By Doug Porter
Amid all the flip-flopping, backstabbing, and scheming going on at the White House, a new strategy to kill the Affordable Care Act has emerged, one that’s cruel and unusual enough to delight even the most hard-core Ayn Rand fan.
The idea is simple: leave insurance companies holding the bag for cost-sharing subsidies, which help insurers pay medical bills for low-income customers. This can be done by ending federal opposition to a suit brought by GOP lawmakers in 2014: essentially by Trump doing nothing.
The Obama administration appealed an initial decision against the subsidies, allowing the payments to continue to flow. The Trump administration faces a deadline next month on whether it will continue to fight the lawsuit.
The latest negotiating stance came by way of the Wall Street Journal:
In an interview in the Oval Office, Mr. Trump said the White House may lack authority to make the payments established under his predecessor to reduce copayments and deductibles for some of the poorest customers who buy insurance under the 2010 Affordable Care Act. Cutting off the payments could trigger turmoil in insurance markets.
“I don’t want people to get hurt,” Mr. Trump said. “What I think should happen—and will happen—is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating.”
The Great Negotiator-in-Chief, having failed to gain support from the Freedom Caucus in the House of Representatives, now hopes to blackmail Democrats into supporting something, anything, he can call a victory.
“If Dems don’t help me kill Obamacare, I’ll do it myself, and the murder weapon will have only my fingerprints on it.”#TrumpThreats
— Greg Sargent (@ThePlumLineGS) April 12, 2017
Democrats are adamant that they won’t negotiate on subsidies, which lower medical costs for nearly 7 million Obamacare customers.
“Failing to make these payments would be a direct effort by the administration to further undermine the health care system in this country, putting care for millions of Americans at risk,” said Matt House, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“President Trump has an obligation to drop his attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and instead work with Democrats to strengthen it.”
Major health care and business groups — including the Chamber of Commerce, one of the Obamacare’s harshest critics — are growing increasingly anxious over the fate of the subsidy program. In a Wednesday letter, a broad coalition warned of a potential calamity if Trump doesn’t immediately rescue the subsidies.
As Greg Sargent at the Washington Post points out, the administration’s position amounts to a sick joke:
The health-care bill Trump is championing would result in 24 million fewer people with health coverage. Those people are getting insurance both on the individual markets and through the Medicaid expansion, which would be phased out, resulting in 14 million fewer people on that program. But if Trump makes good on his threat to tank the individual markets, that might bump at least 10 million people from coverage, while leaving the Medicaid expansion in place (though it would do plenty of other damage as well). Thus, Trump is basically telling Democrats: “If you don’t give me the money, I’ll shoot only one hostage, rather than both of them.”
Trump wants Democrats to willingly buy in to a worse outcome than the one he is currently dangling as a threat. But if Democrats don’t play along, he’ll likely take the blame for the fallout. A recent Kaiser poll found that 75 percent of Americans want the Trump administration to make the law work, and 61 percent say that Trump and Republicans will be responsible for any problems they cause with it.
Pulling the plug on the subsidies in question will further undermine what little is left of Trump’s credibility. I saw a poll [likely an outlier, but still…] yesterday indicating just 29% of the public strongly backs the administration in the wake of its first failure to repeal the ACA.
Corrupt or Incompetent? Or Both?
The Atlantic details the seven flip-flops on campaign promises made by President Trump over the past few days, exploring administration explanations on Chinese currency manipulation, low-interest rates (Janet Yellen), Syria, Russia, NATO, FBI Director James Comey, and the Export-Import Bank.
Some of these changes, reporter David A Graham says, reflect the rising and falling fortunes of various White House advisors. Hardcore nationalist Steve Bannon was characterized in the WSJ interview as merely “a guy who works for me.”
A Washington Post report citing 21 of Trump’s aides, confidants, and allies strongly suggests the interests of the family business are now driving many policy decisions, just like they do in corrupt administrations around the world.
The nepotism and favoritism of the Trump administration is making the U.S. a laughingstock on the issue of corruption, as an article in Mother Jones points out:
Jessica Tillipman, a dean at the George Washington University Law School and an expert on government ethics and compliance, was recently giving an anti-corruption training to a roomful of visiting government officials from Latin America when something odd happened. As she described measures the United States has in place to guard against conflicts of interest, she heard snickering.
“Usually, I would see audiences in the past where they would look on kind of in awe” at the elaborate system the federal government has in place to prevent graft and corruption, Tillipman says. That has changed since the election of Donald Trump. Now, the overseas officials she trains point out that the US can’t even get its own president to abide by the nation’s ethics standards and traditions. “It was almost a bit of a joke,” she says of the recent training. “To have countries with their own distinct corruption issues laughing at our current issues—it’s embarrassing.”
A Very Steep Learning Curve
The bottom line to understanding Trump, however, is the most obvious one: he has no clue.
The Atlantic:(emphasis mine)
In other cases, however, Trump’s changed views appear to be more of a reflection of the president’s ignorance. The president was widely mocked for his claim that “nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated.” It is true that many people recognized that, but equally apparent that Trump did not. As is becoming clear, he was a blank slate on a range of other issues as well.
Trump told the Journal he had told President Xi Jinping that China could easily solve the North Korea problem. “After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,” Trump said. “I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power… but it’s not what you would think.”
It’s a striking admission that just 10 minutes of lecturing from a foreign leader could reverse Trump’s view of a major challenge facing his administration. And yet that is in line with his other reversals.He seems only now to be learning about the scope of Syrian atrocities and the extent of Russia’s backing for President Bashar al-Assad. By his own admission, he has decided that the Ex-Im Bank is more useful than he realized. He’s come around on low interest rates, and is getting up to speed on what China is actually doing with its currency.
The learning curve for the president is steep, and as he climbs it, the nation may be treated to even more dizzying reversals.
Questions of Intent vs Ignorance
This leads me back to some observations about the latest twists in the RussiaGate scandal.
The Guardian posted a story this morning revealing that European intelligence agencies have been aware of suspicious contacts between the Russians and the Trump camp since late 2015.
In addition to Great Britain’s GCHQ, Germany, Estonia, Poland. Australia, Holland, and France all intercepted messages leading them to believe something nefarious was occurring.
It is understood that GCHQ was at no point carrying out a targeted operation against Trump or his team or proactively seeking information. The alleged conversations were picked up by chance as part of routine surveillance of Russian intelligence assets. Over several months, different agencies targeting the same people began to see a pattern of connections that were flagged to intelligence officials in the US…
…According to one account, GCHQ’s then head, Robert Hannigan, passed material in summer 2016 to the CIA chief, John Brennan. The matter was deemed so sensitive it was handled at “director level”. After an initially slow start, Brennan used GCHQ information and intelligence from other partners to launch a major inter-agency investigation.
The involvement of so many intelligence agencies has, I’m afraid, led to a cottage industry of speculation chasing the conclusion that Russian involvement was somehow about specific foreign policy goals.
The more I learn about the entanglements between Trump and the Russians, the more I’m thinking the policy implications were incidental.
The revelations about the Trump clan’s financial interests as they relate to Putin and his fellow oligarchs provide a convincing argument that these connections may be as much about corruption as any other cause.
Dirty birds of a feather flock together.
Finally, one other item…
Less Bang for the Buck at Seaworld
Seaworld’s neighbors and the ears of sensitive pets in areas surrounding Mission Bay have reason to celebrate today.
The waterpark/entertainment complex has announced an end to its nightly summertime fireworks shows.
In its place will be a nighttime show will be called Cirque Electrique – featuring overhead laser lights and an interactive RFID experience, acrobats, and live musicians and an illuminated parade.
SeaWorld says the fireworks display will continue to take place during three-day holiday weekends and special events.
From CBS 8:
The park’s fireworks show had lit up the night sky over Mission Bay during the summer nights over the years, but some residents in the area had complained about noise, debris and scared pets.
“I live ten miles away in City Heights and you can still hear it every single night. The dogs don’t like it at all. I think it is a good thing they are ending it now,” said Bret Checketts.
However, on Wednesday, some residents were disappointed to learn their family tradition of watching the show will come to an end.
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