Tag Archives: Congress

Health care is ‘hard,’ yes, Mr. President?

What once was “easy” has become “hard.”

So said the president of the United States. Yep, Donald J. Trump has told TV interviewers that efforts to overhaul health care legislation is a “hard” task, that it’s going to take time.

Who knew?

Certainly not the man who, while running for president, called it “easy.” He boasted from many campaign podiums that he would repeal the Affordable Care Act almost immediately upon taking office and replace it with … um, something else.

“It’s easy!” he bellowed.

Sure thing, bub.

It’s not so easy. The American Health Care Act barely cleared the House of Representatives. Now it’s the Senate’s turn to discuss and debate this matter. Except that only Republicans are doing the dickering; Democrats aren’t in the game.

And, oh yes. Now we have five Republican senators saying they dislike the current Senate legislation “in its current form.” The Senate, with a 52-48 GOP majority, can afford to lose only two votes; that would result in a tie and Vice President Mike Pence could cast the deciding vote, as he did when the Senate confirmed Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to her Cabinet job.

So, the president bragged and blustered about the ease of overhauling one-sixth of the nation’s economy. Today’s reality is telling him the hard truth, which is that legislating is a complicated job.

It’s hard, man!

Can’t get past the ACA repeal process

As I look over the outlines of the congressional Republicans’ effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, I see precisely one element that’s worth supporting.

That would be the end of the “individual mandate” that requires all Americans to have health insurance or else face a federal penalty. That particular part of the ACA has bothered me from the get-go.

The rest of it? I cannot accept what the GOP has tried to do — in secret, with no Democratic input, no public testimony (other than the angry rhetoric members of Congress have heard at town hall meetings across the country).

This is star chamber legislation, despite what Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell today said to the contrary.

***

Which brings me to my major point.

The process stinks to high heaven. Yes, it stinks even more than the way the ACA came into being, which wasn’t ideal, either. Still, the Democrats who ran Congress in 2009 at least were able to solicit public commentary while seeking in vain for contributions from their Republican colleagues in crafting the legislation.

Now we hear from former President Obama, who today weighed in with his scathing critique via Facebook. “Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family – this bill will do you harm,” Obama wrote. “And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.”

The Hill story on Obama post is here.

Why is it mean? It gives tax breaks to the wealthy; it rolls back Medicaid insurance for poor Americans; it wipes out federal money for Planned Parenthood, a major contributor of health services to women.

The Senate version of this new measure resembles the House version. The House managed to approve it with a 217-213 vote. Today, four conservative GOP senators said they can’t support the Senate version, which — if they hold their ground — dooms the measure.

McConnell is going to tempt them with goodies and other amendments. We’ll have to wait for whatever rabbit McConnell pulls out of his hat.

If the end justifies the means by which congressional Republicans have cobbled this legislation together, then we’re witnessing an exercise in political cynicism at its worst. The GOP aim — to my way of thinking — has been solely to strip Barack Obama’s legacy of this landmark law.

Let’s all wait now for the Congressional Budget Office — the famously non-partisan auditing agency — to “score” this latest GOP monstrosity. If the numbers show what previous CBO analyses have revealed — that millions of Americans will lose their health insurance — then we’ll get to listen to GOP lawmakers criticize the CBO for being too, oh, dire or negative.

The dance, then, will continue.

Whoever wins had better deliver in the House of Reps

Jon Ossoff vs. Karen Handel has turned into a serious spectator sport.

Ossoff is a Democrat running against Handel, a Republican, for a little ol’ congressional seat representing a district in Georgia.

But here’s the deal: The contest is going to cost more than any congressional election in U.S. history. Why is that? Well, Democrats see it as a referendum on Donald J. Trump, the Republican who is president of the United States. Republicans want to keep the seat in GOP hands and hope Handel is the candidate who can do it.

The former member of Congress from this district, Tom Price, is now secretary of health and human services. Trump carried the district during the 2016 presidential election. It’s a solidly Republican district. It should remain Republican Red, yes?

Hold on! Ossoff won the primary a month ago over a large field of opponents. He didn’t run up a 50-percent victory to win outright, so now he and Handel — the second-place primary finisher — are competing in a runoff election set for Tuesday.

Political analysts are crowing about the size of the early-vote turnout. Let ’em crow. We’ll know soon whether it represents a gigantic total turnout.

With all this attention and money being heaped on this special election, my own view is that whoever wins had better be ready for prime time the money he or she takes the oath of office. The media being what they are, you can bet there will be loads of attention piled on to the winner.

My own hope — not surprisingly, I’m sure — is for Ossoff to win. It doesn’t matter. I don’t live there. I have no tangible voice, other than use this blog to say that Donald Trump needs to face the prospect of his party possibly losing control of Congress after next year’s mid-term election.

This guy knows self-inflicted wounds

APPALACHIAN TRAIL, Va. — I sometimes amaze myself at how certain references relate immediately to other — seemingly unrelated — matters.

Our friends were driving us along a winding, rural road and one of them mentioned that we were tooling next to the Appalachian Trail.

“Oh, you mean the trail that Mark Sanford told his staff to lie about when questions arose about his whereabouts?” I said in response. “Yeah, that’s the one,” our friend answered.

We chuckled in the car as we recalled how the former South Carolina governor, and current member of Congress from that state, told his staff to put out the lie that he was “hiking the Appalachian Trail” while in fact he was in Argentina cavorting with a woman who wasn’t his wife.

That scandal didn’t harm Sanford too badly. He ended up in another public office, Congress, which contains its share of fellow rascals.

Then I mentioned that Sanford actually has spoken the truth about Donald J. Trump and the assorted difficulties in which he has become entangled. I noted that Sanford has spoken truthfully about how the president’s troubles are self-inflicted and that Trump should stop resorting to the “fake news” dodge to divert attention away from the kerfuffle that is threatening his presidency.

“Yeah,” our friend responded, “Sanford knows plenty about which he speaks.”

So he does. With that I’ll give Rep. Sanford plenty of props for saying out loud what all of his fellow Republicans ought to be declaring to the president.

Bipartisan era gone forever? Looks like it

I am thinking at this moment of an earlier era when presidents and members of Congress reached across the great partisan divide to ponder their joint legislative agendas.

The thought came to me when I heard that Donald J. Trump is going to meet this week with Republican congressional leaders to talk about upcoming projects.

No Democrats need not attend. Nope! Stay away, you folks. We don’t need you.

I’ll go back a few decades for a moment.

* Lyndon Johnson needed Republicans to help him enact landmark civil-rights legislation.

* Richard Nixon needed Democrats to run interference for his environmental agenda.

* Ronald Reagan developed a great personal and professional relationship with congressional Democrats, such as House Speaker Tip O’Neill.

* Bill Clinton relied on congressional Republicans to assist in producing a balanced federal budget.

* George W. Bush sought Democratic help in crafting education-overhaul legislation. I should add that President Bush had plenty of practice working with Democrats, as he did quite well in that regard while he governed Texas and became partners with Democrats who controlled the Legislature.

That’s when it seemed to end. Barack Obama didn’t develop many relationships with key Republicans, who — lest we forget — made clear their intention to block damn near everything the president intended to accomplish. And now we have Donald Trump seeking to push through a legislative agenda with zero Democrats in his corner.

I also recall those photo ops when presidents would sign bills in front of large bipartisan gatherings of lawmakers. He’d hand out ceremonial pens left and right. They’d all clap and slap each other on the back while extolling the virtues of working together for the common good.

Do you expect to see anything like that with the current president occupying that office in the White House?

Me neither.

‘I, alone … ‘ should have been given us a clue

Donald J. Trump’s time as president has lasted all of about 122 days — give or take — yet it seems like forever already.

As I look back on this man’s stunning political ascent, I am struck by one moment that I believe in hindsight should have given us a clue on what we might expect.

He stood before the Republican National Convention this past summer in Cleveland and declared that “I, alone” can repair all the things he said are ailing the country.

Setting aside for a moment or two the myriad problems that are bedeviling this man and his administration — and which might cost him his office — that particular statement suggested to me at that moment that this fellow really doesn’t get it.

He doesn’t understand one of the principal tenets of governing, which is that he is participating in a team sport. It’s so critical to understand that notion at the federal level, where the founders established a triple-layered governmental system where one branch holds no more power than the other two.

The presidency is but one branch; it must work in tandem with the Congress. Waiting in the wings to ensure that the executive and legislative branches don’t violate the Constitution are the federal courts, comprising actual judges, not the “so-called” types who render decisions that might go against whatever the president wants to do.

Donald Trump ignores political decorum, custom and practice. As some have noted, he does so either out of ignorance or does so willfully. I’ll take Trump at his word that he is a “smart person,” which means he is invoking a willful disregard for how the federal government is supposed to work.

The concept of governing by oneself does not work. It cannot work. The president is getting a real-time civics lesson in how the nation’s founders established this government of ours. He has vowed to run the country like his business. Yeah, good luck with that.

A business mogul can fire people at will. He can order underlings around, make them do this or that task. He can threaten, bully and coerce others.

When he takes the reins of the executive branch of the federal government, all of that prior experience gets thrown out the window.

How does the president tell Congress — comprising 535 individuals with constituencies and power bases of their own — to do his bidding? And how does the president actually defy the federal judiciary, which the founders established to be an independent check on every single thing the president and Congress enact?

Yes, the Republican Party’s presidential nominee gave it all away when he stood there in Cleveland and bellowed “I, alone” can fix it.

No, Mr. President. You cannot. Nor should you have ever tried.

Moreover, I believe his repeated efforts to trample over Congress and the federal courts are going to bite him hard in the backside as he seeks to defend himself against the other troubles that are threatening him.

GOP now reaping what it has sown

John Boehner was angry, man. He was furious when he took the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The Republican congressman from Ohio was furious that Democrats had pushed a bill that sought to reform health care without even reading the massive piece of legislation.

He bellowed, blustered and berated his “friends” on the Democratic side of the floor for shoving this bill down the throats of their Republican colleagues.

Boehner’s anger was righteous.

The Affordable Care Act became law in 2010. Boehner would eventually become House speaker. He would file a lawsuit to get the law repealed. Speaker Boehner, though, bailed on public service after continuing to fight with the TEA Party wing of his Republican House caucus. He’d had enough.

Then the 2016 election occurred. Donald J. Trump was elected president. He promised to “repeal and replace” the ACA. This past week, the GOP-controlled House approved a bill we’ll call “Trumpcare.” It’s an alternative to the ACA. It passed by just four votes out of 430 cast in the House.

But wait! Did the GOP leadership know what was in the bill? Did they read the legislation? Did their GOP caucus members read it? Do they know all the nuts and bolts of it?

Hah! Hardly.

They’ve repeated the sin of their colleagues. Does it make their effort to “shove it down Democrats’ throats” any more palatable? Not in the least.

Instead, GOP House members are hearing loud and clear from their constituents a ringing message: The folks back home don’t like what they’ve passed and what they have foisted onto the Senate for its consideration.

Meanwhile, the president who has crowed about keeping his campaign pledge now has to persuade the Senate to follow the House’s lead. Trump, the guy with zero government experience or knowledge of how it works on Washington, D.C., is going to recieve yet another lesson in how Congress just doesn’t do the president’s bidding whenever he barks the order.

And those Republican members of the House of Representatives who voted for Trumpcare are going to get a taste of what they sought to deliver to Democrats in 2010.

Payback truly is a bitch … you know?

Obama veto comes back to bite him … and his predecessors

Barack Obama just had to veto a bill this past year that would have cut presidential pensions.

Then the former president just had to accept a speaking invitation in which he raked in a cool 400 grand for remarks he delivered on health care issues.

Congress may try again

Now we hear that Congress might reintroduce the pension-cutting bill that will affect not just former President Obama, but all the other four living ex-presidents.

I was mildly critical of President Obama getting paid such a huge speaking fee. It’s not that he isn’t entitled to earn what the market will pay, but only that he ought to do as CNN commentator Van Jones suggested: take a poverty tour to see how “the other side” struggles.

President Obama issued the veto in 2016. Republicans in Congress didn’t try to override it. As USA Today reported: “At the time, Obama argued that the bill would have ‘unintended consequences’ and ‘impose onerous and unreasonable burdens’ on former presidents by requiring them to immediately lay off staff and find new office space.”

The legislation being considered is called the Presidential Allowance Modernization Act. It would roll back presidential pensions to $200,000 annually, plus another $200,000 annually for office and staff expenses. The bill would roll back the pension dollar for dollar for anything more than $400,000 in outside income a former president earns in a year.

According to USA Today: “Under the Former Presidents Act, the nation’s five living former presidents — Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama — get a pension equal to the salary of a current cabinet secretary: $207,800 in 2017. They also get $150,000 to pay staff, and ‘suitable office space, appropriately furnished and equipped.'”

I get that presidents deserve a nice pension once they leave office. They have all earned it, having served in the toughest job in the nation, if not the world.

However, the legislation being considered really isn’t an unreasonable alternative to what’s on the books now. Two hundred grand a year plus expenses isn’t a bad living at all.

Why not repair ACA instead of repealing it?

Barack H. Obama used to say it all the time: If Republicans have any improvements they want to make to the Affordable Care Act, I am willing to work it with them.

The Democratic president was open to tinkering with the ACA. He said he was keeping an open mind on ways to improve his signature piece of domestic legislation.

Then his time as president expired. His successor, Donald J. Trump, had vowed to “repeal and replace” the ACA starting with Day One of his presidency. He has labeled the ACA a “disaster.”

But the president can’t seem to bring himself to persuade his fellow Republicans in Congress to do as his predecessor has suggested regarding improving the ACA. They have dug in hard in their effort to repeal and replace the ACA. Trump has joined them. They now are left to fighting among themselves over the best way to replace the ACA.

The ACA is not the “disaster” that Trump has asserted about it. The law has provided health insurance for more than 20 million Americans who couldn’t afford it.

I am willing to concede that the ACA isn’t perfect. However, it is the law of the land. Why in the world can’t the GOP pick the law apart, huddle with Democrats, agree on what’s working and then seek to reform the elements of the ACA that aren’t working?

Oh, no. They cannot go there. The intention among the GOP leadership is to throw out every vestige of the ACA because, I’m going to presume, it has President Obama’s imprimatur. The Republican congressional caucus had declared its intention to make Obama “a one-term president,” and the ACA — approved in 2010 — simply had to go.

Tinkering and mending this law doesn’t constitute an unprecedented solution. Congress did as much with Medicare in the 1960s and with Social Security in the 1930s.

They managed — somehow — to improve those other two pieces of landmark legislation.

What about the here and now?

How do you define a ‘good’ government shutdown?

Donald J. Trump is wearing me out.

He keeps saying outrageous things, forcing bloggers and other commentators such as yours truly to figure what the hell the president is trying to convey.

Get a load of this one, the latest bit of crap-ola to fly out of Trump’s mouth: He now says the government can use a “good shutdown” in September when the money to fund it runs out.

Has there ever been another president of the United States who has uttered such abject nonsense? Umm, let me think. No. There hasn’t.

Trump frustration grows

As The Hill reports, it appears the president has grown frustrated with Congress, which has approved a funding measure that keeps the government operating, but includes zero money for that “big, beautiful wall” Trump wants built along our southern border with Mexico.

According to The Hill: “Democrats have argued that they won most of the battles surrounding the bill, and several media accounts have suggested that Trump and the White House were losers in the negotiations.

“A New York Times headline on the deal said: ‘Winners and Losers of the Spending Deal (Spoiler Alert: Trump Lost).'”

With the president, it’s all about winning and losing. He wants money to build that damn wall because it would constitute a “win” for him and his White House team.

As for the government shutdown idea, that’s pure idiocy. Then again, if Trump had any knowledge or experience with government — or perhaps any sense of the good that government can do for those who need assistance — he wouldn’t have made such a ridiculous statement, which he made via Twitter.

House Speaker Paul Ryan defended the president’s rant. “The president’s tweet was that we might need a shutdown at some point to drive home that this place — that Washington needs to be fixed,” Ryan said. “I think that’s a defensible position, one we’ll deal with in September.”

Shutting down the government can “fix” Washington? Oh, here’s an idea: Why doesn’t the president summon congressional leaders of both parties to the White House and start talking to all of them about constructive solutions?

That would fix Washington … wouldn’t it? It also would keep the government running and serving those Americans who need help.