservative concession, the amendment would reinstate the Essential Health Benefits that were already taken out of the bill ― though, again, states could waive those provisions as well if they were able to show that doing so would lower premiums, increase the number of people insured, or “advance another benefit to the public interest in the state.”

There are other details, of course (for example, it seems that Medicaid cuts are still part of the package, and presumably, we’re still looking at repeal of the individual and employer mandates). But from these two paragraphs, we can ascertain that what this “compromise” mostly boils down to is Congress punting on actually, fully repealing Obamacare and passing off that responsibility—and all the potential political downside— to the states.

Obamacare *might* be repealed in your state, if your legislators and governor have the balls to do what the House GOP apparently does not. But realistically, it probably won’t. And the ultimate reason for that is because the House GOP wanted an easy vote they could brand as “repealing” Obamacare while in reality just kicking the can to some other politicos whose re-election is of no real concern to them.

Hence the “dog turd” characterization. The bill does not, in fact, repeal Obamacare; it punts decision-making for that to state-level decision-makers.

And hence the “wimpy” characterization. The bill exempts Members of Congress from taking a legitimately hard, but necessary, vote to get rid of something they’ve campaigned on repealing for several cycles in a row. It lets them take an easy vote for repeal-in-name-only, pass responsibility to some other poor suckers, claim they fulfilled a campaign promise and do a victory lap. Of course, the problem is, anyone paying attention who actually wanted Obamacare repealed will think this is incredibly weak, and Democrats will still run millions in attack ads blasting Republicans for repealing Obamacare even if they didn’t, meaning the political upside here is still questionable.

I understand why congressional Republicans want to do anything—literally, anything—to claim they’ve repealed Obamacare. Really, I do. And the reality is, this may be the only thing they can pass through the House, and there’s an argument that it’s better than nothing (though how this would fare in the Senate is a whole different matter).

Nonetheless, a dose of intellectual honesty would be good. It would be fairer to characterize this as Obamacare reform—not repeal and replacement—and, yes, as a wimpy dog turd of a compromise that should leave exactly no one feeling warm and fuzzy.

 

 

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The dirty, shady, crony capitalist, union giveaway in Trump’s new budget

Lurking in President Trump’s newly-unveiled budget proposal is a big problem for conservatives. No, it’s not that it fails to touch entitlement spending, which is the real driver of the debt and deficit. It’s not that it focuses on gimmicky (if otherwise unobjectionable) things like cutting funding for Big Bird on the erroneous pretext that this will somehow balance the federal budget.

The big problem is the budget’s advocacy for a proposed “privatization” of air traffic control that is a crony capitalist, big labor giveaway and tax-hiking scheme of the very worst sort that also happens to be opposed by the Department of Defense.

Here’s the background: For years now, House Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. Bill Shuster, who inherited his daddy’s seat in Congress, has been pushing to “spin off” air traffic control to a private corporation.

Sounds fine, right? Well, except for the fact that the corporation would be dominated by big airline and union interests, who have zero interest in constraining air traffic control costs (like air traffic controllers’ salaries or benefit packages), and a lot of interest in raising taxes and fees, especially on lesser players in the aviation industry—something that Shuster’s board would absolutely be able to do because setting it up explicitly involves Congress delegating away its taxing authority.

In short, this plan will allow big airlines to tax consumers up the wazoo, and big labor to reap the rewards, which is why the air traffic controllers union supports it—oh, and the Pentagon doesn’t like it because it raises concerns about their ability to use airspace the way they need to, which matters in an environment where planes have been weaponized by terrorists and used to attack the homeland.

In addition to DoD, the scheme is opposed by Grover Norquist because of its tax component, and has been heavily, heavily criticized for its insufficient conservative underpinnings by the Heritage Foundation, Manhattan Institute and Center for Individual Freedom.

So why is Shuster pushing it? And why has Trump apparently bought into it?

Taking the first question first, there’s a really simple and frankly gross answer: Shuster is dating one of the airlines’ chief in-house lobbyists. Not a joke.

Shelley Rubino is the Vice President for Global Government Affairs for Airlines for America, the trade association that does Big Airline’s bidding in Washington, DC. And she and Shuster are literally involved in a romantic relationship.

Mind you, both profess that she does not lobby Shuster (though she presumably does other things to/with him).

And yes, it is all a big political problem that makes Shuster basically the perfect poster boy if Nancy Pelosi wants to run a 2018 campaign focused on “draining the swamp,” like she did in 2006.

The Shuster-Rubino relationship, and its apparent responsibility for Shuster doggedly pursuing this scheme which is not conservative and generates howls from appropriators and House conservatives alike, got Shuster into a lot of trouble in his re-election last year.

He only beat a no-name Tea Party primary opponent by 1%– 1,000 votes.

Then, that Tea Party primary opponent ran as a Democrat to try to oust him—all over this issue. Shuster won, but he and his allies—including the airlines and Big Labordropped hundreds of thousands to save him. He was mercilessly trashed by his local papers for his lack of ethics where all this was concerned. But he and his girlfriend do not care.

Conservatives, and Trump, should.

Trump, as someone with basically no understanding of policy, can be somewhat excused for erroneously buying into this scheme. Shuster was an early backer of his, and Trump has heard plenty “good” about the plan from him, as well as his girlfriend’s paymasters who have put in serious time, effort and money pushing the Trump administration on this. Trump has a tendency to buy into the last thing he heard from someone who was nice and friendly to him, so that probably explains this—that, plus the fact that his Deputy Transportation Secretary nominee apparently lawyered for Airlines for America, so Trump and his neophyte staff are probably hearing a bevy of “good” stuff about this plan from him, too, while missing the rest.

But the plan is opposed by 62% of Americans according to a recent poll; and even if it weren’t, it’s hard to believe that Trump voters last fall went to the polls and selected him over Hillary Clinton because they desperately wanted more cronyist, hated-industry-benefiting, union-giveaway schemes rammed through the federal government. It’s also unlikely that they were looking for more policy hostile to the Department of Defense, which this “privatization”—or more accurately, corporatization—plainly is.

Shuster has an understandable, if objectively awful and objectionable, reason for supporting this nonsense. Trump does not. In fact, if cronyist and big labor love, combined with Pentagon dislike of it weren’t enough to justify his dumping on it, Trump’s former life as the owner of a plane of one type that would be massively taxed by the airline and union-dominated board should be enough to put him off it.

Much like House Republicans’ dubious Obamacare “repeal” and “replacement” (a.k.a., “tinker” and “entrench”) scheme has garnered opposition from committed conservatives sufficient that its future looks bleak, so too should this particular proposal. Privatization is a great thing, but privatization this is not. And as a result, this proposal should never make it to the House floor, let alone the President’s desk.

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In mock-presidential matchup, Liz Warren loses to Donald Trump. Yes. Really.

A joint Morning Consult-Politico poll released today contains some startling news: If the 2020 presidential election were held today, and the candidates were Donald Trump and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Trump would win. Yes. Really.

Ruh-roh! Ruh-roh!

Trump bests Warren 42 percent to 36 percent, with 22 percent undecided. Warren has a combined 37 percent favorable rating to a combined 30 percent unfavorable rating; 20 percent view her very favorably, and 20 percent view her very unfavorably. Amazingly, 18 percent of those polled have heard of her but have no opinion, while 16 percent don’t know who she is.

This is just one poll, it’s not focused on swing states (where the contest would, in actuality be fought), and it does show plenty of room for Warren to improve her standing.

But the point is, Warren’s appearance at the Women’s March in DC, the publicity surrounding McConnell ending her grandstanding on the Senate floor, and all of her high-profile attacks on Trump aren’t doing much for her, on the national level— at least not yet. And it suggests that her political standing is less good than it was ahead of 2016, when she was generating lots of interest from swing voters in swing state focus groups.

It also doesn’t seem to be doing much for her thus far back in Massachusetts. As a reminder, recent WBUR polling shows that only 44 percent of voters there think she deserves re-election, whereas 46 percent think someone else should get to have a go. In September, University of Massachusetts polling showed her barely capable of beating former Gov. Bill Weld and Massachusetts Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. Interestingly, that polling did show her beating Curt Schilling handily, which may explain why Schilling looks like he’s not running. But thus far, no one else seems to be stepping up, while Warren presumably uses things like her appearance at the March donning her pink Planned Parenthood scarf, her railing against McConnell and Jeff Sessions, and various Senate questioning stunts to rake in dollars from the lefty, Sanders contingent in the Democratic Party to pad out a campaign war-chest capable of making up for her other deficiencies as a candidate.

Those recruiting for this race need to ponder their next moves long and hard. On the one hand, getting a Republican in the race now could focus attention on Warren’s negatives and force her to start spending some of that cash rather than just hoarding it for a possible rainy day.

The flip side is, the longer a Republican is in the race, the more opportunities will exist to highlight inevitable splits between that contender and Massachusetts voters, who (obviously) tend to be pretty liberal. Also, fundraising in that race isn’t going to be easy, because the baseline presumption of most GOP donors will be that the race is unwinnable. It remains the case that Warren will probably still be re-elected, but GOP donors might not want to treat her as a dead-cert shoo-in and pass on funding what might be long-shot bid that could come good (think Mark Kirk in 2010).

Someone like Weld could be hugely advantageous in this race—maybe even running as an Independent, not a Republican. It’s easy to see him besting Warren in a debate. He’s no fire-breather on issues that tend to freak out the more liberal swing voters in the Bay State. It’s more plausible to see him attacking her over her brainchild, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which looks increasingly beleaguered with news emerging about the CFPB’s head’s Clinton-like use of private devices, payment of cushy salaries—even by DC standards– to its employees, and court judgments indicating the whole structure is unconstitutional, than it is virtually any other possible contender (perhaps especially Mitt Romney). By the time Warren reaches re-election, the CFPB might not even exist anymore—maybe a good talking point for her versus evil Republicans, but along with her inability to get appointed to head it, also something that makes her look somewhat ineffective.

When speculation originally popped about Warren being in trouble, and Weld polling well against her, the assumption was that Weld couldn’t run against her, because he was not resident in Massachusetts. Except, it turned out he was.

There are a lot of options to go after Warren, but Weld might just be the man. It’d be very hard to tie the former Libertarian Party VP to Trump. And he’s well-known in Massachusetts, which is still full of voters who have, in fact, pulled the lever for him before.

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Liz Warren is in trouble in Massachusetts

With jockeying already underway for the position of 2020 Democratic nominee for President, Massachusetts Sen. Liz Warren—a leading contender—might not make it to the starting line, if fresh polling is to be believed.

From WBUR in Boston, there’s some bad news for the woman looking to position herself as the female version of a Bernie Sanders-Ted Kennedy hybrid, fired up and ready to go already for a contest taking place in almost four years:

Over four years in office, Elizabeth Warren has staked her claim as the Senate’s liberal lion.

[…]

But according to a new WBUR poll, only 44 percent think Warren “deserves reelection.” Forty-six percent think voters ought to “give someone else a chance.”

“No one’s going to look at a 44 percent reelect number and think that that’s a good number,” said Steve Koczela, president of The MassINC Polling Group, which conducts surveys for WBUR. “No one’s going to look at it being close to even between ‘reelect’ and ‘give someone else a chance’ and think that that’s reassuring.”

Ms. 44 percent is bummed.

The 47 percent? She’s more worried about the 44 percent!

And there’s worse news for Warren. Contrary to what the “give someone else a chance” number might seem to suggest, Warren’s polling problem is not about her incumbency. Nope, it’s actually just about… her:

Warren’s numbers contrast sharply with those of Gov. Charlie Baker. His favorability rating is 59 percent — 8 points better than Warren. But what’s more striking is that only 29 percent of poll respondents think someone else should get a chance at the governor’s office.

Warren’s approval rating seems to be hovering in the same space—low fifties—according to this poll and another WBUR poll done back in September, in which it sat at 53 percent. But that’s hardly good news in the era of Donald Trump, in the bluest state in the country. You’d think if anyone could get their approval ratings up, it’d be Warren in this environment. Yet her state’s moderate Republican governor seems to be faring better, while she looks like she could be taken out relatively easily should either former Massachusetts Gov. and former Libertarian Party nominee for Vice President Bill Weld, or Massachusetts Lieutenant Gov. Karyn Polito, run.

What’s behind this trend? Back in September, when a University of Massachusetts poll came out showing bad news for Warren, I speculated that some of this might be the shift on her part away from aloof, left-of-center but above-the-political-fray, consumer-issues professor committed to serving Massachusetts to someone doing a hell of a lot of political shivving on behalf of the national Democratic Party itself and everyone’s favorite Democratic interest groups: Planned Parenthood, the American Federation of Teachers, and so on.

Indeed, in the last couple of weeks, we’ve seen Warren playing for the CSPAN cameras during a Betsy DeVos hearing (see this for more on who wants to take down DeVos). There was the refusal to shake hands. There was also a (ham-handed) “please put this in rotation on MSNBC” attempt to tie the topic of wasteful government spending in with Trump University.

There was her speech at the big anti-Trump rally in DC this weekend, complete with prominently-displayed Planned Parenthood scarf.

There was her messaging phone call with reporters proclaiming that Consumer Financial Protection Bureau head Richard Cordray—who is rumored to be planning a run as a Democrat for Ohio Governor— will sue for wrongful termination if he is fired from his job, even though he has allegedly overseen a spate of employment discrimination at the agency that has, incidentally, been ruled unconstitutional and engulfed in scandals ranging from alleged, egregious spendthriftiness to questionable handling of consumers’ private data in an era marked by continual hacking of government departments to misallocation of regulatory resources.

No one in Massachusetts could possibly be under the misapprehension that Warren was, at any point in recent memory, in the same space philosophically as, say, Weld, Baker, or heck, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. But when they elected her, they may not have thought they were voting for a showboating political celebrity most interested in earning praise from national liberal figures and institutions, or someone who was pretty much in line with a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist on every given issue.

All the stuff Warren has been doing of late will probably be very helpful in filling her campaign coffers to help her fight off what looks like a much-tougher-than-expected re-election bid. But that remains the point: Right now, she looks like she’s starting from a pretty crappy position, and she has only herself to blame for that—while her critics have only huge volumes of popcorn to consume while watching the drama unfold.

 

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