Wednesday, December 27, 2017
Tax Relief, Deconstructing Obamacare, Taking on the UN, Israel Support, the Booming Economy -- 2018 Mid-Term Election Issues
THE REAL NEWS TODAY IS THAT THERE ISN'T MUCH REAL NEWS. But, 2018 is mid-term election year and there are some interesting issues to consider that could have great impact on voting in 2018. • • • TRUMP VOTER FRAUD COMMISSION GETS GREEN LIGHT. Reuters reported on Tuesday that a US appeals court in Washington has upheld a lower court’s decision to allow President Donald Trump’s commission investigating voter fraud to request data on voter rolls from US states : "The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) watchdog group, which filed the lawsuit, did not have legal standing to seek to force the presidential commission to review privacy concerns before collecting individuals’ voter data. EPIC had argued that under federal law, the commission was required to conduct a privacy-impact assessment before gathering personal data. But the three-judge appeals court panel ruled unanimously that the privacy law at issue was intended to protect individuals, not groups like EPIC." Judge Karen Henderson simply said : “EPIC is not a voter.” • Judge Henderson, who wrote the appellate decision, overturned the US District Court decision of Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, who had denied EPIC’s injunction request in July. • The commission, headed by Vice President Mike Pence, was set up by President Trump in May to determine if people voted unlawfully in the 2016 presidential election. The commission’s vice chairman, Kris Kobach, the Republican secretary of state for Kansas and an advocate of tougher laws on immigration and voter identification, asked states in June to turn over voter information. The data requested by Kobach included names, the last four digits of Social Security numbers, addresses, birth dates, political affiliation, felony convictions and voting histories. More than 20 states refused outright and others said they needed to study whether they could provide the data. Civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers have said the commission’s eventual findings could lead to new ID requirements and other measures making it harder for groups, including non-citizens, that tend to favor Democratic candidates to cast ballots. • The path is now clear for the commission to begin its work on voter fraud, although getting to results that could influence voter controls in November 2018 seems unlikely. • • • THE LITTLE-NOTED ASPECTS OF THE NEW TAX PLAN. • • MIDDLE CLASS TAX RELIEF. Everyone from the New York Times to your local TV channel on the Moon is trying to explain why the Trump tax plan will be great for business and the rich but bad for the Americna middle class -- nonsense that will be seen soon when those middle class workers begin to see more money in their paychecks because less is being deducted for taxes. • Democrat Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer said of the tax law : “This is serious stuff.” He is so right, but he doesn't see why. GOP Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell answered : “I think this is an important accomplishment for the country that people will value and appreciate.” House Speaker Paul Ryan, speaking on the House floor, called the vote “a turning point” saying “this is our chance, this is our moment.” • Passage of the bill came over the strenuous objections of Democrats in both the House and the Senate, who have accused Republicans of giving a gift to corporations and the wealthy and driving up the federal debt in the process. This was the message hammered out across mainstream media -- CNN, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC -- and it had an effect. A pre-Christmas poll from CNN and SSRS found that the tax legislation continues to be unpopular with the general public, with 55% opposing it and 33% supporting it. More people think they will be worse off with the tax bill, and a majority of people think the tax cuts will favor the rich rather than the middle class. BUT, Ryan dismissed polling that suggests the tax bill is unpopular and attributed skepticism about the legislation to pundits spreading untruths on television. He said that he is confident that once taxpayers see more money in their paychecks and enjoy the benefits of a simpler tax filing system, they will learn to appreciate the merits of the tax bill. Ryan told his weekly news conference : “Results are going to make this popular.” Ryan emphasized the tax relief the bill will provide for middle-class families, small business and workers : “This is the greatest example of a promise being made and a promise being kept.” • To be sure, the middle class tax relief that will soon appear in paychecks across the US will have an effect on the 2018 mid-term elections -- but, that is being largely ignored by the mainstream media that supports the ProgDem tax-and-spend Swamp. Tax relief for the middle class will go some way to undercutting what the Democrats saw as a chance to retrieve the Senate and reduce the House GOP majority. ProgDems have been touting the "disasters" of the Trump presidency -- more nonsense -- but it will be hard for them to actually explain to the voters back home why they voted en-bloc against reducing taxes for their constituents. The tax bill vote was on party lines -- the Senate approved the the tax bill, 51-48, and the House approved it 227-203. • • OBAMACARE STEALTH REPEAL. Perhaps the least-mentioned part of the new tax law is what Politico called its "stealth repeal of Obamacare." The new tax law repeals the individual mandate in 2019, potentially taking millions of people out of the health insurance market. In addition, the Trump administration has eliminated some subsidies, halved the insurance enrollment period, greatly reduced the Obamacare marketing campaign, and rolled out a regulatory red carpet for basic new health plans that will change the insurance landscape in ways that are harmful to former President Barack Obama’s signature health care law. Unfortunately, none of these individually represent a death blow. But in aggregate, the past year adds up to a slow, stealthy erosion of the law. • Obamacare advocates acknowledge that Obamacare is weakened, but they also insist that it has so far survived the onslaught, although in a stripped-down form. Some insurers are finding their footing in the Obamacare markets -- but, whether the health plans ride out the ongoing turmoil or make a run for the exits will help determine if the law survives, and in what form. • Republicans spent a year trying and failing to repeal and replace Obamacare in a direct move, but they killed the unpopular individual mandate -- to either buy Obamacare insurance or pay a substantial fine for not doing so -- in the tax bill, and it is a sweet, surprising victory. Americans didn’t like being told to get health coverage or pay a fine. Now, Republicans can tell them, they won’t have to -- another item the GOP will sell to voters in 2018, as another example of Democrat failure to help the middle class the ProgDems always insist they are "saving" from Trump and the GOP. • With the mandate out of the way, Republicans also hope it will be easier to unravel even more of Obamacare. If they can’t get the votes to repeal it, they can still try to force its collapse. The CBO estimates the loss of the mandate would mean 13 million fewer people would be insured a decade from now. Not all health policy experts agree that it would have that destructive an effect. For all its political toxicity, experts say, the mandate didn’t impose a big enough financial penalty on individuals to do what it was intended to do -- namely, push enough young and healthy customers into the new insurance market to spread around the cost of covering the older and sicker ones. • The true impact will be clear soon enough. In October, Trump halted “cost-sharing reduction” payments to insurers, which they use to bring down out-of-pocket costs for lower-income customers -- although Congress may reluctantly restore them in its January spending bill, if Senator Susan Collins gets her way. As predicted by Republicans, many states have figured out how to make up for the lost payments in a way that let subsidized Obamacare customers get zero-premium insurance. When President Trump cut off key payments to insurers known as cost-sharing reductions, insurers, to make up for the lost revenue, raised premiums, but cleverly used the structure of Obamacare to raise prices only on certain plans. That had the effect of increasing government subsidies that help people afford insurance. The end result was a convoluted way to increase subsidies, which actually made plans more affordable for many people, helping to entice them to buy coverage. But, even with that -- rolling more of the decisionmaking and costs for health care back to the states, a goal of Republican lawmakers and President Trump -- will appeal to the Trump and conservative base in November 2018. • In the same vein of giving health care power back to the states, in October President Trump issued an executive order so that states can allow two new kinds of plans to compete with Obamacare insurance policies -- without having to abide by Obamacare’s rules. That means they don’t have to offer the full complement of Obamacare health benefits -- maternity, mental health, state-of-the-art cancer care, for instance -- and they don’t have to offer the same protections, although anyone with a pre-existing condition must be offered insurance that covers the condition. Both of these plans -- association health plans for the small-group market, and yearlong basic stopgap plans --will probably draw the younger and healthier, leaving older and sicker people reliant on Obamacare plans, and driving up the price even more, at least in the states that exercise these new options. • So, some conservative health policy experts don’t think Congress and Trump have gone far enough. They fear scrapping the mandate but leaving many rules intact could possibly set in motion an inevitable “bailout” from Congress that would let Obamacare live to see another day. Conservative analyst Chris Jacobs, for instance, wrote in The Federalist recently that lawmakers need to get the rest of the job done. Mandate repeal, he wrote, is like “pruning back the fruit of the poisonous tree” when what’s needed is an attack on its roots. • The Obamacare wars aren't over. Although the law is in tatters, it’s still here and may produce yet more political surprises. GOP Senator John Cornyn even raised one post-mandate scenario that's not on anyone's horizon right now : bipartisanship : "Arguably, doing away with the individual mandate makes the Affordable Care Act unworkable -- not that it was particularly great beforehand. So I think ultimately this will precipitate a bipartisan negotiation on what we need to do as an alternative." Senator John Thune, the No. 3 Senate Republican, also said he hoped there would be a bipartisan deal but said another option is trying to find 50 votes for a modified version of the Graham-Cassidy repeal bill. That bill failed to get 50 votes earlier this year. Without more push from the House -- that's relatively easy -- and the Senate GOP majoritie to actually repeal Obamacare, the issue could be a plus for Democrats in the 2018 elections -- ProgDems would be able to say that the GOP could not kill off Obamacare because it is popular, and Republicans would still be forced to say that they want "repeal & replce" without actually delivering on their promises. • • • INFRASTRUCTURE -- A BIPARTISAN ISSUE TO TRADE FOR Obamacare? Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said of anothr of Trump's important agenda item -- infrastructure : "I think it's pretty popular with Democrats and Republicans." President Trump has long urged action on infrastructure and is expected to release a legislative proposal next year. He tweeted support Friday for working with Democrats on a bill : “At some point, and for the good of the country, I predict we will start working with the Democrats in a Bipartisan fashion. Infrastructure would be a perfect place to start. After having foolishly spent $7 trillion in the Middle East, it is time to start rebuilding our country!” But conservative groups warn Republicans should not stray from the core issues that helped them win power in 2016. Andy Roth, vice president of government affairs for the conservative Club for Growth, said recently : “It's important for Republican members of Congress to recall that they made a promise during last year's campaign to repeal Obamacare. So even though they had a difficult time doing that earlier this year, they still owe it to the American public to try again. We definitely think that they need to tackle it.” GOP Representative Mark Walker, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee Chairman, said he hopes Republicans can get both entitlement reform and Obamacare repeal done next year. Senator Lindsey Graham, who has co-authored an Obamacare repeal bill with Senator Bill Cassidy, last week reiterated his commitment to pushing his legislation in 2018 : “To those who believe -- including Senate Republican leadership -- that in 2018 there will not be another effort to Repeal and Replace Obamacare -- well you are sadly mistaken.” • McConnell and others have noted the difficulty Republicans are likely to have in passing an Obamacare repeal bill with a 51-49 majority. Repeal legislation failed in the Senate repeatedly this year, when the GOP still enjoyed a 52-48 advantage. With the midterm elections fast approaching, passing Obamacare repeal legislation could prove difficult. McConnell said last week : “The Graham-Cassidy proposal, they intend to, obviously, continue to work on. And my view of that is, as soon as we have the votes to achieve it, I would like to do that. The only observation I made yesterday that you may be referring to is, 51-49 is a pretty -- is a pretty tight majority. But I'd love to be able to make more substantial changes to Obamacare than we have.” • Complicating matters for McConnell is the fact that House Republicans are already furious that McConnell mishandled the Obamacare repeal effort this summer and have been simmering over the Senate’s unwillingness to even try to pass GOP spending bills this fall. They’re also upset that the Senate provision doesn’t include abortion prohibitions in proposed new Obamacare funding. • If infrastructure programs are to be enacted before the November 2018 elections, it seems that something on Obamacare will be needed to balance the conservative - ProgDem divide. My guess is that this will not happen and so infrastructure will become a project-by-project issue, in which the Republicans in the Senate pass everything they can get through, forgetting more controversial items -- like the Wall, for instance. Infrastructure will not be a major item for either party in November, but Obamacare will be a plus for Republicans because it reflects a guiding principle of Republican and conservative politics that is abundantly clear in the rise and fall of the Obamacare individual mandate -- which is, despite Chief Justice Roberts' opinion, another example of how Congress, and government in general, do not do well at trying to regulate the national economy. • • • THE UNITED NATIONS. When the Trump administration claimed credit this week for budget cuts at the UN, the Washington Post said : "some critics of the organization saw the prudent oversight of taxpayer money, while others questioned Washington’s determination to be seen wielding a big stick." The US mission to the United Nations on Sunday hailed the operating budget of $5.396 billion for 2018 and 2019, slightly less than the $5.4 billion requested by Secretary General António Guterres. In a statement, the mission said the United States had negotiated $285 million in cost savings as well as reducing “bloated” management and support functions. US Ambassador Nikki Haley said : “We will no longer let the generosity of the American people be taken advantage of or remain unchecked," calling the cost-cutting historic and promising more to come. • Using a calculation based on the size of its economy, the United States pays 22% of the UN operating budget, and 28% of its peacekeeping operations. That makes it the largest contributor among member nations, followed by Japan, China, Germany, France and Britain. President Trump has been highly critical of spending at the UN, but he is not alone in his concern about costs. Guterres, who took office shortly before President Trump, has vowed to bring efficiencies and reform to the UN bureaucracy. Negotiations over the UN budget were months in the making. A US official said US pressure helped bring about cuts to peacekeeping missions in Darfur and Haiti, freeing money to create a new special envoy for Burma to focus on returning the Rohingya people to their homes. It also involved a number of more esoteric reforms, such as a flexible workplace initiative and pension fund oversight to increase accountability. Peter Yeo, head of advocacy for the United Nations Foundation, which supports UN causes, said : “These cuts are positive news for the US-UN relationship. The cuts demonstrate that the UN is capable of tightening its belt to reflect budget constraints in donor capitals, including the US.” • When Haley first became ambassador, she said the United States would be looking for ways to make the organization more efficient, and could cut US contributions to causes and agencies it considers hostile to US interests, such as those that have leveled a disproportionate share of criticism on Israel. Mark Dubowitz, head of the nonpartisan Foundation for Defense of Democracies, called it a legitimate use of US resources and power : “It’s been quite successful. There were 66 countries that opposed, abstained or didn’t show up for the UN vote on Jerusalem. Those were historic numbers. It worked. It should not be a shock the US has decided to play power politics at the UN, like all other countries.” • Nikki Haley's -- that is, Donald Trump's -- historic defense of Israel and Haley's budget cuts will be a plus in the November elections because there are literally millions of Americans who do not trust or agree with UN policies and have for decades been calling for the US to withdraw completely from the UN, or at least force the organization to take more objective and cost-effective approaches to its affairs -- not, as many Americans say, continue down the path of being the world's biggest and most ineffective "debating society." President Trump is the personification of these views and he will make the most of them in the 2018 mid-term elections. • • • ABORTION AND PRO-LIFE ISSUES. Anti-abortion groups encouraged lawmakers to include abortion restrictions in the December stopgap govenrment funding bill -- something some conservatives said they would need to see at a minimum for their support of the bill. Democrats argued that the restrictions go beyond the so-called Hyde Amendment -- the decades-old language that currently bars federal funding of abortion -- to restrict how women can use their private dollars on insurance plans that cover abortion. Senator Schumer said last Tuesday the abortion language would “kill it [the funding bill] altogether,” blasting the GOP : “A good faith effort would not be laying down a marker that it must have the Hyde Amendment in it, that'll kill it altogether.” Senate Republicans wanted to resolve the spat by leaning on the White House to promise to better enforce the existing prohibitions on federal funding of abortion, which they say the Obama administration didn’t do. Technically, they note, existing law already prohibits federal funding of abortion -- it even requires insurance companies to set up separate accounts for abortion. Senator Alexander said : "Under the law, properly implemented, there should be no possible way for federal funds to be used for elective abortions. And maybe it’s a problem with the implementation of the law more than the law itself.” • BUT, then Reuters published on Wednesday its latest report in a series, saying that : "Federal agents discovered four preserved fetuses in the Detroit warehouse of a man who sold human body parts, confidential photographs reviewed by Reuters show. The fetuses were found during a December 2013 raid of businessman Arthur Rathburn’s warehouse. The fetuses, which appear to have been in their second trimester, were submerged in a liquid that included human brain tissue. Rathburn, a former body broker, is accused of defrauding customers by sending them diseased body parts. He has pleaded not guilty and his trial is set for January. How Rathburn acquired the fetuses and what he intended to do with them is unclear.... Neither the indictment nor other documents made public in his case mention the fetuses." • “This needs to be reviewed,” said US Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee who recently chaired a special US House committee on the use of fetal tissue. Blackburn recoiled when a Reuters reporter showed her some of the photographs, taken by government officials involved in the raid. • In four of the photos, a crime scene investigator in a hazmat suit uses forceps to lift a different fetus from the brownish liquid. In three other photos, a marker that includes a government evidence identification number lies beside a fetus. Representative Bob Goodlatte, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said : “The actions depicted in these photos are an insult to human dignity," adding that if individuals “violate federal laws and traffic in body parts of unborn children for monetary gain,” they should be “held accountable.” • Blackburn told Reuters the discoveries in Rathburn’s warehouse raise questions about the practices of body brokers across America. Reuters says : "Such brokers take cadavers donated to science, dismember them and sell them for parts, typically for use in medical research and education. The multimillion-dollar industry has been built largely on the poor, who donate their bodies in return for a free cremation of leftover body parts. The buying and selling of cadavers and other body parts -- with the exception of organs used in transplants -- is legal and virtually unregulated in America. But trading in fetal tissue violates US law. In most states, including Michigan, public health authorities are not required to regularly inspect body broker facilities. As a result, it’s impossible to know whether body brokers who deal in adult donors are acquiring and profiting from fetuses." Photos from inside Rathburn’s warehouse offered a stark example of government failures to police the industry. They include images of rotting human heads, some floating face up in a plastic cooler. The FBI, which has been investigating Rathburn and other body brokers, declined to comment to Reuters. • Blackburn said she also found other Reuters stories about the body trade disturbing. As part of the news agency’s examination of the industry, for example, a Reuters reporter was able to purchase two human heads and a cervical spine from Restore Life USA, a broker based in Blackburn’s home state of Tennessee. The deals were struck after just a few emails, at a cost of $900 plus shipping. Blackburn said it is "sickening” how easily Restore Life sold the parts to Reuters. • • • DEAR READERS, this sale of human body parts is an issue that should be raised loud and clear by all Republicans in Congress -- and well before 2018 election campaigns begin. We would hope that it does not collapse into a partisan stand-off, with ProgDem abortion activists refusing to recognize the need for tight control of the sale of human body parts in order to protect their favored Planned Parenthood and its harvesting of fetal tissue. • Republicans have several really hot-button issues in their favor heading into the crucial 2018 elections -- the serious tattering of Obamacare, aggressive action at the UN, unflinching support for Israel, abortion restrictions and the sale of human body parts if they take up the issue, and the new tax law that benefits the middle class and business, so that jobs and the booming Trump-effect economy and rising stock market will continue. It is vital that the GOP keeps the Senate and House, adding to its majority in both, in order to push ahead with the Trump agenda to Make America Great Again. That should be every Deplorable's major goal for 2018.