Senate in a hurry

The Senate, that body that couldn’t seem to muster enough energy to do very much since 2010 except hold endless hearings about Hillary Clinton, has suddenly gotten busy.  Last night – or rather early this morning – they took the first steps toward repealing the Affordable Care Act.  The New York Times reporters wrote

The approval of the budget blueprint, coming even before President-elect Donald J. Trump is inaugurated, shows the speed with which Republican leaders are moving to fulfill their promise to repeal President Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement — a goal they believe can now be accomplished after Mr. Trump’s election.

The action by the Senate is essentially procedural, setting the stage for a special kind of legislation called a reconciliation bill. Such a bill can be used to repeal significant parts of the health law and, critically, is immune from being filibustered. Congress appears to be at least weeks away from voting on legislation repealing the law.

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Senate Minority Leader Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) is leading the charge to make Hill Republicans own the Obamacare repeal process.

The Democrats staged a protest on the floor, taking turns speaking even while being ruled out of order.  The vote was 51 to 48.  So, what can someone who is opposed to repeal do at this point?  I found a New York Times Op-Ed Seven Questions About Health Reform to be a useful guide to the questions we should be asking any Senator or Congressperson who supports repeal.  The piece by Harold Pollack and Timothy S. Jost should be read in full, but here are what I think are the most important of the seven questions. (The numbering is mine not theirs. And they are not in the order of importance.}

First, “How many millions of Americans will lose coverage?”  Among the issues pointed out is

Proposals by Tom Price, Mr. Trump’s choice to run Health and Human Services, and by the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, would repeal the expansion of Medicaid and replace the A.C.A.’s income-based subsidies with less generous tax credits. Another plan from the House Republican Study Committee would offer deductions. We particularly need to know how this would affect low-income Americans, to whom tax deductions are nearly worthless, and who would generally not be able to afford coverage under these plans.

Second, “Will people over 55 pay higher health premiums for the same coverage?”  If the repeal is paired with cuts to Medicare, all of us over 55 will be in trouble.  And younger folks who may not have saved much for retirement yet will find it impossible to save enough.

Third, “… how much more will those with costly illnesses or injuries have to pay in out-of-pocket costs?”

Critics of the A.C.A. often argue that the law has made health care unaffordable. But many Americans would pay much more without it. The A.C.A. capped out-of-pocket spending at $7,150 for individuals and $14,300 for families for 2017. Republican proposals appear to offer no protection from high deductibles and other cost-sharing.

This could be devastating to millions, including older Americans who often develop chronic illnesses.

Fourth on my list. “Will the new plan let insurers charge women higher premiums than men while offering them less coverage?”

Before the A.C.A. banned gender-based premiums, insurers in many states charged women more than men of the same age — some as much as 50 percent more. The A.C.A. also required all insurers to cover preventive health services without co-payments; for women, this includes birth control, Pap smears, mammograms and a host of other crucial services. Maternity care is fully covered as well. Republican replacement plans offer no such protection. And many Republicans want to defund Planned Parenthood, too, which would deprive women not just of coverage but also of care.

And, as we have learned, many men, particularly Republican men, have no idea of how a woman’s anatomy works.  For those opposed to choice on abortion, this could have the effect of increasing the number of abortions – legal and illegal.

I think there is time while President Trump argues with Congress and Congress argues with itself about what should be in any new law.  If your Senator and/or Congressperson favors repeal, call or write or visit and ask some of the seven questions.  And express your support for those that oppose wholesale repeal.  Should you agree with what is happening, leave me a message explaining why you think this is OK.

Photograph:  Alex Wong/Getty Images

Repealing the Affordable Care Act

The Republicans have made a mantra out of repealing the ACA aka Obamacare.  I’ve lost track of how many times they have voted to repeal it, but close to 60, I think.  The surprising thing is how unprepared they really are to “repeal and replace”.  They seem to have the repeal part down, but in all the years it has been since the law was enacted, they haven’t come up with a replacement plan.  I think that even supporters of the ACA know that some things need fixing but no Republicans were willing to work with Democrats and President Obama to do so.

They could just repeal it.  This would create chaos in the health care system and upset millions.  I don’t think they want to deal with loss of support right away.  I’m not sure that voters who say they don’t like the ACA understand that things like free vaccinations, physical exams, and mammograms are part of the Act.  On the other hand, Republicans cannot seem to agree on a plan to replace the ACA.  There are a lot of ideas, but no plan and not even a framework for a plan as far as I can tell.

In the January 4 edition of the New York Times, Robert Pear had an interesting and informative article, Republicans’ 4-Step Plan to Repeal the Affordable Care Act.  In it he outlines the things that have to happen before Repeal.

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Vice President-elect Mike Pence, second from right, listened as the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, spoke after a Republican luncheon on Wednesday.

Step One is to pass a budget resolution that is filibuster proof in the Senate.

The Senate intends to pass a budget resolution next week that would shield repeal legislation from a Democratic filibuster. If the Senate completes its action, House Republican leaders hope that they, too, can approve a version of the budget resolution next week. Whether they can meet that goal is unclear.

Step Two would add details.

Republicans say they will delay the effective date of their repeal bill to avoid disrupting coverage and to provide time for them to develop alternatives to Mr. Obama’s law. They disagree over how long the delay should last, with two to four years being mentioned as possibilities.

Step Three adds in ideas from President Trump.

Within days of taking office, President-elect Donald J. Trump plans to announce executive actions on health care. Some may undo Obama administration policies. Others will be meant to stabilize health insurance markets and prevent them from collapsing in a vast sea of uncertainty.

“We are working on a series of executive orders that the president-elect will put into effect to ensure that there is an orderly transition, during the period after we repeal Obamacare, to a market-based health care economy,” Mr. Pence said at the Capitol on Wednesday.

Step Four is replacement.  For which there is no consensus.

Meanwhile Democrats are also taking action.

In the Senate next week, Democrats will demand votes intended to put Republicans on record against proposals that could protect consumers. Defenders of the law also hope to mobilize groups like the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association to speak up for patients.

This process is far from over.  Even Republicans put implementation of a new health care law a minimum of 2 years out – just in time for mid-terms- and more likely, 4 years away – just in time for the next Presidential election.

Photograph:  Doug Mills/The New York Times

So what the hell happened?

Everyone was wrong except Donald Trump.  How could that have happened?  I didn’t blog at all during the campaign season because everyone seemed to be writing what I would write, but this post is meant to be therapeutic.

First, let me make it clear that my heart was with Bernie Sanders.  He is my Senator; I like his politics.  But when I voted yesterday I thought it was a vote for the first woman president, Hillary Clinton and that was exciting, but I did wear my pin that said “My heart’s with Bernie, but I’m voting for Hillary”.  So what happened?

I haven’t read any of the papers or clicked on any email or looked at my Facebook feed this morning so this is all my own take:  The Democrats screwed up.  We all knew the country was divided and the election would hinge on turnout, but the Democratic party, as it turns out, did not have a deep bench.  I believe that in nominating a candidate with a lot of baggage, (most of which was not true, but no one could ever convince people of that) we set ourselves up for what happened.  She just couldn’t excite enough people.  Yes, she had a ground game and, yes, she got people out to vote but she lost too many people who got discouraged by various voter suppression rumors and didn’t vote, decided they didn’t like Trump, but didn’t like her either, as well as a fair chunk of Bernie supporters.

Bernie did his best for her, but it just wasn’t enough.  I await the analysis, but based on what I saw last night around midnight, Johnson and Stein took just enough votes for Trump to win in some close races.

I have many friends who were Trump voters, some reluctantly, and to them I say, “have fun trying to actually govern.”  To those who voted third party:  This is why Bernie told you not to do it.

It should be an interesting next few years and I’m back to blogging.

My take on Tim Kaine

In the days leading up to the Democratic VP pick, almost all my Virginia friends were posting on Facebook and hoping Hillary Clinton would pick Tim Kaine.  And after the pick, and particularly after his first speech, we went crazy with sharing our personal stories of our work with Tim over the years.

Tim Kaine

I honestly can’t remember when I first met him.  I think that probably my mother introduced us.  She was very active in the peace and justice community in Richmond for many years as was Tim.  But I really got to know Tim when he was on the board of Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME).  He was also our attorney.  I was working at HOME as the, I think my title was, Enforcement  Coordinator.  My job was to take complaints of housing discrimination and to investigate and try to resolve them.  During my time there I worked on several lawsuits with Tim including one against the largest apartment complex owners.  When I left, HOME was working on cases dealing with mortgage and insurance company redlining.  Working with Tim was wonderful experience.  He prepared meticulously and so we did also.  A few years later, I got the job as the Civil Rights Monitor with the Boston Housing Authority in no small part because of Tim Kaine’s recommendation.  So thank you, Tim.

All this fuss about whether he is progressive enough or not is bunk to those of us who have known him for a long time.  I concede that he is not Bernie or Elizabeth Warren when it comes to banking and financial regulation, but I am willing to bet that he will do his best to make sure that those planks of the Democratic platform become law.  Other than that, I’m not really sure why Bernie Sanders can say Tim’s politics are different from his.

“Tim is an extremely bright guy, a very nice guy,” the Vermonter said on CNN. “Are his political views different than mine? Yeah, they are. But trust me, on his worst, worst, worst day Tim Kaine is 100 times better than Donald Trump will ever be.”

“Would I have preferred to see somebody like an Elizabeth Warren selected?” Sanders added on NBC. “Yes, I would have. But my job right now is to see that Donald Trump is defeated and Hillary Clinton is elected.”

The best piece I’ve seen on Tim Kaine’s credentials was in the Huffington Post.  Written by Krystal Ball, who knows Virginia and Virginia politics, it should be read by every wavering Sanders supporter.  She begins

Like a lot of Virginians, I’ve had to chuckle a bit at the way Virginia Senator Tim Kaine has been portrayed since rising to the top of Secretary Clinton’s VP short list. Apparently, the gods of conventional wisdom have decided Kaine is a “boring,” “safe,” “centrist” pick whose “DINO” positions may make him anathema to the Sanders base. Oh really? Because I can assure you as a native Virginian, this caricature doesn’t at all fit the man I’ve watched over nearly 20 years. In fact, the consistent knock on him in every election in Virginia has been that he was too liberal! This was such an issue that when Kaine was elected Lieutenant Governor under Mark Warner in 2001, Warner used their first joint press conference to distance himself from the controversial, left-leaning Kaine. So before you allow the national media topline and Kaine’s status as a white Southern man to lull you into a quick judgment, here are a few things you should know about why this Bernie broad loves Tim Kaine.

Kaine is the son of a welder who graduated from a Jesuit high school, flew through University of Missouri and then landed at Harvard Law. While his classmates were hanging out in Cambridge fielding offers from big firms, Kaine took a year off to do mission work in Honduras where he worked with young boys growing up in brutal poverty. The year abroad left him fluent in Spanish and with a deep commitment to using his Harvard law degree for the public good. After law school he made good on his commitment to service and rather than cashing in on his degree, spent much of his legal career fighting against housing discrimination. Now you just tell me, does that sound like the bio of a chamber-backed, blue dog, corporate Dem?

Ahh but perhaps Kaine abandoned all his lofty principles in a quest for political power in a conservative Southern state! If that’s your concern, perhaps you should just ask the NRA how they feel about Tim Kaine. Here’s how his elections in Virginia typically go: the NRA gives him an F rating, fear mongers about how he’s going to take everyone’s guns, spends massively against him, and then Tim goes on to win anyway. Keep in mind, the NRA is literally headquartered in Virginia.

Is Tim boring?  A bad uninspiring campaigner?  Ball says not.

But, but, but Kaine is so boring! Surely he won’t bring the energy the ticket needs to win, right? If you think so, here’s something to consider: Tim Kaine has won every single election he’s ever run in. He’s won everything from Mayor of the majority African-American city of Richmond, to governor of a conservative Southern state. In fact, Kaine was a big part of turning Virginia into the state we see today which went twice for Obama and currently has a Democrat in every single statewide office. Bernie Sanders has himself said that we’ve got to do everything we can to defeat Donald Trump. Tim Kaine could be a real asset in that regard. Obviously, he’s from an important swing state but the way Kaine won in Virginia is important too. He precisely targeted and outperformed in the kind of suburban and exurban counties where Republican leaning voters may be feeling the most uncomfortable with the charlatan who has won the Republican presidential nomination.

Tim Kaine has a 100% ratings from NARAL and Planned Parenthood and 0% from the NRA.

I think that as people get to know him and his wife, Anne Holton, they will come to know what most progressive Virginians know:  Tim Kaine is the real deal.  As Ball puts it

Look, anyone who has served as long and in as many ways as Tim Kaine is going to have taken positions you don’t agree with. I’m not saying the guy is perfect. But having watched a long time and gotten to see the man up close, I can tell you he is courageous, principled, and value driven.

I lived in Virginia for over 20 years and I’m now living in Vermont so I can look at both Tim Kaine and Bernie Sanders and say they are both good men who want was is best for our country.  I believe they can take the same message to different constituencies to help win the Presidency and take back the Senate.

Photograph:  USAToday.com

The silly season begins in earnest with too many deaths and too many guns

Time to fire up the blog again after a long break.  I’ve found the world just too depressing to write about with violence and war all over the world including police shooting civilians, civilians shooting police, and too many people just shooting each other,   Yes, the major incidents we hear about are racial, but there are just too many that are not.

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This Tom the Dancing Bug cartoon illustrates only too well what kind of society we seem to be rapidly moving toward.  The violence is numbing.  And our Congress seems unable to act.  We can only hope that there is not another arms race with law enforcement adding more tanks and military style equipment, but more emphasis on community policing.  Granted that Brattleboro is a small town, but our police chief started something he calls “Coffee with a Cop” several years ago.  Anyone can go to a local restaurant and talk to an officer.  Larger places can do something similar in precincts and districts.  More talk can lead to more trust.  OK.  Maybe not always, but there will never be trust if everyone is just shooting at each other.

This is the morning of the start of the Republican Convention.  The lead New York Times story begins

The attack on police officers in Baton Rouge, La., cast a grim mood over the opening of the Republican National Convention here, as Donald J. Trump responded to the killings with a stark warning that the country was falling apart.

A string of shootings targeting police officers, as well as the recent killings of two black men by police officers in Minnesota and Louisiana, had already pushed gun violence and social unrest to the center of the presidential campaign. Mr. Trump has campaigned on the theme of “law and order” since the assassination this month of five police officers in Dallas, and he is likely to amplify that message in the coming days.
“Law and Order” unfortunately doesn’t remind me of the great television series, but of Richard Nixon and the 1960s and 1970s.  They were scary times to be a protester for civil rights or against the war in Vietnam.  Unfortunately, Trump’s message is going to resonate among those who feel threatened by the changes taking place.  Changes like more gay rights, the possibility of a woman becoming president (First a black man and now a woman!), and most of all the slow change from a predominately white country to one that is more diverse.
This election is going to be a scary one beginning with the Republican Convention in Cleveland beginning tonight.  The New York Times story goes on

Cleveland has assigned about 500 police officers specifically to handle the convention, and it has brought in thousands more officers to help, from departments as distant as California and Texas.

But some local officials have expressed concern about the possibility of violence owing to Ohio’s open-carry gun laws. Though demonstrators and others in the convention district have been barred from possessing a range of items, including gas masks, there was no prohibition on the brandishing of firearms.

On Sunday, the president of Cleveland’s police union called for additional measures to protect the security of the event, and urged Mr. Kasich to suspend open-carry gun rights. The governor’s office said Mr. Kasich did not have “the power to arbitrarily suspend federal and state constitutional rights or state laws.”

Plus

And the convention was likely to begin with a trumpeting of support for police officers. Convention organizers said on Sunday that the theme of the first day, Monday, would be “Make America Safe Again.”

Jeff Larson, the convention’s chief executive, said in a news conference that a leading speaker would be Rudolph W. Giuliani, whom he described as “the law-and-order mayor of New York.”
Mr. Giuliani has been a forceful critic of the Black Lives Matter movementand has been outspoken in his defense of law enforcement practices over the last few weeks.
I worry that Democratic calls for unity are not good enough in face of Trump and Giuliani bombast.  NPR laid out the contrast nicely.
Following the shooting death of three law enforcement officers Sunday in Baton Rouge, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump blasted President Obama on Twitter and Facebook, saying he has “no clue” how to deal with a country that is a “divided crime scene.”
while Hillary Clinton issued a statement

Meanwhile, presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton called the shooting “devastating” and “an assault on all of us.”

“There is no justification for violence, for hate, for attacks on men and women who put their lives on the line every day in service of our families and communities,” she said.

Clinton also called for unity:

“We must not turn our backs on each other. We must not be indifferent to each other. We must all stand together to reject violence and strengthen our communities. Our thoughts and prayers are with the friends and families of the police officers who were killed and injured today.”

 

She will be speaking at the NAACP convention today and it will be interesting to hear what she has to say.

For me, the appropriate response is to begin with a ban on sales of large magazines and then move on to banning assault style weapons.  Both the Dallas and Baton Rouge shooters were trained in the military and the idea that they can easily get and use similar weapons after they are discharged is frightening.  We actually need more talk, not more guns.  Let us hope there is no violence in Cleveland.

 

 

 

My Supreme Court Fantasy

One of my friends asked if she would go to hell because she was glad that Antonin Scalia was dead.  I have mixed feelings.  First, I’m very sad for his family as sudden death is always difficult.  On the other hand, I am happy he is no longer a factor on the Supreme Court.  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg wrote on the the nicest tributes I’ve seen.  This is from Vox.

So it’s no surprise that of all the tributes to Justice Scalia, who died Saturday of an apparent heart attack at the age of 79, Justice Ginsburg’s is uniquely moving. It’s a tribute to Scalia as an interlocutor, a fellow opera lover — including a reference to the opera Scalia/Ginsburg: A (Gentle) Parody of Operatic Proportionswhich debuted in 2015 — and a “best buddy.”

Toward the end of the opera Scalia/Ginsburg, tenor Scalia and soprano Ginsburg sing a duet: ‘We are different, we are one,’ different in our interpretation of written texts, one in our reverence for the Constitution and the institution we serve. From our years together at the D.C. Circuit, we were best buddies. We disagreed now and then, but when I wrote for the Court and received a Scalia dissent, the opinion ultimately released was notably better than my initial circulation. Justice Scalia nailed all the weak spots—the ‘applesauce’ and ‘argle bargle’—and gave me just what I needed to strengthen the majority opinion. He was a jurist of captivating brilliance and wit, with a rare talent to make even the most sober judge laugh. The press referred to his ‘energetic fervor,’ ‘astringent intellect,’ ‘peppery prose,’ ‘acumen,’ and ‘affability,’ all apt descriptions. He was eminently quotable, his pungent opinions so clearly stated that his words never slipped from the reader’s grasp.

Justice Scalia once described as the peak of his days on the bench an evening at the Opera Ball when he joined two Washington National Opera tenors at the piano for a medley of songs. He called it the famous Three Tenors performance. He was, indeed, a magnificent performer. It was my great good fortune to have known him as working colleague and treasured friend.

So my fantasy is imagining Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined by a Justice Amy Klobuchar.  What a quartet that would be!

Patrick Condon writes in the Minneapolis Star Tribune

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is likely to mix it up in the coming political brawl in Washington around replacing Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, and not just because her own name has again surfaced as a potential high court nominee.

Klobuchar

Klobuchar sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  This can be a plus because she has worked with all the Republican members.

Obama said late Saturday that he intends to try to fill the vacancy “in due time.” It is already shaping up to be an epic battle as Obama has been handed the rare chance to swing the ideological balance of the court, where Scalia served as one of the most reliably conservative voices in the 5-4 majority.

As Republicans who control the U.S. Senate vow to block Obama, the president will look for judiciary committee allies like Klobuchar and Franken. But Klobuchar, an attorney and a former elected prosecutor, may first be considered as a prospect.

“I think there’s a bunch of reasons she makes sense,” said Norman Ornstein, an expert on Congress and U.S. politics at Washington’s American Enterprise Institute, who was touting Klobuchar’s case on Twitter over the weekend. “I think there’s a substantive argument for her, and a political argument for her.”

Ornstein said by choosing a U.S. senator, Obama could make it a harder for Senate Republicans to block a trusted colleague for the entirety of 2016. And he suggested it might be a good time to reverse the recent presidential trend of only picking judges.

“There was a long tradition of selecting people who had been in public life, gone through elections and served in legislatures or executive office,” Ornstein said.
 Chief Justice Earl Warren and retired Justice Sandra Day O’Conner are two examples cited.
President Obama may ultimately decide that Klobuchar is too political an appointment and we don’t know if she would even be interested, but I can dream of the Mighty Four on the Supreme Court.
Photograph:  Twitter.com

What is being a feminist all about?

I’ve got credentials.  I was a delegate from Virginia to the First National Women’s Conference held in Houston in 1977.  I shepherded one of the early pay equity cases – a professor at Old Dominion University who was being paid less than her colleague with similar degrees and experience – to a successful conclusion.  I worked to make marital rape a crime and to ratify  the Equal Rights Amendment in the Virginia legislature.  The first successfully, the second not.  I’m the same age as Hillary Clinton.  And I am very disappointed in how her campaign somehow feels entitled to my vote.  Some how I lose my standing as a feminist if I support Bernie Sanders.  She seems to have migrated a long way from her wonderful speech in Beijing.

Women listening to Hillary Clinton at a campaign event in New Hampshire

Women listening to Hillary Clinton at a campaign event in New Hampshire

I was trying to figure out how to write about this when I read Frank Bruni’s column this morning in the New York Times.  I think he was hit the nail on the head.  He begins

I’m 51. My health is decent. And while my mother died young, there’s longevity elsewhere in the family tree.

I could live to see an openly gay presidential candidate with a real chance of victory.

Will there be a “special place in hell” for me if I, as a gay man, don’t support him or her?

I can guess Madeleine Albright’s answer. She more or less told women that they’re damned if they’re not on Hillary Clinton’s team.

I’m still trying to get my head around that — and around Gloria Steinem’s breathtakingly demeaning assertion that young women who back Bernie Sanders are in thrall to pheromones, not ideas or idealism, and angling to score dates with the young bucks in the Sanders brigade.

I could substitute Asian American for gay and ask the same question.

There’s a weird strain of thought swirling around Clinton’s campaign: that we should vote for her because she’s a woman. Or that she’s inoculated from certain flaws or accusations by dint of gender. Or that, at the least, there’s an onus on forward-looking people who care about gender inequality to promote her candidacy.

I care about gender inequality, and I don’t buy it. It’s bad logic. It’s even worse strategy. People don’t vote out of shame. They vote out of hope.

Perhaps that was among the lessons of Clinton’s defeat in New Hampshire on Tuesday, where she lost to Sanders among all women by at least seven percentage points, according to exit polling, and among women under 30 by more than 60 points.

Somehow we got from the positive nature of a woman running for President to what must seem like a bunch of old women scolding young ones for supporting – gasp -a man instead.

Clinton’s gender indeed matters. Just as you couldn’t properly evaluate Obama’s arc without factoring in race, you can’t see her accurately without recognizing that she’s a woman of her time, with all the attendant obstacles, hurts, compromises and tenacity.

That informs — and, ideally, illuminates — her perspective. And her presidency would carry a powerful, constructive symbolism that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored.

But those are considerations among many, many others in taking her measure and in casting a vote. To focus only or primarily on them is more reductive than respectful, and to tell women in particular what kind of politics they should practice is the antithesis of feminism, which advocates independence and choices.

We’re all complicated people voting for complicated people. We’re not census subgroups falling in line.

I’ll go to the barricades for that imagined gay candidate if he or she has talents I trust, positions I respect and a character I admire. If not, I’ll probably go elsewhere, because being gay won’t be the sum of that person, just as womanhood isn’t where Clinton begins and ends.

I will be voting for her in November should she be the Democratic nominee, but I will never quite admire either Madeline Albright or Gloria Steinham in quite the same way as I did before.

Photograph:   Richard Perry/The New York Times