Thursday, May 04, 2017

A Defining Moment for Republicans!

Huffington Post Presents:
05/04/2017 06:24 pm ET | Updated 3 hours ago

Paul Ryan Was Right: This Was A Defining Moment For The Republican Party

It chose tax cuts for millionaires over insurance for millions.


House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) reportedly delivered a message to his colleagues earlier this week, seeking their support for the American Health Care Act: “This is who we are. This will define us.”
It was one of the more accurate things he’s said in a long time.
The AHCA would expose many millions of Americans, including some of society’s most vulnerable members, to the possibility of crippling medical expenses ― forcing them to choose between financial hardship, medical hardship or both.
At the same time, it would lower taxes on corporations and wealthy Americans, to the tune of $594 billion over 10 years.
Insurance for millions, or tax cuts for millionaires ― that was one of the choices House Republicans faced on Thursday when they voted on the bill. And, with just a small handful of exceptions, they chose the latter.

A $1 trillion cut to programs for the poor and middle class

Overall, the AHCA would drain nearly $1 trillion out of federal health care programs, with most of the money coming straight from people who need it to get health care.
The biggest chunk would come out of Medicaid, a federal-state program that provides comprehensive insurance to people with incomes up to 133 percent of the poverty line, or $27,159 a year for a family of three. It’s a massive cut ― one that would force most states to roll back expansions that allowed millions to get insurance, and then gradually ratchet down the program’s funding even more.
The cuts would hit working-age adults hard, since they were among the groups Medicaid had historically excluded ― and, as a result, the group most likely to lose coverage if the AHCA were to become law. But the cuts would inevitably filter down to other groups, including the ones that the program has always targeted: children, elderly and the disabled.
One little-noticed provision would reduce funds that allow schools to cover health services for children who qualify for special education because of physical or mental impairments.
Yes, the AHCA would very literally take money away from disabled kids.
Alissa Scheller

Another chunk of money would come from people buying health insurance on their own, rather than through employers ― and who, for the last three years, have been eligible for tax credits that discount premiums and in some cases out-of-pocket costs as well. Some are relatively poor, others firmly in the middle class. The AHCA would junk those credits and introduce new ones, shifting assistance away from the people with lower incomes and higher insurance costs ― in other words, the very ones least able to pay for insurance on their own.
Some people would be better off ― primarily younger, more affluent people who don’t get much or any financial assistance.
But others would pay more for their insurance, more for their out-of-pocket medical expenses, or some combination thereof. Many would end up with no insurance at all, which is one reason that the Congressional Budget Office predicts the AHCA would deprive something like 24 million people of coverage. 

An attack on people with pre-existing conditions

And then there is the matter of protection for people with pre-existing conditions ― the subject that has occupied so much attention in the last few weeks and especially the last few days, culminating in a monologue from the very apolitical late-night host Jimmy Kimmel, whose own newborn faced a life-threatening illness.
“If your baby is going to die and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make,” he said, before expressing the hope that it was a principle on which all Americans ― and lawmakers from both parties ― could agree.
By voting for the AHCA, House Republicans proved how misplaced Kimmel’s faith in them was. Thanks in part to amendments that House leaders made in order to satisfy their most conservative colleagues, the AHCA would allow states to apply for special waivers, so that insurance companies could go back to the days of “medical underwriting” ― that is, hiking premiums for people with pre-existing conditions, making insurance impossible to afford.
In a sign of how far expectations of health insurance have shifted in the last few years, Republicans were desperate to deny that their proposal would harm people with serious medical problems. Just one day ago, White House press secretary Sean Spicer stood up in the briefing room and said flatly that people with pre-existing conditions would not be worse off.
To back up this claim, Republicans have pointed over and over again to provisions of the bill that would, in theory, protect people with pre-existing medical conditions. But their claims do not hold up to scrutiny.
People would not be subject to medical underwriting if they did not let their coverage lapse, Republicans have said ― neglecting to mention that, with the changes in tax credits, lapses in coverage would become much more common. Republicans have also promised a safety net, in the form of high-risk pools ― even though they have been tried before, never proved adequate, and under the AHCA would have inadequate funding.

A big tax giveaway for the very rich

The Affordable Care Act has real trade-offs: The protections for people with pre-existing conditions mean that people in relatively good health pay more for coverage. And the law is clearly struggling in some parts of the country ― as insurers, unable to cover costs in the newly reformed market, are hiking prices further or even leaving the markets altogether.
The latest sign of this came on Wednesday, as the last insurer offering individual coverage in Iowa announced it might abandon the market, leaving tens of thousands of residents with no options. The insurer was pleading for attention from the Trump administration, which has neglected and even tried to sabotage the law, but it was also looking for long-term modifications to help stabilize markets in places like Iowa where they are faltering.
One way to fix these problems would be to leave the law in place, while adding just a little more money ― whether through extra subsidies that could bring more young and healthy people into the insurance markets, or programs that reimburse insurers for people with unusually high claims.
But Republicans have not entertained the possibility of putting even a little more funding into the program, even as they have preparations for their next big legislative action ― which, it just so happens, is a massive tax cut that would give most of its benefits to corporations and the very wealthy.
Of course, the AHCA would be a big down payment on tax cuts for the rich, because it would roll back the tax increases that finance the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansion.
The portion of those taxes that fall on individuals fall exclusively on the very top earners in the U.S. ― in fact, according to an estimate by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the wealthiest 400 households in America would get average tax breaks of $7 million each.
These people have no problem buying insurance, for what it’s worth. In fact, they are among that tiny group of Americans who could pay for even sustained medical care without coverage, straight out of their own pockets.

A revealing moment about Republican priorities 

Watching the vote Thursday, I couldn’t help but think back to March 2010, when Democrats controlled the House and voted in similarly narrow fashion to enact the Affordable Care Act. I was there in the Capitol on that day, and there was a perceptible feeling of joy among House Democrats, even though many had misgivings about the bill and understood the vote was politically risky.
Undoubtedly some were happy simply because they’d won a partisan victory, or gotten a legislative favor that would help them back home. But many Democrats, particularly the leadership, clearly took satisfaction in the knowledge that the law would help spare millions of people from distress and even ruin ― and that it would do so right when these people, because of medical crisis, were at their most vulnerable moments in life.
Undoubtedly some believe their bill lives up to the party’s lofty rhetoric, and maybe they think it will really improve access for the poor while protecting the vulnerable. But it’s hard not to wonder how many of them simply haven’t bothered to learn how their proposal would shift resources from the have-nots to the haves ― and how many, perhaps, simply don’t care.
Thursday’s vote is not the end of the repeal story, of course, and not by a long shot. The Senate has not even begun to take up repeal seriously. Multiple Republican senators have spoken out forcefully against elements of the House bill, from the changes to pre-existing conditions to the cuts to Medicaid. And the party can only lose two senators’ votes. If somehow a bill gets through the Senate, it will likely look very different from its House counterpart, and finding a compromise could be elusive.
But whatever happens to the bill, the Thursday vote will represent a defining moment for Republicans. Just like Paul Ryan said."
Kenneth Stepp

Monday, March 13, 2017

U.S. Troops Are In A Ground War In Syria. Where Is Congress?


U.S. Troops Are In A Ground War In Syria. Where Is Congress?

Congress must reassert its constitutional authority in foreign policy before it is too late.

03/13/2017 11:20 am ET | Updated 3 hours ago
Rodi Said / Reuters
American army vehicles drive north of Manbij city, in Aleppo Governorate, Syria March 9, 2017.

“During the campaign,” a reporter said to White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on Thursday, “President Trump was not shy about his desire to get the United States out of these Middle Eastern wars, yet… we just sent 250 Marines into Syria. Is President Trump committed to going to Congress to receiving authorization for an AUMF or a declaration of war if we continue to deploy United States troops overseas?”
He was referring to the news that some 400 Marines and Army Rangers were deployed to engage in ground combat at the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the besieged Islamic State. These troops join 500 American Special Operations Forces (SOF) already active in Syria, but their arrival is a noteworthy escalation beyond the near-doubling of American troop levels in the country.
Where the SOF teams fighting ISIS have tended to function in advising and intelligence roles that leave some gray area—at least, in Washington—as to whether they are in combat, this new deployment allows no doubt. This a conventional ground force that will be “establishing an outpost from which they can fire artillery guns” in the battle for Raqqa, The Washington Post reports based on comments from the Pentagon.
All of this is in theory made possible by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) passed in the wake of 9/11. But that AUMF only permits the president “to use all necessary and appropriate force” against specifically “those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.”
This new deployment in Syria fits no part of that legal authorization.
On the contrary, U.S. troops have been sent to fight an organization that did not exist in 2001 in a nation that had nothing to do with 9/11. It is utterly implausible outside Washington’s twisted logic to argue this deployment meets the Constitution’s requirements for congressional authority in foreign policy. Thus the “declaration of war” question at the White House press briefing.
Spicer’s reply was troubling in the extreme. “Well,” he said, “I think there’s a big difference between an authorization of war than sending a few hundred advisors. And I think most in Congress would probably agree with that as well. I think that’s a big difference between a hostile action and going in to address some certain concerns, whether it’s certain countries in the Middle East or elsewhere.”
This Orwellian remark is a gateway to formalizing the exceedingly casual relationship our foreign policy has had with the Constitution and common sense for years. If the White House is permitted to define sending U.S. troops into battle as something other than war—and therefore none of Congress’ (or, I’d wager, our) business—then the executive branch has completed its gutting of the rule of law and our founders’ intent for a prudent approach to foreign affairs.
And this callous treatment of the Constitution and troops alike is happening even though, as Ret. Col. Daniel L. Davis writes at RealClearDefense, “American military missions in support of an attack on Raqqa risk accidental targeting of Syrian regime troops, Russian aircraft and ground troops, as well as Iranian troops—or U.S. personnel could be mistakenly attacked and killed by Syria, Russia, or Iran.”
The warning signs that this deployment may not be in the United States’ best interest are all there, but, as Davis continues, Congress is willfully oblivious: “As the military situation escalates and the danger to U.S. interests rises, Congress remains silent,” entirely eschewing any real “debate over whether the United States should be conducting combat operations or not.”
Congressional abdication of responsibility is further evident in the Defense Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2017 revealed by the House Appropriations Committee last week. “It doesn’t advance reflection on the propriety of current activities,” notes Kurt Couchman at National Review. The trouble is, reflection is precisely what we need. “That’s the role of the authorizing committees,” Couchman adds. “The Armed Services committees reauthorize defense programs annually, but the Foreign Affairs committees have failed to do so for a long time, leading to an imbalanced and military-dominated foreign policy.”
All this becomes even more pressing in light of news that President Trump may send another 1,000 American soldiers to Kuwait as reserve forces in the fight against ISIS. Kuwait is the immediate source of the 400 Marines and Army Rangers who just arrived in Syria, so if Trump goes through with this plan, it seems reasonable to assume those 1,000 soldiers will be used to extend the same unauthorized—and therefore unconstitutional and unaccountable—ground war. Congress must reassert its constitutional authority in foreign policy before it is too late. It’s the very least they can do after failing the public and the military for so long.