It Just Will Not Stop

Just when one thinks that just about everything that could happen under the Trump Administration has already occurred — it can’t possibly get any crazier, but it does.  Last week was chock full of newsworthy items, any one of which would have been worthy of discussion but they just kept coming and coming. Over the last week or so, we’ve seen proof that President Trump still does not understand the dignity and impact of the presidency.

To quickly cover a few of the highlights before getting to the main event — health care bills — let’s do a tour d’ horizon.  Two venerable institutions, the Boy Scouts of America and Police Departments across the country, had to issue apologies and “clarifications” following President Trump’s speeches to the annual Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia and to a Long Island New York police department.

In the former he gave a political speech that was short on inspiration to America’s youth and long on past grievances, politics, and a reminder of how personally great everything Trump is and will be. Some parents threatened to pull their kids from the Scouts.  President Trump supporters opined that the “kids loved it” forgetting that they are boys and teens and that when you get 40,000 kids together in one place, especially mostly boys, they will laugh and cheer at just about anything, especially if flatulence is involved. On Long Island the president seemed to say that police brutality when arresting suspects was okay.  As usual, whenever called out on similar pronouncements, it was proposed that it was a “joke.” Police departments around the country could only cringe and issue statements that such statements were no joking matter and that their (fill in the city) police department does not condone such action.

Within days of President Trump announcing the new White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci, aka “The Mooch”, aka “Mini-me” Mr. Scaramucci went on a rant to a New Yorker Magazine reporter that disparaged key senior members of the White House staff and included numerous references, in full graphic detail, to acts of biology that to my knowledge are impossible.  No comment from the president at the time.  Others in the Administration opined that he’s just a “New Yorker” and apparently that’s how New Yorkers talk about co-workers.  Having lived for a number of years in New York state I don’t recall anyone talking that way and certainly not in the name of the President of the United States.

In Tweets (Tweets!) the president continues to disparage his own Attorney General and his first and for a very long time, only official supporter for president.  According to some accounts this is a prelude to cleaning out the senior levels of the Department of Justice including the Attorney General, his deputy, the Acting FBI Director, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  No problem there.  In another Tweet the president arbitrarily told all active duty transgender military personnel that their services were no longer required “in any capacity” because they are a burden and “disruptive.”  Suddenly somewhere around 7,000 soldiers, Marines, Sailors and airmen are in limbo and told that somehow their patriotism and willingness to defend the nation does not count.

In yet another Tweet, the president fired his chief of staff Reince Priebus.  The Tweet announced that retired Marine general and serving Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly would be the new chief.

Whew!  A full week.

On the upside for those of us rooting for a successful and appropriate presidency there were several positive developments.  As I write this, reports are that Anthony Scaramucci was removed from his job of ten days as the Communications Director.  I have no inside information but I suspect that the new chief of staff had something to do with that as Mr. Scaramucci bragged last week that he only reported directly to the president and did not have to answer to anyone else on the staff.  My knowledge of General Kelly, although limited, would indicate that he would absolutely not tolerate antics such as those of Mr. Scaramucci.  Perhaps the General can bring order to the White House staff.  We’ll see, but a good first step.

Also positive, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford, USMC let it be known that the military does not act on Tweets or any other form of informal communications when a policy decision is to be made, even a Tweet by the president concerning transgender policy.  Hurrah. It remains to be seen what actual policy evolves, but it is good to know that spontaneous utterances by the president will not precipitate military action.

Further good news came out of the Congress that overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill strengthening sanctions primarily against Russia, but with some additional provisions against Iran and North Korea. The Congress felt it necessary after listening to, and observing the actions of, President Trump with regards to Russian President Putin and our president’s apparent fascination with him.  The White House staff had worked hard behind the scenes to stop the passage of the bill but both houses of the Congress got up on their hind legs and said “no” to the president on this issue. A positive sign that they may increasingly exercise their role in governing as an equal branch of the government.

Many Republican Senators and Representatives also went on the record along with their Democrat colleagues to oppose President Trump’s Tweet policy on transgender individuals in the military and the treatment of Attorney General Sessions.  Clear signs that the president will not get blanket support from them.  As an aside, the president now taunts Republicans as well as Democrats via Twitter seeming to make it clear that he does not consider himself a Republican.  But to most of us, that is no surprise.

And of course let’s not forget that North Korea tested new Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) that experts think can reach targets on the U.S. mainland as far as Chicago.

Arguably the biggest news of the week was the failure to repeal or repeal and replace or otherwise get rid of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) lovingly known as Obamacare.  Most of us followed the news and at least heard of the ins and outs of the entire suspense filled week of “will they or won’t they?”  They did not.  One could ask why after seven years of clamoring for (and voting over 50 times for) the repeal of Obamacare the Republicans were not ready to put forward their own coherent health plan. One could also ask why the only argument put forward by most Republicans, and especially by the president, had nothing to do with the merits of the proposed replacement plan(s) but rather the only argument was that Obamacare was “bad” — nothing about why the new plan would be better.  SAD!

But be careful.

I do not think the health care battle is finished, only in a strategic pause.  There will be further efforts to repeal or repeal and replace.  For supporters of Obamacare, or supporters of a bipartisan effort to repair Obamacare and to make it better, do not relax.  The fat lady has yet to sing.

Over the weekend President Trump tweeted out (how else?) that Obamacare was going to implode and implicitly that he would make it happen.  On Sunday the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Mick Mulvaney went on television to be explicit about the president’s threats/promises. As I have written in this space before, the president can do grave harm to the current Obamacare system, primarily through non-enforcement of the mandate and by withholding funds to subsidize premiums. He also made news by threatening the Congress and Congressional staffers with actions to increase their premiums.  I am no expert in this area, but this is what I understand is the issue.

Is it possible for the president to make Obamacare “implode” as he promises?  As with most things, the answer is “it depends” on what part of Obamacare one refers to during the discussion.  Since Obamacare remains the law of the land, the president cannot make it go away at once.  He can, however, create enough chaos in the system that it can degrade over time.  Remember that most Americans get their health insurance through their employers or through the government (military, VA, military retirees, Medicare, etc.).  For middle to low-income working adults and for children that do not have employer or government health insurance they mostly get their insurance through Medicaid or in a market place created by the ACA.  Although a major factor in the latest debates, Medicaid is provided by law and cannot be legally changed without a change to the law. What is really under discussion are the ACA market places.  Since the ACA was fully implemented, about 10 million Americans get their coverage via the government market place.  These are the people you most hear about on the news and in political rallies, be it how bad the system is or how wonderful the system is.

The administration has a number of ways to degrade the ACA.  In a slow motion effort, they could stop advertising and marketing the exchanges so that people either don’t know that the markets still exist (a lot of Americans are unsure as to what is available after all the latest hubbub) or miss deadlines to sign up because there was no public advertising as to how or when to get on board.  Additionally, if the administration follows through by not enforcing the mandate (either get insurance or pay a fine) healthy people will get out of the market which causes costs to rise for the insurers which is then passed on to those still in the market — their premiums rise — or the insurer gets out of the market because it isn’t profitable for them if they have to eat the added costs.  (Remember the three legs from my 23 June post. To work, if we want to cover pre-existing conditions, the system needs a mandate to keep the pool costs low by balancing healthy folks with those that we already know have problems, but then to be fair, we subsidize those that have to have insurance but cannot afford it.  Get anything out of whack, and the system starts to wobble — the promised “death spiral.”)

President Trump is threatening/promising to speed up the process by withholding cost sharing payments. As I write, they are only released through the end of July — today. (The next deadline is in late August.)  The ACA requires insurance companies to hold down the deductibles, co-pays and premiums for those in the individual market place. However, the insurance companies are not charitable organizations and they are in business to make money.  To make up the loss of revenue to those companies every month the government makes up the difference on the costs — currently about $600 million a month.  Should the Trump administration stop paying those subsidies, premiums for those on the market place would sky-rocket or the insurers would just pull out of the market.  This is a lot of what you hear about when those that oppose the ACA say it is “collapsing.”  Health care and health insurance is not “collapsing” for most Americans, but it could for those middle to low-income Americans that are on the individual markets should the president follow through and try to cause the ACA to “implode”.

He claims the Democrats will “own it” and he will take no blame.  I think he is fooling himself if he takes deliberate action to make it tough on the citizens he swore to protect.

There is one more esoteric wrinkle in the president’s threats that you may hear more about this week. Mr. Mulvaney explained the issue and says that the president is serious about implementing it.  This involves the health insurance for members of Congress and their staffs.  Despite rumors to the contrary, by law the entire Congress and their staffs are on the ACA — they get their insurance from Obamacare. But with a wrinkle.  President Obama’s administration put out a policy that allowed them to treat each individual office of each Senator and Representative each as a small business.  This means that they are eligible for the subsidies just talked about above, saving them lots of money out of their own pockets. Before setting our hair on fire, take a minute to think about it.  Certainly the individual Senators and Representatives could afford to pay full price in an employer plan, but most staffers, interns, administrative personnel, etc. working in their offices are young folks not making much money.  It would have a huge impact on them should President Trump change the policy to exclude them from the subsidy program.

Today is the start of a new week.  Let’s hope it is a dull one.  We need to take a collective deep breath and take a few minutes to enjoy the summer.  And summers in official Washington D.C. are supposed to be dull.  Nothing going on.  If so, hold on to your hats come September.

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Whither Healthcare?

“Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”  — President Donald Trump 27 February 2017

And you know what?  He is correct.

As the Senate debates and votes on Trumpcare to repeal and replace Obamacare over the coming days, much will be written and talked about regarding its impact and efficacy.  Some will think it is great and others will think it a travesty.  It all depends on what the goal for the program might be and how one thinks that goal should be attained.  Is Trumpcare, or the American Health Care Act (AHCA) (as it is called in the House of Representatives while the Senate Bill is called the Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017) designed to help Americans and keep them healthy or is it an attempt to do the bare minimum while saving the government, and ultimately tax payers, money?  One’s view of Trumpcare also depends on whether or not Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is working for you.

Put more succinctly, is healthcare in the greatest country on earth a right or a privilege?  Should it be open to a free market — those that can afford to pay do, those that can’t need to earn more money — or something that every citizen deserves?  If you happen to think that healthcare is a privilege, you get what you pay for, then you may as well stop reading here because you basically think that the government should have nothing to do with healthcare.  If you think that access to healthcare should be a right, then read on. Be forewarned however, that this is, as the president says, complex. Politicians of every stripe also parse and obfuscate elements of healthcare to their own advantage. It can be difficult to determine where the truth lies — especially since many times two people can both be technically correct while interpreting the meaning in totally different ways.  As I like to say, it is the difference between what things are and what things mean.

Here is the crux of the problem.  The United States does not suffer from poor medical care.  People come from all over the world to have their health problems resolved here in the U.S. — if they can afford it. That is the problem.  It is not the quality of care, but rather having access to good care and being able to afford it. Access and affordability are the reason we need insurance plans which is what both Trumpcare and Obamacare are really about.

The U.S. does not really have a health system.  It has a series of health systems depending on whether the individual is on Medicaid or Medicare (the dreaded by conservatives single payer system), or on the VA or Tricare (military) system (basically socialized medicine), or gets insurance through an employer (where most people get their insurance), or buys it on the open market (usually very expensive).

A pervasive goal in the U.S. should be that no one goes bankrupt due to an unexpected illness or injury. Likewise no one should have to forgo medical treatment because they cannot afford it.  Both happen in the U.S., although by most accounts, Obamacare went a long way in reducing the numbers of people in either situation.

So let’s design a system that helps people get care without using their every last dollar.  Let’s assume we want a system where no one can be turned down — or charged unattainable amounts of money — for a pre-existing condition.  This seems to be one area that most politicians can agree upon and one of the most popular aspects of Obamacare.  How to do that?  It does not take a genius to see that maybe I won’t buy any insurance until I get sick or injured and I will save a lot of money in the meantime.  That leaves only those with pre-existing conditions on the insurance rolls — a situation which will either leave the premiums so high as to be unaffordable, or leave the insurance companies holding the bag and going bankrupt.  To even out the costs and make them more affordable to all, we would then require everyone to have insurance — the dreaded mandate. However, it may not be fair or even affordable for everyone to buy insurance, especially for people that do not receive insurance through their employer, so if we are going to require it, then we should come up with a system to help people pay for it — the other debated aspect, subsidies. Those three elements are the basis for every proposed health care plan concocted by politicians.  If you play around with one of the three, it impacts the other two.  It becomes a very complicated game.  How one plays the game depends on my opening statement — what is the goal for the plan?

On top of that throw in hot button issues such as who can do what (Planned Parenthood anyone?), whether in our proposed system we “punish” young healthy citizens by making them subsidize the old “sick” citizens, should the government have the power to tell people that they “have” to have insurance, and who pays for all this, the wealthy or the poor who are most likely to benefit from a plan like this.  It does indeed get complicated in a hurry, and also very emotional for a lot of people.

In evaluating a planned system, lots of politicians focus on premiums and deductibles — and not always together.  It is possible to devise a plan with very low premiums, lower than Obamacare, but does it cover everything?  Does it have a high deductible?  Does it have annual or lifetime caps? What pre-existing conditions are covered?  Those and other details mute any discussion about premiums.  To coin a phrase, we cannot compare apples with oranges.  Premiums are certainly relevant when discussing the cost of a particular plan, but it is not sufficient to get a true picture of the impact or value of that plan.

To muddy the issue, the president makes unfounded claims about Obamacare.  He says “it is dead.” Except it isn’t.  But the president and the Republican leadership are trying hard to kill it, partly to force through Trumpcare.  Insurance exchanges are drying up and companies are pulling out because of the biggest fear they have — uncertainty.  The Congress has yet to decide if they will provide the money for the aforementioned subsidies to help people afford the mandated insurance.  And they have announced that they will not enforce the mandate.  Two of the legs of our three-legged plan are being distorted, that means the third leg is terribly out of balance which makes it appear the system is not working.  If insurance companies don’t think they are going to get paid — or that they will be left holding the bag for high cost pre-existing conditions which they are required to cover — then there are two choices.  They can raise premiums or leave the market.  Most experts assert that without the uncertainty coming from the White House and Capital Hill, the health insurance system in the U.S. would be stable and hold down costs for most (most — not all) Americans seeking health care.  Many people now have insurance that would not otherwise have it.  The result is “wellness checks” and other preventive health measures now sought out by people that did not seek it before.  Therefore they are healthier and the over all expenditures for larger, more catastrophic care comes down because they are less necessary.  Like it or not, the states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare generally have more small hospitals and clinics serving the poor or rural areas of their states because those hospitals have a known source of income for the care they provide.  Many of those small hospitals and clinics closed in states that did not expand Medicaid and there is significant concern over the reduction of those Medicaid funds under Trumpcare. In mostly rural states such as Alaska and Maine, even their Republican Senators are concerned and may vote against the proposed Senate bill.  Senators Murkowski and Collins both realize what the proposed reductions in Medicaid mean to their states and are worried, as are others.

Whatever your own views on healthcare in the U.S. take a good hard look at any plan floated to solve the problem.  I am no expert on this subject.  Not at all.  I recognize that we do not have a bottomless purse to pay increasing costs for social programs.  I get it.  Personally, I think we leave a lot of possible solutions (such as a single payer system which prevails in many modern nations, such as Canada) on the table because of emotional political arguments rather than a factual airing of the pros and cons to different solutions.

It boils down to one’s personal views.  Do you get what you pay for and if you can’t pay you don’t get it? Or should the greatest nation on earth also provide the best healthcare available to its citizens?  If so, how is it paid for?  There are no easy answers, but I think we are making it harder on ourselves than needed.  Democrats and Republicans state that they both have the same goal — to make healthcare available to our citizens and at a cost that is sustainable.  If that is the case, then everything else is politics.

To me, we have a system for providing affordable care through an insurance program called the ACA — Obamacare.  No one thinks that system is perfect.  Democrats affirm that they are willing to work with Republicans to fix what needs to be fixed.  Republicans shout that Democrats are obstructionists while jamming through a bill that even most Republicans did not get a chance to look at.

You can look it up, you don’t have to take my word for it, but in putting together Obamacare the Democrats took nearly a year, held countless hearings, folded Republican amendments into the final bill, and tried to put together a bipartisan bill.  Politics interfered at the end of that process and one could argue that Democrats jammed it through at the end.  But contrary to what you now hear, it was not a secret process and it wasn’t a slap dash final product.  I am not sure what the rush is in the Republican held Congress at this point.  This is major legislation that will impact many Americans and a large chunk of our economy. There is no need to play hurry up ball at this point.  Every piece of legislation has some perverse and unintended consequences.  Obamacare has some.  Trumpcare certainly will if it has not been properly vetted and reviewed.  It is too important to just slam through, whether or not you support the fundamental political and social theories behind it.

This process is not in the best interests of our country.  I hope that cooler heads prevail and that everyone takes a step back.  Take a deep breath.  Let’s regroup and come forward with a bipartisan approach to helping every citizen find effective and affordable healthcare.

I’m not holding my breath.


Deal or No Deal? No Deal…. This Time. But More Will Come

“Obamacare is the law of the land. … We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”  — Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) on 24 March 2017

The last ten days of the Donald Trump Administration has had more drama and newsworthy events than any recent presidency in memory.  Most of it was not good news.  Not good for the country and not good for the Trump Administration.  Ranging from the revelation that the FBI is conducting a long-term investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and foreign entities, to the failure of the House of Representatives to vote on a replacement for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The American Health Care Act (AHCA) was pulled by Speaker Ryan because of its sure defeat in the House.  A defeat I may add, that came despite the fact that the Republicans had a majority in the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House.

There are many reasons why the bill failed, and I am sure that pundits will dissect those reasons at length as time goes by.  Among the most prominent in my view, is that as the final push began to go from theory to an actual bill, the Republicans lost sight of policy and focused primarily on politics. In so doing they ended up changing the bill in ways that left only 17% of Americans in favor of it replacing the ACA.

Despite President Trump’s promise on 17 January 2017 that his health care bill was nearly finished and would be revealed shortly, he apparently did not have one of his own and went with the proposal crafted by Speaker Ryan.  In that January interview, President Trump also insisted that his health care bill would provide “insurance for everybody” and that people “can expect to have great health care. It will be in a much simplified form. Much less expensive and much better.”  Which, surprisingly from this administration, turned out not to be true.

One could also ask why after seven years of campaigning on “repeal and replace” the Republicans did not have a viable plan, worked on by all factions of their party, with the contentious issues litigated before hand, ready to go?  It became a lesson for the new majority that opposition is much easier than leadership.

Speaking of leading, President Trump learned that leading the nation and a divided government is much different, and I would add more difficult, than running Trump, Inc.  The “closer” couldn’t close and he found that threats to an equal branch of government do not carry much water when the president’s approval rating is only in the 30’s and his disapproval rating is in the high 50’s.

There are other significant issues at play and we will see how things work out in the coming months as the president moves on to more “fun” (his word) endeavors such as tax reform and infrastructure renewal.  However, I think that all concerned are naive to believe that health care is resolved for the future.  In many ways, this is just round one of a longer, continuing saga.  As always, the devil is in the details and there are many details yet to be resolved before the battle of the ACA vs. AHCA is over.

Recall that President Trump and others continually repeat that the ACA is a “disaster” and in his usual method of communicating complicated issues, tweeted that “ObamaCare will explode and we will all get together and piece together a great healthcare plan for THE PEOPLE. Do not worry!”  One of many such tweets where he constantly reiterates that ObamaCare (the ACA) will “explode” or “implode” depending on his mood of the day, and blaming everyone — Republicans, Democrats, bureaucrats, a long list — for the failure of the bill to pass the House.  He blames everyone but himself or his dogmatic but very inexperienced staff, even as insiders say that he never really understood the policy behind the bill, nor really had much interest in it other than as a tag line during the campaign.

“Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.” — President Trump on 27 February 2017

Here is the real point.  In fact, President Trump and his administration can turn his prediction into a self-fulfilling prophecy.  By regulatory action, or inaction, and by refusing to defend or promote the current system, they can indeed cause it to fail.  Not tomorrow, not the next day, but over time they can ensure that it fails without the proper attention to implementing its provisions.

Nearly all impartial adjudicators, including the Congressional Budget Office, state that under current provisions, the ACA will not explode, implode, or otherwise become a disaster.  It is working. However, it is not working perfectly and could use improvement.  In particular the number of insurance companies participating are decreasing, and deductibles in some areas are increasing. There is some debate as to whether this is happening because of the uncertainty that surrounded the ACA leading into the introduction of the AHCA or other factors.  Generally, the experts say that this trend can be reversed and in any case, does not impact all Americans.

The ACA — ObamaCare if you will — can be improved and should be improved.  Just like Social Security and other programs, the original plans are rarely perfect and it is entirely reasonable to see changes that improve the process and benefits.  Hopefully, now that the histrionics from both parties are over, the real leaders of the House and Senate can sit down in a bipartisan way and work on fixing the things that need to be fixed in the ACA.  I am not optimistic that it will happen. It will be difficult because from a policy viewpoint it is expensive and from a political viewpoint the Republican majority cannot pass such legislation without significant numbers of Democrats on board.  Thus far they have shown themselves to be unbelievably reluctant to pass anything that needs Democrats to carry the day. Conversely, at this point in time, Democrats are unwilling to show support for much of anything that President Trump is pushing.  That said, I am more confident that President Trump will be willing to work with Democrats and they may in turn be willing to work with him, on the right issues.

Unfortunately, the Secretary of Human Health and Services Tom Price made a career in the House of Representatives by opposing the ACA.  Now that he is the Secretary he can make regulatory changes that lessens the coverage provided by the ACA.  He can refuse to defend in it court when challenged and he can refuse to advertise re-enrollment dates and other factors that makes it harder for people to access and benefit from the Act.  Whether this will happen or not,  time will tell, but as the president and others continue to insist that the ACA will collapse, it is entirely possible that Secretary Price will help to make matters worse.

President Trump now has the opportunity to demonstrate whether or not he is the great negotiator that he claims to be.  He can choose to show real leadership and bring the parties together and do something positive for all Americans or he can show us that his “repeal and replace” sloganeering was only that — an applause line without substance.  So far his stated intention is to “move on.”

What he cannot do is claim that he no longer has any responsibility for the future of health care in the United States, which is what he tried to do last Friday.

“I think the losers are Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer because now they own Obamacare. They own it – a hundred percent own it. And this is not a Republican health care. This is not anything but a Democrat health care. And they have Obamacare for a little while longer, until it ceases to exist, which it will at some point in the near future.  And just remember. This is not our bill. This is their bill.”  — President Trump on 24 March 2017

Sorry, Mr. President.  I regret to inform you that you are the president of the entire nation and that you are responsible for the well-being of all its citizens.  And oh, by the way, it was the Republicans that could not get themselves organized to pass their own bill.

Let us all work for a better deal in the future.

 

 

 


Now What?

“Mr. Boehner, tear down this wall!”

–with apologies to Ronald Reagan

As we continue to endure the shutdown of the federal government — or as the Republicans prefer to call it, the “slim-down” — it is just too easy to be outraged.  Unfortunately, that does not help and does not get us anywhere.  Even more dangerously, we are approaching the point where the good faith and financial reliability of the United States will be in jeopardy.

I am confused, however, by the tactics of the Republican members of the House.  Either that, or those tactics are so blatantly obvious that even I can understand them.  There does not seem to be any over-all strategy in what they are doing.

I constantly shake my head each day as I remember that all of this fuss is over a Continuing Resolution.  It is not about solving the economic problems that we as a nation face.  It is over a six-week Continuing Resolution (CR).  It seems pretty clear to me that passing that CR and then beginning negotiations on the larger problems and issues we face is the way to go.  The Senate and the President have both already said that they would agree to discuss “anything” that the House Republicans put on the table, but not without opening up the government and giving us some breathing room on the debt ceiling.  The inside the Beltway crowd that tracks such things repeatedly states that there are enough moderate Republicans in the House that will join all of the Democrats in the House to pass such a CR giving enough time to move on to solving bigger problems.  Speaker Boehner refuses to allow that to happen.  He also states that when (if?) negotiations begin there can be no “red lines” inhibiting the discussions, and in the next breath says there can be no discussion about raising anything that even smells like a tax.  What?  Say that again.  I believe he said there are no red lines except for those he wants to have.  That’s what I thought I heard him say.  (See this whole thing is getting me so that I’m talking to myself now.)

More confusing is the current Republican tactic in the House that passes individual pieces of a CR to open up selected pieces of the government.  Primarily those where they are taking heat from their constituents because of the media attention.  Things like the national parks, the National Health Institute, Head Start, etc., all areas where there has been bad publicity concerning the shutdown.  On top of that, they passed a bill that essentially pays federal workers to stay home indefinitely.  How does that help the nation save money?  We are paying more for what some people think we shouldn’t pay for in the first place, but getting nothing for it.  Makes no sense to me.  I’m glad for the workers that will get their back pay — although that doesn’t help them pay their bills right now — but it doesn’t help all of those workers that do not work for the government but support it.  These range all the way from contractors (by definition no contract, no job, no pay) to food truck operators that have government workers as their primary patrons, and hundreds of thousands of others that are not part of the government and not getting paid and will not get back pay.

Now they are trying to turn the tables on Senate Democrats by saying that they’ve helped these people by passing their piecemeal CR for some areas, but that the Senate refuses to take them up.  Hey!  It’s easy!  Just pass one CR for the entire government and all those other piecemeal bills are totally unnecessary.   The only reason to do it in bits and pieces is to try to claim that the far right-wing Republicans are not the ones holding things up — it’s the Democrats after all!  How silly.  It also shows that they hold the citizens of our nation in such low regard that we would not see right through this callous political ploy.

Now we have to worry about the debt ceiling.  I think it fair to say that no one knows exactly what will happen when we hit that mark.  The United States has never done it.  However, I believe it would be reckless to find out.  A child has never put their hand on a hot stove before either so they may want to try to find out what “hot” means.  A responsible parent, of course, would never allow it.  Where are the responsible Republicans in the House?  There are many in the Senate.  I know there are many in the House as well.  Why not speak up and keep us from finding out what happens about a week from now?  I suppose to some it is kind of exciting to see what will happen, or to think that you have the power and the means to destroy our nation’s economy.  If that is what they are thinking then we used to have a name for people who were trying to destroy our country and surely it was not “patriot.”

I have heard many people saying that this is just business as usual, we’ve been here before, and in the end it will work out.  I hope that they are right, but I’m not so sure.  This has a different feel to me.  Unlike similar developments in the past, I am unaware of any back room or back channel negotiations taking place.  Those that have brokered such deals in the recent past, primarily Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell, are noticeably absent in this go around.  There is no clear path out of this situation unless Speaker Boehner allows a vote on the clean CR in exchange for some defined negotiations over budget issues (not Obamacare).  Right now he does not seem inclined to take yes for an answer as the President has already promised to do that.  I know that Speaker Boehner does not want to go over the fiscal cliff and that he wants to re-open the government, but I don’t know that he knows how to get out of this situation.  And that is scary.

If you remember my earlier posts concerning Syria, I provided an outline of how planners put together an operation.   Of foremost importance was understanding the mission, and that includes what things should look like when the mission is accomplished.  How do you know that it is over?  I also discussed branches and sequels if the plan does not go as expected — either through unanticipated success, or unanticipated obstacles.  If the hard-core Republican position is the end of Obamacare, then they have already failed in their mission.  They are not going to get it out of this scenario.  If their alternate plan is to cut government spending then they have already succeeded through the budget negotiations in 2010 and 2011 and the current sequester.  If they see the end state as something else, then it is not clear to me what that would be.  Or at least one that they could realistically achieve.  That is what makes this scary.  At this point I don’t think they know what they want, other than some grand statements about less government spending and smaller government.  Okay — if that is their desired end state then what is the plan to get there from here?  I have not heard an articulate explanation of what they will do.  I have only heard what they will not do.  At some point they must have a coherent plan.

I suppose the only way out now is for the Democrats and the President to provide some face-saving concession to Speaker Boehner to give him a life-line to get out of this mess.  What that is, or should be, is not clear in my mind.  It should not be anything having to do with Obamacare — we’ve been down that road too many times already.  It will probably have to do with entitlements and ways to cut spending in those areas, although the President has already offered some of those as the basis to start negotiations and been rejected.

Okay Tea Party Republicans, you’ve had your fun and shown that you cannot be ignored even by your own party.  Now what?  More importantly, Mr. Boehner, tear down this wall of intransigence!


How Long Do We Have to Put Up With This?

There go my men and I must follow as I am their leader.  — John Boehner

Speaker of the House John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) did not actually say those words, or at least there is no record of it.  But it seems to be his motto.  He has demonstrated little to no control over his party in the House of Representatives.  The latest lack of leadership revolves around the upcoming end of the fiscal year and the need to fund the government or shut it down.  Right behind that by about three weeks we will face default on our national debt if the debt ceiling is not raised.  This development seems to be yet another impending manufactured crisis in the continuing efforts of about forty right-wing Republican Representatives determined to destroy our national economy if they do not get their way.  “Looking out for the middle class” indeed.

Speaker Boehner understood that the legislation passed in the House yesterday is not the way to make sure that the government continues to operate effectively.  He knows that the Senate and the President will never go along with his plan to delay and/or de-fund the Affordable Health Care Act otherwise known as “Obamacare.”  He tried to maneuver legislation that will give the malcontents a chance to vote once again to eliminate Obamacare but in a way that the Senate could then easily overcome and everyone could move on.  But no, that wasn’t good enough for those trying to hijack our country and so Speaker Boehner backed down and moved legislation nearly guaranteed to keep us tied up in knots once again.  He even pretends now that it is a good idea.

There are several things to remember about this “fight” as they call it.  First of all It is a manufactured crisis.  The Affordable Care Act is duly passed legislation found Constitutional by the Supreme Court (with five of the Justices avowed conservatives) and a national election where Obamacare was a primary issue.  In case nobody noticed, President Obama was re-elected and the Democrats retained the Senate.  Let me put a finer point on that.  The president was re-elected in a national election.  Any member of Congress, including the Speaker, was only elected by a small fraction of the electorate.  On top of that, the House has voted at least forty times (almost too many to count) to repeal, defund, delay or otherwise disrupt the legislation.  This they have time for but they cannot seem to find the time for getting on with the business of actually running the country.  Throw on top of that the refusal to consider other significant pieces of legislation passed in the Senate with bipartisan support and they really do have a terrible track record.  I suppose that the only thing that matters is that they demonstrate their commitment to obstructing the Obama administration at every turn whether or not it is a good idea and whether or not it hurts the majority of Americans.

Oh, and by the way, the bill they passed is only a continuing resolution to mid-December.  There will still be no 2014 budget or appropriations.  They “need more time.”  This after being on vacation for five weeks in August and September and coming after several attempts by the president in the spring to work with Republicans to avert a crisis and to get things moving again.

Oh, and by the way, sequestration remains in force under their continuing resolution which all agree is not the way to reign in government spending.

Speaker Boehner spoke of “victory” after the vote.  The only “victory” was by the recalcitrant gang of forty and their allies outside the government such as Heritage Action for America and the Club for Growth that have intimidated moderate Republicans in the House.  I could go on about the growth industry supported by these groups and the immense amounts of money that come their way when the conflict continues, but that will be a post for another day.  I will merely say that they have no real interest in resolving these issues because that’s what they thrive on.

Not-with-standing the real politics behind the scenes, and I do understand how a Speaker of the House gets elected by the majority party, there should still be an occassional reminder to Speaker Boehner that he is Speaker for the entire country, not just a radical wing of his party.

I am also tired of these guys (and a few gals) who claim to speak for all Americans.  As the Speaker said, “We had a victory for the American people, and frankly we also had a victory for common sense.  Our message to the United States Senate is real simple.  The American people don’t want the government shut down and they don’t want Obamacare.”  Well, maybe he got it half right as most of us do not want the government to shut down.  Note that he says the “American people” meaning every American.  Not “most Americans” or “many Americans” or even “my constituents that are Americans” or any other modifier.  Every American.  How dare he or anyone else say that?  How conceited to think that he or his party speaks for every American.  He may mean those that voted for him and that’s legitimate, but the facts just do not support the assertion that everyone wants Obamacare eliminated.  Note also that they have not proposed any replacement for bringing health care to those that need it.  Just get rid of what was passed three years ago.

This is outrageous to me.  Saner minds, including I’m sure Speaker Boehner, must know that their bill will go exactly nowhere.  However, it is not clear to me how this will get resolved.  If the malcontents do not get their way on the continuing resolution (an actual spending bill by 30 September is now out of the question) they have threatened to default on the national debt.  Thanks guys, I’m sure that will help the economy to recover.

Oh, and by the way, raising the debt limit is required to pay our nation’s bills.  Bills that we are already committed to based on legislation already passed in the House and Senate.  This is not new spending.  It’s paying the existing bills.

To be clear, I do think that we should take a hard look at spending, programs and where government can be trimmed or modified or improved.  Likewise I’m sure that there are ways to improve the Affordable Care Act and that there will be blips along the way that need to be rectified.  Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other programs have been improved through bipartisan efforts.  It should be the same for this program and for government spending on the whole.

There is no moral equivalency here.  Suggestions to compromise fall on deaf ears because there is nothing to compromise about.  The hostage takers will not negotiate or compromise.   I understand that Democrats don’t get everything right.  The president doesn’t get everything right.  Not all Republicans are trying to bring down the government.  There are some good people on both sides of the aisle that could fix some of these issues in a meaningful way.  It is not happening because of the group of Republican crazies in the House (and lately two or three in the Senate).  No one will stand up to them from within their own party for fear of losing their job.  From where I sit, those people may as well lose their job because they are not doing it.  If they are unwilling to stand up for what they believe to be right, then they should leave.

To me Speaker Boehner has decided that it is more important to remain as Speaker of the House than to do the right thing (he wouldn’t lose his seat in the Congress as he is popular in his home district).  He could have put forward a bill to solve the “budget crisis” that would have passed with bipartisan support.  But he also knew that those in his party that want to hold the country hostage would probably have brought him down as Speaker.

Here is what will probably happen, although increasingly I am finding that I should get out of making predictions.  But, I will give it a try anyway.

The Senate will pass a bill that is a continuing resolution that keeps spending at about current levels but that will try to move some money around to lessen the impact of the sequestration.  A few Republican Senators will try to derail it.  This slows down the process so that the bill passes with only two or three days until the deadline and then goes back to the House.  Another round of publicity speeches will take place as they continue to rant against Obamacare and the administration.  This will further slow down the process so that the “compromise” that passes the House and Senate sometime early on the morning of 1 October will be the spending levels that we have now including sequestration.  It will be temporary so that we can do all of this again in late December or early January.

All concerned will take a break for about one day and then the hostage taking will continue anew over raising the debt ceiling.

How long do we have to put up with this?