House Republicans unveil bill to dismantle Obamacare

Long-awaited legislation to dismantle Obamacare was unwrapped on Monday by U.S. Republicans, who called for ending health insurance mandates and rolling back extra healthcare funding for the poor in a package that drew immediate fire from Democrats.

In a battle waged since the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act, Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy achievement, Republicans including President Donald Trump have long vowed to repeal and replace the law. But they failed for years to coalesce around an alternative.

With a proposal now on the table, the fate of the plan is uncertain even with Republican majorities in both chambers. Also unclear is where Trump stands on many of the details.

“Today marks an important step toward restoring healthcare choices and affordability back to the American people,” the White House said in a statement, adding Trump looked forward to working with Congress on replacing Obamacare.

Republicans condemn Obamacare as government overreach, and Trump has called it a “disaster.”

Critics complained about the penalty the law charged those who refused to buy insurance. The Republican proposal would repeal that penalty immediately.

Congressional Democrats denounced the Republican plan, saying it would hurt Americans by requiring them to pay more for healthcare, to the benefit of insurers.

Obamacare is popular in many states, even some controlled by Republicans. It has brought health insurance coverage to about 20 million previously uninsured Americans, although premium increases have angered some.

About half those people gained coverage through an expansion of the Medicaid program for the poor. The Republican proposal would end the Medicaid expansion on Jan. 1, 2020, and cap Medicaid funding after that date.

Just before the plan was unveiled, four moderate Senate Republicans jointly expressed concern that an earlier draft would not adequately protect those who got coverage under Medicaid, raising doubts about the legislation’s future in the Senate.

Several Senate and House conservatives have already expressed doubt about another aspect of the plan, the offering of tax credits for the purchase of health insurance. The proposal seeks to encourage people to buy insurance with the age-based credits, which would be capped at upper-income levels.

The legislation would abolish the current income-based subsidies for purchasing insurance under Obamacare.

The proposal would protect two of the most popular provisions of Obamacare. It would prohibit insurers from denying coverage or charging more to those with pre-existing conditions, and it would allow adults up to age 26 to remain on their parents’ health plans. Trump has long supported by both ideas.

The measure would also provide states with $100 billion to create programs for patient populations, possibly including high-risk pools to provide insurance to the sickest patients.

‘FRANKLY NOT ENOUGH’

The overall cost of the Republican plan, a key issue in a time of high federal deficits, was not yet known, Republican aides said. Two House committees will next review the plan.

Craig Garthwaite of Northwestern University said the proposed tax credits, which would range from $2,000 to $4,000, were “frankly not enough for a low-income person to afford insurance.”

Republicans said the legislation would give Americans the flexibility to make their own healthcare choices, free of Obamacare’s mandate that people buy health insurance and the law’s taxes, including a surtax on investment income earned by upper-income Americans.

“Our legislation transfers power from Washington back to the American people,” House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady said in a statement.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement, however, that “Trumpcare doesn’t replace the Affordable Care Act, it forces millions of Americans to pay more for less care.”

“Paying for all this is going to be a big issue,” said Joe Antos of the American Enterprise Institute think tank.

“It’s possible that CBO (the Congressional Budget Office) is going to say the Medicaid reductions aren’t enough to offset the revenue losses from repealing all the taxes.”

A hospital group voiced disappointment that lawmakers were willing to consider the measure without knowing how much it cost or how it might affect healthcare coverage.

The proposal “could place a heavy burden on the safety net by reducing federal support for Medicaid expansion over time and imposing per-capita caps on the program,” said America’s Essential Hospitals, which represents hospitals that provide care to low-income and uninsured individuals.

 

Source: Reuters

Republicans are now marching with Trump on ideas they had opposed.

From the time Donald J. Trump became their candidate until he took the oath of office, congressional Republicans treated his policy pronouncements — largely out of step with Republican dogma — as essentially a distraction. He would talk. They would drive the policies.

But now, the question of whether congressional Republicans would change President Trump or Mr. Trump would change them has an early answer. Mr. Trump cheerfully addressed the group here at their policy retreat on Thursday, and they responded with applause to many proposals they have long opposed.

Republican lawmakers appear more than ready to open up the coffers for a $12 billion to $15 billion border wall, perhaps without the commensurate spending cuts that they demanded when it came to disaster aid, money to fight the Zika virus or funds for the tainted water system in Flint, Mich. They also seem to back a swelling of the federal payroll that Mr. Trump has called for in the form of a larger military and 5,000 more border patrol agents.

They have stayed oddly silent as Mr. Trump and Senate Democrats push a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, larger than one they rejected from President Barack Obama. Once fierce promoters of the separation of powers, Republicans are now embracing Mr. Trump’s early governing by executive order, something they loudly decried during Mr. Obama’s second term.

Speaker Paul D. Ryan, whose own website this week still praised the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, now applauds Mr. Trump for putting the final shovel of dirt over the accord, with the president saying he is interested in bilateral agreements instead.

Many Republicans, who have been longstanding opponents of Russia and written laws that prohibit torture, have chosen to overlook, or even concur with, Mr. Trump’s embrace of both. Even on the subject of Mr. Trump’s call for an investigation into voter fraud, a widely debunked claim, Republicans have often demurred. “The notion that election fraud is a fiction is not true,” said the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

Mr. Trump said he could not wait for lawmakers to get to work on their newfound common ground. “This Congress is going to be the busiest Congress we’ve had in decades, maybe ever,” Mr. Trump said. In an apparent reference to forthcoming bills, he added, “We’re actually going to sign the stuff that you’re writing. You’re not wasting your time.”

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Mr. Trump took his first official flight on Air Force One on Thursday. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times

Many Republicans in Congress say his presidency is off to a substantive start, delivering on campaign promises to quell illegal immigration, reduce regulations, start the rollback of the health care law and reverse the Obama administration’s decisions to halt the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects.

“I think he’s completely winning the expectation game,” said Representative Peter Roskam of Illinois. “I think he’s a genius at lowering expectations and overperforming,” he said, adding, “It’s really remarkable.”

In one significant way, congressional Republicans potentially seemed to pull Mr. Trump to their end of the policy pool. On Thursday, the administration initially appeared to endorse taxing imports as a way to pay for the Mexican border wall, reversing its earlier preference for imposing a heavy tax on companies that move jobs overseas. But the White House later said it was just one option under consideration.

“We are in a very good place on tax reform,” Mr. Ryan said. “It can get complicated when you get into the details of tax reform, but once we go through how tax reform works and what it’s going to take to get the kind of competitive tax system, the kind of competitive tax rates, I think most people agree that this is the right approach.”

Congressional Republicans are also struggling to keep up with Mr. Trump’s rapid-fire announcements, let alone push their agenda. “It’s fast-paced stuff,” said Senator John Hoeven, Republican of North Dakota. Investigating voter fraud, for instance, is not something he would like to see Congress take on. “Our priorities are the ones we laid out,” he said.

They are also eager to get on with the rest of that agenda — specifically a repeal and, ostensibly, a replacement of the Affordable Care Act. “We are on the same page with the White House,” Mr. Ryan insisted Thursday. “The president agrees with this agenda.”

But it is the sudden embrace of federal spending that represents perhaps the most striking departure, with Republicans backing the concept of starting the financing for the border wall with a new appropriation.

And the list is much longer. By contrast, last year, Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican, called Democrats’ request for $600 million in aid to Flint added to an energy bill “a huge earmark,” adding, “I think it’s not something I could support,” in keeping with most of his colleagues. Republicans also pushed for and partly succeeded in offsetting a bill to fight Zika last year.

The talk of a spending surge has left some Republicans worried about an exploding deficit. “There are going to have to be some cuts,” said Representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah. “I am not interested in raising our spending levels.”

Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, seemed tense when asked about the open checkbook. “We’re a fiscally conservative group,” he said of the committee. “We’re going to want to see things paid for.”

Republicans are also at times confused about what Mr. Trump is actually seeking when he makes policy declarations on Twitter. “‘Appears’ I think is the big word,” said Representative Ryan Costello of Pennsylvania. “I don’t think anyone in the House of Representatives on the Republican side of the aisle wants to go through the legislative process,” only to have the Trump administration send a bill back, he said.

Republicans had expected to reveal great progress on their plans to replace the health care act here, but instead seemed stuck in a perpetual debate over the timeline of coming up with a replacement. Senators in large part made a strong argument for making sure that a replacement plan had been fashioned before repealing the law, while many in the House continue to push for a repeal with replacement coming much later.

Also notable is the Republicans’ acceptance of something they have despised: the use of the executive pen to make policy. Several House Republicans dismissed the notion that Mr. Trump would abuse his power to issue executive orders in the way they complained that Mr. Obama did during his second term.

“What you do by the pen can be dismantled by the pen,” said Representative Tom Reed of New York.

Mr. Trump is also trying to work his will on how the Senate operates. In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News, Mr. Trump said he thought Mr. McConnell should get rid of the Senate filibuster rule for Supreme Court nominees, calling those who would oppose his coming pick “obstructionists.”

About three blocks from where Mr. Trump spoke, hundreds of protesters packed a plaza just across from City Hall to rally against the president. While the demonstration was organized around preserving the health care law, protesters showed up for a variety of causes. “I don’t trust anything he says,” said Ken Snyder, 62.

Poll: Most Americans think Trump can’t handle US presidency.

Americans have little confidence in President-elect Donald Trump’s abilities to handle his presidential duties, with less than half of them saying they trust him to prevent major scandals, handle an international crisis, or use military force responsibly.

According to a Gallup poll released by TIME, Americans have significantly less faith in Trump than they had in his predecessors.

Only 44 per cent said they were confident Trump would avoid major scandals in his administration, 46 per cent said they are confident in Trump’s ability to handle an international crisis, and 47 per cent said they trust him to use military force wisely.

When the same questions were asked at the start of outgoing President Barack Obama’s and former Presidents George W. Bush’s and Bill Clinton’s terms, roughly three-quarters of Americans said they had confidence in the newly elected President in these areas.

When compared with Gallup’s averages of confidence polling in his predecessors, Trump comes up short.

The incoming president has a 32-point confidence deficit in his ability to avoid scandals in his administration, a 29-point deficit in his ability to use military force well and a 28-point deficit in his ability to manage the executive branch.

Most Americans (60 per cent) believe Trump will be able to get things done with Congress, but even there he comes up far behind his predecessors — the average number of Americans with confidence in Obama, Bush and Clinton to work with Congress was 82 per cent.

The data also reflects a more polarised America than Obama or Bush faced when they came into office.

On average, only 21 per cent of Democrats have confidence in Trump’s ability to handle the various responsibilities of the presidency.

By contrast, roughly two-thirds of Republicans had some confidence in Obama and the same was true for Bush and Democrats.

But Trump even has a confidence deficit among members of his own party.

Only 84 per cent of Republicans have confidence in his abilities as President, compared with 94 per cent of Democrats who trusted Obama and 95 per cent of Republicans who had faith in Bush.

The poll’s sample included 1,028 adults and had a margin of error of +/- 4 per cent.

Republicans retain control of US Senate.

The Republicans have kept control of the Senate, with several races still to be decided.

 

Senator Pat Toomey’s narrow victory over Democrat Katie McGinty, in Pennsylvania, pushed the party over the line.

 

It means the Republicans will continue to have control of both Houses of Congress.

 

Republican Donald Trump has also edged closer to winning the White House with a series of shocking wins in battleground states such as Florida and Ohio on Tuesday.

 

If Donald Trump wins the White House, the party will have a clean sweep, making it easier for them to pass legislation.

Democrats gain one U.S. Senate seat so far, as Republicans hold House.

Majority control of the U.S. Senate was up for grabs in Tuesday’s election, with 27 out of 34 results called by major TV networks, including one pickup by the Democrats in Illinois.

A handful of extremely tight Senate races remained too close to call, while the networks declared that Republicans, as expected, retained their majority in the House of Representatives.

The outcomes in both chambers will help determine how hard it will be for either Democrat Hillary Clinton or Republican Donald Trump to get things done as president.

The following are facts on the stakes and races to watch:

U.S. Senate, 100 seats.

Senators serve six-year terms. A third of the Senate is up for re-election every two years. Procedural rules in the Senate mean 60 votes are needed to advance major initiatives.

Republicans entered the election with 54 seats, led by Kentucky’s Mitch McConnell, versus the Democrats’ 44 seats and two independent seats. The Democrats’ leader in the next Senate is expected to be New York’s Chuck Schumer.

The Republicans this year were defending 24 seats; the Democrats, 10.

U.S. House, 435 seats

Members of the House serve two-year terms and all are up for re-election every two years.

To advance most bills in the House, 218 votes or more are needed. Republicans went into the elections holding 246 seats to the Democrats’ 186. There were three vacancies.

The Republican leader is Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin; the Democrats’ leader is Nancy Pelosi of California.

To win a majority, Democrats needed to gain 30 seats.

Senate races, with projected results where available:

Alabama – Senate Banking Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, as expected, won a sixth term, defeating Democrat Ron Crumpton.

Arizona – Veteran Republican Senator John McCain, 80, defeated Democratic U.S. Representative Ann Kirkpatrick, 66.

Arkansas – Republican Senator John Boozman beat Democrat Conner Eldridge.

California – State Attorney General Kamala Harris, a Democrat, won the seat held by retiring Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. Harris defeated fellow Democrat Loretta Sanchez.

Colorado – Democratic Senator Michael Bennet won a third term, turning back a challenge from Republican Darryl Glenn.

Connecticut – Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal won a second term, defeating Republican Dan Carter.

Florida – Incumbent Republican Marco Rubio, the failed presidential contender, defeated Democratic Representative Patrick Murphy.

Georgia – Republican Senator Johnny Isakson won his race against Democrat Jim Barksdale.

Idaho: Republican Senator Mike Crapo defeated Democrat Jerry Sturgill.

Indiana – Democrat Evan Bayh, 60, failed in his bid to recapture his Senate seat, defeated by Republican Representative Todd Young, 44.

Illinois – Democratic Representative Tammy Duckworth unseated Republican Senator Mark Kirk. Duckworth, 48, is a double-amputee Iraq War veteran. Kirk, 57, suffered a stroke that sidelined him for much of 2012.

Iowa – Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, 83, won a seventh term, defeating Democrat Patty Judge.

Kansas – Republican Senator Jerry Moran won a second term, defeating Democrat Patrick Wiesner.

Kentucky – Republican Senator Rand Paul won a second term against Democrat Jim Gray. Paul unsuccessfully ran for president earlier this year.

Louisiana – Republican Senator David Vitter is retiring, opening the door to a crowd of would-be successors. Two dozen candidates from both parties are on Tuesday’s ballot. If no candidate gets at least 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election between the top two will be held on Dec. 10.

Maryland – Democratic Representative Chris Van Hollen will replace retiring Senator Barbara Mikulski. Van Hollen defeated Republican Kathy Szeliga.

Missouri – Republican Senator Roy Blunt, 66, faces a stiff challenge from Democrat Jason Kander, 35, a veteran of the Afghanistan war who is now Missouri’s secretary of state.

Nevada – Republican Representative Joe Heck, 55, and Catherine Cortez Masto, 52, a former Democratic state attorney general, are fighting to replace retiring Senator Harry Reid.

New Hampshire – Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan, 58, is trying to oust Senator Kelly Ayotte, a 48-year-old Republican.

New York – Senator Chuck Schumer, who is expected to become the next Senate Democratic leader, defeated Republican Wendy Long in the heavily Democratic state.

North Carolina – Republican Senator Richard Burr, 60, won re-election against Democrat Deborah Ross, 53, a former state legislator.

North Dakota – Republican Senator John Hoeven won a second term, defeating Democrat Eliot Glassheim.

Ohio – Republican Rob Portman, 60, defeated Democratic challenger Ted Strickland, 75, a former governor. Portman initially endorsed Trump, but later withdrew that and pointedly refused to appear with Trump or talk about him.

Oklahoma – Senator James Lankford won a second term, defeating Democrat Mike Workman in this overwhelmingly Republican state.

Oregon – Senator Ron Wyden, the senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, defeated Republican Mark Callahan.

Pennsylvania – Republican Senator Patrick Toomey, 54, faces Democrat Katie McGinty, 53, in the most expensive U.S. Senate contest in the country. Toomey has refused to take a position on Trump. An Oct. 30-Nov. 4 poll by the Allentown Morning Call and Muhlenberg College had Toomey with a small lead, 43 percent to 42 percent.

South Carolina – Senator Tim Scott, the only African-American Republican in the Senate, beat Democrat Thomas Dixon.

South Dakota – Senator John Thune, a member of the Senate Republican leadership, won a third term, defeating Democrat Jay Williams.

Utah: Conservative Republican Senator Mike Lee, in this heavily Republican state, won against Democrat Misty Snow.

Vermont – Senator Patrick Leahy, the longest-serving Democrat in the Senate, beat Republican Scott Milne.

Washington – As expected, Senator Patty Murray, a member of Senate Democratic leadership, defeated Republican Chris Vance.

Wisconsin – Democrat Russ Feingold, 63, failed to oust Republican Ron Johnson, 61, according to projections. Johnson unseated Feingold in 2010 and was seen as one of the most vulnerable Republicans going into the 2016 campaign.

Republicans Sign Letter Urging RNC To Stop Funding Donald Trump’s Campaign

ore than 70 frustrated Republicans including elected officials and staffers have signed an open letter urging RNC chairman Reince Preibus to stop funding Donald Trump’s campaign. As Trump continues to slip in the polls, the signatories are asking for the party to instead focus resources on maintaining the GOP’s majority in the House and Senate. The letter, obtained by Politico, says Trump’s chances of winning in November are ‘evaporating day by day’ and that his ‘recklessness’ and ‘incompetence’ risks handing the election to Hillary Clinton by a landslide.
It lists a string of problems with Trump’s campaign, including his many controversial remarks, his refusal to release tax returns and his claim that he may not uphold NATO treaty requirements. ‘We believe that Donald Trump’s divisiveness, recklessness, incompetence, and record-breaking unpopularity risk turning this election into a Democratic landslide, and only the immediate shift of all available RNC resources to vulnerable Senate and House races will prevent the GOP from drowning with a Trump-emblazoned anchor around its neck,’ says a draft form of the letter. This should not be a difficult decision, as Donald Trump’s chances of being elected president are evaporating by the day.’

Supreme Court Upholds Obamacare Subsidies

Obamacare has survived — again.

In a major win for the Obama administration, the Supreme Court held in a 6-3 decision that the Affordable Care Act authorized federal tax credits for eligible Americans living not only in states with their own exchanges but also in the 34 states with federal exchanges.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for himself, Justice Anthony Kennedy and the four liberal justices. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote the dissent, joined by Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “If at all possible, we must interpret the Act in a way that is consistent with the former, and avoids the latter.”

In a dissent, Scalia said “we should start calling this law SCOTUScare,” referring to the two times the Court has saved the law.

The ruling staved off a major political showdown and what would have been a mad scramble in some states to set up their own healthcare exchanges to keep millions from losing healthcare coverage.

Challengers to the law argued that the federal government should not be allowed to continue doling out subsidies to individuals living in states without their own healthcare exchanges and a ruling in their favor would have cut off subsidies to 6.4 million Americans, absent a congressional fix or state action.

The ruling is a huge victory for President Barack Obama who nearly saw those four words in the Affordable Care Act throw his signature achievement into chaos.

The income-based subsidies are crucial to the law’s success, helping to make health insurance more affordable and ultimately reducing the number of uninsured Americans, and shutting off the subsidy spigot to individuals in the 34 states that rely on exchanges run by the federal government would have upended the law.

Congress would have had to amend the Affordable Care Act to fix the “established by the state” language — a politically treacherous and likely untenable action in a Republican Congress — or governors in the 34 states without their own exchanges, most of them Republicans, would have had to establish their own exchanges — another tough ask.

Obama’s signature law was once again saved by an unlikely hero: Chief Justice John Roberts, a conservative who has now twice shielded the law from being gutted.

Roberts took heat from conservatives in 2012 when he first saved the law from a major constitutional challenge in a decision that stunned pundits and politicos across the ideological spectrum. The Chief Justice on Monday once again joined the court’s four liberal justices in upholding the law.

Just 16 states and the District of Columbia have set up their own health insurance marketplaces, which left millions of residents in the 34 states that rely on exchanges run by the federal government vulnerable to the Supreme Court’s ruling.

Challengers had argued that the words “established by the State” clearly barred the government from doling out subsidies in the 34 states without their own healthcare marketplaces.

They said that Congress limited the subsidies in order to encourage the states to set up their own exchanges and when that failed on a large scale, the IRS tried to “fix” the law.

“If the rule of law means anything, it is that text is not infinitely malleable, and that agencies must follow the law as written—not revise it to ‘better achieve’ what they assume to have been Congress’s purposes,” wrote Michael Carvin, an attorney for the challengers.

But it was Solicitor Generald Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. who won over the justices, arguing that Congress always intended the subsidies be available to everyone — regardless of the actions of their state leaders.

Verrilli warned in court briefs that if the challengers prevailed, the states with federally-run exchanges “would face the very death spirals the Act was structured to avoid and insurance coverage for millions of their residents would be extinguished.”

Lower courts had split on the issue. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia invalidated the IRS rule while the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the Obama administration.

Source – www.cnn.com

U. S Congress may Approve Aid to Arm Syrian Rebels

Syrian rebels march during a demonstration in Idlib

The U.S. Congress appeared poised on Tuesday to quickly approve President Barack Obama’s plan to arm and train Syrian rebels, a major part of the effort he announced this week to fight Islamic State militants.

The House of Representatives began debating an amendment to a stopgap funding bill that would authorize support for the moderate rebels, who are fighting both the Islamic State and the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

House members were expected to vote to pass the amendment on Wednesday, congressional aides and lawmakers said. They added that it would then be sent to the U.S. Senate for expected approval this week, before lawmakers leave Washington to spend the next six weeks campaigning for the Nov. 4 congressional elections.

There are pockets of opposition to the plan, especially among Republicans who hold a majority of seats in the House.

Representative Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, said he would vote against the amendment. He estimated that 10 or 15 other members of the party would join him, although he said he expected it would pass.

“Here we go again … We train the Syrians today who are supposed to be our friends, but tomorrow they’re our enemies,” Jones said, after leaving a party meeting at the Capitol on Tuesday morning. “We need to let these other countries take care of their own region.”

Republican lawmakers unveiled the measure on Monday to quickly provide the authority, but not the funding, that Obama wants to equip and train the rebels.

It sets conditions including barring the use of U.S. ground forces and requiring the administration to submit regular progress reports on the plan and its vetting of the rebels receiving the training and equipment.

Both houses of Congress must pass the stop-gap spending bill to keep the government open after the fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.