Jul. 14

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Meet the New Health-Care Bill, a Lot Like the Old Health-Care Bill

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) unveiled his third health-care bill yesterday, after swinging and missing on the first two. Three strikes in politics is no better than it is in baseball, and McConnell knows it. If this bill fails, "Obamacare" will be the law of the land for many more years.

To make this version more palatable to conservatives, he has added a few features that they like, but fundamentally it is still the old bill, which itself is modeled closely on the House bill. In particular, the Medicaid expansion is still gutted, as it was in all the other bills.

Probably the most interesting new item is an amendment written by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). To understand what the purpose of this amendment is, you have to realize what the Republicans are trying to do, which is lower insurance premiums for healthy people without too much regard for sick people. Politically, this makes sense, because if all the healthy people vote for the Republicans and the sick people vote for the Democrats, the Republicans win because there are more healthy voters than sick voters. So, all the Republican strategies revolve about the idea of creating two insurance pools, one for healthy people and one for sick people. The Cruz amendment does this in a unique way, however. It says that as long as an insurance company offers one plan that meets the ACA requirements, it can offer other plans that don't. In particular, they can offer cheap plans that cover very little. If the amendment passes, healthy people will choose the non-ACA plans and get low premiums. Sick people will choose comprehensive plans that meet the ACA requirements, but with mostly sick people in those plans, premiums will skyrocket for sick people. That's fine with Cruz. It's also going to be fine with healthy people, at least until they get really sick and discover their insurance isn't much use to them.

Another way the new bill differs from the old one is that it keeps most of the taxes that were imposed by the ACA to pay for the subsides poor people get. That money will be used to buy off a few moderate senators. For example, $45 billion will go to fight the opioid crisis, something needed to get the vote of Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), although Capito has other demands as well. Another very large chunk of money is heading north. With senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Rand Paul (R-KY) already "no" votes, McConnell cannot afford to lose Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), so the bill provides $80 million for Alaska in 2019, going up to $192 million in 2022. Call it the Arctic Advantage or the Polar Payoff or whatever, but it smells a lot like the cornhusker kickback that then-senator Ben Nelson got to buy his vote for the ACA. Murkowski hasn't said whether she is on board with the bill, though, because she does not want Planned Parenthood defunded.

As an aside, many Republicans are privately furious that the ACA taxes are not being repealed, but they have a plan. Let this bill pass to get rid of "Obamacare," and then in the tax reform bill later in the year, repeal the ACA taxes.

McConnell's bill is not the only game in town, however. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) have introduced their own bill. It keeps most of the ACA in place, but instead of using the money generated by the ACA taxes to pay for subsides for poor people, it sends the money to the states to be used as the governors see fit. As we have pointed out before, governors could choose to finance basic clinics for poor areas or yoga centers for wealthy areas. Advocates for the poor are not keen on letting governors make the calls. (V)

Five Takeaways from the new Health-Care Bill

Everybody loves lists, so The Hill has conveniently produced a list of five takeaways from the new bill:

With Rand Paul and Susan Collins almost certain "no" votes, it all comes down to Dean Heller (R-NV), Lisa Murkowski, Shelley Moore Capito (and maybe Rob Portman). It would be some kind of karmic justice if a bill produced by a committee of a dozen men (and no women) were killed once and for all by one or both of the two women. (V)

Another Defeat for Muslim Travel Ban v2.0

On Thursday, federal judge Derrick Watson—yes, the one who serves out on an island in the Pacific—issued a ruling regarding Muslim Travel Ban v2.0. It was already the case that the ban did not apply to spouses, parents, parents-in-law, children, sons-in-law and daughters-in-law, fiances and siblings of individuals already in the United States. Watson's ruling declares that the list of exempt relatives will be expanded to include grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and cousins.

It's unclear exactly how many people will be affected by the new, more relaxed standard. However, it is worth pointing out that experts generally agree that everyone on the planet is cousins with everyone else, and that the furthest removed that it is possible for two people to be is 50th cousins. So, if we look at things through that lens, then the travel ban no longer applies to anyone. We shall see if a clever lawyer tries to make that argument. (Z)

Kushner Wants White House to Forcefully Defend Meeting with Russian Lawyer

First son-in-law Jared Kushner feels the White House is not doing enough to defend the meeting in which he, Paul Manafort, and Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer in hopes of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. Kushner wants the White House press organization to call media outlets and reporters and complain about biased coverage. He wants talking points to go out to everyone in the White House as well as surrogates and have them vigorously defend the meeting as perfectly fine. He wants op-eds in the New York Times and Washington Post. He wants full-throated denials that anything improper was done, not mealy-mouth referrals to counsel. In short, he has been very frustrated by the lack of a full-bore attack on the media for running with this story.

It is not surprising that Kushner is so antsy. Only now does he realize that Robert Mueller could indict him for conspiracy to have a foreign citizen make an illegal in-kind campaign contribution. He understands that Mueller's strategy is likely to go after the little fish (him) and get them to rat on the big fish (his father-in-law), as described below. It doesn't take much imagination to envision a moment when Mueller asks him: "Are you willing to go to prison for many years to save your father-in-law?" Hence his desire to push back very hard now to try to prevent an unpleasant situation like that. (V)

Does Anyone in the Trump Orbit Know How to Behave?

Donald Trump is in France right now and, in a pattern that seems to repeat itself all too often, he is being criticized for boorish behavior. The current incident involves First Lady of France Brigitte Macron, whom Trump greeted by telling her, "You're in such good shape." The President's beloved Twitter was quickly overtaken by this news, with words like "creepy," "gross," and "inappropriate" being deployed with regularity. At nearly any workplace in America, a remark such as this would put the speaker well on the path toward a sexual harassment complaint. It's truly remarkable that someone can make it to the age of 70 in the 21st century without learning this, but perhaps that's the benefit of being the boss.

Of course, the problem with being a boss that does not know how to behave like an adult is that you give license to your employees to behave badly, as well. Case in point: Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz. Recently, MSNBC ran a piece on him in which they observed that he likely cannot qualify for a security clearance due to his past battles with alcoholism. That, in turn, could make it difficult or impossible to defend his client against any charges that might arise from Russiagate. In view of this news, a concerned Trump supporter sent Kasowitz an e-mail with the subject "Resign Now," and a very mild, curse-word-free message arguing that sticking with the case would not be good for lawyer or client.

Anyone who has any sort of public presence is going to get some messages of this sort, and this one is definitely at the gentle end of the spectrum. However, for whatever reason, it set Kasowitz off, and he fired off a series of furious replies. The first included the phrases "You are f**king with me now" and "Watch your back, bi**h." The second threatened, "Call me. Don't be afraid, you piece of s**t." The third—yes, there was a third—expanded on that threat with, "I already know where you live, I'm on you." The target of these replies was concerned enough that he turned the exchange over to the FBI so there would be a record in the event that Kasowitz actually followed through on his threat.

All of this is simply shocking. It's difficult to believe that there's a single attorney in the land that has this little self control, much less one that has the President of the United States as a client. If a university professor, a physician, a lawyer, or any other professional sent such messages to a student, a patient, or a client, they would almost certainly be at risk of losing their job (or, at very least, facing a lengthy suspension). In the world of Donald Trump, however, this will probably just be dismissed as a witch hunt or fake news, and maybe Kasowitz will even get a raise. (Z)

Will Mueller Run His Enron Playbook?

In 2001, the Houston Energy company Enron filed what was then the largest corporate bankruptcy in American history. Weeks later, then-FBI Director Robert Mueller formed a task force to investigate fraud at Enron. Andrew Weissmann, who is now on Mueller's Russiagate team, was also on the Enron task force. The task force was very patient and worked slowly. It was widely criticized for not hurrying up. An early victory was a jury conviction of Enron's accountant, Arthur Andersen, but the verdict was later overturned by the Supreme Court.

One of the techniques Mueller used then was flipping small players to get them to incriminate the big fish. For example, he indicted the wife of Enron's chief financial officer for tax evasion to put pressure on the CFO. It worked. Whether he will use similar methods now is unknown, but clear possibilities are to indict Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort for being unregistered foreign agents. If he can get them convicted, he can offer to ask for a very mild sentence in return for them spilling the beans. If Mueller wants to play hardball, he could indict Jared Kushner for filling out his security clearance form incorrectly and leaving out over 100 contacts with foreign persons that he should have included. Such a move would infuriate Donald Trump and possibly cause him to do something very foolish in a blind rage. In short, Mueller has experience with very high profile complex cases and might have learned from them. (V)

Tim Kaine Has a 2018 Challenger

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), who ran unsuccessfully for vice president in 2016, is up for reelection in 2018. He has now drawn his first Republican challenger: Prince William County Board of Supervisors Chair Corey Stewart. Stewart ran in the recent Virginia Republican gubernatorial primary and lost to Ed Gillespie. He figures, governor, senator, what difference does it make?

Stewart is a no-holds-barred Trump-style candidate. He made that clear when he said: "The era of the kinder, gentler Republican is over," alluding to George H.W. Bush. He also took his first swipe at Kaine, saying: "Tim Kaine wakes up every morning and thinks about Russia." Stewart had better start thinking about Virginia. Rerunning the 2016 election may not be a good idea since Clinton/Kaine beat Trump/Pence in the Old Dominion 50% to 44%. (V)

Sessions Criticized for Speaking to Hate Group

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has argued, despite substantive evidence to the contrary, that he's not a bigot. They say, however, that a man is judged by the company he keeps. By that standard, Sessions is not doing a great job of convincing us, since this week, he attended and spoke at the Alliance Defending Freedom's (ADF) Summit on Religious Liberty.

Though "religious liberty" sounds fairly innocuous, and "defending freedom" sounds admirable enough, the ADF has been identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). They are militantly anti-LGBTQ, and not only do they defend people accused of anti-gay discrimination in court, they push for legislation to ban gay marriage, and they are also the driving force behind most of the "bathroom bills" in the country. Explaining the decision to label ADF a hate group, SPLC spokesperson Heidi Beirich said, "We don't put a group on the hate list because they are against gay marriage. Where the rubber hits the road is when ADF attorneys engage in model legislation and litigation that attacks the LGBT community."

It's not a secret that Jeff Sessions, as a fundamentalist Christian, is no fan of LGBTQ Americans. However, he is the nation's top law enforcement officer, and has a constitutional duty to defend the rights and status of all Americans, whether he likes them or not. Appearing at an event like this one is strong evidence that he does not take that responsibility very seriously. (Z)

GOP Operative Committed Suicide

About six weeks ago, Peter W. Smith made headlines when he gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he admitted that he tried to acquire stolen and incriminating Hillary Clinton e-mails from the Russians so he could hand them over to the Trump campaign. This despite the fact that there's no evidence that such e-mails actually exist or that, if they do, the Russians have them. Shortly after giving the interview, Smith died. On Thursday, the coroner's office in Rochester, Minnesota (which is where he died) announced their finding that it was a suicide.

Smith death is significant, in the context of national politics, because he might have had dirt on Michael Flynn (whom he claimed to be a co-conspirator in the scheme). If so, Smith took that dirt to the grave with him. Meanwhile, the fact that it was a suicide is significant because...well, it's actually not significant at all. Smith was in poor health and his $5 million life insurance policy was about to expire, so he decided to end it all. It happens, every day. In fact, it happens 121 times a day in the United States, on average. Conspiracy theorists would do well to note that when a Vince Foster (also suicide) or a Seth Rich (murdered) or a Peter Smith dies from something other than natural causes, it does not mean that something nefarious took place. Individuals whose name rhymes with Hean Shannity would do particularly well to take this to heart. (Z)

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