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Trumplandian Feudalism: Employ the Unemployed While Still Starving Them

Something odd is going on in the White House. Donald Trump just did a massive flip-flip. Ok, it’s not that odd. But it’s still somewhat odd because it’s unclear if he actually did the flip-flop or is attempting to hold two mutually exclusive views simultaneously. You see, Donald Trump used to say the US unemployment rate was a complete fraud and actually much, much worse than the headline sub-5 percent unemployment rate makes it out to be. Like closer to 42 percent. That’s what Trump said over and over on the campaign trail and since getting elected while lamenting that 94 million American adults are “out of the labor force” (which includes all retirees and students). But all of sudden that changed and now Donald Trump is super excited about the official unemployment rate. Why? Because the jobs report for the first full month of his presidency just came in and it wasn’t too shabby.

So did Trump suddenly drop his oft-repeated criticism of tradition unemployment reporting? Well, as we’re going to see, probably not because his administration is still planning on redefining the “official” unemployment rate to be much “looser” and his claims that 42 percent if American adults are out of work are necessary to achieve a long-held GOP goal championed by House Speaker Paul Ryan: converting the US safety-net – including Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security – into a “work for a pittance to get a pittance of government support”-net that traps the poor in system where if you have to find full time work to get any help at all. Maybe even for the elderly. And the help you get in return for that work-requirement will keep shrinking year after year. It’s a plan that can’t happen unless almost all non-working adults are defined as “unemployed”. So, no, Trump didn’t change his mind. He just still thinks we’re all stupid (maybe).

***

The jobs report for the first full month of the Trump presidency came in at a robust 235,000 new jobs and the unemployment rate dropped to 4.7 percent. Not too shabby for the first month and as one might imagine Donald Trump was quite pleased. And tweet-happy. But as one might also imagine, the fact that Donald Trump was so pleased has less to do with anything Trump actually did (235,000 new jobs a month is roughly inline with the last four years), and more to do with his fanciful imagination. In this case, it’s Trump’s imaginative hallucination that we wouldn’t all notice that he called the unemployment rate completely fake – and possibly 42 percent – right up to the moment that this jobs report came out:

Fortune

The White House Is Celebrating Jobs Numbers President Trump Used to Call ‘Phony

Tessa Berenson
3/10/2017 4:32 PM Central

The Trump Administration is celebrating the Department of Labor’s latest jobs report. But in the past President Trump has called the same monthly report “phony” and a “hoax.”

Friday morning the president retweeted a Drudge Report link to the numbers that said “GREAT AGAIN: +235,000.” (Employers added 235,000 new jobs in February, bringing the unemployment rate down to 4.7%, the report found.)

White House spokesman Sean Spicer tweeted that the report is “Great news for American workers” and “Not a bad way to start day 50 of this Administration.”

Other Administration officials touted the numbers as well, including Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Vice President Mike Pence.

‘Phony’ and a ‘joke’

During a press conference in 2015, Trump said the unemployment rate, then at 5.1%, was too low to accurately capture the real economic situation in the country. He called it “such a phony number” and said, “the number isn’t reflective … 5.3 percent unemployment, that is the biggest joke there is in this country … The unemployment rate is probably 20 percent, but I will tell you, you have some great economists that will tell you it’s a 30, 32. And the highest I’ve heard so far is 42 percent.”

PolitiFact rated Trump’s 42 percent claim “pants on fire” and wrote at the time, “Getting a percentage that high requires believing that being a high school, college or graduate student, a senior citizen, a stay-at-home parent, a job-training participant, or having a disability is no excuse for not holding down a job, or for working less than 40 hours in a week. The highest alternative unemployment-rate measure we could come up with that had any credibility was 16.4 percent, and even that exaggerated figure is only about one-third of the way to Trump’s 42 percent.”

‘One of the biggest hoaxes’

In August 2016, Trump once again claimed that the actual unemployment rate was higher than the jobs report reflected. ” We have the lowest labor force participation rates in four decades,” Trump said in a speech to Detroit Economic Club during the general election campaign. “Fifty-eight percent of African-American youth are either outside the labor force or not employed. One in five American households do not have a single member in the labor force. These are the real unemployment numbers – the five percent figure is one of the biggest hoaxes in modern politics.”

‘Ninety-four million Americans’

During his first address to Congress to Congress, Trump threw out a startling statistic: “94 million Americans are out of the labor force.” But that figure is misleading. Like the other unemployment statistics Trump mentioned as a candidate, it includes retirees, students, stay-at-home parents and people who are disabled—people who are not actively looking for a job. If Trump were being consistent about using that definition, the Administration could not also tout the 4.7 percent unemployment rate from this month’s jobs report.

‘Not a good sign’

In December 2012, the jobs report said employers added 244,000 jobs, about 10,000 more than this week’s report that Trump seems excited about. But at the time, Trump, then a private citizen, was not pleased. “Today’s job report is not a good sign & we could be facing another recession,” he tweeted. “No real job growth. We need over 300K new jobs a month.”

‘Not real’

And here’s a bonus mention for Trump’s new Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “The unemployment rate is not real,” Mnuchin told the Senate Finance Committee during his confirmation hearing in January. “I’ve traveled for the last year. I’ve seen this.”

PolitiFact rated Trump’s 42 percent claim “pants on fire” and wrote at the time, “Getting a percentage that high requires believing that being a high school, college or graduate student, a senior citizen, a stay-at-home parent, a job-training participant, or having a disability is no excuse for not holding down a job, or for working less than 40 hours in a week. The highest alternative unemployment-rate measure we could come up with that had any credibility was 16.4 percent, and even that exaggerated figure is only about one-third of the way to Trump’s 42 percent.””

Just FYI to all the high school, college or graduate students, senior citizens, stay-at-home parents, job-training participant, and people with a disability. Trump want you to know that there’s no excuse for not holding down a job, or for working less than 40 hours in a week. All 94 million of you.

And in case you’re tempted to assume that Trump’s 42 percent guestimate that he kept mentioning on the campaign trail was merely the high-end of the guestimate range that Trump and threw out there for shock value on the campaign tail but was going to drop once he became president, he wanted you to think otherwise during his first big televised address to Congress:


During his first address to Congress to Congress, Trump threw out a startling statistic: “94 million Americans are out of the labor force.” But that figure is misleading. Like the other unemployment statistics Trump mentioned as a candidate, it includes retirees, students, stay-at-home parents and people who are disabled—people who are not actively looking for a job. If Trump were being consistent about using that definition, the Administration could not also tout the 4.7 percent unemployment rate from this month’s jobs report.

His first address to Congress and he straight up using the 94 million number. This is going to be brutal. And that was during his first address to congress a week and a half ago. Unless he really did drop the 42 percent unemployment meme over the last week and a half and is now relenting on his apparent determination to redefine the unemployment rate as including almost living adult who is not working. Including retirees. And students.

Trump’s Treasury Secretary Agrees. Suddenly. Sort of

And yes, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin echoed Trump during his confirmation hearings by saying he’s changed “unemployment rate isn’t real”:


And here’s a bonus mention for Trump’s new Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “The unemployment rate is not real,” Mnuchin told the Senate Finance Committee during his confirmation hearing in January. “I’ve traveled for the last year. I’ve seen this.”

Now, it’s important to realize that what Mnuchin said wasn’t an outrageous statement on it’s own, in part because there are many different ways to define an official unemployment rate. It’s a subjective call so there isn’t a “correct” “official” unemployment metric. It just depends on what you want to measure as “unemployed” for the official metric. You can limit it to people actively looking for work (the current “official” rate) or everyone who isn’t working but could work whether they’re actively looking for a job or not. There’s not a “correct” way to do that. There really is a much larger pool of long-term unemployed/under-employed people who would like to work but gave up looking and it’s not unreasonable on it’s own to say “hey we should count those people who gave up looking too”. Although it is unreasonable to suggest that the government isn’t actually looking at that expanded definition of the unemployment rate since those metrics collected and reported.

Also note that when Mnuchin gave his confirmation testimony and echoed Trump’s unemployment rate views it’s pretty unclear what exactly he went when he because, while he didn’t lament that 94 million adults were out of the labor force like Trump did during his congressional address and so many times before, Mnuchin did call for “all potential workers” to be considered in a new unemployment rate. And how you define “all potential workers” is also a subjective call. Is it all the long term unemployed who want and job and those who don’t. Or maybe retirees and students counted in the unemployment rate too. There really are 94 million “potential workers” too, at least potentially if that’s how you want to define all unemployed adults as a “potential worker”. So determining how Mnuchin defines the pool of “potential workers” is pretty urgent as he vaguely describes this plank of the Trump agenda:

The Hill

Mnuchin: Unemployment rate is ‘not real’

By Peter Schroeder – 01/19/17 01:49 PM EST

Steven Mnuchin dismissed the sharp decline in the unemployment rate as “not real,” arguing that the average American still hasn’t felt anything from the economic recovery.

Testifying before the Senate Finance Committee Thursday, Mnuchin said that his travels with President-elect Donald Trump have changed his perspective and argued the nation’s needs a new approach.

In so doing, Trump’s pick to head the Treasury Department dismissed the validity of one of the nation’s central economic guideposts, which currently sits at 4.7 percent.

“I absolutely understand why he got elected,” said Mnuchin. “The average American worker has gone absolutely nowhere. The unemployment rate is not real.”

Republicans have argued in the past there should be more focus on alternate ways to measure the nation’s labor market, noting that potential workers that give up searching for a job after six months are no longer counted as unemployed.

“Republicans have argued in the past there should be more focus on alternate ways to measure the nation’s labor market, noting that potential workers that give up searching for a job after six months are no longer counted as unemployed.”

Who’s not going to be a “potential worker”? That’s a pretty big question. Students who have never worked? Retirees? The disabled? Keep in mind that, there is a kind of value judgement at work for different labels. For instance, if retirees were counted in the “official” unemployment rate that sort of implicitly suggests they should actually be working. Full time. Same with students. And don’t forget that when Donald Trump repeatedly lamented how 94 million Americans were out of the labor force, he was implicitly suggesting retirees, students, and basically all adults capable of working should be working full time. In other words, you retire when you’re either too sick or disabled to work or you die. That’s what’s implied if Trump’s “94 million Americans are out of the labor force” comment is to be taken seriously.

So what percentage of that 94 million pool of adult Americans without full-time work does Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin consider “potential workers”? Well, the article below points to a hint Mnuchin gave us back in the beginning of February in his written responses to questions from Senators during his confirmation hearing (the hearing where he referred to “potential workers”. In his written response Mnuchin suggested still using existing Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) unemployment statistics as the “official” unemployment rate system, but just using one of the “looser” unemployment rates as the “official” one instead. The BLS system ranges from the “U-1” unemployment rate (narrowest definition of unemployed that isn’t typically seen as very useful) to the “U-6” (all unemployed, underemployed, and people capable of working, but not students and retirees). Currently, the “U-3” rate (unemployed people who have looked for work in the last 12 months) is the “official” unemployment rate.

It’s the U-3 that just came in at 4.7 percent that Trump claims is now suddenly real after claiming for years it was garbage and hiding the real extent of US unemployment because it didn’t count people who want to work but just gave up trying to look. And, again, that’s not an invalid point Trump is making about the inadequacy of the “U-3” rate as an unemployment metric. it’s Trump’s 42 percent/94 million claims that are invalid points because they assume every physically capable adult is working full time. But the points that Trump was also making about the U-3 “official” unemployment rate not capturing what’s really going in the economy isn’t invalid.

There’s no reason we couldn’t follow Trump’s suggestion of using a “looser” definition of being unemployed and, say, call the “U-5” rate (the “U3” plus workers looking for work more than 12 months and workers who are capable and interested in working but haven’t looked for a job for whatever reason in the last four months) the “official rate”. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as we understand how to interpret it. As Paul Krugman pointed out in 2014, there’s a lot of value in looking at “U-3” vs “U-6” rates together just to get a better idea of how much slack there is in the economy (and as Krugman also noted we should apply government stimulus if there’s too much slack).

And as the article below points out, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin suggested in his written response to the Senate that maybe the “U-5” should be the official rate. As the article also notes, the “U-5” was at 5.7 percent in early February (and is presumably lower now). So if shifting to the U-5 rate really is the change to the unemployment rate that the Trump administration is planning on implement, the unemployment rate is going to be permanently higher. And at times perhaps much much higher depending on the slack in the economy. And there’s nothing necessarily wrong with using the U-5. But if the U-5 is what the Trump administration makes the “official” unemployment rate going forward, there’s definitely not going to be an 42 percent unemployment rate any time soon…unless he changes the “U-5” definition to include all 94 million students, the disabled, and retirees out of the labor force, of course:

Bloomberg

Full Employment May Be Redefined as Trump Attacks Benchmark
by Patricia Laya
February 1, 2017, 11:01 PM CST February 2, 2017, 12:15 PM CST

* Treasury nominee says unemployment rate has too much clout
* Main rate is still best indicator, former stats chief says

Just as the U.S. nears full employment based on the principal measure used for almost eight decades, President Donald Trump and his team are looking at new yardsticks.

The jobless rate probably held in January at 4.7 percent, according to the median estimate from economists ahead of Friday’s Labor Department report. Federal Reserve policy makers see such a level — which is down from a post-recession high of 10 percent in 2009 — as being at or near full employment, meaning anything lower would push inflation higher.

While the rate’s use as a chief indicator dates to the Depression era, Trump spent last year’s election campaign calling the measure “phony” and arguing it overstates the strength of the labor market. More recently, his Treasury secretary nominee, Steven Mnuchin, said the number has “excessive influence” over policy and that it fails to account for people who have dropped out of the labor force or aren’t actively looking for work. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump’s economic team will look at a “multitude of statistics” in assessing labor-market strength.

Trump’s officials actually share common ground with Fed Chair Janet Yellen on their support for reviewing a range of labor-market indicators. Yellen has argued in the past that the jobless rate didn’t capture slack evident elsewhere, as the Fed kept interest rates near zero until late 2015. She’s pointed to low levels of labor-force participation and the large number of part-time workers who would prefer full-time employment.

Fed policy makers indicated in their post-meeting statement Wednesday that there’s still room for improvement in the job market. While the unemployment rate “stayed near its recent low” in December, “some further strengthening” is expected in labor conditions.

Comparable Rates

That doesn’t mean central bankers or Labor Department economists are about to abandon the unemployment rate as their main gauge. That figure is the “number that’s most comparable over time and one that’s most comparable internationally,” said former Bureau of Labor Statistics Commissioner Erica Groshen, who left the government last month at the end of her four-year term as President Barack Obama’s appointee to the post.

Mnuchin, in written responses to senators’ questions following his confirmation hearing last month, cited the so-called U-5 rate as an alternative indicator. That rate, which stood at 5.7 percent in December, includes discouraged workers as well as a group called marginally attached workers, who aren’t working or actively looking for work but want a job. Another measure, the U-6 or underemployment rate, was 9.2 percent in December. It also includes part-time employees who want full-time work.

“People change their minds about whether they’re discouraged,” said Groshen, who was previously a Fed economist. “We’ve been measuring the unemployment rate the same way since the 1940s. Most other countries that have an unemployment rate use a definition that’s similar to ours — partly because we created it and because it works.”

While other measures can help give a more nuanced view of the labor market, they don’t go back as far, Groshen said.

Changing the target unemployment rate “would just say to me that you’re confused, that you don’t know what you’re aiming for,” said John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Payrolls, Wages

Friday’s report is projected to show a steadily improving labor market, according to economists’ estimates. Employers probably added 175,000 workers to payrolls in January, an improvement from December, while average hourly wages probably rose 2.8 percent from a year earlier, compared with the 2.5 percent rise in January 2016.

Trump’s skepticism was part of his message that helped him win the 2016 election. The president is “absolutely right in saying that the labor market has much more slack in it than the Fed and other commentators are thinking about,” David Blanchflower, a Dartmouth College economics professor and former Bank of England policy maker, said on Bloomberg Television. “Millions of people voted for Trump saying there are no decent jobs out there and nothing much is changing.”

U.S. efforts to define and measure unemployment stemmed from the Great Depression, when about 13 million people were out of work, amounting to a 25 percent jobless rate. But no one knew these figures at the time or whether they were improving or deteriorating, according to a 2009 paper by BLS economist Steven Haugen.

Researchers devised the methodology, and the monthly employment report began in 1940, based on a regular sample survey of the population. That practice continues today, with about 60,000 U.S. households surveyed each month by the Census Bureau. Payroll figures come from a separate survey of businesses and government agencies.

Since 1940, there have been various reviews of the concept and definition of unemployment, which have resulted only in minor revisions to the official measure, Haugen wrote. A range of alternative metrics, including the U-5 and U-6 rates, were developed in the 1970s.

Such measures now show that the “labor market is tightening,” said Neil Dutta, head of U.S. economics at Renaissance Macro Research LLC in New York.

Political Influence

While the BLS commissioner participates in the drafting of the monthly employment release and approves it, other political appointees aren’t involved, and long-standing guidelines are aimed at avoiding the politicization of the reports, Groshen said. Trump hasn’t named a new BLS chief yet. The position is subject to Senate confirmation.

If the focus is placed on a rate that measures unemployment differently, what would matter is that “you use it consistently over time, both backwards and forward,” said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group Inc. in Pittsburgh.

Among people out of the workforce, “it’s hard to know how many are legitimately would-be employees,” Hoffman said. Still, “there are people on the sidelines that could come back in, who keep the labor market from being all that tight.”
d
“The spigot keeps twisting a little tighter, but it’s not bone-dry,” he said.

“Mnuchin, in written responses to senators’ questions following his confirmation hearing last month, cited the so-called U-5 rate as an alternative indicator. That rate, which stood at 5.7 percent in December, includes discouraged workers as well as a group called marginally attached workers, who aren’t working or actively looking for work but want a job. Another measure, the U-6 or underemployment rate, was 9.2 percent in December. It also includes part-time employees who want full-time work.”

That’s the line the Treasury is going to walk now that Donald Trump is calling into question the US’s long-standing unemployment rate metric: Use U-5 instead of U-3 as the “official” rate. Which would push it up to a whole 5.7 percent today. And not remotely 42 percent.

So What’s the Official Plan for the “Official” Unemployment Rate? Andy Puzder Gives Us a Clues. An Ominous Clue

So is Mnuchin’s “U-5” proposal reflective of what Trump thinks the “official” unemployment rate should be reset to? Well, don’t forget that Mnuchin delivered his response to the Senate with the “U-5” proposal at the beginning of February and Trump lamented how “94 million Americans are out of the labor force,” at his first speech to Congress at the end of the month.

And at this point who knows which, if any, of Trump’s pre-3/10/2017 (when the February jobs report came out) views on the unemployment rate are still in effect after his bizarre embrace of the jobs report that was in direct contradiction of his bizarre repeated lamentations of the idea that 94 million Americans are out of the labor force. Are there any other clues he’s left for us?

Well, there was one big clue, and it’s an ominous one. The clue came in the form of Trump’s decision to nominate fast-food CEO Andy Puzder as labor secretary. Specially, the clue comes from the choice of Puzder for that labor secretary role and how Puzder’s well known views on replacing all social safety-net and welfare programs with a national work requirement and wage subsidies in the form of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for low-income worker and how closely those views align with another key figure in this mess: House Speaker Paul Ryan’s desire to do the same. If Trump defines all adults physically and mentally capable of working as “out of the labor force”, that means all recipients of welfare and safety-net programs can be considered eligible for a work-requirement to get their government assistance (with an EITC). And that’s all required if Paul Ryan’s long-held goal of eliminating welfare programs (including Medicaid) can come to fruition.

So first, let’s take a look at the Andy Puzder’s views on replacing all welfare with a check from the government. A check you only get if you’re working in the form of the EITC. If you want food and shelter you’ll need find a job. At minimum wage if that’s all that’s available (perhaps at a fast food restaurant?). And while Puzder isn’t going to be labor secretary because he withdrew his nomination over a variety of personal scandals, this was still the well known views of Puzder when Trump selected him. And, again, Puzder’s dream of creating a giant work force of government subsidized minimum wage workers (for the benefit of all employers who might want to employ minimum wage workers) is the same as House Speaker Paul Ryan’s dream. So Puzder’s views on these matters, which he made clear in the following opinion piece he write in 2015, is a big clue as to why Donald Trump keeps talking about 94 million Americans being out of work:

The Hill

More work, less welfare

By Andy Puzder – 06/22/15 06:31 PM EDT

After six years of a recovery that has failed to meaningfully help working-class Americans, our nation is facing a crisis of entrenched poverty and declining opportunity.

Not surprisingly, the number of people dependent on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), federal housing assistance and Medicaid continues to grow. The number of people receiving SNAP benefits (food stamps) alone has doubled since 2008, to 74.7 million; in troubled cities like Baltimore, more than 1 in 3 residents receives them.

These important programs genuinely help people in need, and we are a nation rich enough to assist the economically disadvantaged. But these programs have the unintended consequence of discouraging work rather than encouraging independence, self-reliance and pride.

At quick-service restaurant brands Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s, we’ve seen these policies’ unintended consequences firsthand.

Consider that some of our crew members are declining promotions to shift leader positions because the increase in income would disqualify them for food, housing, medical or other government benefits.

These promotions are the first step on the ladder to becoming a general manager, potentially making up to $80,000 a year. It’s a shame they’re unable to take a promotion for fear of losing public assistance. Following local minimum wage increases, other employees have refused additional hours or requested fewer hours to keep their incomes below the cutoff for receiving benefits.

Called the “welfare cliff” by policy wonks, this growing trend is little more than people responding to incentives. Simply, people get trapped into working less and keeping valuable benefits over working more and losing them.

For example, eligibility for food stamps ends when annual income exceeds 130 percent of the poverty line, or a little more than $15,000 a year, for an individual. At $8.25 an hour or less, employees can work a full-time schedule of 35 hours a week and still qualify for these benefits. But when the minimum wage increases above this level, as it has recently in many cities and states, employees must reduce their hours to keep their benefits.

Similarly, in most states, Medicaid eligibility ends when annual income exceeds 138 percent of the poverty line. Understandably, some employees choose to work less and keep the thousands of dollars’ worth of benefits instead of working a little more and losing them.

The impact a loss of government benefits has on financial security for people living in poverty can be draconian. It can lock them into poverty by making the chasm between government dependence and independence too broad to cross.

As a result, people forgo opportunity for safety, which prevents them from realizing the independence and self-reliance that come with personal success and a job.

There is a solution that fulfills society’s obligation to help the poor without reducing opportunity: the earned income tax credit (EITC).

The EITC supplements incomes of the working poor through the tax code. Rather than access to myriad and complex government programs, people receive a government check supplementing their paycheck.

As their income from work increases, their government supplement declines. The decline, though, is never so steep that it results in a decline in total income. You make more when you work more, thus rewarding work, without the perverse incentives and massive government bureaucracy that characterize existing social programs.

The IRS recently estimated that nearly 28 million Americans received more than $66 billion in EITC payments in 2013, lifting an estimated 6.5 million people out of poverty, including 3.3 million children. While programs that provide food, housing and medical benefits are certainly important, the EITC is more effective in helping people rise out of poverty. These existing programs should be rolled into an expanded EITC.

The IRS recently estimated that nearly 28 million Americans received more than $66 billion in EITC payments in 2013, lifting an estimated 6.5 million people out of poverty, including 3.3 million children. While programs that provide food, housing and medical benefits are certainly important, the EITC is more effective in helping people rise out of poverty. These existing programs should be rolled into an expanded EITC.

Replace all federal programs that provide food, housing and medical benefits with an expanded EITC (that you only get with a job). That was published view of Trump’s first labor secretary. A view that makes defining a very “loose” definition of the “unemployed” a requirement because you can’t force people getting welfare services (like Medicaid) to work for those benefits if they aren’t considered “unemployed”.

Paul Ryan Gives Us Another Clue: His Long-Held GOP Agenda

So how closely do Puzder’s views on these matters match that of Paul Ryan’s? Well, the last time Ryan issued an poverty-program “reform” agenda it was last year and the agenda was just a vague set of goals that gave little idea of what he actually intended to do (it was a presidential election year). But we don’t need to guess what Ryan intends, since he’s been very clear when it’s not a presidential election year. Like he made clear in 2014 when he laid out a plan to fold all saftey-net programs in one big program that would be block-granted to states and scheduled to slowly whither away and die as people were pushed onto and expanded EITC (with an implicit work requirement):

The Nation

Paul Ryan’s Welfare Reform Ideas Are Even Worse Than You Think

Ryan is asking the poor to be more flexible in being oppressed.

By Michelle Chen
August 15, 2014

If you ask congressional conservatives about their plan to revive the economy, you’re not likely to get a very detailed answer, since they tend to doubt that the government is the solution—to a bad economy or anything else. But the neoliberal philosopher king of Capitol Hill, Representative Paul Ryan, has rolled out a plan to reduce government and reduce poverty simultaneously. He calls it “Expanding Opportunity in America”—and he plans to do it by shrinking what’s left of the welfare state.

Under the banner of “flexibility for accountability,” Ryan presents an agenda that reflects “deregulation for deprivation,” systematically reducing public assistance in hopes of “incentivizing” people to be somehow less poor. New research shows us that the plan would deepen the damage already inflicted by eighteen years of reforming welfare out of existence.

The centerpiece of Ryan’s latest budget plan is the so-called “opportunity grant,” which consolidates eleven federal programs into a single chunk of funding, including food stamps, subsidized childcare, and housing funds. This ultimately forces welfare admnistrations to parcel out money for, say, rehabilitation programs for people with disabilities, senior centers and subsidized daycare for toddlers, all from the same capped fiscal pot, which in turn dilutes overall funding streams and undercuts resources for directly assisting the poor.

Progressive critics say that this formula has been tried before, with the 1996 welfare reform law that gutted key public assistance programs. Those measures capped benefits and lumped programs into a single pot of funding, with disastrous effects on the poor.

Ryan’s “opportunity grant,” as Bob and Barbara Dreyfuss reported earlier, would impose the same austerity two-step of capping and consolidating. Following the “accountability” framework of the current welfare laws, Ryan’s “opportunity” program would impose strict requirements on welfare recipients, which would humiliatingly micromanage their household spending work-related activites.

The program also promotes the Earned Income Tax Credit, which subsidizes incomes through income tax refunds, as an alternative to direct cash benefits, suggesting that tax breaks are a form of assistance superior to cash payments.

At the heart of Ryan’s plan is an all-out assault on food stamps. Food stamps are a favorite target for small-government conservatives because (1) they run the way a welfare program should—benefits expand based on people’s need, not the political whims of Capitol Hill; and (2) even though benefits are extremely lean, only a few dollars per day, food subsidies are extremely effective at reducing poverty—so it’s the kind of welfare libertarians hate.

The restructuring proposed in the Ryan Plan, according to an analysis by the CBPP, would directly target crucial (and fragile) pillars of the welfare state: because about 80 percent of the Opportunity Grant goes toward food stamps and housing assistance, “the cuts would almost certainly reduce families’ access to these programs, which are effective at reducing poverty—particularly deep poverty.

Although the 1996 welfare reforms were supposed to promote self-sufficiency—and overall poverty has fallen by some measures—CBPP’s longitudinal analyses shows that “deep poverty”—or living on less than roughly $8.50 per day—has actually surged, particularly among children. And according to new research by H. Luke Shaefer and Kathryn Edin, published in Pathways, the number of households surviving in extreme poverty, or on less than about $2 per day, has more than doubled since the Clinton-era reforms were enacted.

Although all demographics experienced greater poverty and instability over a fifteen-year period, racial and gender disparities aggravate the effects. Extreme poverty shot up 186 percent among blacks, and 134 percent among whites. While households headed by married couples saw extreme poverty nearly double, single-woman households saw a staggering 230 percent rise.

Today funding for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Block Grant, the main source for cash assistance, managed jointly by states and Washington, is not only frozen but melting away. TANF has seen much of its value erode through inflation since 1996. According to the CBPP, spending on basic assistance declined in real dollars by 50 percent between 1997 and 2011.

Ryan’s plan, which embraces an elitist concept of flexibility by giving more freedom to employers to pay workers as little as possible and more freedom to officials to cut public spending, encapsulates the free-market logic of empowering capital through the unfreedom of labor. The working poor get to eat all the cake they can get. The hierarchy of employers over workers that the Ryan plan promotes reflects a profound mistrust of, along with social disinvestment from, those who already have the least power over their economic lives.

In contrast to Ryan’s rhetoric, numerous studies show that when entrusted with the flexibility to spend cash assistance however they want, people generally use it to fit their rational needs. These actual studies, of course, defy the stereotypes that the poor would rather splurge on frivolous expenses like cigarettes and beer.

Plus, the dignity of having control over your life—something that chronic poverty tends to rob people of—is priceless. When the economy declines, Schaefer explains, “cash support offers a flexibility to recipients that is absolutely essential if they want to succeed in the labor force. Let’s say someone loses their job and cannot get unemployment insurance (which is pretty common among the working poor). They need some amount of cash to use for the things that will help them find that next job (as long as the government continues to be unwilling to fund jobs of last resort)…. some amount of cash, immediately available when a crisis strikes, is crucial for people to pursue their self interest at the very bottom—and the lack of this is a gap in the current system.”

Ryan is asking the poor to be more flexible in being oppressed—to seize the opportunity to sleep under the bridge of their choice. This rationale presents the poor themselves, not the social system of poverty, as the scourge the government must get rid of. And as long as they’re wiped off the welfare rolls, they really do disappear, in a way. To many in Washington, they were never visible.

“If you ask congressional conservatives about their plan to revive the economy, you’re not likely to get a very detailed answer, since they tend to doubt that the government is the solution—to a bad economy or anything else. But the neoliberal philosopher king of Capitol Hill, Representative Paul Ryan, has rolled out a plan to reduce government and reduce poverty simultaneously. He calls it “Expanding Opportunity in America”—and he plans to do it by shrinking what’s left of the welfare state.

Reducing government programs and reducing poverty simultaneously. That’s the plan. Officially. Unofficially the plan isn’t actually about reducing poverty, but that’s the sales pitch: if we just set bundle all wefare and safety-net programs into one big federal block-grant to states, and then set that block-grant on a schedule for slow (or fast) death, people will be incentivized to find work because their government support will be constantly shrinking and the EITC tax credit for low-wage workers increases:


The centerpiece of Ryan’s latest budget plan is the so-called “opportunity grant,” which consolidates eleven federal programs into a single chunk of funding, including food stamps, subsidized childcare, and housing funds. This ultimately forces welfare admnistrations to parcel out money for, say, rehabilitation programs for people with disabilities, senior centers and subsidized daycare for toddlers, all from the same capped fiscal pot, which in turn dilutes overall funding streams and undercuts resources for directly assisting the poor.

Progressive critics say that this formula has been tried before, with the 1996 welfare reform law that gutted key public assistance programs. Those measures capped benefits and lumped programs into a single pot of funding, with disastrous effects on the poor.

Ryan’s “opportunity grant,” as Bob and Barbara Dreyfuss reported earlier, would impose the same austerity two-step of capping and consolidating. Following the “accountability” framework of the current welfare laws, Ryan’s “opportunity” program would impose strict requirements on welfare recipients, which would humiliatingly micromanage their household spending work-related activites.

The program also promotes the Earned Income Tax Credit, which subsidizes incomes through income tax refunds, as an alternative to direct cash benefits, suggesting that tax breaks are a form of assistance superior to cash payments.

Are you too poor to afford food, shelter, and medicine? Well, you better find a job at any wage at all and hope the expanded EITC covers the cost of living. Literally living. Have fun bargaining with the boss:


Ryan’s plan, which embraces an elitist concept of flexibility by giving more freedom to employers to pay workers as little as possible and more freedom to officials to cut public spending, encapsulates the free-market logic of empowering capital through the unfreedom of labor. The working poor get to eat all the cake they can get. The hierarchy of employers over workers that the Ryan plan promotes reflects a profound mistrust of, along with social disinvestment from, those who already have the least power over their economic lives.

That’s the plan. And it’s a plan that requires a “loose” a definition of the unemployed as possible. And even if you do have a job and are hoping that EITC government wage subsidy will cover your costs of living, that EITC is going to have to be expanded dramatically if the worker poor of tomorrow aren’t going to be the working deeply-poor:

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Commentary: The EITC Works Very Well – But It’s Not a Safety Net by Itself

March 26, 2014
by Sharon Parrott

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s recent report on safety net programs rightly praised the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for reducing poverty and promoting work. But, Ryan’s report criticizes much of the rest of the safety net. And, over the past several years, Chairman Ryan’s budget plans have targeted low-income programs such as SNAP (formerly food stamps) and Medicaid for extremely deep cuts. While it’s heartening to hear Chairman Ryan trumpet the EITC’s success, policymakers need to understand that the EITC alone can’t do what’s needed to ameliorate poverty and hardship.

The EITC serves a specific role in our safety net: easing the taxes and supplementing the wages of low-income working families. It promotes work by providing the most help to families with significant earnings. A single parent with two children, for example, must earn between $13,650 and $17,850 in 2014 to qualify for the maximum credit. Those earnings are modest, to be sure, but most people in this earnings range work most of the year and work at least 30 hours per week when they have a job. In short, they have significant attachment to the labor force.

Here’s what the EITC (and its sibling the Child Tax Credit or CTC, which helps offset the cost of raising children) are not designed to do — and cannot do without other safety net programs:

* Help people who are out of work or can’t work. The EITC and CTC are designed to help families with at least modest earnings. But, some people don’t have jobs, particularly in a weak economy, or have long periods of unemployment during a year. Others can’t work due to illness or disability or the need to care for an ill or disabled child. Still others can’t work because they have young children and can’t earn enough to afford child care.

Without programs such as SNAP, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and Medicaid, people in these families, including millions of children, couldn’t put food on the table, keep a roof over their head, and get needed health care. Helping them isn’t only the right thing to do — it’s also an investment in children. Research shows that basic assistance to children not only reduces short-term hardship but also improves their academic performance and long-term prospects. And, Medicaid coverage enables children to receive preventive care as well as treatment for everything from ear infections to cancer.

* Keep people out of “deep poverty.” Because the EITC and CTC aren’t targeted to the very poorest families, they don’t do much to keep people out of deep poverty, or above half the poverty line. Overall, the EITC and CTC plus other programs targeted on low-income individuals — such as SNAP, SSI, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families — kept an estimated 15 to 20 million people above halfthe poverty line (about $11,000 for a family of three) in 2010. (That estimate is based on the federal Supplemental Poverty Measure, which most analysts favor. The upper end of the range reflects estimates based on Urban Institute data that correct for the underreporting of government benefits.) Roughly 70 to 80 percent of these people would have remained in deep poverty if the EITC and CTC were the only forms of income-tested assistance for very poor families (see Figure 1).

* Help families get health care. The average EITC benefit for families with children was $2,254 in 2011 — not enough to buy health insurance for a family or pay health care bills when someone gets sick or needs expensive medications. The programs designed to help low-income people get decent health care are Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and subsidies to buy private coverage through health reform’s new marketplaces, not the EITC.

* Help families on a monthly basis. Recipients get their EITC and CTC for the year in one lump sum when they file their income tax return. That works fine for many working families, helping them save for larger expenses and budget for the coming year, but poorer families and families whose incomes drop sharply due to a mid-year job loss need help during the year. And, for families that need significant help with large monthly expenses — such as putting groceries on the table and paying high rent or child care costs — monthly assistance programs are often a better fit. If a new mother needs help paying for child care to go back to work, for example, a tax credit that she needs earnings to qualify for and doesn’t arrive until she files her tax return the following winter or spring isn’t going to help her get back to work.

* Serve as an automatic stabilizer for the economy in recessions. Programs like unemployment insurance, SNAP, and Medicaid automatically expand during recessions when more people lose their jobs and need help. Since the EITC only goes to people who work, in contrast, it doesn’t help those who are out of work throughout the year. And, for people who still have earnings but whose earnings shrink during a downturn, the EITC rises for some, but falls for others. A recent study found that the EITC is only weakly counter-cyclical — that is, it expands only a small amount overall when unemployment rises.[1] For single-parent families, the largest group of EITC recipients, the study found “no evidence that the EITC stabilizes income” overall as unemployment rises. By contrast, other programs such as unemployment insurance and SNAP are far more responsive to increases in unemployment, according to the study.

The bottom line? The EITC is a critically important and highly effective part of the safety net, but it can’t — and wasn’t meant to — stand alone as our answer to poverty.

“The EITC and CTC are designed to help families with at least modest earnings. But, some people don’t have jobs, particularly in a weak economy, or have long periods of unemployment during a year. Others can’t work due to illness or disability or the need to care for an ill or disabled child. Still others can’t work because they have young children and can’t earn enough to afford child care.”

Can’t afford to eat? Well, you better find a job, any job, if you want to eat in the America Paul Ryan and Donald Trump want to make. And if the economy sucks that’s tough so you better not complain about your working conditions.

And if you think that this agenda is just going to impact low-income workers (and you’re sick enough not to care about their plight), keep in mind that the creating a sea of millions desperate workers who will work at just about any wage under any conditions just to get enough government assistance for basic food and shelter is a recipe for dragging down wages everywhere but the top. Imagine all the people who aren’t currently working and aren’t looking for work for whatever reason – maybe they can’t find any jobs that aren’t paying poverty wages or maybe they have physical or mental health issues that make employment difficult but don’t entirely prevent them from working – and now imagine them being forced to take any job at all at any wage just to get the most basic government assistance. How is that going to do anything other than drive down wages?

And What About the Poor Retirees. They’ll Might Need to Work For Thier Government Pittance Too

Now, so far, all the proposed changes to the “official” unemployment rate and how that ties into the broader agenda to replace the safety-net with a work-requirement and an inadequate government check haven’t involved programs for retirees. But don’t forget that in addition to the block granting of Medicaid – with the idea of steadily shrinking it to death which is already part of Paul Ryan’s Obamacare replacement proposalPaul Ryan and the GOP has also championed a similar idea for retirees: voucherizing Medicare. And ensuring those vouchers shrinking every year while the eligibility age is steadily ratcheted up. And if you’re a poor retiree who can’t afford health insurance with your future Medicare voucher, there’s also the option of bankrupting yourself and going on Medicaid…which just might include a work-requirement to receive after it gets block-granted if you particular state decides to implement a Medicaid work requirement that includes seniors. This is all on the agenda even if Paul Ryan, Trump, and the rest of the GOP don’t want you to know it:

The Huffington Post

Not Just Obamacare: Medicaid, Medicare Also On GOP’s Chopping Block
The health care safety net as we know it could be bound for extinction.

By Jonathan Cohn , Jeffrey Young
11/15/2016 11:50 am ET | Updated Nov 15, 2016

Donald Trump and Republican leaders in Congress have made clear they are serious about repealing Obamacare, and doing so quickly. But don’t assume their dismantling of government health insurance programs will stop there.

For about two decades now, Republicans have been talking about radically changing the government’s two largest health insurance programs, Medicaid and Medicare.

The goal with Medicaid is to turn the program almost entirely over to the states, but with less money to run it. The goal with Medicare is to convert it from a government-run insurance program into a voucher system – while, once again, reducing the money that goes into the program.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has championed these ideas for years. Trump has not. In fact, in a 2015 interview his campaign website highlighted, he vowed that “I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid.” But the health care agenda on Trump’s transition website, which went live Thursday, vows to “modernize Medicare” and allow more “flexibility” for Medicaid.

In Washington, those are euphemisms for precisely the kind of Medicare and Medicaid plans Ryan has long envisioned. And while it’s never clear what Trump really thinks or how he’ll act, it sure looks like both he and congressional Republicans are out to undo Lyndon Johnson’s health care legacy, not just Barack Obama’s.

Of course, whenever Trump or Republicans talk about dismantling existing government programs, they insist they will replace them with something better – implying that the people who depend on those programs now won’t be worse off.

But Republicans are not trying to replicate what Medicaid, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act do now. Nor are they trying to maintain the current, historically high level of health coverage nationwide that these programs have produced. Their goal is to slash government spending on health care and to peel back regulations on parts of the health care industry, particularly insurers.

This would mean lower taxes, and an insurance market that operates with less government interference. It would also reduce how many people get help paying for health coverage, and make it so that those who continue to receive government-sponsored health benefits will get less help than they do now.

It’s difficult to be precise about the real-world effects, because the Republican plans for replacing existing government insurance programs remain so undefined. Ryan’s “A Better Way” proposal is a broad, 37-page outline without dollar figures, and Senate Republican leaders have never produced an actual Obamacare “replacement” plan.

But the Republican plans in circulation, along with the vague – and shifting – health care principles Trump endorsed during the campaign, have common themes. And from those it’s possible to glean a big-picture idea of what a fully realized version of the Republican health care agenda would mean.

Medicaid

As of August, 73 million Americans had benefits from Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which doesn’t break up the numbers for the two programs. All but around 16 million of them are covered by pre-Obamacare rules, but all Medicaid beneficiaries stand to be affected by the GOP’s plans.

Until the Affordable Care Act, working-age adults without disabilities were ineligible for this benefit in most cases, with some exceptions, including low-income pregnant women and very poor parents of children who qualified for Medicaid or CHIP.

As an entitlement like Medicare and Social Security, Medicaid gets however much money it takes to cover the medical expenses for everyone enrolled.

Over a 10-year time period, the Medicaid plan the House Budget Committee approved this year would reduce federal spending on the program by about one-third, or roughly $1 trillion, not even counting the effects of repealing Obamacare’s expansion of the program, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Repealing the Affordable Care Act and its Medicaid expansion fully would eliminate the coverage for the roughly 16 million people the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reports have enrolled under this policy.

The federal government paid for 62 percent of the $532 billion in Medicaid expenditures in fiscal year 2015, the most recent year for which such a breakdown is available. In 25 states, the federal share of spending is higher still, so even states that may want to maintain today’s Medicaid benefits would find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to replace the federal dollars that would disappear under GOP proposals.

One result could be 25 million fewer Medicaid beneficiaries, according to the RAND Corp.’s analysis of Trump’s plans.

Trump and other Republicans have long promoted “flexibility” that would enable states, which jointly finance and manage Medicaid with the federal government, to alter the program.

While this may seem on its face like simple federalism, the purpose is not to allow states to cover as many people as they do now in different ways, but to significantly reduce federal spending on Medicaid and to permit states to cut back on who can receive Medicaid coverage and what kind of benefits they have.

Ryan’s latest version of this 35-year-old idea would establish either “block grants” to states – that is, a flat amount of money each state would get from the federal government each year to spend on Medicaid as they like – or “per capita allotment” – meaning a flat amount of money for each person enrolled. These approaches would differ in terms of how much money states would receive yearly and how much the funding would increase from year to year.

In any case, the funding wouldn’t be high enough to maintain current coverage, inevitably leading to millions of currently covered individuals losing their benefits. And the financing would grow at a slower rate than health care costs, portending more lost coverage over time. For those who remain on Medicaid, Ryan would permit states to charge them monthly premiums and add other strings, such as a work requirement.

Medicare

The Medicare revamp in “A Better Way” would result in wholesale changes to the entitlement – ones that would realize Ryan’s long-term goal of privatizing the program.

Today, most of the 55 million Medicare beneficiaries enroll in the traditional, government-run program and then buy private supplemental insurance to cover remaining out-of-pocket costs. A sizable minority opts to buy private insurance plans, through the Medicare Advantage program. The government regulates these plans tightly, to make sure they provide coverage at least as generous as the traditional Medicare program does.

Ryan would replace this arrangement with a “premium support” system, under which each senior would get an allotment of money – a voucher, in other words – he can use to get insurance. When Ryan introduced the first formal version of his proposal, in 2010, he envisioned ending the traditional government program altogether. Now he says it should continue to exist alongside the private plans, competing with them for business..

What would this mean for beneficiaries? A great deal would depend on details Ryan has yet to provide, particularly when it comes to the value of that voucher – and how quickly it would increase every year – compared to the cost of the insurance. But the whole point of the system is to ratchet down the value of the vouchers over time.

That would reduce spending on Medicare, which Ryan always says is a goal, and some seniors would likely end up saving money, because they could easily switch to cheaper plans. The question would be what happens to everybody else. Without adequate regulation of benefits and other safeguards tailored to the special needs of an older, frequently impaired population of seniors, the consequence of moving to premium support could be higher costs for individual seniors who have serious health problems – with low-income seniors feeling it most intensely.

If at the same time Republicans shrink Medicaid, those seniors will suffer even more, since today the poorest seniors can use the program to pay for whatever medical bills Medicare does not.

Ryan promises that the proposal would not affect seniors who are 55 or older, since the new system wouldn’t begin operating for 10 years. But realistically the entire Medicare program would change once premium support took effect – private plans would almost certainly find ways to pick off the healthiest seniors, for instance – and, at best, the damage would simply take longer to play out.

Ryan’s Medicare scheme includes one other element – a provision to raise the eligibility age gradually, so that seniors would eventually enroll at 67, rather than 65. Particularly in a world in which the Affordable Care Act no longer exists, 65- and 66-year-olds searching for private coverage would find it harder to obtain, more expensive and less generous than what they’d get from Medicare today.

The end result would almost surely be higher out-of-pocket costs for those younger seniors – and a significant number of them, maybe into the millions, with no insurance at all.

“But Republicans are not trying to replicate what Medicaid, Medicare and the Affordable Care Act do now. Nor are they trying to maintain the current, historically high level of health coverage nationwide that these programs have produced. Their goal is to slash government spending on health care and to peel back regulations on parts of the health care industry, particularly insurers.”

Yep, the goal isn’t “repeal and replace” Obamacare as Republicans made their rallying cry. The goal is “repeal all entitlements and replace them with something steadily cheaper”. That’s it. That’s the goal. And that means things like turning Medicare into a steadily shrinking voucher and converting Medicaid into steadily-shrinking block grants that can include things like work-requirements:


Ryan’s latest version of this 35-year-old idea would establish either “block grants” to states – that is, a flat amount of money each state would get from the federal government each year to spend on Medicaid as they like – or “per capita allotment” – meaning a flat amount of money for each person enrolled. These approaches would differ in terms of how much money states would receive yearly and how much the funding would increase from year to year.

In any case, the funding wouldn’t be high enough to maintain current coverage, inevitably leading to millions of currently covered individuals losing their benefits. And the financing would grow at a slower rate than health care costs, portending more lost coverage over time. For those who remain on Medicaid, Ryan would permit states to charge them monthly premiums and add other strings, such as a work requirement.

Today, most of the 55 million Medicare beneficiaries enroll in the traditional, government-run program and then buy private supplemental insurance to cover remaining out-of-pocket costs. A sizable minority opts to buy private insurance plans, through the Medicare Advantage program. The government regulates these plans tightly, to make sure they provide coverage at least as generous as the traditional Medicare program does.

>Ryan would replace this arrangement with a “premium support” system, under which each senior would get an allotment of money – a voucher, in other words – he can use to get insurance. When Ryan introduced the first formal version of his proposal, in 2010, he envisioned ending the traditional government program altogether. Now he says it should continue to exist alongside the private plans, competing with them for business..

What would this mean for beneficiaries? A great deal would depend on details Ryan has yet to provide, particularly when it comes to the value of that voucher – and how quickly it would increase every year – compared to the cost of the insurance. But the whole point of the system is to ratchet down the value of the vouchers over time.

If at the same time Republicans shrink Medicaid, those seniors will suffer even more, since today the poorest seniors can use the program to pay for whatever medical bills Medicare does not.

Shrinking Medicare by pushing health care costs onto seniors, which will push more seniors onto Medicaid, whil simultaneously shrinking Medicaid and giving states the option creating things like work-requirements to get it. That’s the plan. And while President Trump hasn’t formally agreed to that plan, don’t forget that his “94 million out of the labor force” comments that he repeatedly made implicitly assumes that all retirees are potential employees.

And then there’s the fact that privatizing (and cutting) Social Security is very much part of the GOP/Ryan agenda too.
:

Forbes

Why Social Security Cuts Are Still In GOP Agenda

John Wasik
Mar 10, 2017 @ 09:19 AM

Despite what President-elect Trump says, Social Security cuts are still very much on the table. His Secretary for the Department of Health and Human Services — Rep. Tom Price (R-Georgia) — filed legislation last year to trim the program’s benefits. And I suspect it’s still on his radar screen.

Price’s strategy was to bury Social Security “reform” inside of a a massive budget bill, so the issue wouldn’t necessary receive a separate hearing in Congress. Price was chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee in the last Congress.

The conservative Georgia doctor has long been a proponent of major cutbacks to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and Obamacare. In a speech before the conservative group Heritage Action for America on January 12, 2015, Price told the group about his plans for Social Security:

“This is a program that right now on its current course will not be able to provide 75 or 80 percent of the benefits that individuals have paid into in a relatively short period of time. That’s not a responsible position to say, ‘You don’t need to do anything to do it.’

So all the kinds of things you know about – whether it’s means testing, whether it’s increasing the age of eligibility. The kind of choices — whether it’s providing much greater choices for individuals to voluntarily select the kind of manner in which they believe they ought to be able to invest their working dollars as they go through their lifetime. All those things ought to be on the table and discussed.”

None of these ideas are new and have been floated by Republicans such as Paul Ryan, speaker of the house, and conservative think tanks for years. But the word Price doesn’t use — privatization — is still very much on the GOP agenda for Social Security and Medicare.

Even worse, Price used false information as a scare tactic to provide political cover to carve up the program. Social Security is not in any danger of not being able to provide “75 or 80 percent of benefits in a short period of time.”

According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the Social Security trust fund that serves as a kitty for retirees, will be forced to reduce benefits in 2030. And that’s only if Congress does nothing to boost funding of the system.

That means that only complete inaction by Congress will drive the trust fund balances to zero. Even then, Social Security will still pay benefits.

By 2030, “the Social Security Administration would no longer be permitted to pay full benefits when they were due,” with future benefits by annual income, the CBO report said. At most, benefits would likely be cut by 29%.

President-elect Trump has said on the campaign trail that he wouldn’t touch Social Security or Medicare, but he’s clearly at odds with his party, which has wanted to trim or privatize Social Security and Medicare for more than a decade.

“None of these ideas are new and have been floated by Republicans such as Paul Ryan, speaker of the house, and conservative think tanks for years. But the word Price doesn’t use — privatization — is still very much on the GOP agenda for Social Security and Medicare.”

Privatization, the word that GOPers always think about but dare not speak. But they sure love proposing it:


So all the kinds of things you know about – whether it’s means testing, whether it’s increasing the age of eligibility. The kind of choices — whether it’s providing much greater choices for individuals to voluntarily select the kind of manner in which they believe they ought to be able to invest their working dollars as they go through their lifetime. All those things ought to be on the table and discussed.”

Those were the words of Tom Price, Trump’s choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services and the House GOP’s long-time point man on gutting entitlements. And what those word describe is a Social Security privatization option even if he doesn’t use the word “privatization”. But that’s what it is, even if it’s not the full privatization of Social Security and merely a private option. That’s how privatization is supposed to work under the Paul Ryan agenda: start with the option to have your social security taxes go into a Wall Street-run private fund, and then steadily shrink the defined benefits of the traditional program.

And don’t forget that when you move people away from a defined benefit system – the way social security operates today – and towards a defined contribution option – which is how the private option would work – that is a plan allow people to make really bad investments when they’re young and have almost nothing left in that Social Security private personal account when they hit retirement age. And if ther’s a massive financial crisis, a whole generation of retirees or near-retirees could see their Social Security accounts wiped out. Which means the privation of Social Security is a recipe for pushing seniors onto Medicaid because they will be poor enough to qualify. And, again, Medicaid in the future just might require work requirements. Maybe for people over 65 if that’s allowed. Or 67. Or whatever the retirement age ends up being in the future.

So, once again, when Donald Trumnp repeatedly refers to a 42 percent unemployment rate and 94 million people being out of the labor force it’s not inconceivable that he’s intentionally framing the unemployment definition required for a “Ryan” vision of the future where everyone needs to work for government assistance. Including the elderly.

Yes, Trump Thinks We’re Stupid. Or Has Dementia

Of course, now that Donald Trump embrace the 4.7 percent unemployment rate it unclear what to think about what Trump actually thinks when it comes to the veracity of past and present unemployment rates. Especially after Donald Trump had Sean Spicer deliver to the press a mysterious tragicomic message: “I talked to the president prior to this, and he said to quote him very clearly: ‘They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.’ ”:

The Washington Post

19 times Trump called jobs numbers ‘fake’ before they made him look good

By Christopher Ingraham
March 10, 2017 at 4:49 PM

We may assume President Trump is quite pleased with the strong jobs report from his first full month in office: He retweeted the Drudge Report’s triumphant “GREAT AGAIN” framing of the numbers Friday morning, after touting employment figures released by payroll firm ADP earlier in the week.

Not so long ago, however, Trump’s view of the monthly jobs report, which comes courtesy of the nonpartisan federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, was markedly different. As recently as December, he described the report as “totally fiction.”

If there was any argument over whether Trump was flip-flopping on the jobs report at the precise moment it reflected positively on him, White House press secretary Sean Spicer laid it to rest Friday afternoon, telling reporters: “I talked to the president prior to this, and he said to quote him very clearly: ‘They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.’ ”

“If there was any argument over whether Trump was flip-flopping on the jobs report at the precise moment it reflected positively on him, White House press secretary Sean Spicer laid it to rest Friday afternoon, telling reporters: “I talked to the president prior to this, and he said to quote him very clearly: ‘They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.’ ””

“I talked to the president prior to this, and he said to quote him very clearly: ‘They may have been phony in the past, but it’s very real now.’ ” WTF. Is he trolling us? Because Trump is either suggesting that the unemployment rate dropped from 42 percent to 4.7 percent in the first month, which would indeed be pretty impressive, or he thinks that the entire world is stupid. Dementia perhaps? Only Trump knows. Unless it’s dementia in which case maybe not.

But something very weird and very ominous is going on with Trump and the unemployment rate. It’s possible the Trumnp administration is merely going to shift the “official” rate from the “U-3” to “U-5” rate the way Steve Mnuchin recommended expand it to include everyone who would like to find work, even the long-term unemployed who are so discouraged they’ve stopped looking.

But when we look at all the clues available it’s becoming increasingly clear that Donald Trump’s repeated references to a 42 percent unemployment rate with 94 million Americans out of the labor force isn’t dementia. It’s laying the rhetorical groundwork to redefine who is considered “unemployed” in order to lay down the conceptual groundwork required to replace the US safety-net with a “work for a pittance to receive a government pittance” safety-net. And including retirees in that potential workforce. That’s where all the clues are pointing.

Although when you consider that in implementing this agenda Donald Trump is basically setting himself up to be Paul Ryan’s ghoulish and super-villain stand-in who will be loathed for generations to comes. As conservative columnist Reihan Salam recently wrote in Slate, if Donald Trump listens to Paul Ryan he’s committing political suicide. And it’s hard to see why Salam isn’t correct. What Paul Ryan and the GOP want to do – make almost all poor American adults a new serfs-for-welfare class of desperate low-wage employees – is beyond cruel and just bad policy that’s going to end up harming the entire economy and make living in America that much more stressful for almost everyone. The idea of losing your job in America is already scary enough. It’s about to become terrifying. And Donald Trump, when he used that “94 million Americans out of the labor force” line during his first address to Congress, gave a very strong indication that he’s willing to lead America into Paul Ryan’s vision of the future. As his policy agenda unfolds and becomes more and more aligned with the Paul Ryan ‘granny starver’ agenda that really does appear to be Trump’s plan . And Trump increasingly appears willing to take the bulk of the public blame for making it a reality. So while it’s unclear what exactly Trump meant when he had his spokesperson troll the world, you know, maybe it really is dementia.

Discussion

8 comments for “Trumplandian Feudalism: Employ the Unemployed While Still Starving Them”

  1. Mick Mulvaney, the Trump administration’s director of Office of Management and Budget (OMB), added a new twist to the general the confusion over the White House’s sudden celebration of a job report after dismissing all previous reports as fraudulent during an appearance on CNN today. When asked by Jake Tapper about how Mulvaney makes sense of Trump’s past dismissals of the official Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) unemployment numbers he first gave a response notably similar to the argument Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin gave to Congress when Mnuchin argued that the “official” unemployment rate should be the “U-5” rate instead of the current “U-3” rate. Mulvaney went a bit further in arguing that the official rate should be a “U-6” rate (you should actually look at all the rates) and then immediately concluded that the unemployment rate isn’t really what you should look at at all. Instead, it’s the number of new jobs that’s really important:

    “What I think changed is you start to look at some of the underlying numbers you look at the U6 number, already boring your audience. There are things like U3, U6, what you should really look at is the number of jobs created.”

    So that’s the first part of Mulvaney’s nonsense answer to Tapper’s question and could give us a clue as to how the Trump administration is going to proceed in its attempt to redefine who is truly “unemployed”: constantly assert that there’s a conspiracy to underreport the unemployment rate and then when questioned on the details deflect and assert that the unemployment rate doesn’t matter. It’s only the number of new jobs that matter. Keep an eye out for that kind of spin.

    But right after that in the interview Mulvaney goes on to to charge the BLS with cooking the books on the jobs reports during the Obama administration. But it wasn’t the same kind of charge Trump frequently made that the unemployment rate was artificially low due to an undercounting of the number of people who are truly unemployed (like Trump’s “94 million Americans are out of the workforce” line that he kept using, including in his first address to Congress). Instead, Mulvaney seemed to be suggesting the BLS during the Obama administration was faking the number of new jobs created:

    “We thought for a long time, I did, that the Obama administration was manipulating the number in terms of the number of people in the workforce to make the unemployment rate that percentage rate look smaller than it actually was. We used to tell people back home the only thing you should look at is the number of jobs created.”

    And that all was just in the first minute of Mulvaney’s interview with Tapper. He then goes on to make all sorts of laughably deceptive deflections for the growing number of questions about the Trump/Paul Ryan Obamacare replacement plan and how its poised to lead to millions losing health care coverage to pay for tax cuts for the rich. Mulvaney’s basic response what that they aren’t really cuts to health care because the market was going to magically make health care so much more cost effective that the same levels of service were going to be available despite the massive cuts to actual government spending on health care.

    It was a revealing interview overall and just one of the Sunday morning interviews he did today:

    The Fiscal Times

    OMB Director Mulvaney Blowing Smoke on Health Law’s Impact

    By Rob Garver
    March 12, 2017

    The director of the Trump administration’s Office of Management and Budget, former South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney, sat for a pair of interviews on Sunday morning, in which he questioned the credibility of three of the federal government’s most respected non-partisan agencies and twisted himself into verbal knots in explaining how the proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act currently being considered by Congress would improve the nation’s health care system.

    Mulvaney, appearing on CNN, was asked by host Jake Tapper to comment on the job growth numbers put out by the Bureau of Labor Statistics on Friday, which showed unemployment shrinking to 4.7 percent even as wages increased and the economy created an estimated 235,000 jobs.

    Tapper pointed out that during the campaign, Trump had repeatedly called the BLS statistics “fake” and insisted that the “real” rate of unemployment was actually as high as 40 percent. But on Friday, the White House celebrated the numbers. What changed?

    Mulvaney began with some hand-waving about the alternative measure of unemployment known as the U6, which, unlike the more broadly cited U3, accounts for people marginally attached to the workforce and people involuntarily working only part-time.

    “What I think changed is you start to look at some of the underlying numbers you look at the U6 number, already boring your audience. There are things like U3, U6, what you should really look at is the number of jobs created.”

    It should be noted here that there was absolutely nothing remarkable in Friday’s U6 number. It was well within the range it has occupied since prior to the election.

    Then, Mulvaney accused the BLS, which is staffed by career professionals, of cooking the books during the Obama administration.

    “We thought for a long time, I did, that the Obama administration was manipulating the number in terms of the number of people in the workforce to make the unemployment rate that percentage rate look smaller than it actually was. We used to tell people back home the only thing you should look at is the number of jobs created.”

    But if there were something magical about the number of jobs created in February, 235,000, Trump certainly wasn’t acting like it when the economy added that many jobs or more in multiple months during his presidential campaign.

    Mulvaney was forced, in the end, to admit that, despite the administration’s change in attitude toward the BLS numbers, there is actually nothing really different about them. “The BLS did not change the way they count, I don’t think, but you can have a long conversation when you’ve got a numerator and a denominator how to arrive at a percentage.

    Tapper then asked if President Trump was breaking his campaign promise not to touch Medicaid by supporting the House Republicans’ American Health Care Act, which would strip hundreds of millions of dollars from the program and repeal the expansion it underwent through the Affordable Care Act.

    “Just because you spend less money on something doesn’t mean it can’t get better,” Mulvaney said, insisting that improvements in efficiency and increased state-level control would improve the system for those using it.

    When Tapper pointed out that the ACHA’s changes would result in many million fewer Americans being enrolled in the program, Mulvaney tried to thread the needle by insisting that because people currently covered under the expansion would be allowed to remain — but new enrollees would not be accepted — that the bill isn’t really reducing anyone’s access to healthcare.

    “It doesn’t kick anybody off,” he said.

    In an interview on ABC, Mulvaney took the opportunity to criticize the well-respected Congressional Budget Office in advance of its expected release of an analysis of the ACHA’s impact on healthcare markets, expected on Monday.

    Asked by host George Stephanopoulos about expert analysts who expect CBO to report that as many as 15 million Americans could lose coverage under ACHA, Mulvaney joined others in the White House, like Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who have challenged the competency of the agency.

    “We continue to think and have for a long time that CBO is scoring the wrong thing,” he said. The congressional budget watchdog, he said, fails to consider the benefits of market competition, which he insisted the ACHA would generate, and also didn’t take into account what he predicted as the “collapse” of Obamacare.

    He also took a swipe at the Joint Committee on Taxation, which last week released a report that found the repeal of multiple taxes related to the ACA would greatly benefit the wealthy, and another from the AARP, which found that it would increase costs for seniors by thousands of dollars a year.

    “I seriously doubt that any of those analyses take into account the fact that the use of Health Savings Accounts and the lower premiums that come from competition. Look, everybody’s got skin in this game. Everybody has an interested party and they’re trying to protect their own.”

    In fact, Health Savings Accounts, which allow individuals to set aside income tax free to pay for health-related expenses, are being asked to do an awful lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to the purported “improvements” to that ACHA proponents are promising.

    Again addressing the changes to the Medicaid program, Mulvaney insisted, “What we’re doing is making sure that the truly indigent have care. Medicaid is still there. In fact, we think it’s going to be even better. The people who are just above Medicaid but still have difficulty buying their own premiums will not only have the refundable tax credit but they will have the ability to use HSA’s to pay for their health care on a tax-advantaged basis just like you and I get. So I don’t understand the criticisms lobbed in that fashion.”

    There’s a lot to unpack here:

    First, the tax credits being offered under the proposed ACHA would provide much, much less money for premium payments than the existing subsidy system under the ACA.

    Second, the idea that people on the cusp of qualifying for Medicaid are somehow going to find enough spare income to fund an HSA at the level needed to pay for a decent health insurance policy is laughable on its face. (Not to mention that “tax advantaged” savings for people with income too low to trigger significant tax liability is not much of a benefit.)

    Finally, Mulvaney presents HSAs as though they are something new and innovative when in fact they have been around in their current form since 2003, and in different manifestations since the 1990s. If they were some sort of magic bullet to help the poor pay for care, they’d have solved the health care affordability problem years ago.

    “Just because you spend less money on something doesn’t mean it can’t get better,” Mulvaney said, insisting that improvements in efficiency and increased state-level control would improve the system for those using it.”

    “Just because you spend less money on something doesn’t mean it can’t get better,”: And that, right there, is going to be one of the big meta-messages going forward coming from the White House and the rest of the GOP. Something like:

    Just because we’re cutting funding for these programs doesn’t mean we’re cutting services. Because we’re block granting and voucherizing programs like Medicaid that magically means new “efficiencies” will be found. Forever as we perpetually cut back on these programs. Also, we’re making health care more ‘patient focused’ and ‘consumer driven’ (euphemisms for transferring health care costs from insurers to consumers) and that will make things more efficient. Any reduction in health care services is merely a reduction in the wasteful and unnecessary medical services that our reforms (budget cuts) encourage. Not the helpful services people need.

    That’s the gist of the GOP’s meta-meme that it’s going to be using: the cuts to these programs merely encourage greater efficiencies that make up for the cuts! Isn’t that great? That’s the meta-meme. At least one of them.

    But there’s clearly going to be an “everyone is lying about the numbers but the GOP” meme too. Not only did Mulvaney add the conspiracy theory that the Obama BLS was rigging the new jobs numbers in the past to their public worldview, but he then went on to ABC to assert that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which isn’t too enthusiastic about the Big Numeric Lies in the GOP’s health care proposals, wasn’t fairly assess the cost and likely impact of the GOP’s American Health Care Act replacement for Obamacare because the CBO doesn’t take into account “the benefits of competition”:


    Asked by host George Stephanopoulos about expert analysts who expect CBO to report that as many as 15 million Americans could lose coverage under ACHA, Mulvaney joined others in the White House, like Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who have challenged the competency of the agency.

    “We continue to think and have for a long time that CBO is scoring the wrong thing,” he said. The congressional budget watchdog, he said, fails to consider the benefits of market competition, which he insisted the ACHA would generate, and also didn’t take into account what he predicted as the “collapse” of Obamacare.

    ““We continue to think and have for a long time that CBO is scoring the wrong thing,” he said. The congressional budget watchdog, he said, fails to consider the benefits of market competition”

    Don’t trust the CBO because it doesn’t appreciate the awesomeness of the market. That’s the other big meme Trump and the GOP are clearly pushing. So it’s going to be important to keep in mind that the CBO can indeed use “dynamic scoring” factor in the magic of “the market” and the current head of the CBO is a conservative who was nominated for that position in 2015 by Tom Price, the head of Health and Human Services. And this conservative head of the CBO doesn’t appear to think the GOP’s “American Health Care Act” dynamically scores very high:

    Politico

    Budget referee may call foul on Obamacare repeal

    A market-oriented Republican economist could prove to be a formidable obstacle for the GOP lawmakers who appointed him.

    By Rachana Pradhan

    03/10/17 05:09 AM EST

    The fate of Obamacare may lie in the hands of a number-crunching Republican appointee whose bottom line might single-handedly blow up the GOP quest to repeal and replace it.

    Congressional Budget Office Director Keith Hall was handpicked two years ago by top Republicans in Congress— including now Health and Human Service Secretary Tom Price — to lead a nonpartisan office that will soon release its estimate of how many Americans the Republican health care bill will cover and whether it shrinks or balloons the federal deficit.

    With the House repeal bill under attack by Republican moderates worrying about coverage and conservatives fuming about entitlements and spending, the CBO assessment will matter. It’s widely expected early next week.

    Hall, in the post for two years, has signaled that his office won’t soft-pedal the coverage assessments. If a health plan doesn’t have comprehensive benefits, it won’t count as coverage. Fearing a bad CBO “score,” Republicans facing backlash in their drive to gut Obamacare are turning the budget agency and its team of professional economic analysts into a punching bag as they try to discredit it.

    President Donald Trump hasn’t directed any of his tweet fury — #FAKESCORES? — at Hall. But the White House press secretary has landed jabs.

    “If you’re looking to the CBO for accuracy, you’re looking in the wrong place,” Sean Spicer said Wednesday at a briefing where the CBO came up repeatedly. “They were way, way off last time in every aspect of how they scored and projected Obamacare.”

    The political limelight is not Hall’s natural milieu, and his professional history didn’t set him up to be a GOP foil. He’s a measured, conservative labor economist who worked at the White House Council of Economic Advisers and the Bureau of Labor Statistics under President George W. Bush. He also did a stint at the right-leaning Mercatus Center think tank.

    Liberals were frosty when congressional Republicans — including Price, then chairman of the House Budget Committee — selected him to lead CBO in February 2015. He was on record as arguing that Obamacare was detrimental to the U.S. labor market, and also criticized proposals to raise the minimum wage.

    “Based on Mr. Hall’s writings, it appears that we have very different views on a range of issues, and he would not have been my first choice,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said at the time. “His opposition to increasing the minimum wage and his resistance to sound strategies for eliminating poverty place him outside the mainstream.”

    But Hall has sometimes surprised.

    He was appointed to head CBO as Republicans in Congress revised rules for how the office would assess the impacts of legislation — a switch to what’s known as “dynamic scoring,” which lets CBO incorporate broader economic effects of proposed policy changes. Yet Hall’s use of that technique hasn’t always resulted in estimates that help the GOP agenda.

    Notably, the CBO two years ago said fully repealing Obamacare would boost the federal deficit by $353 billion over 10 years. Even with “dynamic scoring,” the office still put the repeal price tag at $137 billion. That’s not the message Republicans were looking for as they attacked the law as money-guzzling big government.

    And in one highly significant report in December — which set up the possible upcoming clash with the Republican Congress — Hall’s CBO said it wouldn’t count skimpy health plans as coverage in its scores. In other words, people with limited health care benefits that are unlikely to protect them against expensive or catastrophic medical events won’t meet the CBO standards for health coverage.

    That means the CBO score of a Republican plan is almost certain to be less favorable than that of Obamacare.

    “Members of Congress are often frustrated with CBO’s estimates of the effects of legislation because those estimates sometimes make it more difficult for those members to advance legislation they believe in,” said Elmendorf, who led the CBO from 2009 to 2015.

    Under Elmendorf, the CBO also ruffled Democratic lawmakers’ feathers, in particular when it said the labor market would have 2 million fewer workers in 2025 because of the health care law. Republicans immediately used those findings to claim that Obamacare killed 2 million jobs.

    Further back, a tough assessment — including a blunt statement about the expanded role of government in health care — by CBO Director Robert Reischauer in 1994 was one of many events that doomed the health reform initiative of President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton.

    But Hall so far seems unperturbed by the repeal-and-replace fuss. Two former colleagues both described himj as “unflappable,” and noted that though he has free-market economic views, he’s never been partisan in any of his Washington roles.

    “This is just a time when you need someone like Keith who is calm and steady,” said Charles Blahous, a senior research fellow at Mercatus and a former Social Security and Medicare trustee. “That doesn’t mean that CBO’s going to get everything perfect. But I think it would be very, very bad for the current debate if the CBO director were viewed as an advocate. Then you’d really have a problem.”

    Benjamin Page, whose work for the CBO spanned from Reischauer in the 1990s to Hall and who is now at the Urban Institute, stressed the professionalism of his former colleagues, no matter who is running Congress.

    “I can’t say enough about the analysts,” Page said. “People really care there about getting the answer right.”

    “Hall, in the post for two years, has signaled that his office won’t soft-pedal the coverage assessments. If a health plan doesn’t have comprehensive benefits, it won’t count as coverage. Fearing a bad CBO “score,” Republicans facing backlash in their drive to gut Obamacare are turning the budget agency and its team of professional economic analysts into a punching bag as they try to discredit it.

    Fearing a bad score from the Congressional Budget Office, the GOP is already trying to discredit the Congressional Budget Office. Despite the fact that CBO Director Keith Hall is quite conservative and was selected by HHS Secretary Tom Price to lead the CBO just two years ago. And Hall isn’t an Obamacare fan either. This is the guy getting discredited as not being right-wing enough in his analysis of the GOP’s plans:


    Liberals were frosty when congressional Republicans — including Price, then chairman of the House Budget Committee — selected him to lead CBO in February 2015. He was on record as arguing that Obamacare was detrimental to the U.S. labor market, and also criticized proposals to raise the minimum wage.

    “Based on Mr. Hall’s writings, it appears that we have very different views on a range of issues, and he would not have been my first choice,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said at the time. “His opposition to increasing the minimum wage and his resistance to sound strategies for eliminating poverty place him outside the mainstream.”

    So that gives us a taste of just how bad the Trump/Ryan plan really is and why the the Trump administration and rest of the GOP apparently feel the need to launch a preemptive attack on the CBO.

    And note how in Mick Mulvaney’s response in the prior interview, his attacks on the CBO include the charge that the CBO wasn’t factoring in the magic of competition and the magic of things like tax cuts for the rich (otherwise known as “dynamic scoring). But as we just saw, the CBO has been “dynamic scoring” since 2015 (and still is likely to say the GOP’s plan is a disaster):


    But Hall has sometimes surprised.

    He was appointed to head CBO as Republicans in Congress revised rules for how the office would assess the impacts of legislation — a switch to what’s known as “dynamic scoring,” which lets CBO incorporate broader economic effects of proposed policy changes. Yet Hall’s use of that technique hasn’t always resulted in estimates that help the GOP agenda.

    Notably, the CBO two years ago said fully repealing Obamacare would boost the federal deficit by $353 billion over 10 years. Even with “dynamic scoring,” the office still put the repeal price tag at $137 billion. That’s not the message Republicans were looking for as they attacked the law as money-guzzling big government.

    So if the GOP is going to use dynamic scoring to justify supply-side junk policy to push tax cuts for the rich and austerity for public programs, it’s going to need to subvert the CBO and complaining about dynamic scoring models how the CBO won’t subscribe to their junk supply-side models enough is going to be one of the vehicles for carrying out that subversion. That’s becoming increasingly clear.

    And note how the CBO under Hall has taken the position that the CBO won’t allow “junk” insurance plans that cover almost nothing to count as actual insurance coverage:

    And in one highly significant report in December — which set up the possible upcoming clash with the Republican Congress — Hall’s CBO said it wouldn’t count skimpy health plans as coverage in its scores. In other words, people with limited health care benefits that are unlikely to protect them against expensive or catastrophic medical events won’t meet the CBO standards for health coverage.

    That means the CBO score of a Republican plan is almost certain to be less favorable than that of Obamacare.

    “In other words, people with limited health care benefits that are unlikely to protect them against expensive or catastrophic medical events won’t meet the CBO standards for health coverage”

    Uh oh. There goes the GOP’s plan to give “everyone access” to health insurance by deregulating insurance so cheap crap plans with minimal coverage are legal again. Then the GOP’s “patient centric” markets, where you pay directly for the rest of your medical services, will be the norm: crap insurance and individuals pay for the rest. That’s the baseline plan. It’s a core pillar of the GOP’s plan for claiming high insurance coverage rates and transferring health care costs away from government programs and employer sponsored plans and onto individual consumers. So you can see why the GOP is so pissed at the CBO. And also see why the White House is trying to undermine the CBO by discrediting it by having people like Mick Mulvaney go out there and claim that the CBO isn’t factoring in dynamic scoring even though it is (and probably shouldn’t because it’s generally a bad model). But it’s still hard to see why the White House is using such self-discrediting arguments in their attempts to discredit the CBO, but you can see why they’re doing it.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 12, 2017, 10:07 pm
  2. The Congressional Budget Office came out with its projection of the impact the GOP’s “American Health Care Act” replacement for Obamacare will have. With the expectations that the CBO would project roughly 20 million people losing their health care over the next decade it wasn’t going to be too hard for the GOP’s plan to exceed expectations. And sure enough it did exceed those expectations. In the wrong direction:

    Talking Points Memo DC

    CBO: 24 Million More Uninsured By 2026 Under GOP Health Care Bill.

    By Tierney Sneed
    Published March 13, 2017, 4:13 PM EDT

    Twenty-four million people would lose their insurance over the next 10 years under Republican legislation being pushed to repeal Obamacare, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office said Monday.

    “In 2026, an estimated 52 million people would be uninsured, compared with 28 million who would lack insurance that year under current law,” the CBO said.

    Many of the provisions in the Republican bill, the American Health Care Act, would not take effect until 2020. But according to Monday’s CBO score, its effects on coverage would be felt almost immediately. The agency projected that in 2018, just in time for mid-term elections, 14 million more people would be uninsured than under current law, if the GOP bill was implemented. The difference would grow to 21 million in 2020, which is when the Republicans’ massive overhaul of Medicaid would kick in, and then to 24 million in 2026.

    The initial drop-off in coverage would be the result of the individual mandate being repealed immediately under the Republican legislation. The CBO also predicted that premiums would rise in that period.

    However, in 2020, premiums would begin to go down compared to current, according CBO’s analysis, as other provisions in the Republican bill took effect. The CBO predicted that some shifting of enrollment back into the individual market would also begin in 2020, as the GOP proposed tax credits became available.

    “Roughly 9 million fewer people, on net, would obtain coverage through the
    nongroup market in 2020; that number would fall to 2 million in 2026,” the CBO said.

    The legislation’s transformation of Medicaid — by freezing the expansion and turning the entire program into a form of block grants — would kick in 2020. “Roughly 9 million fewer people would enroll in Medicaid in 2020; that figure would rise to 14 million in 2026,” as a result of those changes, the CBO said.

    The amount of individuals who get their insurance through employer-based plans would decrease under the Republicans bill, as its repeals the employer mandate as well.

    “Roughly 2 million fewer people, on net, would enroll in employment-based
    coverage in 2020, and that number would grow to roughly 7 million in 2026,” the CBO said.

    There is one finding that Republicans will be able to tout from the CBO report. It found that the legislation would begin curbing premium growth starting in 2020, when the bulk of the legislation would take effect, so that by 2026 average premiums would be 10 percent lower than what they’re projected to be under the Affordable Care Act. That shift would be preceded by two years of higher premiums, however, which will be politically painful for Republicans as they head into mid-terms and then the 2020 election. There is also a major caveat in who benefits the most from the premium changes that result under the Republican legislation, because it would permit insurers to charge older people more when compared to younger people than the current law allows.

    “By 2026, CBO and JCT project, premiums in the nongroup market would be 20 percent to 25 percent lower for a 21-year-old and 8 percent to 10 percent lower for a 40-year-old—but 20 percent to 25 percent higher for a 64-year-old,” the report said.

    “Many of the provisions in the Republican bill, the American Health Care Act, would not take effect until 2020. But according to Monday’s CBO score, its effects on coverage would be felt almost immediately. The agency projected that in 2018, just in time for mid-term elections, 14 million more people would be uninsured than under current law, if the GOP bill was implemented. The difference would grow to 21 million in 2020, which is when the Republicans’ massive overhaul of Medicaid would kick in, and then to 24 million in 2026.”

    14 million poised to lose their insurance coverage by 2018: that’s almost impressive. And 24 million by 2026. And the eventually lowered premiums are concentrated for younger people who are less likely to get coverage anyway now that the individual mandate is gone. And last but not least, don’t forget that these projections don’t even include the long-term death spiral that the GOP is sending Medicaid into with this bill.

    Of course, those are CBO numbers, not Trump administration numbers. And as the Trump administration has stressed over and over, you can’t any numbers that don’t come from the Trump administration. Especially if those numbers came from the CBO. That was the GOP’s message in the lead up to this much anticipated CBO report. So, surprise, it was still the message from HHS Secretary Tom Price, although he acknowledged he hadn’t actually read the report:

    Talking Points Memo
    Livewire

    HHS Secretary Price: CBO Report Numbers Are ‘Not Believable’

    By Matt Shuham
    Published March 13, 2017, 5:37 PM EDT

    The Secretary of Health and Human Services characterized as “not believable” a Congressional Budget Office report that estimated 14 million people would lose health coverage through 2018 under the House GOP’s proposed health care bill.

    HHS Secretary Tom Price said the CBO report “ignored completely the other legislative activities that we’ll be putting into place that will make certain that we have an insurance market that actually works,” in addition to the American Health Care Act, which Republicans have described as “phase one” of health care reform.

    “So we disagree strenuously with the report that was put out. We believe that our plan will cover more individuals at a lower cost and give them the choices they want for the coverage that they want for themselves and their families, not that the government forces them to buy,” he told reporters outside the White House.

    One reporter asked if he was implying the CBO was wrong in their estimates. Price responded that, while he hadn’t yet read the report, its estimates were “virtually impossible.”

    “The fact of the matter is, if you look at that, it’s virtually impossible to have that number occur. We are not certain – again, we haven’t been able to read the report –“

    “The CBO is wrong?” the reporter asked again.

    “Just look at the numbers,” Price replied. “There are 8 million people, 8, 9 million people who are on the exchange currently. I’m not sure how they’re going to get to 14 million people uninsured if that’s what they say, with only 8 million people on the exchange. There are individuals I guess that they assume that are on Medicaid who aren’t paying anything in the Medicaid system who are going to not take the Medicaid policy just because the mandate ended, or something happened. It’s just not believable is what we would suggest. We’ll look at the numbers and see.”

    In its report, the CBO estimates that, of the 14 million fewer people it estimates would have insurance by 2018, “[t]hat increase would consist of about 6 million fewer people with coverage obtained in the nongroup market, roughly 5 million fewer people with coverage under Medicaid, and about 2 million fewer people with employment-based coverage.”

    “One reporter asked if he was implying the CBO was wrong in their estimates. Price responded that, while he hadn’t yet read the report, its estimates were “virtually impossible.””

    So according to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, it’s “virtually impossible” that the CBO’s projections could be accurate. Hopefully once Price actually reads the report it will make more sense. Although it sounds like Price could just ask House Speaker Paul Ryan to explain how those projections could be accurate since Ryan had no problem at all accepting the CBO projections and actually saw them as a “validation” of his envisioned reforms:

    Talking Points Memo
    Livewire

    Ryan: CBO Report Predicting Huge Drop In Coverage ‘Validated’ GOP Repeal Bill

    By Esme Cribb
    Published March 13, 2017, 6:57 PM EDT

    House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said Monday that the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office “validated” House Republicans’ bill to repeal Obamacare with a report estimating that the bill would reduce the federal deficit while leaving millions more people uninsured.

    “I think if you read this entire report, I’m pretty encouraged by it and it actually exceeded my expectations,” Ryan told Fox’s Bret Baier.

    He said that the CBO’s score for the bill is “encouraging” and gives legislators “even more room to work on, to make good fine-tuning finishing touches” on the legislation.

    “Of course the CBO is going to say, if you’re not going to force people to buy something they don’t want to buy, they won’t buy it,” Ryan said. “That’s why you have those uninsured numbers, which we all expected.”

    He called the bill “a good work in progress.”

    “The point I’m saying is, what CBO did was they validated,” Ryan said. “We’re extremely excited about this and I’m really actually frankly encouraged.”

    In its report released Monday, the CBO estimated that 24 million people would lose their insurance over the next 10 years under the repeal bill. It also estimated that the bill would save the government $6 billion dollars and reduce the federal deficit by $337 billion dollars over the next 10 years.

    On Sunday, Ryan predicted that the report would estimate a drop in coverage, but agreed with President Donald Trump’s comment that the 2018 midterm elections will be a “bloodbath” for Republicans if they don’t pass the bill.

    “”Of course the CBO is going to say, if you’re not going to force people to buy something they don’t want to buy, they won’t buy it,” Ryan said. “That’s why you have those uninsured numbers, which we all expected.“”

    Yes, Paul Ryan was expecting these projections. And why not? He basically designed the whole plan. So as Paul Ryan made abundantly clear, the loss of health insurance coverage for tens of millions of people was the plan. The way Ryan spins it, those tens of millions will consist entirely of young people who didn’t want plans any. As Ryan recently put it, the number of people who will lose coverage under his plan ‘is up to the people’. As he put it, “You get it if you want it. That’s freedom.”

    So, according to Ryan, those 24 million people who are about to lose their health care insurance want to lose it. That actually happened. And then the CBO projections came out even worse than expected and Paul Ryan acted downright excited. That also happened. So you have to wonder how giddy Ryan is acting in secret after learning about the secret analysis by the White House that actually exceeded the CBO’s projections of lost coverage:

    Politico

    White House analysis of Obamacare repeal sees even deeper insurance losses than CBO

    By Paul Demko

    03/13/17 09:38 PM EDT

    The White House’s own internal analysis of the GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare show even steeper coverage losses than the projections by the Congressional Budget Office, according to a document viewed by POLITICO on Monday.

    The executive branch analysis forecast that 26 million people would lose coverage over the next decade, versus the 24 million CBO estimate — a finding that undermines White House efforts to discredit the forecasts from the nonpartisan CBO.

    The analysis found that under the American Health Care Act the coverage losses would include 17 million for Medicaid, six million in the individual market and three million in employer-based plans.

    A total of 54 million individuals would be uninsured in 2026 under the GOP plan, according to the White House analysis. That’s nearly double the number projected under current law.

    The White House and congressional Republicans have aggressively sought to undercut the CBO projection by pointing to how far off its coverage estimates for the Affordable Care Act ultimately proved. The nonpartisan budget office predicted that 21 million individuals would gain coverage through the exchange markets in 2016, but only about half that many actually enrolled.

    “We disagree strenuously with the report that was put out,” HHS Secretary Tom Price told reporters about the CBO after leaving a Cabinet meeting with Trump at the White House. “It’s just not believable is what we would suggest.” While serving as the House Budget Committee chairman, Price had a role in appointing the current head of the CBO who is a conservative economist.

    But that effort to discredit CBO’s projections is undermined by the fact that the White House’s own analysis reached a similar — and slightly bleaker — conclusion about how the GOP plan would increase the number of uninsured Americans.

    The document was not dated, but clearly referred to the bill currently being considered in the House. The bill was already under attack from both very conservative members who wanted it to go further, as well as moderates worried about coverage erosion particularly in Medicaid. The CBO number made the task of passing it even more challenging.

    “The executive branch analysis forecast that 26 million people would lose coverage over the next decade, versus the 24 million CBO estimate — a finding that undermines White House efforts to discredit the forecasts from the nonpartisan CBO.”

    Well that’s awkward.

    Of course, there’s one obvious path out of this trap of words that the White House has created for itself. And it’s the same path it’s been using all along when dealing with the CBO, BLS, and anything or anyone else that contradicts the spoken Truth of Trump: just declare that the White House’s secret internal projections were totally false and can’t be believed. Maybe a bunch of Obama moles were behind it! Or perhaps the CIA hacked the document and switched all the numbers. And don’t forget that George Soros could be secretly paying the White House’s analysts. There’s all sorts of implausibly plausible explanations. As long as you accept the underlining explanation: You can’t believe the Trump White House…except when you can.

    Is the Trump team ready to do what it takes and spin its way out of this situation by truly taking its public mind games to the next level? Do we even need to ask? Of course. They’re more than ready.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 13, 2017, 8:21 pm
  3. One of the more interesting and alarming aspects of the increasingly feudal nature of the Trump/GOP agenda is how the GOP transitioned from Trump leading the public like a political Pied Piper peddling “you can have your cake and eat it too” campaign rhetoric seamlessly and effectively into the political reality of the Paul Ryan “let them eat cake” real agenda. And now we have the White House leading the assault against the Congressional Budget Office’s credibility after the CBO’s dire projections of the impact Ryan/Trump Obamacare replacement plan while Paul Ryan celebrates the CBO findings as a everything going to plan. Some sort of Orwell award is clearly warranted at this point, and it looks like the Senate GOP would like to share in that award:

    Talking Points Memo
    DC

    Senate GOP: CBO Is Terrible, Except When It Makes Us Look Good

    By Alice Ollstein
    Published March 14, 2017, 3:32 PM EDT

    The Republican response to the highly-anticipated Congressional Budget Office report on the GOP health care bill—which found it would cause 24 million people to lose their health insurance over a decade—has been all over the map.

    Some trumpeted the CBO’s estimate that the bill would lower the deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars and bring health insurance premiums down over time. Others questioned the office’s credibility, calling the report incomplete, or rejecting the findings all together.

    On Tuesday, the Senate’s Republican leaders did a little of each.

    After a closed-door lunch with Vice President Mike Pence and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told reporters that the CBO score vindicated Republicans’ fiscal promises for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

    “It shows we have a pathway to lower premiums, lower taxes, lower deficits, and the most significant entitlement reform in history,” McConnell said.

    Minutes later, from the same podium, with McConnell standing by his side, Sen. Roy Blunt (D-MO) said the CBO is not a credible source of information.

    “The Congressional Budget Office is notoriously bad at anticipating what’s going to happen in the marketplace,” he said. “They’re sometimes not even good at adding and subtracting.”

    Reporters pressed the Senate leadership on this dual message, noting that they are treating the parts of the CBO report that they like as trustworthy while dismissing as flawed the parts that make them look bad.

    McConnell responded by doubling down. “The part I think is an accurate reflection is the tax reduction, the likelihood of premiums going down, and the Medicaid reforms,” he said. “What Senator Blunt pointed out that it’s pretty hard to predict coverage when the government stops telling you that you have to buy something you may not want.”

    Cost and coverage, however, are inextricably intertwined. You can’t dismiss one and accept the other, because the total number of people covered by the AHCA would have a huge impact on the cost to the federal government. The lower health insurance premiums McConnell is celebrating are also linked to millions of people losing their health insurance. If older, sicker people can’t afford coverage and opt to go without it, premiums will go down for those who remain in the health insurance pool.

    “McConnell responded by doubling down. “The part I think is an accurate reflection is the tax reduction, the likelihood of premiums going down, and the Medicaid reforms,” he said. “What Senator Blunt pointed out that it’s pretty hard to predict coverage when the government stops telling you that you have to buy something you may not want.””

    So that dual message the Senate GOP leadership is putting forward is that the fiscal savings the CBO projects are indeed accurate and should be trusted. But the projections of tens of millions of people losing their insurance coverage? That’s all bogus and you should trust it because the CBO is an untrustworthy source. Also, many of those people who are going to lose coverage want to lose that coverage. That’s the message.

    It’s a message very similar to Paul Ryan’s celebration of the CBO report coupled with his assertion that anyone who wants health insurance coverage will be able to get it under Trumpcare (so if you lose coverage it’s because you didn’t really want it. You wanted to lose it). It’s also a message designed to obscure the fact that the lower premiums projected by the CBO are inextricably intertwined with CBO’s projected loss of coverage…specifically loss of coverage for older and sicker people who simply won’t be afford to afford coverage once the GOP pulls the Obamacare subsidies rug out from under them:


    Cost and coverage, however, are inextricably intertwined. You can’t dismiss one and accept the other, because the total number of people covered by the AHCA would have a huge impact on the cost to the federal government. The lower health insurance premiums McConnell is celebrating are also linked to millions of people losing their health insurance. If older, sicker people can’t afford coverage and opt to go without it, premiums will go down for those who remain in the health insurance pool.

    Just remember: those older and sicker people who can’t afford coverage and opt to go with out it didn’t really want that coverage anyway and they’re very thankful that there’s no more Obamacare individual mandate. Yep.

    So it looks like the GOP is settling on a general rhetorical framework that will allow the party to frame the massive upcoming loss of health insurance as a celebration of freedom. The freedom to not have health insurance and buy an iPhone instead. That’s going to be the underlying message, and not just in the medium-term as the GOP tries to push its Trumpcare package through Congress. That’s going to be the GOP’s message for years and years to come. Is there a massive spike in the uninsured? Great! Everything is going according to plan. At least it seems like that’s going to be the message for years to come because it’s unclear what else they’re going to come with and it’s very clear that those years to come is going to include millions and millions of people involuntarily losing their insurance coverage. The GOP is going to have to say something, and “they wanted to lose their insurance” is about as good a fraud answer as anything else they’ve come up with.

    But as the House leadership scrambles to wrangle the support it needs from its far-right “Freedom Caucus” faction which wants Obamacare repealed with no subsidies or help for the poor at all, there’s another message emerging that could also be both a party unifier now and politically effective in coming years too as the health care coverage crisis the GOP is about to unleash specifically upon the Medicaid population grow and grows: Hey, look at how many people we’ve kicked off Medicaid after creating a mandatory work-requirement! All these people we kicked off Medicaid were clearly lazy layabouts who don’t want to work and now we’re going punish them for being so poor and lazy. Isn’t that great!:

    Talking Points Memo
    DC

    House Conservatives Say They’re Close To Winning Concessions On Repeal Bill

    By Alice Ollstein
    Published March 15, 2017, 5:01 PM EDT

    Dozens of conservative lawmakers in the House’s Republican Study Committee huddled behind closed doors in the basement of the Capitol Wednesday with Vice President Mike Pence to discuss their imperiled Obamacare repeal bill—which has been lambasted by moderates and conservatives alike.

    When the lawmakers emerged, they expressed confidence that the White House supports the changes they are demanding: freezing the Medicaid expansion in 2018 instead of 2020, and imposing a work requirement on low-income Americans receiving Medicaid.

    “Ultimately, we were told today that we should be hopeful as far as having some of this incorporated into the bill,” RSC chairman Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) (pictured) told reporters. “We’re as hopeful as we’ve ever been.”

    Even as hardline conservatives, moderate Republicans, and Trump loyalists continue to come out against the bill, Walker said the changes to its Medicaid provisions would bring his 170-member group on board. The RSC includes many of the the most conservative Republicans in the House.

    “The RSC in general is very close to signing off,” he said. “Our ultimate goal is a unanimous vote of support.”

    Walker and several other members of the RSC emphasized their desire to amend the bill—either in the Rules Committee or on the House floor—to make any able-bodied adult currently enrolled in Medicaid have to prove employment in order to qualify for health insurance.

    “We’re trying to make sure we’re weeding out those with upward mobility,” Walker told reporters. “It’s very crucial that this has some teeth to it, because what you don’t want is for the money to be rationed out among a larger amount of people.”

    Citing the example of his own brother, who is blind, Walker said throwing people off Medicaid who are able to work but don’t leaves the program with more funding “to take care of the aged and disabled.”

    Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-GA) was one of several members to voice support for the work requirement. “If we can add that, I believe it will help pass the bill and make Americans more comfortable with it,” he said.

    A study released in 2016 by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities found that most Medicaid recipients who are physically able to work already do so, and imposing a work requirement for enrollees would do nothing to increase the work force in the long term. “Its main effect likely would be the loss of health coverage for substantial numbers of people who are unable to work or face major barriers to finding and retaining employment,” the study found.

    The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that only 27 percent of Medicaid recipients are adults without disabilities, and 60 percent of that group are already working. Many of those not employed care for a family member full-time, have a criminal record, live in an area without job opportunities, or face other “major impediments” to employment.

    This week, the Trump administration announced it will allow individual states, if they wish, to impose some form of a work requirement on their Medicaid recipients. The members of the Republican Study Committee hope to make this policy mandatory, and national.

    “A work requirement would gather support from a lot of conservatives,” Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN) told reporters.

    Rep. Glen Grothman (R-WI) added that it “wouldn’t shock” him if the provision was soon added to the House bill.

    As is, the House bill would cut nearly $900 billion dollars from Medicaid and drop more than 14 million people from its rolls over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office. If conservatives win the concessions of imposing a work requirement and speeding the conversion of the program into block grants handed out to state, those numbers could increase substantially.

    Walker said he believes moderate Republicans in the House, particularly those in the Tuesday Group, can be coaxed on board with their proposals. He added that while his colleagues originally wanted to push for more extreme changes to the bill, such as gutting the Essential Health Benefits requirement that insurance plans cover a set of basic services, including contraception and maternity care, but decided to focus on “easier and quicker” Medicaid reforms first.

    Loudermilk also admitted that that he will not get his full wish list in this bill.

    “America is not ready for the health care reform I want, which is to get this city totally out of the health care business altogether,” he told reporters. “Because you even have conservatives out there asking us to do things like arrange insurance sales across state lines, cover pre-existing conditions, and keep children on their parents’ plan until they’re 26. So even conservatives want some federal interventions. But we still have to shift the needle in the right direction.”

    “Walker and several other members of the RSC emphasized their desire to amend the bill—either in the Rules Committee or on the House floor—to make any able-bodied adult currently enrolled in Medicaid have to prove employment in order to qualify for health insurance.

    And note that the proposed Medicaid proof-of-employment requirement isn’t just for the people covered under the Medicaid expansion. This would be for everyone on Medicaid. At least those that are deemed able-bodied (even if their bodies are barely able to function or heal). And if the Republican Study Committee gets what it wants, this proof-of-employment requirement isn’t going to be simply optional for states. It’ll be a national mandate for all Medicaid recipients:


    This week, the Trump administration announced it will allow individual states, if they wish, to impose some form of a work requirement on their Medicaid recipients. The members of the Republican Study Committee hope to make this policy mandatory, and national

    So the big gift to the House GOP’s faction of far-right Trumnpcare hold outs is going to be putting in place a system that will make it easier to kick people off Medicaid. A LOT easier because for many of the unemployed on Medicaid employment isn’t really an option for a variety of reasons:


    A study released in 2016 by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities found that most Medicaid recipients who are physically able to work already do so, and imposing a work requirement for enrollees would do nothing to increase the work force in the long term. “Its main effect likely would be the loss of health coverage for substantial numbers of people who are unable to work or face major barriers to finding and retaining employment,” the study found.

    The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that only 27 percent of Medicaid recipients are adults without disabilities, and 60 percent of that group are already working. Many of those not employed care for a family member full-time, have a criminal record, live in an area without job opportunities, or face other “major impediments” to employment.

    “Many of those not employed care for a family member full-time, have a criminal record, live in an area without job opportunities, or face other “major impediments” to employment.”

    Got a major impediment to employment? That’s nice. Please go die in a ditch somewhere. You’re free now.” That’s going to be the GOP message to poor Americans, to be paired with a “look at how many horrible lazy people we kicked off Medicaid! Doesn’t it feel great to know all these horrible people aren’t getting a dime of your tax-dollars? Also, they didn’t really want health insurance…otherwise they would have gotten a job” message for everyone else.

    Well, almost everyone else. The GOP’s real constituency will get an additional message.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 15, 2017, 8:18 pm
  4. Now that the Trump Administration officially proposed a budget apparently designed to kick the poor to death and the GOP continues to rally around the idea of creating a national work-requirement for Medicaid recipients, one of the many questions worth asking at this point has to do with one of the cruelest comments made by an elected GOPer thus far in our Trumpian era: Rep. Jason Chaffetz’s suggestions that poor people who won’t be able to afford health care under Trumpcare can blame themselves because they splurge all their money on new iPhones. So are all those “Obamaphones” – cell phones provided by the federal government to the poor through a program started by Ronald Reagan that continues today – that the GOP spent years fraudulently whining going away too under a Trump administration? Because if work requirements for the unemployed poor are going to be required just to get basic government assistance for things like health care, all those unemployed people are going to need, you know, jobs. And it’s not easy to get a job without getting a phone first:

    The Washington Post

    Jason Chaffetz’s iPhone comment revives the ‘poverty is a choice’ argument

    By Philip Bump
    March 7, 2017

    It’s much easier to deal with poverty if you can convince yourself that the impoverished brought it on themselves. Nearly everyone would concur that those who suffer from poverty through no fault of their own deserve support from others, either through nonprofit or public sector assistance. But if they’re poor because of their own bad decisions? They have to fend for themselves.

    Coupled with guilt about the struggles of poor Americans, that instinct leads to an awkward place. There’s a psychological reward to looking for reasons that the poor aren’t really poor: It allows you to then more easily leave those less fortunate to their fate. For those disinclined to want the government to spend resources addressing poverty, the same reward is in effect. Drug-testing welfare recipients, stories about those on food stamps splurging on high-cost items, even reports from the Heritage Foundation pointing out that most poor people own televisions — all have the same net effect. To some extent, the poor are responsible for their own poverty, and therefore, it’s less urgent or unnecessary for us to be.

    On Tuesday morning, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) appeared on CNN’s “New Day” program to discuss the Republicans’ proposed alternative to the Affordable Care Act and made a variant on that argument.

    GOP Rep. Chaffetz: Americans may need to choose between "new iphone… they just love" and investing in health care https://t.co/5Hxwn2uOl5— New Day (@NewDay) March 7, 2017

    Asked by host Alisyn Camerota if people would lose coverage under the proposal, Chaffetz responded:

    “We are getting rid of the individual mandate. We are getting rid of those things that people said that they don’t want. And, you know what? Americans have choices. And they’ve got to make a choice. So maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and they want to go spend hundreds of dollars on, maybe they should invest that in health care. They’ve got to make those decisions themselves.”

    Interestingly, the first part of Chaffetz’s claim was undercut by new polling from CNN itself. With its polling partner ORC, the network found that Americans are split on the mandate that individuals have health coverage. Fifty percent oppose the stipulation and 48 percent favor it. Even 45 percent of Republicans support keeping the mandate, which makes some sense given that that aspect of what we now call Obamacare evolved from a conservative proposal.

    But it was Chaffetz’s next statement that curdled social media: “Rather than getting that new iPhone … maybe they should invest that in health care.” Chaffetz doesn’t specifically say “the poor should make better choices,” but the implication is clear. If you have only limited money to spend, you should spend it more wisely.

    There are a lot of problems with the choice that Chaffetz presents. For one, an iPhone can be a one-time cost, while health-care spending is recurring. For another, the cost of a new phone pales in comparison to the cost of health care or health insurance. He intentionally uses “iPhone” instead of cellphone, since a new, unsubsidized iPhone is at the pricier end of the cellphone cost scale, at about $700. But a year of health insurance for an individual is over $6,000. Put another way, an iPhone is only slightly more than a month of insurance. And that gap has increased. In 2014, the New York Times pointed out that costs for consumer goods had decreased over time, while costs for things like health care have risen.

    Chaffetz also falls into the trap that we outlined at the beginning. He’s judging one particular luxury cost against something that he positions as more important and responsible. One can pit health insurance costs against other spending, too, by reframing Chaffetz’s quote: Rather than paying rent, maybe they should invest that in health care. Rather than paying for a tutor, maybe they should invest that in health care. Rather than visiting family, maybe they should invest that in health care. Rather than paying for cable, maybe they should invest that in health care.

    A key challenge to poverty is that decisions about how to spend money and the struggles of prioritizing are constant. Some of those decisions are bad ones over the long-term, certainly, as are some of anyone’s. But some are nearly existential.

    Chaffetz is framing his choice on terms that position the poor as ignorant and wasteful so that he can bolster the case for revamping health care policy. But “iPhone” is a particularly weird foil for that argument. A smartphone is not a luxury, it’s a critical tool of modern society. The newest iPhone isn’t critical, but some smartphone is, particularly in households without Internet access otherwise. Recognizing that necessity, the government provides subsidies for phone and Internet service to those who participate in welfare programs. This, of course, was the much-derided “Obamaphone” program — actually called “Lifeline” — which originated under President Reagan.

    The pejorative “Obamaphone” formulation often ran alongside another aspect of the debate over supporting poor Americans: The presumption that most of the poor are black. While poverty rates are higher among black Americans, far more poor Americans are white. They are often, in a real sense, the base of demographic support that pushed President Trump to the White House: whites without college educations. Chaffetz is implicitly chastising this group for making bad economic choices.

    “Chaffetz is framing his choice on terms that position the poor as ignorant and wasteful so that he can bolster the case for revamping health care policy. But “iPhone” is a particularly weird foil for that argument. A smartphone is not a luxury, it’s a critical tool of modern society. The newest iPhone isn’t critical, but some smartphone is, particularly in households without Internet access otherwise. Recognizing that necessity, the government provides subsidies for phone and Internet service to those who participate in welfare programs. This, of course, was the much-derided “Obamaphone” program — actually called “Lifeline” — which originated under President Reagan.

    Want all those unemployed poor people to find work before they can get Medicaid (or any other government assistance, which is the Paul Ryan end game)? Want them to be able to email those resumes and send emails back and forth with potential employers? Well, that’s going to require a very specific kind of assistance: “Obamaphones” a.k.a “Reaganphones”.

    So what’s the status of the “Obamaphone”/”Reaganphone” program under Trump? Do we even need to ask?

    Salon

    From “Obamaphones” to an attack on internet access: The strange afterlife of a right-wing meme
    Under Trump, a program subsidizing internet access for low-income Americans may be threatened. Thanks, Obama!

    Amanda Marcotte
    Tuesday, Feb 7, 2017 9:59 AM UTC

    This past summer the United Nations declared that internet access is a human right, releasing a nonbinding resolution that unequivocally condemns “measures to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online in violation of international human rights law” This resolution came after Barack Obama had said in 2015 that “high-speed broadband is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.”

    While many nations — including Russia, China and Saudi Arabia — refused to sign last summer’s U.N. resolution, the United States did sign it and Obama’s administration made a number of moves to expand internet access to low-income Americans, as many of them struggle to pay for even the most basic level of service.

    Last March the Federal Communications Commission made an important move to help achieve Obama’s goals, approving a plan to make broadband more affordable for low-income households. But now Ajit Pai, whom Donald Trump picked to chair the Federal Communications Commission, appears to be making moves to take away the affordable internet access plans.

    Late Friday in a move Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn characterized as a “Friday news dump,” Pai told nine internet companies they are no longer allowed to provide low-cost internet service to people who qualify.

    In a defensive statement, Pai justified cutting poor people off from internet access by declaring that the original program was “controversial” and characterizing it as one of many “midnight regulations” authorized by his Obama-appointed predecessor, Tom Wheeler.

    “Access to broadband is increasingly critical for all Americans, no matter who they are or where they live,” Pai wrote last week, in one of his first statements as FCC chair. But blocking nine companies from providing subsidized internet access to poor people casts real doubt on his sincerity.

    Pai’s own past suggests that he has been a longtime skeptic of efforts to expand broadband access to lower-income people. Pai also appears to have developed an unsubtle bitterness toward Wheeler and anyone who worked to make internet affordable for the working poor in this country.

    First, some history: The program that Wheeler was using to expand internet access is called Lifeline and was started in 1985, when Ronald Reagan was president. Lifeline was initially intended for making telephone service available to low-income people. Throughout multiple presidential administrations, it was a little-known, inexpensive and uncontroversial program.

    Then Matt Drudge, one-man disseminator of race-baiting urban legends, stepped in.

    As Think Progress editor-in-chief Judd Legum chronicled in 2012, the Drudge Report ran a racist headline portraying black people as ignorant welfare cheats.

    Rush Limbaugh soon joined in, claiming, “She may not know who George Washington is or Abraham Lincoln, but she knows how to get an Obama phone.”

    And with that, the right-wing legend of the “Obamaphone” — this supposed program of free government phones for supposed welfare leeches — was born.

    As Legum pointed out, the whole “Obamaphone” thing was pure, uncut nonsense. Yes, lower-income people could apply for the Lifeline program that made it easier to obtain more affordable service — but the program was begun during a Republican presidency and continued through three subsequent administrations of both parties. Yes, the Lifeline program had been changed so that people could opt for cellphones instead of landlines — a commonsense innovation reflecting how modern people use phones — but that change was instituted in 2008, during the presidency of George W. Bush.

    As we ought to understand by now, truth can never be allowed to stand in the way of a racist right-wing legend. Conservative outrage over the Lifeline program exploded. And in 2016, when the Obama administration actually did make a move to expand the Lifeline program to cover internet as well as phone service, conservatives like Pai — who was then an FCC commissioner — were ready to put up a fight.

    Pai and his fellow Republican commissioner, Mike O’Rielly, immediately tried to kneecap Wheeler’s efforts. Pai proposed setting a spending cap of $1.75 billion on the Lifeline program, which Phillip Berenbroick and Meredith Filak Rose at Public Knowledge, an organization that promotes expanding internet access, argued would have crippled its ability to provide adequate phone and internet access to low-income people.

    “If one wanted to design a Lifeline plan that leaves tens-of-millions of the most vulnerable Americans without access to basic telephone service in the near term, without line of sight to Lifeline-supported broadband service in the long term,” Berenbroick and Rose wrote, “Commissioner Pai’s plan is a blueprint for what to do.”

    They noted that providing the telephone service has in some years cost more than $1.75 billion on its own, so Pai’s cap would have made it impossible to provide help to everyone who needs it. In addition, Pai attempted to set the pricing for Lifeline plans so high that they probably would not be affordable to most low-income families, even with the subsidy.

    Pai and his fellow commissioner, Clyburn, worked out an initial compromise, but under pressure from Democrats, Clyburn dropped the compromise and voted for a more expansive program. Now millions of people who make $16,281 a year or less can get a subsidy of $9.25 a month to help pay for broadband or phone service but not for both.

    Yep, this program gives low-income people less than 10 bucks a month. Pai threw a massive tantrum anyway, complaining that pressure from “the usual gaggle of left-wing, Beltway special interests” had led to “failure to clean up the waste, fraud and abuse” in a program that makes it slightly less expensive for poor people to receive internet access and phone service.

    Now Pai is the FCC’s chairman and already he’s blocking companies from offering these subsidized plans. Pai has claimed that his move is about reducing — you guessed it! — “waste, fraud, and abuse.” Considering his history, there’s reason to believe this is the opening shot in a longer-term plan to make it more difficult for low-income people to go online.

    Internet access makes it easier for lower-income Americans to obtain jobs, keep up with the news, participate in politics, maintain social networks and even just pay bills and run other errands that can suck up precious time, a commodity in short supply for the working poor. There might, of course, be reasons why conservatives don’t want them doing all those things.

    “They noted that providing the telephone service has in some years cost more than $1.75 billion on its own, so Pai’s cap would have made it impossible to provide help to everyone who needs it. In addition, Pai attempted to set the pricing for Lifeline plans so high that they probably would not be affordable to most low-income families, even with the subsidy.

    Yep, Trump’s FCC chief has a plan for the “Obamaphone”/”Reaganphone” program: price the poorest out of the phone market even with subsidies Pai wants to cut.

    So if you’re really poor and scrambling for employment so you don’t die from a lack of health care get ready to spend more than you can afford on one of the basic services required to get a job these days: cell phone service. It’ll be a de facto government mandate in our Trumpian future so presumably Jason Chaffetz won’t complain.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 17, 2017, 6:55 pm
  5. With the Trump administration’s scorched earth budget proposal – which decimates almost all federal discretionary spending and slashes programs vital to rural poor voters who make up a key segment of the Trump/GOP electoral base to pay for increased defense spending – facing opposition even from some congressional GOPers who fear the backlash from these cuts and other GOPers who don’t feel it increases defense spending enough, it’s worth keeping in mind that it was already clear that there was going to be a major showdown between the Trump White House and his congressional colleagues well before this budget proposal was released. Specifically, a showdown over how Trump was going to keep his pledge to not cut Social Security and Medicare despite the fact that Congress writes the actual budget and the GOP has long made “entitlement reform” (cuts to Social Security and Medicare) a top policy objective:

    The New York Times

    Trump and Paul Ryan Head for a Clash Over the Budget, and Ideology

    By JENNIFER STEINHAUER
    FEB. 27, 2017

    WASHINGTON — President Trump’s proposal to slash domestic spending in order to preserve the two biggest drains on the federal government — Social Security and Medicare — has set up a battle to determine who now controls the Republican Party’s ideology.

    The outcome could map the course of major challenges to come, including a revision of the tax code, a huge increase in infrastructure spending and any effort to balance the budget.

    Since the start of his insurgent campaign, Mr. Trump has opposed his party’s long-held positions on a range of policies, including free trade, how to deal with Russia and the future of government entitlement programs.

    Mr. Trump’s budget blueprint — which is expected to be central to his address to Congress on Tuesday night — sets up a striking clash with the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, who has made a career out of pressing difficult truths on federal spending. For years, Mr. Ryan has maintained that to tame the budget deficit without tax increases and prevent draconian cuts to federal programs, Congress must be willing to change, and cut, the programs that spend the most money — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

    But Mr. Trump, in a dogged effort to fulfill his campaign promises, has turned that logic on its head in the budget outline he is expected to present to Congress this week. That blueprint would make good on his promise to increase spending on the military and law enforcement by $100 billion over the next 18 months. And it would extract all of the savings he can from the one part of the budget already most squeezed, domestic discretionary spending, potentially decimating programs in education, poverty alleviation, science and health.

    “For Paul Ryan, this seems to be the opportunity he has been waiting for and working for for years,” said Douglas Elmendorf, the recently departed director of the Congressional Budget Office and current dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. “But Paul Ryan’s budget plans with cuts to Social Security and Medicare are not that popular with most voters, and what helped elect Donald Trump was the promise not to cut benefits and programs, and that is an unresolved tension.”

    None of this should be a real surprise: Mr. Trump repeatedly said during the campaign that Republican promises to transform Medicare, and slash entitlement spending, were the reason the party lost the White House in 2012, helpfully name-checking Mr. Ryan, who sat at the bottom of the ticket that year, in his analysis.

    But Republicans in Congress had hoped that reality, combined with the influence of the two former Republican House members in Mr. Trump’s cabinet — Tom Price, now head of health and human services, and Mick Mulvaney, his budget director — would have led to new conclusions. Social Security, health care and net interest now comprise nearly 60 percent of all federal spending, and that figure is expected to soar to 82 percent over the next 10 years; Mr. Mulvaney and Mr. Price have long been advocates for pruning.

    This is not simply a fight for an ideological core — it is a question of what can pass Congress. A budget with no entitlement cuts and one that does not balance most likely has no chance of passing the House, and could be rejected by Senate Republicans, as well. Mr. Trump’s proposals are too far to the right in terms of domestic cuts and too far to the left in terms of balance.

    If Congress fails to pass a budget blueprint for the fiscal year that begins in October, Mr. Trump’s promise to drastically rewrite the tax code could also die because the president was counting on that budget resolution to include special parliamentary language that would shield his tax cuts from a Democratic filibuster. Without it, any tax legislation would have to be bipartisan enough to clear the Senate with 60 votes.

    “President Trump has talked about deeper domestic spending cuts than even House and Senate Republicans have talked about,” said Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and federal budget expert who recently worked for Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio.

    “I think to a certain degree congressional Republicans understand they are going to have to drive the train on balancing the budget,” Mr. Riedl said. “The question is how far they can go with Trump in the White House. They certainly don’t expect him to barnstorm the country talking about how to rein in federal spending.”

    Good luck with that, Mr. Elmendorf said. “The Republican establishment has consistently overestimated its ability to move Donald Trump to the positions it supports,” he said.

    Democrats, of course, will be no friend to these proposals, and may be needed for some of them such as major military spending increases.

    “Democrats will make crystal clear the misplaced priorities of the administration and the Republican majority,” said Representative Nita M. Lowey of New York, the highest-ranking Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, “and we will fight tooth and nail to protect services and investments that are critical to hardworking American families and communities across the country.”

    The one thing that might get Republicans off the hook: big tax cuts. Should they find a way to do that without Democrats by employing a procedural maneuver that requires a mere majority vote in the Senate, the whole question of cuts in spending or programs may be pushed to another day.

    “This is not simply a fight for an ideological core — it is a question of what can pass Congress. A budget with no entitlement cuts and one that does not balance most likely has no chance of passing the House, and could be rejected by Senate Republicans, as well. Mr. Trump’s proposals are too far to the right in terms of domestic cuts and too far to the left in terms of balance

    Yep, in addition to the tensions within the GOP between elected officials fearing a voter backlash over cuts that could seriously harm their constituents and those fearing a voter backlash for budget not increasing military spending more (which is also an argument for more cuts in spending elsewhere) the Trump budget is also going to facing widespread GOP opposition to the fact that it doesn’t include entitlement cuts too. And as the article noted, Paul Ryan himself has long championed entitlement cuts as an alternative to exactly the kind of draconian cuts to discretionary programs that the Trump budget proposes:


    Mr. Trump’s budget blueprint — which is expected to be central to his address to Congress on Tuesday night — sets up a striking clash with the House speaker, Paul D. Ryan, who has made a career out of pressing difficult truths on federal spending. For years, Mr. Ryan has maintained that to tame the budget deficit without tax increases and prevent draconian cuts to federal programs, Congress must be willing to change, and cut, the programs that spend the most money — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

    If there’s one thing that can unify the two dueling factions of the GOP – those wanting fewer cuts to discretionary programs and those wanting more cuts to pay for higher military spending – it’s entitlement cuts. That’s the grand unifyer for a Trump budget. Instead of devastating almost every discretionary federal program just cut entitlments instead. Paul Ryan is already on board with that idea and it’s hard to see why the rest of the GOP wouldn’t be more than happy to come around to that kind of ‘compromise’.

    But, of course, there’s the many campaign promises Trump made about no cuts to Social Security at all. So what’s going to yield? Well, it turns out Trump’s Budget Chief, Mick Mulvaney, gave us an idea shortly before the unveiling of Trump’s budget. All Trump needs to do is tweak his ‘saving Social Security and Medicare without any cuts’ pledge in a couple simple ways: Make it a ‘save Social Security and Medicare with no cuts to current Social Security and Medicare recipients or those about to qualify in the near future but cuts for everyone else’ pledge.

    Could that approach work in terms of unifying Trump with the congressional GOP for his first budget? We’ll find out soon since Mulvaney already said he’s going to propose exactly that kind of ‘entitlement reform’ tweak to Trump’s campaign pledges just as soon as the first budget proposal is done (and it’s now done):

    The Hill

    Budget chief: Trump could review entitlement reform after first budget

    By Sylvan Lane – 03/06/17 11:39 AM EST

    Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said Monday that President Trump could soon review potential reforms to Social Security and Medicare — but he stressed that the reforms under consideration wouldn’t touch payments for current beneficiaries.

    Mulvaney said he plans to prepare several entitlement reform proposals for Trump after finishing the White House’s first budget outline proposal this week. Mulvaney previously said the top-line budget proposal wouldn’t address entitlements.

    Mulvaney, a fiscal hawk, said he’s trying to garner support for entitlement reform that follows Trump’s campaign promise not to touch Social Security and Medicare payments for current recipients.

    “I’ve already started to socialize the discussion around here in the West Wing about how important the mandatory spending is to the drivers of our debt,” Mulvaney told radio host Hugh Hewitt in a Monday interview. “People are starting to grab it.”

    “There are ways that we can not only allow the president to keep his promise, but to help him keep his promise by fixing some of these mandatory programs.”

    Mulvaney has been expected to clash with Trump over federal spending. Democrats claimed Mulvaney’s past efforts in Congress of seeking sweeping budget cuts and entitlement reform conflicted with Trump’s promise not to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits, boost military spending and spend billions on infrastructure.

    Social Security and Medicare are the two biggest federal expenditures. The U.S. federal debt is close to $20 trillion.

    Mulvaney said Trump wasn’t likely to propose raising the age at which someone could retire and receive full entitlement benefits. Instead, he floated changes to Social Security disability payments, which Mulvaney called “one of the fastest growing and probably one of the most abused mandatory programs in the country.”

    “Mulvaney, a fiscal hawk, said he’s trying to garner support for entitlement reform that follows Trump’s campaign promise not to touch Social Security and Medicare payments for current recipients.”

    And that’s the plan. At least all signs are pointing towards that being the plan. Soon:


    Mulvaney said he plans to prepare several entitlement reform proposals for Trump after finishing the White House’s first budget outline proposal this week. Mulvaney previously said the top-line budget proposal wouldn’t address entitlements.

    “I’ve already started to socialize the discussion around here in the West Wing about how important the mandatory spending is to the drivers of our debt,” Mulvaney told radio host Hugh Hewitt in a Monday interview. “People are starting to grab it.”

    There are ways that we can not only allow the president to keep his promise, but to help him keep his promise by fixing some of these mandatory programs.”

    That sure sounds like those discussions are already happening which means talk about gutting Social Security and Medicare for ‘younger Americans’ is probably going to be coming soon. Although note Mulvaney’s example of the kind of cuts to Social Security Trump could apparently make while still sticking to his campaign ‘no cuts’ pledge: cutting Social Security disability fund (presumably by declaring people not actually disabled and kicking them off of it):


    Mulvaney said Trump wasn’t likely to propose raising the age at which someone could retire and receive full entitlement benefits. Instead, he floated changes to Social Security disability payments, which Mulvaney called “one of the fastest growing and probably one of the most abused mandatory programs in the country.”

    So could kicking people off of it under the banner of ending ‘abuse’ of the program be the kind of start to first step in the GOP’s long-held dreams of rolling back Social Security and Medicare? Well, let’s not forget that on the first day of Congress in 2015 the GOP threatened to hold the disability fund hostage unless Congress and President Obama agreed to a much larger Social Security reform package. Might cuts to the Social Security disability program, in exchange for fewer cuts to other discretionary programs and more defense spending, be the GOP compromise that eventually unifies the GOP? Perhaps, but don’t be surprised if cuts to the general Social Security retirement fund are also part of the package since GOPers, including Trump’s budget chief Mick Mulvaney, are already trying to come up with rationalizations for how cuting Social Security and Medicare actually counts as sticking to Trump’s campaign pledges:

    The Washington Post

    White House Budget Director Mulvaney: I’m getting president to ‘look at’ entitlement reform

    By David Weigel
    March 6, 2017

    Mick Mulvaney, the new director of the Office of Management and Budget, told a conservative radio host today that he is looking for ways to reform Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, working around President Trump’s campaign trail promise to leave the programs untouched.

    “I’ve already started to socialize the discussion around here in the West Wing about how important the mandatory spending is to the drivers of our debt,” Mulvaney told Hugh Hewitt on Monday morning. “I think people are starting to grab it. There are ways that we can not only allow the president to keep his promise, but to help him keep his promise by fixing some of these mandatory programs.”

    Mulvaney, a budget hawk elected to Congress in the 2010 tea party wave, came to OMB with ideas about entitlement spending that diverged widely from Trump’s. At his January hearing, he told senators that he still favored raising the Social Security retirement age to 70, and supported means-testing to reduce Medicare spending. As a congressman, he was the main supporter of the unsuccessful Cut, Cap and Balance Act, which would have raised the debt limit only if it came with the passage of a balanced-budget amendment.

    At the hearing, Mulvaney acknowledged that he disagreed with Trump on entitlement reform. “I have no reason to believe the president has changed his mind,” he said. “My job is to be completely and brutally honest with him.”

    In the interview with Hewitt, who is also a Washington Post op-ed contributor, Mulvaney suggested that his education campaign was well underway. “As soon as the 2018 spending budget is done at the end of next week, I’m hoping to put together something for the president to look at on the other pieces of entitlement spending, or mandatory spending,” he said. “Some people don’t like the word ‘entitlement.’ I use that simply because we are entitled to that under law. It doesn’t mean it’s, some people misinterpret what that means, but try and lay out for the president what’s driving the deficit, and what we can do while still keeping his promise.”

    During the campaign, as he made significant breakthroughs with working-class white voters who had voted for Barack Obama for president, Trump repeatedly bucked the conservative consensus on entitlement reform. “It is my intention to leave Social Security as it is,” Trump said at a March 2016 Republican debate. In the past two months, members of the Democratic caucus, led by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have thrown Trump’s quotes back at Republicans, arguing that any reforms that reduce payouts will break the president’s promise.

    “Trump said, ‘I will save Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security, without cuts. We have to do it,’ ” Sanders said last month at an event commemorating Social Security’s anniversary. “I think Trump was as clear as he can be, and if he goes back on that, he was lying to the American people.”

    But Republicans, who generally favor deep cuts to entitlements, have increasingly argued that Trump could make good on his promises by signing on to reform.

    “He did talk about saving Medicare and Social Security, and as someone who was on the campaign trail with him in November, it was really about making sure that people who were getting benefits, or about to get benefits, are protected,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said in a roundtable discussion with reporters last month. “That is consistent with where we are; that’s consistent with where the president not only has been, but is. If we do nothing, we will not save Medicare and Social Security.”

    Mulvaney, too, has said that any Republican reform would be consistent with Trump’s promise, by defining the act of “saving” Social Security and Medicare as anything that allows them to meet obligations — even and especially if those obligations are reduced. On Monday, pushed for details by Hewitt, Mulvaney suggested that the replacement of sections of the Affordable Care Act could begin the process of unwinding entitlement spending.

    “Clearly, you can help fix and solve Medicaid as part of this larger Obamacare replacement, right, that the two things are tied together. So if we get Obamacare replacement right, it might also allow us to fix Medicaid,” Mulvaney said. “I don’t think you’re going to see this president have any interest in raising the retirement age anytime soon. But we need to address things like Social Security disability, which you and I both know is one of the fastest growing and probably one of the most abused mandatory programs in the country.”

    “But Republicans, who generally favor deep cuts to entitlements, have increasingly argued that Trump could make good on his promises by signing on to reform.”

    That sure sounds like benefit cuts are potentially on the table. Especially with Mulvaney backing it:


    “He did talk about saving Medicare and Social Security, and as someone who was on the campaign trail with him in November, it was really about making sure that people who were getting benefits, or about to get benefits, are protected,” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said in a roundtable discussion with reporters last month. “That is consistent with where we are; that’s consistent with where the president not only has been, but is. If we do nothing, we will not save Medicare and Social Security.”

    Mulvaney, too, has said that any Republican reform would be consistent with Trump’s promise, by defining the act of “saving” Social Security and Medicare as anything that allows them to meet obligations — even and especially if those obligations are reduced. On Monday, pushed for details by Hewitt, Mulvaney suggested that the replacement of sections of the Affordable Care Act could begin the process of unwinding entitlement spending.

    So, all in all, if you were wondering what on earth the White House was thinking when it released its scorched earth seemingly bloodthirsty budget proposal that would gut almost all federal programs designed to help people in need, keep in mind that it may have been done with the intent of eventually rolling back some of those proposed cuts as part of a big entitlement reform ‘grand bargain’. Maybe it will just start off with kicking people off Social Security disability. Or perhaps it will involve benefit cuts for the retirement fund too. Heck, maybe Medicare cuts will be involved. Who knows.

    And if it seems like it would just be too politically risky and toxic for Trump to go back on a signature campaign pledge, keep in mind that since Congress actually holds the purse strings it’s possible for the GOP to create a situation where they can at least attempt to say “We didn’t have a choice!”. Especially if, for instance, the GOP can’t actually come to an agreement over the 2018 budget and ends up facing the ‘fiscal cliff’ that risks defaulting of the US debt because Congress refuses to raise the debt ceiling. Under that kind of scenario the White House could potentially blame the ‘Freedom Caucus’ of far-right GOPers who come from ultra-conservative districts and face minimal political risk for creating a budget showdown with Trump. And of course they would all blame the Democrats. The GOP made debt ceiling showdowns with demands for entitlement cuts routine under President Obama. Could it happen with Trump in the White House? Well, considering that Mick Mulvaney was actually an advocate of exactly these kinds of ‘fiscal cliff’ budget showdowns while he was in Congress, as long as the GOP appears to be unable to come to any sort of consensus with itself it’s unclear why the GOP couldn’t hold itself hostage to demand entitlements cuts couldn’t happen:

    US News & World Report

    A Budget Crisis This Way Comes

    If you like Trump’s chaotic, mismanaged White House, you’ll love his pick for budget director.

    By Pat Garofalo | Assistant Managing Editor for Opinion
    Feb. 15, 2017, at 4:30 p.m.

    The first month or so of the Donald Trump administration has been, shall we say, messy. And with South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney at the reins in the Office of Management and Budget, the White House’s in-house budget shop, expect that chaos to be imported to the nation’s finances, too.

    Between haphazardly constructed executive orders, unnecessary squabbles with American companies over the Trump brand and whatever happened regarding former national security advisor Michael Flynn playing footsie with Russia, the administration has pinballed from one self-inflicted crisis to the next. In every instance, the mess could have easily been avoided had the Trump team any idea what it was doing or basic grasp of the consequences its decisions entailed.

    Enter Mulvaney, who is scheduled to face a final Senate confirmation vote on Thursday. Elected to Congress as part of the tea party wave in 2010, Mulvaney has been smack in the middle of the GOP movement to hold the nation’s debt ceiling – its very creditworthiness – hostage in an attempt to achieve other policy goals.

    To review, in both 2011 and 2013, congressional Republicans threatened to refuse to raise the debt ceiling should then-President Barack Obama not accede to their demands for deep spending cuts. Both times, cooler heads eventually prevailed, but at a substantial cost: According to the Government Accountability Office, the mere threat that the debt ceiling might not go up cost taxpayers $1.3 billion in higher borrowing costs in the 2011 fiscal year, and tens of millions of dollars in 2013 too. U.S. credit was downgraded for the first time ever simply because the whole tragicomedy took place.

    Remember, raising the debt ceiling doesn’t authorize new spending – it merely confirms that Congress will pay the bills it has already racked up. Failure to raise it, though, would lead to a host of consequences for the government, financial markets and the wider economy.

    Mulvaney, however, was unconcerned about the debt ceiling brinkmanship. In 2010, he said, “I have heard people say that if we don’t do it it will be the end of the world … I have yet to meet someone who can articulate the negative consequences.”

    He apparently didn’t look very hard for someone to explain it to him, though, because a month later he said he didn’t actually know what the consequences of such a move would be. But he was sure that the debt ceiling wasn’t worth raising absent other actions.

    One could certainly brush this off as the bloviating of a backbench congressman, especially since scoring points by caterwauling about the debt limit is a long bipartisan practice. But in his recent confirmation hearing, Mulvaney didn’t sound like a man who had learned many lessons from crises past.

    When asked about explaining the merits of the debt ceiling to a president who is very much not a details guy, Mulvaney said, “I will counsel the president as to the ramifications of raising the debt ceiling and of not raising the debt ceiling. … [I] look forward to conveying both – all of the arguments to him.” He also said the debt limit has “regularly been used” as a reason to reassess budget priorities, which sure sounds like an endorsement of using it to extract other policy promises.

    Keeping the specter of debt limit brinkmanship alive is a problem for Mulvaney because, first, it puts him on the opposite side of the issue from new Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who unambiguously said that the ceiling shouldn’t be a political football. But it’s also in line with Trump’s own flip-floppy treatment on the sanctity of the national debt, providing no confidence that the administration writ large understands with what it is dealing. During the 2016 campaign, Trump flirted with the idea of the U.S. intentionally defaulting on its debt, only to walk it back later – and, as is his wont, blame the media for not understanding that words have different meanings in his head than they do in the dictionary. And then he did it again.

    So the administration’s stance on whether the U.S. should honor its financial commitments is already as clear as mud, a problem which Mulvaney would do nothing to ameliorate. And he would be advising a famously malleable president, susceptible to parroting the position of whomever he spoke with last.

    Clarity, this is not.

    “Mulvaney, however, was unconcerned about the debt ceiling brinkmanship. In 2010, he said, “I have heard people say that if we don’t do it it will be the end of the world … I have yet to meet someone who can articulate the negative consequences.””

    That was Mulvaney’s justification for the GOP’s past threats to force a default on US debt unless Obama and the Democrats agreed to some sort of bipartisan (via hostage taking) entitlement cuts back when he was still in Congress. And it didn’t sound like becoming Trump’s budget director changed his views:


    When asked about explaining the merits of the debt ceiling to a president who is very much not a details guy, Mulvaney said, “I will counsel the president as to the ramifications of raising the debt ceiling and of not raising the debt ceiling. … [I] look forward to conveying both – all of the arguments to him.” He also said the debt limit has “regularly been used” as a reason to reassess budget priorities, which sure sounds like an endorsement of using it to extract other policy promises.

    Yeah, that definitely sounds like Mulvaney was basically saying, “well, there are some good points and bad points to debt ceiling hostage taking showdowns…I’ll be sure to explain that to President Trump.” And that was just a couple months ago. Now here we are with the Trump administration putting out a budget so brutal that even some GOPers can’t support it while other GOPers are demanding even more cuts. They’ve literally created a crisis where the only ‘fix’ that meets GOP orthodoxy is to cut entitlements instead.

    And this intra-GOP paralysis is all happening as the countdown for next debt ceiling has already begun, although the real debt ceiling deadline doesn’t hit until the Fall, so the looming debt showdown probably won’t be a factor. But as the article below reminds us, the debt ceiling showdown isn’t the only showdown worry about this year. Thanks to the fact that a budget resolution was never passed in 2016 for the 2017 year and a partial funding extension was passed in December that would only fund the federal government for its 2017 spending through April as a solution to the last budget showdown, there is now a looming April 28 deadline for Congress to come to an agreement to simply fund the federal government for the rest of 2017 and if that agreement isn’t reached by the end of next month a partial shutdown ensues. And that’s only two weeks after the April 15 deadline for Congress to arrive at its 2018 budget proposal and it’s not uncommon fro Congress to miss that April 15 deadline. So it’s not inconceivable that the April 28 deadline for avoiding a partial government shutdown for the rest of 2017 could overlap with the congressional negotiations over the 2018 budgets. It’s like a GOP hostage-taking eclipse:

    The Hill

    GOP faces daunting deadlines in 2017

    By Cristina Marcos – 12/14/16 06:00 AM EST

    Republicans and President-elect Donald Trump will face a slew of tough legislative deadlines next year.

    It will be an abrupt change from 2016, when lawmakers faced few make-or-break dates except for avoiding a government shutdown.

    One informal deadline for the GOP Congress is April 30, which would be Trump’s 100th full day in office, not including Inauguration Day.

    GOP lawmakers are eager to move as many top policy priorities for Trump as possible in his first 100 days, including repealing ObamaCare on his first day as president.

    Tax reform and an infrastructure investment bill are two other possible priorities for the new administration.

    The Senate will also be kept busy voting to confirm dozens of nominees to Trump’s administration.

    Beyond that informal deadline, Congress faces a number of specific deadlines that will require action.

    The first big one comes on March 16, when the current debt-limit deal expires.

    It’s the first time Congress will have to raise the $20 trillion debt ceiling since the 2015 budget deal brokered by then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and President Obama. That agreement suspended the debt limit for more than a year.

    The Treasury Department will likely use “extraordinary measures” to push the deadline for raising the ceiling until at least midsummer.

    It will be the first time since before the Tea Party movement that Republicans will deal with a debt-ceiling vote while they control both chambers of Congress and the White House.

    As a result, the responsibility will fall on their shoulders to raise the ceiling.

    Conservative Republicans repeatedly pushed the Obama White House to agree to spending cuts in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

    This time, they’ll have to negotiate with Trump. And Democrats will have little incentive to offer any help.

    Congress also faces an April 28 deadline to fund the government after it approved legislation last week to prevent a government shutdown.

    The negotiations over a spending package could consume valuable time and political capital when Republicans will be eager to move as many conservative policy initiatives as possible before the 100-day mark.

    Two other issues could play into the spending fight.

    Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who’s up for reelection in 2018 in a state that voted overwhelmingly for Trump, is sure to reprise his push for extending health benefits for coal miners that held up this month’s stopgap measure.

    New York lawmakers are also pushing for additional funds to reimburse New York City for the costs of securing Trump Tower.

    Republicans face an April 15 deadline for passing a budget.

    The congressional budget law directs that Congress agree to a concurrent budget resolution by mid-April.

    Republicans are indicating they’ll pass two budgets this year: one right out of the gate in January as a vehicle for repealing the healthcare law, and another to focus on tax reform. In order to use the legislative procedure known as reconciliation, which can’t be filibustered in the Senate, Congress must pass a budget resolution first.

    GOP leaders are aiming to conduct votes to undo ObamaCare during the opening days of the new Congress in January.

    “The congressional budget law directs that Congress agree to a concurrent budget resolution by mid-April.”

    Congressional law directs that Congress agree to a budget resolution by mid-April. That’s the law. Congress wrote it. And if the GOP abides by its own law this year it means we’re going to have two deperate showdowns two weeks apart, the April 15th budget resolution intra-GOP showdown and the April 28 showdown to finally resolve last year’s budget resolution (this is sad). And if the April 15th deadline isn’t met, that budget resolution debate could easily become another bargaining chip in the April 28th negotiations to avoid a partial shutdown of the federal government potentially for the rest of the year. All that has to happen is for the budget resolution not to be resolved by April 28 like what happened last year when the ‘Freedom Caucus’ refused to let Paul Ryan’s budget out of the Budget Committee as of April 29:

    Politico

    Ryan calls members-only meeting to hash out budget

    The speaker tries to break a stalemate with the Freedom Caucus.

    By John Bresnahan and Rachael Bade

    04/29/16 11:26 AM EDT

    House Republicans made progress toward a budget deal before skipping town for a weeklong recess Friday — though no agreement has been reached between GOP leaders and hardline conservative eager to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending.

    Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) called a members-only meeting Friday morning, clearing a room in the Capitol basement of all staff to allow lawmakers to hash out their differences.

    Conservatives want to cut $30 billion from a bipartisan budget agreement that outgoing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) struck with the White House last fall before his resignation. Ryan, however, knows that funding bills at that level will never pass the Senate, let alone win Obama’s signature.

    The internal dispute has led to a lengthy stalemate, with Ryan unable to move a proposal out of the Budget Committee because the right flank of his party refused to back those spending numbers — a problem that constantly plagued Boehner.

    It’s proved a huge embarrassment for the speaker, who as Budget Committee chairman harped on the need for the government to pass a budget and lay out its priorities to the country. Should the House fail to pass such a spending blueprint, they’d be the first Republican majority not to do so in the past two decades.

    So Ryan called Friday’s meeting in a last-ditch effort to do something to save the budget.

    During the 90-minute-plus session, lawmakers floated several ideas to grease the wheels for passage, though none were new and no overall deal was reached.

    Yet rank-and-file members were encouraged by the chance to hash out the issue, and senior Republicans predicted that passage of a budget resolution was far closer than it had been.

    It would also be a big boost for Ryan. The speaker has talked about House Republicans providing a “positive agenda” as an alternative to the bitter GOP presidential fight yet has been unable to execute one of the most basic functions of governance: proposing a budget plan. Ryan has been unwilling to force a showdown with the Freedom Caucus and budget hardliners, and is instead trying to persuade his colleagues to find a solution among themselves instead of having it imposed on them by leadership.

    One idea discussed in detail was what lawmakers are calling a “sidecar” package that would cut $30 billion — a sum identical to new spending tacked on in last year’s bipartisan budget deal — from mandatory programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) has crafted a bill based on proposals already approved by other panels and said he was ready to move on it.

    Conservatives like the idea. Rep. Andy Barr, a deputy in the conservative Republican Study Committee, said there is “actually some consensus that I feel is building about obviously doing a budget, but working on some ‘sidecar’ provision on mandatory spending reform… or a balanced budget amendment.”

    “I think a lot of people are less concerned about the individual number and more concerned about the broader issue of this mandatory spending,” the Kentucky Republican added. “What is more important than the distinction between [$1.04 trillion and $1.07 trillion] is: Are we making the reforms necessary to, in the long run, reduce the deficit?”

    “One idea discussed in detail was what lawmakers are calling a “sidecar” package that would cut $30 billion — a sum identical to new spending tacked on in last year’s bipartisan budget deal — from mandatory programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) has crafted a bill based on proposals already approved by other panels and said he was ready to move on it.”

    As of April 29th, 2016, Paul Ryan hadn’t been able to even get a bill out of the House Budget Committee because he couldn’t placate the ‘Freedom Caucus’ of extra-far-right GOPers who wanted deeper spending cuts. Despite offering Medicaid and Medicare cuts as a deal sweetener:


    During the 90-minute-plus session, lawmakers floated several ideas to grease the wheels for passage, though none were new and no overall deal was reached.

    Yet rank-and-file members were encouraged by the chance to hash out the issue, and senior Republicans predicted that passage of a budget resolution was far closer than it had been.

    It would also be a big boost for Ryan. The speaker has talked about House Republicans providing a “positive agenda” as an alternative to the bitter GOP presidential fight yet has been unable to execute one of the most basic functions of governance: proposing a budget plan. Ryan has been unwilling to force a showdown with the Freedom Caucus and budget hardliners, and is instead trying to persuade his colleagues to find a solution among themselves instead of having it imposed on them by leadership.

    One idea discussed in detail was what lawmakers are calling a “sidecar” package that would cut $30 billion — a sum identical to new spending tacked on in last year’s bipartisan budget deal — from mandatory programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price (R-Ga.) has crafted a bill based on proposals already approved by other panels and said he was ready to move on it.

    That was the dynamic last year, and it’s shaping up to be the same so far this year despite across-the-board GOP control.

    And don’t forget that Tom Price, the guy who crafted Paul Ryan’s budget proposal last year, is now the secretary of Health and Human Services. And that means HHS will be ready and very able to facilitate any last-minute Medicare and Medicaid cut proposals that might be made in the midst of the intra-GOP’s ’emergency negotiations’ (theatrics) should the April 15 budget resolution deadline once again get missed and bleed into the April 28 deferred budget resolution showdown from last year (sad!).

    All in all it’s looking like the tensions in the GOP for this budget resolution are roughly falling into a Trump/Ryan vs Freedom Caucus vs GOPers terrified of the electoral consequences of the Trump/Ryan plan dynamic. And while some of those tensions might be organic and non-theatrical, it’s the perfect situation for some intra-GOP budget showdown theatrics. They control all the levers of power and basically get to write the script. A script where somehow everyone and no one is to blame for the GOP suddenly cutting entitlements as the only solution to the crisis, something the GOP has long championed doing with the notable exception of Trump. And specific blame is placed on Freedom Caucus members who can lead the hostage taking like they do every year these days (or they try to blame Obama). And then Trump removes some of his draconian cuts and acts like he’s not a psycho as part of the deal sweetener.

    In other words, Trump’s budget proposal could be the opening bid in a negotiation showdown between Trump/Ryan and the Freedom Caucus acting as bad cop/worse cop in a twin budget standoff that predictably culminates in a crisis on April 28 that leads the US to the brink of a partial government shutdown. This is the kind of crap the GOP always does and now Steve Bannon is writing the script. A script where they have a Freedom Caucus vs Trump/Ryan squabble leads into a government shutdown and Trump uses his amazing ‘Art of the Deal’ skills to negotiate less extreme entitlement cuts than what the Freedom Caucus demands as a grand compromise that saves the day and lets him return a few dollars to Meals on Wheels. This is the kind of crap the GOP does.

    So don’t be super surprised if Steve Bannon is writing a script where they have a Freedom Caucus vs Trump/Ryan squabble that leads into a government shutdown and they save the day by agreeing to only some of the Freedom Caucus’s entitlement cut demands.

    Also don’t be surprised if a bunch of disable people get thrown off Social Security disability. They’ll presumably go on Medicaid. Block-granted Medicaid that’s turned into personal vouchers. And then be forced to work for that voucher at minimum wage. Still disabled of course. Because making life worse for people in need and acting like it was an act of compassion and responsibility is a key element of any GOP script written for maximal exploitation of the twin 2017/2018 budget crisis. It’s what the GOP does, Trump or not.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 18, 2017, 9:23 pm
  6. We’re now getting reports about tweaks to Paul Ryan’s Obamacare replacement bill designed to lesson the impact on older people. Although it sounds like the tweaks Ryan is pushing for mostly just involve expanded tax credits for older people, presumably on Medicare, who want to buy extra private insurance. Which means it’s actually a plan to make the Obamacare replacement better for wealthy older people while setting up a tax credit structure for people to flee to after Ryan puts in motion his eventual plan to send Medicare into a death spiral and voucherize it. So those kinds of tweaks are apparently still coming and despite the nice tax credit for people who can afford extra insurance, they aren’t the kinds of tweaks design to help older people:

    Bloomberg Politics

    Ryan Plans Tweaks to Health-Care Bill to Help Older People

    by Ben Brody
    and Anna Edney
    March 19, 2017, 9:45 AM CDT March 19, 2017, 10:44 AM CDT

    * House Speaker seeks to increase tax credits for older buyers
    * Cotton said he doubts bill as is will lower insurance premiums

    House Speaker Paul Ryan said he would “most likely” bring a health-care bill forward for a floor vote on Thursday, even as he seeks to increase tax credits to help older people buy insurance to tamp down concerns about moderate Republicans.

    “We believe that we do need to add some additional assistance to people in those older cohorts,” Ryan said of the bill, known as the American Health Care Act, on “Fox News Sunday.” “That’s one of the things we’re looking at.”

    Ryan defined the group as people in their 50s and 60s who typically face higher health care costs than those in their 20s or 30s. A Congressional Budget Office review of the bill released on March 13 suggested there would be increases in out-of-pocket costs, especially for older people.

    The nonpartisan CBO estimated that 14 million Americans could lose their insurance next year under the Republican’s Obamacare-replacement plan, a dire picture of the bill’s effects that could hurt the party heading into the 2018 congressional elections.

    At the same time, insurance premiums will continue to rise in the near term, especially for older Americans. As the bill now stands, older, poorer Americans will have far less help from Republican tax credits starting in 2020 than they get through Obamacare subsidies.

    ‘Older, Rural Americans’

    “We have to do something about the fact that the House bill disproportionately affects older, rural Americans,” Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

    Ryan didn’t say whether he had the 218 votes necessary to pass the bill, which would replace President Barack Obama’s signature Affordable Care Act, but he said he feels “very good about where we are.”

    “We’re still having conversations with our members,” Ryan said. “We’re making fine-tuning improvements to the bill to reflect people’s concerns.”

    Asked on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures” whether the bill would pass the House on Thursday, Republican Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington said, “We’re definitely moving in the right direction” and “I am confident we will come together.”

    Ryan said that proposed changes to the health-care system that would occur outside of the bill also would lower payments. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price also said regulatory changes in particular could increase competition in markets.

    “We’ve had insurers tell us not only will we stay in the market, we’ll get back in the market,” Price said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

    But Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a Republican critic of the bill who’s said voting for the measure as written may imperil the party’s majority in the house in the 2018 midterm elections, said he didn’t believe the bill would lower premiums for working people.

    “It’s fixable, but it’s going to take a lot of work,” Cotton said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We need to roll up our sleeves and focus on fixing those problems, rather than trying to rush to some arbitrary deadline.”

    House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Obamacare can be improved and Republicans could work with Democrats to do that. Instead, she said, the bill championed by Republicans would hurt “millions of people who are benefiting” from the current law who also voted for Trump, and hand tax breaks to wealthy people in regions that voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

    “That money will be taken from red areas, and many of the people who will be advantaged by the money going to the high end will be in blue areas,” the California lawmaker said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation.” “How’s that? It’s so wrong.”

    Mick Mulvaney, the White House budget director, said Trump voters and everyone else would be better off under the Republican bill. It provides tax-credit assistance and would spur increased competition to reduce costs, he said.

    “At the same time, insurance premiums will continue to rise in the near term, especially for older Americans. As the bill now stands, older, poorer Americans will have far less help from Republican tax credits starting in 2020 than they get through Obamacare subsidies.

    So as the bill stands now, older, poorer Americans are about to get extra screwed by 2020. But Paul Ryan wants to assure us that he’s on the case. With tax credits for private insurance. That should do the trick:

    Slate

    The Republican Health Care Plan Is a Nightmare for the Old and Nearly Poor

    By Jordan Weissmann
    March 13 2017 7:05 PM

    There are lots of losers under the Republican plan to replace Obamacare, but perhaps nobody would suffer as badly as older Americans who live just above or around the poverty line. According to the new estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, that group could see its insurance premiums rise by 750 percent within a decade under the House GOP’s American Health Care Act, compared with what they’d pay under current law for more comprehensive coverage.

    Yes, 750 percent. That’s not a typo. That devastating increase is spelled out in the table below, in which the CBO models how premiums might change for Americans of different ages and incomes under the legislation Republicans have proposed. With Obamacare, a 64-year-old earning $26,500 per year in 2026—175 percent of the poverty line—would have to pay $1,700 for insurance, after tax credits. That plan would cover 87 percent of their medical costs, on average. Under the AHCA, or Trumpcare, that same person would owe a full $14,600 after tax credits for a plan that only covers 65 percent of their medical costs.

    [see chart]

    Why the drastic increase? There are two main reasons: Under Trumpcare, insurers would be allowed to charge older Americans more, while the government would give lower-income Americans smaller subsidies to pay for coverage. Currently, insurers are only allowed to charge older customers three times what they charge younger individuals. The Republican plan would allow them to charge five times as much. Meanwhile, under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government gives people tax credits based on their income and the cost of insurance, which cap premiums as a percentage of their earnings. Trumpcare’s premiums are only based on age—they don’t take income or cost coverage into account—so poorer households tend to lose out. They’re also set to grow more slowly, which doesn’t help matters.

    There are some winners in this bargain. Obamacare doesn’t offer premiums subsidies for households that earn more than 400 percent of the poverty line. So some middle- and upper-middle-income Americans may come out ahead. A 40-year-old making $68,200 in 2026 would pay $6,500 under Obamacare; with Trumpcare’s tax credit, he’d pay just $2,400 for an insurance plan that was only slightly less comprehensive. A 21-year-old with the same salary would benefit similarly, while a 64-year-old would pay slightly less than under Obamacare.

    The CBO has often been criticized—perhaps unfairly—for its estimates about Obamacare’s coverage effects. But its budgeteers were largely on target regarding the Affordable Care Act’s effects on premiums. Republicans are already objecting that the office’s estimate did not account for the way deregulation through the executive branch will bring down costs, by allowing insurers to sell less expansive policies. But that doesn’t help older Americans with significant medical costs much. And as I mentioned before, these premium comparisons assume customers will buy far less comprehensive coverage. There’s every reason to believe the projections on this table are at least directionally correct about what the effects of Trumpcare would be.

    So you could call it a trade-off. Younger, higher-income Americans pay less, while older, poorer Americans—many of whom are likely Trump supporters—pay far, far more for less useful insurance. This is part of a bill, mind you, that would force many of these lower-income households into the individual market by cutting hundreds of billions from Medicaid. These trade-offs might be less severe if Republicans weren’t determined to turn their legislation bill into a vehicle for massive, regressive tax cuts. But hey, everybody has their priorities.

    “So you could call it a trade-off. Younger, higher-income Americans pay less, while older, poorer Americans—many of whom are likely Trump supporters—pay far, far more for less useful insurance. This is part of a bill, mind you, that would force many of these lower-income households into the individual market by cutting hundreds of billions from Medicaid. These trade-offs might be less severe if Republicans weren’t determined to turn their legislation bill into a vehicle for massive, regressive tax cuts. But hey, everybody has their priorities.”

    Older, poorer Americans are going to pay far, far more for less useful insurance. That’s Trumpcare/Ryancare!


    Yes, 750 percent. That’s not a typo. That devastating increase is spelled out in the table below, in which the CBO models how premiums might change for Americans of different ages and incomes under the legislation Republicans have proposed. With Obamacare, a 64-year-old earning $26,500 per year in 2026—175 percent of the poverty line—would have to pay $1,700 for insurance, after tax credits. That plan would cover 87 percent of their medical costs, on average. Under the AHCA, or Trumpcare, that same person would owe a full $14,600 after tax credits for a plan that only covers 65 percent of their medical costs.

    A 64 yr old making $26,500 might owe $14,600 vs $1,700 under Obamacare. For a crappier plan. But at least there might be tax credits for them to purchase extra private insurance. Isn’t TRyancare grand?

    And as the article notes, this is specifically talking about all those older people about to be kicked off/denies access to the expanded Medicaid coverage, so that gives us a sense of what the status is going to be for the older Americans who lose out on access to the Medicaid expansion: they’re totally screwed.

    Also keep in mind that a lot of those people about to be kicked off the Medicaid expansion because they make just over the poverty-line are probably going to qualify for non-expanded Medicaid just as soon as they’re bankrupted by their soon-to-spike medical costs. So that’s a horrible trend that has yet to be unleashed.

    But at least hopefully most of the people who fall into that TRyumpian crack won’t be forced to work for their Medicaid after the GOP imposes a Medicaid work requirement because most talk around that involve the work requirement for people under 50. Then again, don’t forget that Paul Ryan wants to eventually turn Medicaid (and the safety-net in general) into a voucher. And that’s a recipe for expecting holder Americans to work until the day they drop dead or are too disable for the GOP to kick off of disability. When you consider how much of a poorer American’s individual medical costs are going to get gobbled up once the TRyancare plan is put in place and they do the same to entitlements, extreme poverty in old age is going to be the norm. Along with no retirement until you physically break or die. So there’s no reason to impose a work requirement on older Americans. Unless they’re unusually healthy, the costs of healthcare passed along to older Americans under TRyancare is going to be it’s own work requirement.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 19, 2017, 9:39 pm
  7. The House is scheduled to vote in their big Obamacare replacement bill on Thursday. Unfortunately for Paul Ryan and Donald Trump, the two key champions of this plan, it’s looking like the House is scheduled to vote, but not necessarily pass, the Trump/Ryan “American Health Care Act” thanks in to the combined resistance of “moderate” GOPers who want to see more government assistance to help people buy insurance and the extra-far-right “Freedom Caucus” who don’t think the bill cuts that government assistance enough. More “Yes” votes need to be found somewhere. Soon. So what are Paul Ryan and Trump going to do? Well, as the article below points out, they’ve already tried a combination of threats and goodies for the holdouts, but so far that’s not enough (Sad!).

    There is however one approach that might work: caving to the “Freedom Caucus” demands. Specifically, their demand that Trumpcare stripping out the Essential Health Benefits (EHB) rule – the Obamacare rule that creates a minimum level of services covered by insurance and basically outlawed super cheap insurance policies – and let those joke policies that covered almost nothing be legal again. But there’s a problem with this plan: if those super cheap plans are legal again, the skimpy subsidies to low-income Americans under Trumpcare that aren’t currently useful for low-income Americans (because the subsidies aren’t nearly enough to make insurance affordable) might suddenly become useful…useful for buying the super cheap crap insurance. And if those subsidies are suddenly used by low-income Americans the projected costs of the bill will go up. And if that happens, the GOP can no longer depend on using the “budget reconciliation” rule that lets bills avoid a filibuster in the Senate as long as the bill is budget neutral.

    So the last minute attempt to get the “Freedom Caucus” on board with the Trumpcare plan to move it through the House just might end up blocking it in the Senate all because the change required to get the Freedom Caucus on board will end up wasting federal funds to subsidize crap insurance:

    Talking Points Memo
    DC

    GOP Leaders Promise Dissenters That Senate Will Gut Essential Health Benefits

    By Alice Ollstein
    Published March 22, 2017, 5:37 PM EDT

    As Thursday’s House vote on the bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act looms, the pressure is ramping up on GOP lawmakers who remain undecided or opposed to the legislation. Even after threats to their careers, invitations to the White House, special carve-outs for their states, amendments on their pet issues, and other tactics, critics of the bill still say enough members are holding strong to ensure the bill will fail on the House floor.

    As the clock ticked down on Wednesday, Republican leaders made a new promise to the dissenters: that the Senate will add a provision gutting Obamacare’s Essential Health Benefits (EHB) rule once the House passes the bill and sends it their way.

    The EHB rule, which the current House GOP repeal bill retains, requires that insurance plans have to cover a basic minimum of health care services, including emergency room visits, hospitalization, outpatient services, maternity care, mental health and substance abuse services, prescription drugs, rehabilitative and habilitative services, lab tests, preventive care like vaccines, and vision and dental care for children.

    Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), the deputy whip in the House, told TPM he received assurances Wednesday from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that he would amend the bill when it comes to the Senate to include a provision stripping out EHBs. McConnell’s office did not respond to TPM’s attempt to confirm Hudson’s account.

    Hudson said he was further promised that the White House would back the move. “The president personally guaranteed that he would publicly call for it,” he said. Politico later reported that White House budget director Mick Mulvaney is working with the House Freedom Caucus on the details.

    This new promise was already winning over many previously dissenting conservatives, said Hudson, who is part of the team charged with securing the votes for passage—enough that he’s confident the bill will pass the House Thursday night.

    Asked if the EHB provision could pass the Senate’s reconciliation rules, which allow certain budget bills to pass with a simple majority and avoid a filibuster, Hudson was unsure.

    “It’s a gamble,” he admitted. “The [Senate Parliamentarian] says it can’t [be included]. That’s pretty definitive to me, but there are other conservatives out there who think it can be. So it’s a safer gamble to let McConnell do it so we don’t lose our entire bill if we’re wrong.”

    Bill critic Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) is one of those “other conservatives.” He said Wednesday that the Senate Parliamentarian told him it “may be possible” to repeal EHBs through reconciliation.

    “What I understood her to be saying is that there’s no reason why an Obamacare repeal bill necessarily could not have provisions repealing the health insurance regulations,” he told the Washington Examiner.

    Democrats in the Senate disagree. Matt House, the spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wrote on Twitter that trying to pass a repeal of EHBs through the reconciliation process “violates the Senate rules and won’t happen.”

    “This is merely a plot to get the bill out of the House,” he said. “Provision won’t ultimately survive in the Senate.”

    As the health care debate has roiled Capitol Hill over the past couple weeks, some conservatives have been demanding the elimination of the EHB rule, arguing that insurers should be once again be allowed to offer dirt-cheap, bare-bones plans to consumers who prefer them.

    Allowing this change, however, would cost the federal government dearly.

    Expert analysts say more people would use their federal tax credits to purchase these skimpy plans rather than going entirely uninsured, meaning the legislation would not achieve anywhere near the $337 billion in deficit reduction originally predicted. The health care consulting firm Milliman also argues that gutting the benefits would also do far less to lower insurance premiums than supporters of the move claim.

    As of Wednesday afternoon, the bill’s passage was still not a given, as other lawmakers told TPM they have other problems with the current bill that are not addressed by the EHB offer.

    “I’ve got some serious concerns still,” Rep. Mario Diaz Balart (R-FL) said. “I think the 50- to 65-year-old population will have a more difficult time getting insurance and it will be more expensive. They are not being dealt with in a way that’s giving me a lot of comfort.”

    “Asked if the EHB provision could pass the Senate’s reconciliation rules, which allow certain budget bills to pass with a simple majority and avoid a filibuster, Hudson was unsure.”

    It’s quite a gamble. A legislative gamble and, of course, a gamble with people’s lives since the removal if the EHB rule is recipe for millions of personal medical disasters. And subsidizing all those cheap crap plans isn’t going to be cheap


    As the health care debate has roiled Capitol Hill over the past couple weeks, some conservatives have been demanding the elimination of the EHB rule, arguing that insurers should be once again be allowed to offer dirt-cheap, bare-bones plans to consumers who prefer them.

    Allowing this change, however, would cost the federal government dearly.

    Expert analysts say more people would use their federal tax credits to purchase these skimpy plans rather than going entirely uninsured, meaning the legislation would not achieve anywhere near the $337 billion in deficit reduction originally predicted. The health care consulting firm Milliman also argues that gutting the benefits would also do far less to lower insurance premiums than supporters of the move claim.

    So the GOP is in quite a bind. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other options. For instance, as “Freedom Caucus” member Trent Franks suggests below, how about the Senate gets rid of the filibuster? Or maybe just slash the overall subsidies enough to make it all budget neutral again:

    Slate

    Why Fixing Trumpcare Is Impossible

    There’s a secret, cynical reason Paul Ryan can’t give conservatives what they want on the American Health Care Act.

    By Jim Newell
    March 22 2017 1:59 PM

    You cannot fault House conservative holdouts for a lack of clarity in their refusal to support the American Health Care Act. Each one I spoke with on Tuesday made the same point: If policy provisions were added to the bill deregulating health insurance markets—especially repealing the Obamacare requirement that qualifying insurance plans cover 10 essential health benefits—they would not just vote for it but do so enthusiastically. They would think it was even a good bill—gasp!—and House leaders could unlock roughly 20 to 25 votes to put them over the top for passage while also presenting something resembling an ideologically coherent vision of health policy.

    These conservatives have made this point repeatedly to the press, to Republican whips, to White House aides, and to the president himself. The stated reason leaders have not given into this is that Senate rules would not allow for such provisions. The Byrd Rule only allows reconciliation bills—ones that require a bare majority for passage—to include provisions directly affecting the budget, and not regulatory reform. The Senate has advised House Republicans that eliminating the essential health benefit requirements would not pass muster, and so that is apparently that.

    Leaders plan, instead, for Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to use his discretion through the rule-writing process to water down these requirements. As some conservatives point out, though, even if the rule writing passes legal muster—an open question—the next time the White House goes Democratic, those rules could be reversed again. It’s not an ideal long-term solution for conservatives to leave these regulations on the books.

    There’s another related reason leaders may not be so keen on eliminating the essential health benefits in this bill, though. It’s a cynical one.

    Eliminating the essential health benefits was part of a leaked early repeal and replace proposal, dated Feb. 10. By the time leaders debuted the bill weeks later, that provision had been struck. Calling its removal “the biggest puzzle about Ryan’s Obamacare repeal,” Investor’s Business Daily reporter Jed Graham suggested the following:

    The decision to preserve ObamaCare’s coverage restrictions may go a very long way in lowering the cost of providing subsidies under the American Health Care Act. That’s because, realistically, the only way that most low-income shoppers would be able to use their much smaller tax subsidy under the GOP plan would be to buy low-value insurance that isn’t available under ObamaCare and won’t protect them from a real health emergency.

    In other words: If you loosen regulations, more people might actually find it worthwhile to use the dinky tax credits offered them to purchase dinky insurance, driving up the cost to the federal government. It’s quite the conundrum. Republicans want to deregulate, but they also feel they have to offer some refundable tax credit to sell the bill to moderates and the public. If they deregulate through law, though, the policy analyzers will show that more people might actually use the tax credit and the Congressional Budget Office spending score would blow up.

    Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, a Freedom Caucus member who wants Senate Republicans to gut the filibuster if that’s what it takes to get their reforms through, told me Tuesday that this is indeed something leadership is worried about. (A leadership aide insisted that Senate reconciliation rules are still the reason they’re not addressing essential health benefits in this bill.) I had been asking him why, according to what he had heard, there was still so much resistance from leaders about doing whatever’s necessary to unlock their votes.

    “I think there’s a secondary concern here,” Franks told me. He paused for a while. “I’ll go ahead, I haven’t explained this to anybody very much, I just don’t want to complicate this debate …”

    But?

    “I think there’s some concern on [the] part of leadership, that I fully understand, of seeing a tax credit get out of control. And they’re afraid that if you [take] away some of these mandates, that it will upset the CBO budget [score].”

    If the tax credits were to “get out of control,” it could cause another serious Senate reconciliation problem for the bill: The bill has to be a long-term deficit reducer for it to be permanent.

    As Franks pointed out, the solution would be to just adjust the tax credits to match lower average premium projections. If leaders were to do that now, though, they’d have a whole new political problem. After the mess we’ve already seen, “House Leaders Slash Subsidies While Eliminating Essential Health Benefit Protections” would not be a helpful headline to sell the bill to the public—or to House moderates.

    In other words: If you loosen regulations, more people might actually find it worthwhile to use the dinky tax credits offered them to purchase dinky insurance, driving up the cost to the federal government. It’s quite the conundrum. Republicans want to deregulate, but they also feel they have to offer some refundable tax credit to sell the bill to moderates and the public. If they deregulate through law, though, the policy analyzers will show that more people might actually use the tax credit and the Congressional Budget Office spending score would blow up.”

    Yes, that’s quite a conundrum. But not a conundrum without solutions. Solutions like ditching the filibuster or slash the subsidies. They might be politically toxic solutions, but they’re solutions:


    Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, a Freedom Caucus member who wants Senate Republicans to gut the filibuster if that’s what it takes to get their reforms through, told me Tuesday that this is indeed something leadership is worried about. (A leadership aide insisted that Senate reconciliation rules are still the reason they’re not addressing essential health benefits in this bill.) I had been asking him why, according to what he had heard, there was still so much resistance from leaders about doing whatever’s necessary to unlock their votes

    If the tax credits were to “get out of control,” it could cause another serious Senate reconciliation problem for the bill: The bill has to be a long-term deficit reducer for it to be permanent.

    As Franks pointed out, the solution would be to just adjust the tax credits to match lower average premium projections. If leaders were to do that now, though, they’d have a whole new political problem. After the mess we’ve already seen, “House Leaders Slash Subsidies While Eliminating Essential Health Benefit Protections” would not be a helpful headline to sell the bill to the public—or to House moderates.

    Yes, now the GOP is in a position where it gets to choose between the following headlines:

    “House Leaders Slash Subsidies While Eliminating Essential Health Benefit Protections”

    or maybe:

    “Senate Leaders Eliminate Filibuster to Eliminate Essential Health Benefit Protections”

    or how about:

    “GOP Fails to Repeal Obamacare”

    So which headline is the least politically toxic? That’s the question of the hour of the GOP. Although when you look at how physically and financially toxic the American Health Care Act is going to be to all these GOPers’ actual constituents, headline #3 is clearly the least toxic in the long run. At least in most congressional districts. Headline #1 is probably fine for the really wealthy districts. Not fine morally, but it could work politically.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 22, 2017, 7:10 pm
  8. There is no shortage of questions raised by the GOP’s seemingly unthinkable failure to to repeal and replace Obamacare with Paul Ryan’s Nightmarecare, but perhaps the most immediate question whether or not the GOP just did the least bad thing it could have done to itself. After all, while totally flailing and destroying Trump’s leadership cred looked pretty bad, it’s not like making Trumpcare law was a better alternative:

    ABC News

    GOP health care plan would hit people in counties Trump won hardest

    By RYAN STRUYK

    Mar 23, 2017, 6:49 PM ET

    Areas that voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 election by the widest margins could see significantly larger cuts in health care subsidies than other Americans, according to a new ABC News analysis of data provided by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the 2016 election results.

    The numbers show that voters who are older and low-income would get hit hardest by the American Health Care Act, but those aren’t the only reasons many Trump voters could fare worse than other Americans if the bill becomes law.

    A look at the how the law would change health care policy in different parts of the country shows that people of the same age and same income could see thousands of dollars more or less in tax credits based on where they live.

    The areas that voted for Trump — especially those where Trump won big — could be hit hardest.

    The new numbers show that geography, cost of living, family income, rural/urban divides and state-by-state healthcare rules mean people in areas that voted for Trump would get less in tax credits than those who voted for Clinton under the new legislation — even with the exact same age and income.

    That’s according to a new ABC News analysis of the data from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a non-profit focusing on national health issues, and Associated Press election results.

    Fox example, a 40-year-old making $30,000 per year under the new plan would get $138 more in tax credits, on average, in counties where Clinton won. But in counties where Trump won, this person would get an average of $353 less in tax credits.

    Similarly, a 60-year-old making $40,000 per year would get $2,747 less in tax credits in counties Clinton won, but would get $4,181 less in tax credits in counties that Trump won.

    And for a 27-year-old making $30,000 per year, tax credits would rise by $16 on average in counties that Clinton won but would decrease by an average of $329 in counties that Trump won.

    This analysis does not take into account changes the House made on March 20 that would potentially allow for larger tax credits under the AHCA for people over age 50, according to Kaiser.

    The margin by which Trump or Clinton won each county also makes a difference. People in counties that most overwhelmingly voted for Trump — by a margin of more than 30 percent — would see their tax credits go down more than a person with the exact same age and income who lives in a county Clinton won by similar margins.

    And for older Americans, these difference could amount to thousands of dollars. A 60-year-old making $40,000 per year who lives in a county that strongly favored Trump would see their tax credit cut by almost twice the amount as would be the case in a county where Clinton dominated.

    A 60-year-old making $40,000 per year in a strong Trump county could lose double the same person in a strong Clinton county under #AHCA. pic.twitter.com/BRubsFMuvY— Ryan Struyk (@ryanstruyk) March 23, 2017

    For other people, the difference could be between receiving more or less in tax credits under the new plan. Take a look at this chart for a 40-year-old making $30,000 per year:

    Who gets hit hardest by #AHCA? Areas that voted for Donald Trump by the widest margins via @ABC analysis of @KaiserFamFound and @AP data. pic.twitter.com/kXhCjqnxge— Ryan Struyk (@ryanstruyk) March 23, 2017

    The differences are even more stark in terms of the tax credits each person would receive.

    “The new numbers show that geography, cost of living, family income, rural/urban divides and state-by-state healthcare rules mean people in areas that voted for Trump would get less in tax credits than those who voted for Clinton under the new legislation — even with the exact same age and income.”

    Yep, the new health care law the GOP failed to pass wasn’t just going to be nightmare for Americans in general. The GOP’s voters were about to get extra screwed by a plan designed exclusively by the GOP. Imagine how they would feel after figuring that one out. So as bad as the GOP’s failure was politically speaking, it’s unclear that actually passing that plan wouldn’t have been a far, far worse political disaster that lasts years.

    Given all that, one of other the questions raised is who should Trump thank for his fortuitous massive fail? The “Freedom Caucus” of far-right GOPers who voted ‘No’ is the obvious answer, although a more complete answer is probably “whoever Trump’s team is blaming for his disaster,” which at this point is everyone but Trump:

    CNN

    Trump’s art of no deal: Find someone to blame

    By Jeremy Diamond and Dana Bash,
    Updated 10:46 PM ET, Fri March 24, 2017

    Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump likes winning. But on Friday he failed.

    Lacking sufficient support, Republicans were forced to pull their bill to replace Obamacare from the floor of the GOP-controlled House. Speaking soon after accepting defeat, Trump didn’t shoulder the responsibility himself, nor did he pin the blame on House GOP leadership or any of the warring Republican factions’ whose competing demands ultimately sunk any chance of a consensus bill.

    Instead, he blamed Democrats and vowed to let Obamacare “explode.”

    “We had no Democrat support. We had no votes from the Democrats. They weren’t going to give us a single vote, so it’s a very very difficult thing to do,” Trump said. “I think the losers are (House Minority Leader) Nancy Pelosi and (Senate Minority Leader) Chuck Schumer because now they own Obamacare. 100% own it.”

    The words flew in the face of Trump’s intense and personal engagement in lobbying members of Congress to support the House bill, efforts the White House touted in recent days as they hinted at Trump’s negotiating expertise.

    That tune changed on Friday after Trump’s first legislative failure, when Trump dubbed himself a mere “team player.”

    But while Trump publicly declined to level any criticism against House Speaker Paul Ryan — who Trump said “really worked hard” — or the House Freedom Caucus, which withheld support even after Trump made major changes to the bill in their favor, he and his advisers had begun the finger-pointing a day earlier.

    Standing on the precipice of a legislative failure likely to damage the political capital he will need to steer the priorities he truly cares about through Congress, Trump was “pissed” Thursday night, one source close to the President said, and so were his advisers. Blame fell everywhere but in the Oval Office.

    Several senior administration officials on Thursday night began blaming a flawed strategy pushed by Ryan and former House member Tom Price, now Health and Human Services secretary, for the embarrassing debacle. It was a strategy Trump signed up for when top aides and Ryan presented him with the plan to make good on his Obamacare repeal campaign promise so he could swiftly move on to issues he is more passionate about and familiar with like tax reform and infrastructure spending.

    “This was all Ryan and Price,” said one senior administration official. “They agreed upon this plan the day (Trump) hired Price.”

    Nevertheless, Trump himself answered affirmatively when asked Friday morning if Ryan should stay on as speaker in the face of failure.

    A second senior administration official concurred while a third instead pinned the blame on the House Freedom Caucus, the group of hardline conservatives who have held out support for the bill, demanding a slew of 11th-hour changes that sent the House GOP jigsaw puzzle into disarray.

    “There is a growing frustration in the White House over how the Freedom Caucus has handled the negotiations. The President has tried to address their concerns and they keep moving the goal posts,” said a senior White House official. “If this bill goes down, I don’t think the President is going to have any appetite to work with them.”

    But a source close to Trump described the President as more frustrated with his staff for convincing him to back the House GOP leadership plan in the first place.

    Painting the President as a political neophyte who has only been in Washington for two months, the source said Trump has become “frustrated with his staff’s inability to get this done” and argued that Trump was misled by those staffers who urged him to tackle Obamacare head first and hitch himself to Ryan’s plan.

    “He was talked into doing this bill first. It was not negotiated well on his behalf,” the source said. “He’s relied on his staff to give him good information and they haven’t. And that’s the problem.”

    The source close to Trump described a president who felt bamboozled by Ryan and his own staff, duped into thinking that passing health care would be the quick victory he needed to make good on a campaign promise central to his election and push forward on other policy fronts.

    Trump is likely to blame Ryan and his chief of staff, Reince Priebus, the source said, since he “bought” into Ryan’s plan and helped convince Trump to get on board, according to another senior administration official.

    Trump also blames staff for his own late personal engagement in lobbying members of Congress and the lack of presidential travel to key districts that would help flip votes rather than himself, one source said.

    But there is plenty of blame to go around, as all factions within the West Wing worked arduously to help craft and sell the bill.

    As Trump headed to Mar-a-Lago the first Friday of this month, both Priebus and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon stayed at the White House, working late into the night on tweaks to the bill, according to one senior administration official.

    The White House deployed its top conservatives to corral the House Freedom Caucus, with Bannon, counselor Kellyanne Conway and senior White House policy adviser Steven Miller joining Vice President Mike Pence’s already longstanding engagement in the legislative push.

    And weeks after Trump pledged the full weight of his presidency and White House officials touted Trump’s personal engagement in selling the bill, the President appears prepared to accept none of the blame if his gambit fails.

    In two rallies in the last two weeks, he barely talked about health care and failed to build a consensus among disparate Republican factions.

    Talked up as a “closer,” the President who ascended to the presidency on the merits of his negotiating prowess only became intimately involved in the work of wooing and grappling with members of Congress to win their support in the last 10 days.

    By that point, Republican senators were becoming increasingly vocal in their objections to the bill while the House Freedom Caucus ramped up its calls for major changes that would unsettle the bill’s delicate balance aimed at appealing to all factions of the GOP.

    Now, some Republicans have begun to direct at least some of the blame toward the Oval Office, arguing that Trump failed to follow through on his pledge to put sustained pressure on Republican members of Congress in order to pass the bill.

    For that, senior administration officials pinned the blame on the House speaker, who, along with his leadership team, crafted the bulk of the House bill months before Trump even took office.

    But as one senior administration official argued to CNN that hardline conservative members needed to pass the bill were not brought into the process until too late, Ryan’s office quickly responded with prepared pushback.

    “The speaker and his staff have met with conservative members of our conference nearly every week as the bill has made its way through the four-committee process,” a Ryan aide said in a statement. “The speaker maintains an open door policy for members in his office … He regularly texts with members, including (Rep. Mark) Meadows. The speaker’s senior staff are always available, including our chief of staff.”

    Still, more blame is likely to fall. One source wondered late Thursday night why Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and one of the most powerful West Wing forces, was away on a ski vacation with his wife, Ivanka Trump, while other White House staffers toiled away at an increasingly fraught mission.

    Trump, though, appeared to press for victory even Friday morning, making calls to House members despite the pre-emptive finger pointing from the White House.
    The President is “determined” to pass the bill, a senior administration official said.

    “Standing on the precipice of a legislative failure likely to damage the political capital he will need to steer the priorities he truly cares about through Congress, Trump was “pissed” Thursday night, one source close to the President said, and so were his advisers. Blame fell everywhere but in the Oval Office.”

    Well, it sounds like it’s “good job” for almost everyone on Capital Hill: the Freedom Caucus, HHS Secretary Tom Price, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Trump’s staffers who convinced him to listen to Paul Ryan, Democrats, and even perhaps Jared Kushner and Ivanka. If we listen to who the Oval Office is blaming it’s everyone but Trump, although given his lackluster attempts to actually sell the bill it seems like he should be taking some credit too.

    So it’s congrats all around for GOP at replacing the long-term slow motion political disaster that would have been Trumpcare with the immediate political disaster of looking like a bunch of incompetent jokes. It could be worse! It could be Trumpcare.

    It’s a rather ironic blame game dynamic. Although perhaps not as ironic as the blame game dynamic that Trump has already signaled he’s going to be pursuing for the next attempt at health care “reform”: intentionally letting Obamacare “explode” before they try again and blaming it all on the Democrats while coaxing them into a bipartisan Trumpcare reattempt:

    USA Today

    ‘Do not worry!’ Trump tweets, ‘Obamacare will explode’

    Maureen Groppe
    11:41 a.m. ET March 25, 2017

    When President Trump woke up Saturday to the fact that Republicans couldn’t meet their seven-year promise to get rid of Obamacare, what was his reaction? It will go away on its own.

    “ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!” Trump tweeted before playing golf.

    ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 25, 2017

    Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Friday that Democrats are willing to work with Republicans to improve Obamacare, but only if Republicans stop trying to gut the law.

    “If they take repeal off the table, we’re willing to sit down with them and improve Obamacare,” Schumer told CNN. “It’s doing a good job, but there are places that it can be improved. No question about it.”

    ““ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!” Trump tweeted before playing golf.”

    Don’t worry about letting Obamacare explode! It’ll be just fine (but don’t die in the meant time)! He actually tweeted that.

    And while it’s unclear what exactly Trump’s team is planning for their next health care reform attempt, it looks like he’s at least going to go through the theatrics of trying to coax Democrats into joining into a bipartisan health care plan. It’s a strategy that makes sense on one level since any health care plan Trump and GOP sign onto would almost certainly be politically toxic enough that the party will surely want to share the political blame with the Democrats if that’s an option. But it’s also a rather strange strategy since the Democrats have already signaled that they’re more than happy to play that game by agreeing to improve and strengthen Obamacare now, before it actually ‘explodes’:


    Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Friday that Democrats are willing to work with Republicans to improve Obamacare, but only if Republicans stop trying to gut the law.

    “If they take repeal off the table, we’re willing to sit down with them and improve Obamacare,” Schumer told CNN. “It’s doing a good job, but there are places that it can be improved. No question about it.”

    Trump just handed the Democrats a free talking point: they’re ready to fix Obamacare now…why wait for things to get worse so Trump and the GOP can dismantle the entire thing and replace it with something worse? And it’s a pretty compelling talking point because it naturally leads into a discussion for all sorts of proposals that actually would improve the US health care system.

    It’s also a risky rather strategy since Trump also handed the Democrats an excuse to do something the should have been doing all along but haven’t yet had much success in doing: explaining to the US public the myriad of ways the GOP has sabotaged Obamacare is ways that reduced healthcare access and drove up premiums. For instance, what about the change the GOP snuck in in late December 2015 that killed the “risk sharing corridors” provision designed to help keep premiums for spiking? Or how about how one major insurer, Aetna, pulled out of Obamacare exchanges not due to a “business decision” as the company claimed but instead as retribution for the Obama administration’s refusal to allow them to do a mega-merger with Humana. The public hasn’t heard much about that yet. The public barely has any awareness of that sabotage but they’re going to have plenty of opportunities to learn about it now.

    That’s all part of what’s going to make Trump’s threat to let Obamacare “explode” while simultaneously blaming the Democrats for not participating in the reform process so grimly fascinating to watch play out: it’s a really risky strategy, but it’s a strategy that could have a high payout for the GOP in the long run if it can somehow create a situation where the Democrats end up sharing in the blame for whatever Obamacare replacement the GOP comes up with.

    And don’t forget that none other than GOP spinmeister guru Frank Luntz told the GOP back in February that ditching the “repeal” plan and replacing it with a “repair” plan for Obamacare is what the public wants. So if Trump and the GOP managed to keep the “Obamacare” label on their program while still radically overhauling it and making it horrible that could be an effective way to transfer future blame.

    In other words, while Trump threatened to just let Obamacare “explode” to somehow force the Democrats to the bargaining table, perhaps the real strategy the GOP is planning on pursuing is to keep Obamacare around and just making it crappier and crappier. And as it gets worse, the GOP will use that as an excuse to make various “fixes” that by and large make it even worse. A nice slow motion death spiral. Done long enough and Obamacare could eventually become Trumpcare via a thousand little cuts and tweaks. Some done at the regulatory level and some through changes in law. Changes that can be made step by step over the next decade or so. Or by the Supreme Court.

    Yes, it would take a lot longer than simply “repealing and replacing” Obamacare now, but a time penalty for is a “Obamacare to Trumpcare” slow motion health care transition is a pretty small price to pay as long as the Democrats eventually share the blame for the health care nightmare the GOP is trying to create. Don’t forget that Trumpcare is sort of like slow motion mass denial of vital health care while the GOP denies that will be the case and sell some sort of ponies and rainbows version of what will happen. That’s politically toxic. Eventually. As long as it’s brand “Trumpcare”. So slowly turning Obamacare into Trumpcare really might be the best path for the GOP even if it comes at the cost of embarrassments like what Trump and the GOP had to go through on Friday.

    Keep in mind that a key ingredient for such an “Obamacare becomes Trumpcare” scheme to work is, of course, that the public never really learns about all the ways the GOP will sabotage Obamacare to create a crisis that it can use as an excuse to move it closer to Trumpcare. The GOP has done a good job on that so far, but we’ll see how they do going forward. Trump has certainly made a review of past GOP sabotage (or Supreme Court sabotage) much more likely now that he pledge to let it explode to bring everyone together. And as Chuck Schumer pointed out, there’s no shortage of improvements that can be proposed for Obamacare. So if it does end up being a slow motion “Obmacare to Trumpcare” transition there’s no reason to believe it won’t be very awkward for the GOP. But that still might not be as bad as passing Trump/Ryancare. Because it was just that awful.

    And yet TRyancare wasn’t awful enough for the Freedom Caucus. Or, it’s important to note, the Koch brothers, who had their networks launch a “grassroots” campaign called “You Promise” that called the Trump/Ryan plan “Obamacare 2.0” and demanded Trump repeal Obamacare. Then days before the vote they promised millions of dollars in ads to protect House GOPers who vote against the bill. Don’t forget that Paul Ryan is a wholely owned subsidiary of the Koch brothers so the fact that they detest a bill he created is quite amazing.

    Another key ingredient required for an “Obamacare becomes Trumpcare” scheme to work is a continuation of the GOP’s domination of Congress. And lots of time in the White House to have people like Tom Price sabotage the system from the executive branch. And for that to happen, the key ingredient is not actually passing a Trumpcare bill. Horribleness like Trumpcare shouldn’t be done too quickly by a single party. It was political doom. And in its first big Trump Era test of “how to use power to do horrible things, but not too quickly”, the GOP has so far managed to do exactly that. Or rather, managed to not do that. They chose political mockery over political doom. Job well done. Forget assigning blame, Trump should be giving someone a reward.

    All that said, even if it really is the case that not passing a Trumpcare law is less politically damaging than passing one, there’s still the question of how this defeat will affect the rest of the Trump agenda. And as the article below notes, it just might end up thwarting the thing people like the Koch brother care most about: tax cuts. Why? Because Trumpcare made changes to the tax code that were going to made the budget estimates for the long-term costs of the GOP’s big tax cut plan allow for bigger tax cuts. As Grover Norquist put it, they will soon realize that “they didn’t shoot and wound health-care reform, they shot and killed permanent tax reform.”:

    The Washington Post

    Trump’s path forward only gets tougher after health-care fiasco

    By John Wagner, Damian Paletta and Sean Sullivan March 25 at 2:24 PM

    The stunning collapse of the Republican health-care bill now imperils the rest of President Trump’s ambitious congressional agenda, with few prospects for quick victory on tax reform, construction projects or a host of other issues in the months ahead despite complete GOP control of government.

    While Republicans broadly share the goal of Trump’s promised “big tax cuts,” the president will have to bridge many of the same divides within his own party that sunk the attempted overhaul of the Affordable Care Act. And without savings anticipated from the health-care bill, paying for the “massive” cuts Trump has promised for corporations and middle-class families becomes considerably more complicated.

    Trump and Republican leaders continued Saturday in their attempts to put a brave face on the health-care debacle. “ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE,” Trump wrote in a morning tweet. “Do not worry!”

    Trump has said he would have preferred to start his term by cutting “the hell out of taxes.” Even before the health-care bill was pulled Friday, the president was already starting to turn the page.

    Determined to highlight other priorities, Trump staged two announcements in the White House meant to underscore his commitment to creating jobs: granting a construction permit for the Keystone XL pipeline and appearing with executives of a telecom giant as they pledged to hire thousands of new employees, although the company’s plans had already been announced in October.

    Separately, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said at an event Friday that he will push Congress to enact comprehensive tax reform by its August recess, though he acknowledged that the timetable might slip.

    The White House signaled Saturday that it was eager to move on. Trump’s weekly address made no mention of the health-care fight, instead focusing on his signing of legislation authorizing funding for NASA and his commitment to space exploration.

    “We’re going to roll our sleeves up, and we’re going to cut taxes across the board for working families, small businesses and family farms,” Vice President Pence said Saturday at an appearance in Scott Depot, W.Va.

    A senior White House official, however, said it was unlikely that Trump would ramp up a major sales effort on tax reform immediately, given that his team had been planning on using the coming days to push for Senate action on the health-care bill.

    Trump’s top advisers had envisioned a three-step legislative agenda this year, starting with scaling back President Barack Obama’s signature domestic initiative. After that was complete, they wanted to move to a comprehensive overhaul of the tax code, followed by the creation of a $1?trillion infrastructure package.

    The implosion of the health-care effort complicates the tax overhaul both logistically and politically.

    House Republicans leaders had been counting on changes to the tax code included in the health-care bill to make the task of paying for future tax cuts easier.

    Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist said the bloc of hard line Republicans who helped stymie the health-care overhaul were guilty of “ripping the lungs out of tax reform.” If they don’t revisit the health-care bill immediately, Norquist said, they will soon realize that “they didn’t shoot and wound health-care reform, they shot and killed permanent tax reform.”

    House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) acknowledged Friday that the health-care defeat “does make tax reform more difficult, but it does not make it impossible.”

    “We are going to proceed with tax reform,” Ryan said.

    Hours before the health bill was pulled, Mnuchin said a “comprehensive” overhaul of the tax code should prove less complex. “Health care is a very, very complicated issue,” he said at a Friday event hosted by Axios. “In a way, [tax reform is] a lot simpler. It really is.”

    Trump has proposed cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 15 percent, though many Republicans on Capitol Hill have been aiming for a 20 percent rate. Trump has also proposed consolidating the existing seven individual income-tax brackets into three brackets of 10 percent, 20 percent and 25 percent.

    Trump’s advisers have argued that these changes would trigger a big expansion of economic growth, but some budget analysts have said the changes would widen the deficit by anywhere from $2.6 trillion to $7 trillion over 10 years, depending on the measurement method used.

    Many Republicans have long vowed that an overhaul of the tax code must be “revenue neutral,” which means they need to find new revenue to offset the reduction in rates. Trump’s advisers have not identified specific tax breaks they would eliminate to raise new revenue, and Trump himself often waved away debt concerns during the campaign.

    Meanwhile, House and Senate Republicans are at odds over the wisdom of a key component of tax reform.

    Ryan has proposed a border-adjustment tax that would essentially create new taxes on items imported into the United States as a way to raise close to $1 trillion in new revenue while also providing incentives for companies to move operations to the United States.

    Many other Republicans oppose this idea, though, and the fight probably will only intensify now. Some Republicans, including Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), argue that the scheme would drive up prices on consumer goods and many large retailers are strongly opposed.

    Given such divides, as well as the mechanics of the budget process, it’s highly unlikely that lawmakers will produce a comprehensive tax bill by the August recess, if at all, said Jim Manley, a former longtime aide to former Senate majority leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.).

    “It’s clearly not realistic, and it’s not going to happen, on policy and political grounds,” Manley said, adding that the Republican agenda is also undercut by “a president who’s out of his league and doesn’t know how to legislate.”

    Republicans had planned to use a budget procedure called “reconciliation” for both the health-care overhaul and for the tax changes, as that would allow them to pass their plans with a simple majority in the Senate and make it impossible for Democrats to block the changes through a filibuster.

    That’s still the plan with tax reform.

    Democratic leaders said Republicans would be doomed to failure in future debates if they didn’t seek to build more consensus.

    “We don’t know what they’ll do with tax reform,” said Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who warned, “if it’s huge tax cuts for the wealthy … it won’t fly.”

    Trump, on Friday and in the days leading up to the vote, seemed undaunted by the challenges ahead.

    “I hope that it’s going to all work out,” he told a House Republican dinner before the collapse of the health-care bill. “Then we immediately start on the tax cuts, and they’re going to be really fantastic, and I am looking forward to that one. That one’s going to be fun.”

    “Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist said the bloc of hard line Republicans who helped stymie the health-care overhaul were guilty of “ripping the lungs out of tax reform.” If they don’t revisit the health-care bill immediately, Norquist said, they will soon realize that “they didn’t shoot and wound health-care reform, they shot and killed permanent tax reform.”

    Uh oh! It looks like Trumpcare had a bunch of tax code accounting changes and tax cuts for the rich in it that were necessary to pull off the kind of tax cut dream that Paul Ryan and Grover Norquist were about to make reality at Donald Trump’s behest:


    While Republicans broadly share the goal of Trump’s promised “big tax cuts,” the president will have to bridge many of the same divides within his own party that sunk the attempted overhaul of the Affordable Care Act. And without savings anticipated from the health-care bill, paying for the “massive” cuts Trump has promised for corporations and middle-class families becomes considerably more complicated.

    Did the collapse of Trumpcare’s savings (cuts to health care services) “shoot and kill permanent tax reform” like Grover Norquist suggest? Well, considering Trumpcare included a bunch of tax cuts for the rich it certainly didn’t help Grover’s crusade.

    We’ll find out relatively soon if the collapse of Trumpcare leads to a collapse of Trumptax. But considering that Trumptax is a steaming pile of fiscal garbage that is only somewhat less politically toxic than Trumpcare – because people won’t die as a consequence as directly from Trumptax’s toxic effects – it may not be all that bad for Trump and the GOP if Trumptax really does suffer a mortal wound. Donald Trump is the biggest beneficiary. It’s a horrible plan. And as with Trumpcare, something that horrible should be done slowly over time instead. It’s just too horrible to do all at once. So if the collapse of Trumpcare collapses Trumptax, that might be ok for Trump and the GOP too.

    And since one of the horrible elements of Trump’s tax plan is that it makes the tax code far less capable of being progressive by reducing the number of tax brackets from seven to three(it’s not quite a flat tax, but it’s getting there), it’s worth noting that one of the changes the Democrats should probably propose in the next health care reform package is a progressive tax to help pay for health care that is so progressive with so many brackets (like one for millionaires, ten millionaires, hundred millionaires, etc) that it has the highest tax rate for ten of billionaires. A tax scaled to our Trump/Koch reality. Because why shouldn’t they pay the most? They damn near run the country. Obamacare’s taxes on the wealthy kicked in around $250,000, but why shouldn’t a billionaire like Trump or the Kochs pay a MUCH higher rate for health care related taxes than someone making. That only makes sense given the incredibly screwed income distribution. And with Trump trying to pass Paul Ryan’s tax plan as his next big policy project that cuts the number of tax brackets from seven to three, why not call for a Bigly tax on billionaires for health care. A very progressive tax that is bigly on billionaires but not so bigly on everyone else. Because that’s how a progressive tax with lots of brackets can work. Since Trump and the rest of the GOP are about to obliterate the government and the job of the Democrats is going to include rebuilding large chunks of the how government operate we’re probably going to need to raise taxes a fair amount to do that rebuilding and it’s going to be important to keep in mind that much of the policy madness that Trump and the GOP almost unleashed on health care and are going to unleash on the rest of the government being done to pay for tax cuts for Trump and the Kochs. So the rebuilding tax cuts should be really, really progressive. Perhaps starting with a really, really progressive health care tax to improve Obamacare.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 25, 2017, 11:44 pm

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