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.

The Republican Convention 2016

So, we have made it though the Republican Convention.  Donald Trump is the nominee and even though people keep expecting him to “pivot toward the general”, I think he won’t/can’t change.  My politically conservative brother-in-law did make an astute observation the other day.  He basically said that the left feared Trump and the right feared Hillary which makes this the election based on fear.  Here’s hoping that the Democrats give us some positive reasons to vote for them.

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In fact, I found this meme on Facebook posted by a friend of a friend, Louise Aucott.  I gather she is a Bernie supporter.

I really don’t understand the Republican Governors who talked about how well their states were doing, while The Donald was saying that the country had no economy.  Do they want to go back to 2008?  They really need to credit President Obama because their state economies didn’t get better in a vacuum.

Another thing I don’t understand is why all of the Trump/Pence supporters don’t give up Social Security, Medicare, Food Stamps (because I’m sure many are getting assistance), disaster aid (which Republican governors are quick to ask for) and give back any raises they might receive as the result of an increase in the minimum wage.  If they hate the government so much, they should forgo the benefits that come from it.

Back to what I started this post to do:  Let’s look at the Republican Convention.  I’ve been to a national convention (1972) and I know just how chaotic they can be when there is dissent among the ranks.  I think we debated everything from the rules to many platform planks and managed to cause George McGovern to give his acceptance speech in the wee hours.  But that was back in the hay day of participatory democracy.  There is no such excuse for the mistakes made by the Trump campaign beginning with poor Melania’s speech which no one vetted.  I can understand why she was so taken with Michelle Obama’s words.  Melania is not a politician and may not have realized that she was quoting the enemy, but someone from the campaign should have known.  And then allowing Senator Ted Cruz to speak just before the Vice-Presidential acceptance speech was another management failure.

The New York Times summed up the convention this way

Mr. Trump and his fellow speakers over four days and nights did not pivot, did not shift, did not seek the notional sweet center of American public life. With few exceptions, the convention was aimed at stirring up true believers and wedding them to his cause. The emotional and cultural core of Mr. Trump’s campaign — reversal of, and even revenge for, perceived slights, disrespect and loss — were undisturbed and at times amplified before a prime-time audience. In Mr. Trump’s telling, the most powerful nation in the history of the world was a victim. And Mr. Trump was its avenger.

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The Republicans give us the message that America isn’t a country any more and only Mr. Trump can wave a magic wand and fix it.  And it is a magic wand because he has offered few specifics.
Those of us who don’t buy into this message shouldn’t be voting out of fear, but to continue the positive progress we have made.  I think my brother-in-law will be proven wrong.
Cartoon by Dan Wasserman, Boston Globe

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

The Donald

I sorta promised myself that I wouldn’t write about Donald Trump.  Why give him even the tiny bit of attention my post would give him?  But then I read Timothy Egan’s op-ed in today’s New York Times and I had to share it.

The adults patrolling the playpen of Republican politics are appalled that we’ve become a society where it’s O.K. to make fun of veterans, to call anyone who isn’t rich a loser, to cast an entire group of newly arrived strivers as rapists and shiftless criminals.

Somewhere, we crossed a line — from our mothers’ modesty to strutting braggadocio, from dutiful decorum to smashing all the china in the room, from respecting a base set of facts to a trumpeting of willful ignorance.

And the really bad news for the Republicans?

And now that the party can’t control him, Trump threatens to destroy its chances if he doesn’t get his way, running as an independent with unlimited wealth — a political suicide bomb.

The real problem is that Trumpism has been a latent virus in the party for a long time.  Egan reminds us

Trump is a byproduct of all the toxic elements Republicans have thrown into their brew over the last decade or so — from birtherism to race-based hatred of immigrants, from nihilists who shut down government to elected officials who shout “You lie!” at their commander in chief.

It was fine when all this crossing-of-the-line was directed at President Obama or other Democrats. But now that the ugliness is intramural, Trump has forced party leaders to decry something they have not only tolerated, but encouraged.

The Republicans might be unhappy about The Donald’s remarks about John McCain not being a war hero, but they encouraged the trashing of John Kerry when he ran for President in 2004 with lies about his service in Vietnam.  Remember Swift Boat?

I believe that the Republicans haven’t tackled immigration because at the bottom line they agree with him.

The racism toward Mexicans that Trump has stirred up has been swooshing around the basement of the Republican Party for some time. Representative Steve King of Iowa did Trump one better in 2013 when he said undocumented immigrants had “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.”

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 Interesting that it is “Oops” Rick Perry who can see the ultimate result.

This week Perry called Trumpism “a toxic mix of demagogy, meanspiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if followed.”

Using the X-ray vision of his new glasses, Perry has correctly diagnosed the problem, and forecast the outcome. But that toxic mix has been just the tonic for his party for years, including Perry’s suggestion that Texas might have to secede. President Obama was barely into his first months in office when Representative Joe Wilson of South Carolina shouted “You lie!” at him in a joint session of Congress. For hurling that insult, Wilson was widely praised in conservative media circles.

I wonder if The Donald will ask Ted Cruz for his birth certificate.  We remember he was a leading birther against President Obama.

Trump also stoked the humiliating lie about President Obama’s citizenship. He began that crusade, he claimed, because so many Republicans still believe it, and have encouraged him to keep it alive.

If you are on the other side you have to love the infighting in the Republican Party.

I don’t think The Donald will be folding his tent and going away as he has in the past.  One way or another, the other candidates will have to deal with him.  And if he gets the nomination or runs as an independent, we Democrats will have to deal with him also.

Photograph:  from stopabuse.com

The start of the Presidential election season

First, I guess it really isn’t a season in the meteorological sense if it ever was but more like a year.

I’m not sure which of the Republican candidates I would want the Democratic nominee to run against since I find most of them pretty scary in the horror movie sense.  As far as I can tell none believe in climate change (even Bush and Rubio from Florida which is sinking fast); they don’t (even Rand Paul the doctor) believe in science; and they certainly don’t believe in what used to be called “the little people.”  They want the United States to be a “Christian Nation.”  I guess they just carry copies of the United States Constitution around in their suit coat pockets, but don’t read it.  It says something about “establishment of religion.”  My assumption that we long ago resolved to be a diverse society – including religious belief – must be incorrect.  At times they seem almost to be a Christian version of those fundamentalist Muslims they so oppose.  But most frightening of all is that all of them seem to want to control women and our bodies.  They appear to be opposed to regulation except of women.  So there really isn’t much to choose from on that side.  It should be fun to watch when they begin to squabble.

My problem is Hillary Clinton.  I’m not exactly sure why I am not enthusiastic about her.  I always liked her when she was First Lady, thought she represented New York well in the Senate, and she was a good Secretary of State.  But President?  I just can’t get excited.

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I took the Gail Collins quiz, “Take Your Hillary Temperature” the other week and my score was “ready for a primary.”  But who could be in the primary?

I like Elizabeth Warren and worked hard to get her elected to the Senate when I live in Massachusetts, but I think we should take her at her word that she doesn’t want to run.  If she stays in the Senate and things break for the Democrats she could be the first woman Majority Leader.  So leave Elizabeth alone, please.

There is my current Senator, Bernie Sanders.  Bernie might make a fine candidate, I think he would be a good debater, but I just can’t see him as President.  He was the mayor of Burlington, VT which in the scheme of things is not a very big town.  Bernie is like the opposite of Ted Cruz ideologically.  I think he’s going to run.

There are three governors who would be possible.  Deval Patrick (who has already said no), Tim Kaine (who is already supporting Hillary) and Martin O’Malley who appears to be running.  I also like Senator Amy Klobachar but I don’t think she has any thoughts about running.

So why can’t I just jump on the Hillary bandwagon?  I get many email from various people telling me to do just that.  I think, however, I am suffering from Clinton fatigue.  We know too much about her and Bill not all of which I like.  I’m also not sure she can attract the young, white, male voters who may well decide this election.  And maybe it is none of those reasons, but something I can’t yet put my finger on.  All I know is that I think a primary would be good for the Democratic Party whether Hillary gets the nomination or not.

Photograph: Justin Sullivan / Getty