Thursday, August 10, 2017

Trump Seeks To Undo Social Contract


Mass military demonstration in Pyongyang, North Korea’s capitol. North Korea, with a population just over 21 million, claims a 10-million member army, including reservists, and a rapidly advancing nuclear missile capability, already tested several times this year.
KCNA via The Sun (London)
















A beaming Kim Jong-un receives a congratulatory hug from a North Korean Army senior general following a successful ICBM test in March.
KCNA via The Sun (London)

Trump Escalates Rhetoric Amid Multiple Distractions
Donald Trump’s escalation on Thursday, Aug. 10, of his ad lib threat to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea have suddenly and dramatically devalued American diplomacy, especially in U.S. dealings with dictator Kim Jon-un. As concerning as an actual military confrontation between the United States and North Korea may be, however, it is, as with many things under this president, a distraction from the awful, rapid, systematic dismantling of a bipartisan framework of federal rules and regulations underpinning America’s social contract – the most fundamental concept of our government.
As The Los Angeles Times pointed out, “Trump’s threats against North Korea have highlighted as never before the tension between the president’s duties as chief executive and the role he often seems to prefer as the country’s highest-profile TV and Internet commentator.
Despite Trump’s blustery warning of “fire and fury,” warships are not known to be moving toward the Korean peninsula, a tactic deliberately publicized during previous tense times to signal U.S. resolve. Meanwhile, however, Trump is intent upon pursuing another kind of conflict, continuing the avowed conservative war on what it calls the “nanny state,” in a process accelerated decades ago, in the administration of President Ronald Reagan. But Trump, apparently laser-focused upon erasing any trace of the progress made by the Barack Obama presidency to strengthen the social safety net for millions of disadvantaged Americans, and to secure equal justice under law during the Barack Obama presidency, is doubling down on that agenda, vowing to eliminate or at least freeze enforcement of as many as 80 percent of Obama-era regulations affecting, as Politico described it, “… everything from student loans and restaurant menus to internet privacy, workplace injuries and climate change.” Many of these changes, notably in immigration, civil rights, workplace safety, and environmental protection, if carried out, will reshape American life for decades.
Already, the government faces legal challenges from two LGBTQ legal groups, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and the Boston-based GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), seeking to block Trump’s tweeted ban on "transgender" service in the U.S. Armed Forces. And the ACLU has filed several document requests in the first stages of Trump administration efforts to block reversal of Obama’s previously pledged protections of “dreamers,” children of undocumented immigrants, under DACA, in what promises to be a drawn-out fight over immigration policy.













Demonstrators against President Trump's military transgender ban gather in New York's Times Square, Wednesday, Aug. 9.
Flickr.com

On Jan. 30, Trump wielded his favorite tool of office -- an executive order -- to require federal agencies to offset the cost of every significant new regulation by eliminating existing regulations or making them less onerous. The order declares that “the total incremental cost of all new regulations” issued this year “shall be no more than zero.” Some of the effects have been immediate and obvious, such as the transgender rights policy shift Trump tweeted out in late July, “Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming … victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.” Blowback was immediate, and included the Pentagon disavowing any intention of carrying out the change without a detailed and specific order from the commander-in-chief.

Trump tweeted the ban as leverage with Congress over whether taxpayer money should pay for gender transition and hormone therapy for transgender service members. The dispute had threatened to kill a $790 billion defense and security spending bill.
Another, reinforced by legislation enacted in February, was a rule reversal that now allows coal-mining operations to dump waste directly into nearby waterways. Separately, Idaho was spared in a July Interior Department review of 27 national monuments under consideration for removal or reduction of their status. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the 460,000-acre Craters of the Moon National Monument in southern Idaho “is no longer under review.”
Public reaction is just beginning to a somewhat more obscure reversal of limits on monopoly ownership of broadcast media, is just beginning to be felt in the form of an overt pro-Trump propaganda effort by the nation’s largest broadcast conglomerate, Maryland-based Sinclair Media Group. Outlets will be required to air right-wing opinion pieces by Boris Epshteyn, “chief political analyst,” the former spokesman for Trump’s presidential campaign.
In April this year, the Federal Communications Commission eliminated restrictions on the number of local TV and radio stations individual companies can own, thereby encouraging even more consolidation of an industry dominated by a half-dozen telecom giants. Within weeks of legislative approval, Sinclair announced a $3.9 billion deal to purchase the Tribune Media Company, increasing its broadcast holdings to 233 stations in 108 U.S. markets, including several in Idaho. The merger is currently under review.
These are just some of the challenges we face. None of them could have been anticipated a year ago, but this is the hand we have been dealt since Nov. 9, 2016. We can’t expect a new deal, and we can’t leave the table. In short, we are enmeshed in the very real potential for military conflict in the Pacific, an FBI criminal investigation of Donald Trump’s family members and associates regarding possible collusion with Russia, and an unrelenting stream of attempts to destroy the American social contract – represents an unprecedented challenge to democracy. While it is practically impossible to follow all these diverse hateful and destructive activities, we encourage you to keep faith in the democratic process, to keep up regular contact with elected officials at all levels, and to encourage friends and neighbors to do the same.
For contact information, visit the United Vision for Idaho Website resources at http://unitedvisionforidaho.blogspot.com/p/tools.html
Resources:
The Los Angeles Times report on the disconnect between Donald Trump as president and the rest of the U.S. process of governing is here.
Global Firepower’s breakout of North Korean military capabilities is here.
The Washington Post's report on cancelation of hundreds of federal rules and regulations is here.
The Vox report on Trump’s tweeted undoing of Obama Administration transgender rights is here.
https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/7/26/16034366/trump-transgender-military-ban The New York Times report on concerns about conflicts of interest and secrecy within Trump’s chosen deregulators is here.
The authority under which Trump and his Republican enablers in Congress dismantle regulations is outlined in this Washington Post report.
The NPR story on Sinclair Broadcast Group’s acquisition of Trubine Broadcasting is http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/05/08/527462015/sinclair-broadcast-group-has-deal-to-buy-tribune-medias-tv-stations .
ProPublica’s report on the Justice Department’s policy shift regarding civil rights law enforcement is here.
NPR reports on outstanding questions regarding the ongoing FBI investigation of possible Trump and Trump associates’ involvement in criminal activities in relation to Russia and Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election campaign here.


Thursday, July 27, 2017

GOP Bid for 'Skinny Repeal' Fails


A Capitol employee pushes a bed past the Senate chamber toward Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s offices in the Capitol on Thursday.
Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

UPDATE: Obamacare Repeal Fails: Three GOP Senators Rebel in 49-51 Vote
By Leigh Ann Caldwell
WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans failed to pass a pared-down Obamacare repeal bill early Friday on a vote of 49-51 that saw three of their own dramatically break ranks.
Three Republican senators — John McCain, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski — and all Democrats voted against the bill, dealing a stinging defeat to Republicans and President Donald Trump who made repeal of Obamacare a cornerstone their campaigns.
The late-night debate capped the GOP's months-long effort to fulfill a seven-year promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
Source:
NBC News http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/senate-gop-effort-repeal-obamacare-fails-n787311

Leadership in both chambers of Congress seemed hell-bent Thursday, July 27, upon repealing and/or replacing the Affordable Care Act within the next few days. It is impossible to predict with any accuracy just what the “replacement” might be, because several options from awful to even worse than awful are being discussed.

Source:

United Vision for Idaho and our partners and affiliated organizations hope you will be actively calling elected officials to urge them not to do anything that would destroy healthcare protection for millions (estimates range from 22 million to 34 million, to “God only knows,” depending upon which idea is being discussed).
Keep this contact information handy to reach Idaho senators:
Mike Crapo
(202) 224-6142
www.crapo.senate.gov/contact

Jim Risch
(202) 224-2752
www.risch.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?p=Email

In addition, we offer the links below to resources through which you can keep track of the processes in the Senate and, possibly, the House of Representatives. So far, Republicans in the Senate have been unable to get the votes needed to pursue any avenue of “replacement” of the ACA. If that should change, however, the House has been advised their planned month-long August recess may be cut short, and members and staffers in both the Senate and the House have been urged to stay “flexible” in travel plans this weekend.

Here are some ways to track the votes
The Guardian's live updates on the Senate vote-a-rama healthcare marathon is here.
The New York Times record of voting on Affordable Care Act measures is here.
Reuters reports on the so-called skinny healthcare bill here.
The official Senate record on roll call votes (on everything) is here.
The Congressional Quarterly/Roll Call explanation of what’s at stake in the “skinny healthcare bill” is here. The Five Thirty-Eight Live Blog on the Senate’s healthcare deliberations is here.
Business Insider comparative analysis of relative costs of healthcare proposals under discussion in the Senate is here.
The Indivisible Guide to calls to members of the Senate, complete with script suggestions, is here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

With Healthcare 3.0 Dead, GOP Turns to Budget


President Donald Trump says let Obamacare fail.

As Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) admitted defeat on a half-baked outline for healthcare reform his own party rejects, and with little chance of winning even highly touted repeal of the Affordable Care Act with a two-year window for replacement legislation, Republicans in the House of Representatives returned Tuesday, July 18, to draconian budget cuts for federal spending in the next decade to accompany deregulation and other proposals by President Donald J. Trump’s administration. The Congressional Budget Office has already declared the stated GOP objectives unobtainable, even though they ignore some of the White House notions.
Republican Senators Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and Susan Collins (Maine) said on Tuesday that they would not support moving forward on McConnell’s plan to repeal Obamacare now with a two-year window for replacement. The Republican Senate majority is widely divided, with some supporting stronger and better coverage, paid for by broader-based revenues from tax restructuring, while some insist on no-frills coverage with more responsibility thrown onto states while reducing the federal tax burden to pay for it. Having already tried and failed to overturn the program for more than eight years with nothing to put in its place, prospects of doing that now, even with a Republican majority in Congress and a Republican president remain out of reach.
The CBO projected that the sweeping spending reductions on anti-poverty programs, housing, environmental protection and other cuts proposed by the White House would still not be enough to eliminate the deficit by 2027. By then, the office says, there would still be a $720 billion deficit under the White House's plan, rather than the surplus proponents have claimed would result from revenue growth. The Washington Post says the difference represents a gap of more than $700 billion in just one year between the CBO assessment and White House projections. Even if House and Senate Republicans agreed to back Trump’s cuts, they would meet universal opposition from Democrats. And while the budget measure could be adopted with a simple majority, using only Republican votes, a separate funding bill needs 60 votes in a Senate where the GOP holds 52 seats out of 100.


Bloomberg

Even apart from the cuts in Medicaid spending proposed under failed House and Senate attempts to redraw healthcare legislation, the Trump Administration’s budget cuts would mean major reductions in spending for Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, as well as cuts in subsidies to the states to conduct those programs, also cutting the number of people who qualify for them. The budget seeks to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food stamps, by $190 billion and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grants by $15.6 billion. It also proposes $40 billion in savings by barring undocumented immigrants from collecting the child care tax credit or the earned-income tax credit. It would also cut $72 billion from the budget for Social Security disability recipients.
Despite optimism voiced by some Republican representatives, the budget as submitted is considered unlikely to get very far, even if it gets out of committee. This is primarily because the White House scheme includes an unlikely estimate for revenue growth from “economic feedback” that have been touted as yielding $2 trillion more than otherwise forecast in revenue growth. To make that happen, the economy would need to grow at least 3 percent annually – a pace most economists say is unrealistic. Trump himself had previously boasted of a 4 percent GDP growth prospect. More pragmatic estimates refute both possibilities.

Resources:
Congress turns to huge cuts in the federal budget, reported by the Washington Post here. https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/house-gop-unveils-budget-plan-that-attaches-major-spending-cuts-to-coming-tax-reform-bill/2017/07/18/6e68b679-c63a-4dd1-a3da-e191636946ad_story.html?utm_term=.7ebf14527122 And amplified by The New York Times report on failure of the GOP healthcare plan here.
House-proposed budget cuts largely ignore Administration plans to gut social programs, Bloomberg reports.
GOP Senate opponents of plans to repeal Obamacare and work on replacement over two years effectively kill McConnell’s “grand plan,” The Hill reports.
Key spending cuts proposed are listed here.
The Congressional Budget Office scoring of House budget proposals is here.
Most realistic GDP growth estimates, including the widely respected Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s “GDP Now, “predict growth of less than 2 percent over the next decade, The New York Times reports.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Marchers in Boise Support Stronger Healthcare For All




Idaho Rep. Ilana Rubel (D-18, Boise) urges those at the March and Rally for Healthcare in Boise to prevent America’s healthcare from reflecting the cynical dystopian notions of “Planet Raul.

They came by the hundreds, despite the heat, marching, in wheelchairs, on bikes, taking to the steps of the Capital, to the streets of Boise, and to the relatively cooler surroundings at the Ann Frank Memorial Saturday, July 15, to tell their stories and encourage the continuing effort to thwart the cynical political attempt to destroy what limited healthcare protections Americans have, while making things better for themselves and providing huge tax breaks to the very wealthy.
As the Senate struggles to pass off Trumpcare 3.0, it is increasingly important that we keep up the pressure on our elected officials, at the state level, as well as in Congress, to resist cynical partisanship and false political loyalties and stand up for the fundamental right that healthcare represents.
There is no rational excuse for pushing America backward as the only advanced nation on Earth without national healthcare insurance protections. Rather than make things worse, as the latest Senate effort does, our elected representatives should be working to strengthen and improve the system.
Add your voice: Contact your elected officials and keep pressing them to do the right thing for healthcare. Contact information is here.

For more information about the healthcare challenge, click here.

The impact of inadequate healthcare policies is bad for everyone, as Rep. Ilana Rubel (D-18, Boise) explained to those who rallied for healthcare Saturday, July 15, at the Ann Frank Memorial in Boise.
Idaho Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee/Facebook


Thursday, July 13, 2017

GOP Senators Skirmish Over Yet Another Healthcare Plan


Texas Sen. Ted Cruz tells reporters on Thursday he will now back the latest version of a Senate bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, after an amendment he's been pushing was accepted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. The Cruz proposal, modified from an earlier version endorsed by Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), would create a fund that would help insurance providers cover people with higher medical costs, but to qualify, insurers would have to offer at least one plan that fully complies with all of Obamacare's regulations. Once they do that, they would be able to offer other "bare bones" policies that do not meet all of Obamacare's requirements, thus providing cheaper options to younger and healthier individuals.

Senate Republicans have offered yet another sketchy notion of how to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. The most recent outline, pushed out Thursday, July 13, by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and not yet reviewed and “scored” by the Congressional Budget Office, was promptly challenged by Sen. Lindsey Graham, (R-South Carolina), and Sen. Bill Cassidy, (R-Louisiana), who are promoting an alternative approach that would leave much of the actual work of determining what kinds of health insurance would be offered and how it would be paid for up to individual states.
None of the proposals address the steep cuts in Medicaid funding proposed in the bill offered before the Senate’s July 4 break, making it unlikely that any of the latest ideas will make it to a vote without considerable revision and development into bill form. Conflicting proposals and objections by other senators, notably Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), make a vote on anything even less likely. With two no votes, Vice President Mike Pence could provide the 51st vote needed for passage. But if three Republican senators defect, as seems increasingly likely, the bill cannot pass as proposed.
One alternative idea floated immediately was the prospect of making “no-frills” health insurance coverage available to hold down premiums. Doing so, however, would again raise the prospect of no coverage or insufficient coverage for pre-existing conditions. Such plans do not meet minimum standards of the current ACA, and insurers currently can’t force customers with serious illnesses to pay higher premiums. A current obligation to cover specific “essential health benefits” could also be lost in the new GOP proposals. The Congressional Budget Office assessment of the previous Senate “wish list” for healthcare funding would throw at least 22 million people off health insurance, cut $770 billion from Medicaid and greatly increase premiums and deductibles for those who can afford to stay in the health insurance market. The new plan restores $45 billion to fund programs to fight opioid abuse, but the fiscal impact of other notions released Thursday probably won’t be known before Monday, July 17, at the earliest.

Resources

Changes in the Senate’s attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act are outlined here.
Strong opposition could kill any prospect of a vote on the new proposal, Politico reports.
The latest healthcare proposals could mean much higher premiums for people who need more thorough coverage for preexisting conditions, the Kaiser Family Foundation says. A New York Times graphic outlining what’s dividing senators on healthcare proposals is here.
Winning support from Republican governors will be key to adoption of insurance law changed that would leave much of the actual work to the individual states, the Washington Post reports.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Healthcare Bill Not Ready for Prime Time


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell tells reporters his plan to kill the Affordable Care Act isn’t ready for a vote.

If Americans have learned anything about politics since the advent of the Donald Trump presidency and Republican dominance of Congress, it is that campaign promises do not equate to progress, especially when it comes to healthcare. Republican leadership in both houses – in particular Mitch McConnell in the Senate, Paul Ryan in the House, and President Trump himself, have given America the most unpopular piece of major legislation Congress has considered in decades.
The first fact to keep in mind is that legislation presented so far in both chambers is not about healthcare. It is about spending, and more specifically about reductions in spending for established federal programs including Medicaid and CHIP that provide healthcare and related services to a degree that would affect one in five Americans. Medicaid alone, for example, covers most of the 1.4 million Americans in nursing homes. The Senate version of “repeal and replace” of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is nothing more than a set of changes in the House version that was rammed through approval May 24. McConnell was unable to muster the necessary support to assure passage, and has thus put off a vote until after the July 4 recess. Even if the bill is approved, however, it would then go back to the House, where additional amendments would almost certainly be needed to win majority acceptance.


The New York Times

CNBC reported results of an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released June 27 showing only 17 percent of Americans support the Senate proposal, while 55 percent disapprove. Even President Trump “appeared confused” about the reality that the bill is not about healthcare, but about tax cuts for the very rich and less spending on actual health programs that are already in place. About 24 percent of those surveyed said they did not know enough about the plan to give an opinion.
Only 17 percent of Americans approve of the Senate GOP's Better Care Reconciliation Act, versus 55 percent who disapprove, according to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Tuesday. Some 24 percent of respondents said they had not heard enough about it to have an opinion.
A significant “black hole” in the 142-page bill is uncertainty over what individual states would do with a new ability to drop many of the benefits assured under the Affordable Care Act, such as mental health treatment, maternity care, and emergency services. The Senate version does provide somewhat more help for some lower-income people to offset the rapidly rising cost of private health insurance. But the subsidies for insurance help are far less than the current program, and would involve a lower annual income limit for subsidy eligibility, to 350 percent of the poverty level, or about $42,000 for an individual, from 400 percent.
To learn more about how you can help protect your healthcare, click here.

Resources:
Listen to the NPR interview with Kaiser Family Foundation President Drew Altman on the impact of the Senate’s healthcare proposal here.
The Washington Post report on the Senate healthcare proposal’s prospects being even worse than first thought is here.
The Washington Post “live” report on the initial Senate healthcare bill announcement is here.
The draft released by the Senate, in PDF format, is here.
The Congressional Budget Office “scoring” of the Senate’s proposal is here.
The New York Times report on the Senate bill’s impact on elderly Medicaid recipients is here.
l The CNBC report on an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll taken from June 21 to 25 is here.
The Kaiser Foundation’s state-impact assessment of American health care protection is here.
The New York Times video summary of the selling of the Senate healthcare plan, shown above, is here.


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Thursday, June 8, 2017

Former FBI Director Comey Testifies on Trump-Russia Investigation


Former FBI Director James Comey is sworn in before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Capitol Hill on June 8.
Capitol/NPR


James Comey, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee Thursday (June 8) on his interactions with President Donald Trump and other issues relating to investigation of Russia’s efforts to disrupt the U.S. presidential election campaign and its outcome. In nearly three hours of testimony, including a closed-door "classified" session, Comey confirmed points made in a statement he had made a day earlier and released by the committee. During his appearance, Comey said reasons given for his firing in May “lies, plain and simple,” and while he had never previously documented his meetings with presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, he became concerned Trump would lie about their meetings and interactions, and thus wrote them down as a matter of record.
Here are highlights:
1. Comey said he was fired because of the Russia probe.
“It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” Comey said. “I was fired in some way to change, or the endeavor was to change, the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.”
2. Comey took notes because he thought Trump might lie.
Comey had served for more than three years as FBI director under President Barack Obama. During that time, he and Obama talked privately twice, but Comey never took notes on those interactions. In his brief time as head of the FBI under Trump, however, Comey said he had nine interactions that concerned him to the point he felt it necessary to make detailed memos.
“I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting,” Comey said.
3. Comey says he was ‘defamed’ by Trump and White House.
Comey began his testimony with a statement refuting claims from the White House that he was fired because of poor morale or turmoil at the FBI.
“The administration then chose to defame me and more importantly the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led,” Comey said. “Those were lies, plain and simple. And I’m so sorry that the FBI workforce had to hear them, and I’m so sorry the American people were told them.’”
4. Comey says he helped leak accounts of his talks with Trump to get a special counsel appointed.
Soon after Comey was fired, news articles began to appear with details of his discussions with Trump; some stories, including a May 16 New York Times account that cited two people who had seen Comey’s notes. The accounts reported on Trump pressing Comey to “drop” the investigation of Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser.
In testimony Thursday, Comey admitted he had stories cited notes the former FBI director kept of those interactions.
“As a private citizen, I felt free to share that,” Comey said. “I thought it was very important to get it out.” Comey said his decision to release the memo was aimed at getting a special prosecutor appointed. Comey said he has since provided his memos to Robert S. Mueller III, the former FBI director appointed as special counsel not long after Comey was fired.
5. Comey said the FBI knew Attorney General Jeff Sessions would recuse himself in the Russia-related investigation— but wouldn’t say why in public testimony.
When asked about this Thursday by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Comey suggested that there were reasons Sessions could not remain involved in the probe but that those reasons involved classified information.

Resources
The Washington Post timeline report of James Comey’s testimony and the response from Marc Kasowitz, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, is here.
The New York Times thumbnail profiles of members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence are here. The Guardian’s report on the “chilling effect” Trump conversations had on the FBI investigation is here.
The New York Times running account of Comey’s testimony, with background, is here.
The text of Comey’s prepared statement for the Senate Intelligence Committee, provided and released a day before the testimony, is here.
The May 16 New York Times report of Comey’s notes on being pressed by Trump is here.
The transcript of Comey’s testimony, from Politico, is here.
The NPR Video record, with a running account, of the Comey hearing is here.
The Twitter record of tweets relating to the Comey testimony and reaction from Trump’s personal lawyer is here.