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.