Saturday, July 15, 2017

GOP Donors Demand Return on Investment

One measure of how Congress is controlled by plutocrats is that Republicans are still trying to peddle a “health” bill that has just 17% support nationwide. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll in late June also found 59% disapprove of the Grand Oligarch Party’s bill to replace the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare). The House’s version, which was passed in March on a near-party-line vote, faces similar levels of opposition from the public.

The main reason Republicans are proceeding with their health deform bill is they need that money they’re taking from Medicare and Medicaid to pay for tax cuts for their billionaire donors — in fact, one influential Texas donor told congressional Republicans that his “Dallas piggy bank” is closed until he sees major action on health care and taxes.

“Get ObamaCare repealed and replaced, get tax reform passed,” Doug Deason said June 26 in a pointed message to GOP leaders. “You control the Senate. You control the House. You have the presidency. There’s no reason you can’t get this done. Get it done and we’ll open it back up.”

Both the House and Senate bills originally proposed to repeal a 3.8% surtax on investment income such as dividends, interest and capital gains that exceed $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples and a 0.9% payroll tax on income over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 that goes into the Medicare trust fund.

Mitch McConnell is trying to secure the 50 votes he needs, along with Vice President Mike Pence’s potential tie-breaking vote, to pass the plan his henchmen have cobbled together, which would cut $772 billion from Medicaid and $117 billion from Medicare to pay for tax cuts for millionaires and cause 22 million Americans to lose their insurance, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. A study in the Annals of Internal Medicine estimates the bill could cause 28,600 people to die annually from lack of medical care due to loss of insurance.

On Thursday, McConnell unveiled a new version of the bill that keeps the taxes on the wealthy but still cuts Medicaid funding by more than 30%, eliminates expansion of the program to cover the working poor and replaces ObamaCare's tax credit subsidies with smaller ones that would be available to fewer people.

To appease Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and other conservatives, McConnell included new provisions that would create a two-tiered health insurance market. Insurers would be able to offer plans that exclude people with pre-existing conditions or charge them higher rates ― or to market plans without comprehensive benefits ― just as long as they sell at least one plan with more comprehensive coverage that is available to everybody at a uniform price, Jeffrey Young reported at

Ironically, Republicans have spent the last seven years undermining a health plan that was based on a proposal of the conservative Heritage Foundation in 1989, which was first written into a bill by Senate Republicans in 1993 and passed into law by Republican Gov. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts in 2005. But when Democrats in 2009 proposed the Affordable Care Act, which relies on federal subsidies of private health insurers and an individual mandate to produce universal coverage, Republicans decided they could not support it because it would be part of President Barack Obama’s legacy.

The good news is, if Democrats regain the White House and a majority in Congress they can expand Medicare to cover everybody through the same budget reconciliation process that Republicans are now using to try to repeal ObamaCare.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who promoted universal healthcare during his Democratic presidential campaign, plans to introduce a single-payer plan. Supporters include Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). In the House, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) has already gotten 113 co-sponsors for his Medicare For All bill. That’s nearly double the number of co-sponsors the legislation garnered last congressional session. Co-sponsors include Democratic Caucus Chairman Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) and Assistant Democratic Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.).

Neither bill will make much headway in the current Congress, but Democrats will have popular opinion on their side if they campaign on expanding Medicare in 2018. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in June found 53% of the public supporting all Americans getting their coverage through a single government plan, while 43% are opposed. This is up from the level of support for single-payer in Kaiser polls since 1998. From 1998 through 2004, roughly four in ten supported a national health plan, while about half were opposed. From 2008-2009, the period leading up to passage of the ACA, the public was more evenly divided, with about half in favor of a single-payer plan and half opposed. The recent increase in support for single-payer has largely been driven by independents, who increased from 42% support in 2008-09 to 55% in the new poll.

The public also continues to show more support for “Medicare For All” than “single-payer health insurance,” though the gap is narrowing. The February 2016 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found the public was 20-points more likely to react favorably to the term “Medicare For all” (64% favorable) than “single-payer health insurance system” (44% favorable). The current poll finds 55% support for “Medicare For All” and 53% for “single payer.”

In the meantime, if Republicans fail in their attempt to replace ObamaCare, McConnell has said his party might have to work with Democrats to stabilize the current law.

If that happens, Kevin Drum of has proposed a three-step plan to fix ObamaCare.

1) Enforce the individual mandate and increase the penalty to 3.5% of income. Drum noted that the point is not to penalize poor people; it’s to get more healthy people into the system.

2) Increase subsidies by 20% and extend them to six times the poverty level, to make insurance more affordable for everyone. (The current law provides subsidies to people making up to four times the poverty level.)

3) In areas where there are fewer than two insurers participating in the exchanges, states should make Medicaid available for the price of an average Bronze plan.
Finally, for-profit insurance companies should be put on notice that they need to prove there is a constructive role for them in providing universal health coverage. So far, they have failed the test and Medicare For All is an increasingly attractive solution.

Vote Purger Leads Election Probe

The FBI is properly investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials who apparently meddled in the US presidential election. But if there was a conspiracy to hack the election, Republican officials did more damage with their systematic measures to suppress voter participation.

Donald Trump has claimed that millions of illegal voters were responsible for Hillary Clinton winning the popular vote by almost 2.9 million votes last November. So the minority president created the ironically named “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity,” to be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and vice chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is one of the leaders of the GOP’s systematic disenfranchisement of students, the poor, people of color and other likely Democratic voters. Kobach was a developer of Interstate Crosscheck, which aimed to identify Americans registered in more than one state and purge them from voter lists. Greg Palast has noted that Crosscheck merely matched first and last names of voters in 28 participating states, and it resulted in the purging of 1.1 million names from voter rolls before the 2016 election.

In Michigan, where 450,000 names were purged by Crosscheck, Donald Trump officially won by 10,704 votes. But Palast noted that a record 75,335 votes were never counted, on orders of the Republican attorney general — with most of the missing votes in heavily Democratic Detroit and Flint. There are unanswered questions about voting irregularites in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin.

Trump may have illegally conspired with Russians who hacked Democratic computers and turned up embarrasing emails. But law enforcement authorities need to discover whether Kris Kobach and Republican election officials on the ground in those battleground states helped to fix the election for Trump. — JMC

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2017

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Art by Kevin Kreneck

Selections from the August 1, 2017 issue

COVER/Hal Crowther
A whiter shade of pale?

GOP donors demand return on investment


Soft power, hard hearts and the bottom line 

RURAL ROUTES/Margot McMillen
12 Steps for democracy

Donald Jr. admits Russian lawyer offered dirt on Hillary during campaign;
Trump follows Fox News in faulty attack against Comey;
Trump continues record pace for lying;
Likely EPA pick not conservative enough for climate deniers;
G19 outmaneuvers climate rogue Trump;
Republicans in several states reduce minimum wages;
Corporate media celebrate job loss;
TrumpCare will save Social Security $3B because of the people it kills;
Hobby Lobby's stolen art may have financed Mideast terrorism ...

Where did all the cattle, and people, go?

America needs service workers — and they need health care

Mr. Fraud is on the trail of — voter fraud?

GOP ‘health’ bill: Death, disaster and gilded age greed

Showdown in the battle for El Paso

BOOKS/Seth Sandronsky 
Workplace democracy and its discontents

Don’t be fooled by rosy renewables projections

Searching for the soul of the Democratic Party

HEALTH CARE/Joan Retsinas
Send in the wedding planners: Health care

Billionaires have their uses in protecting democracy

Donkey in the doldrums and other tales

The many faces of climate science denial

How to fix NAFTA

Defense establishment needs rent control

Congress stonewalls bill to stop funding terrorists

Maher wears thin on ‘Real Time’

SATIRE/Rosie Sorenson
Dear poor people: God is so not into you

and more ...