Senate Healthcare Deal May Save The ACA from Trump’s Illegal Attack

It is no secret that Donald Trump hates the U.S. Constitution as much as he hates people of color, democracy, and women; he has violated it with a frequency that is mind boggling. In fact, his attempt to kill the Affordable Care Act is a glaring example of his disregard for the Constitution that informs his legal obligation is to faithfully execute all valid laws; particularly one that has been upheld twice by the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to Article II of the Constitution, all branches of government, including the executive branch, have to “take Care that the laws be faithfully executed.” Trump’s mandate is making sure that the nation’s laws are not only executed in good faith, he has to use his “executive discretion toward that end.” The agencies under Trump are also legally mandated under the Administrative Procedure Actnot to use their power to engage in arbitrary action” that harms a valid federal law.

Trump’s unilateral decision last week to inflict damage on the insurance industry and eliminate healthcare for millions of Americans is an “intentional sabotage of the ACA” and a violation of Trump’s constitutional obligations and those of his sycophants running the Department of Health and Human Services. In a fair society Trump would have been impeached for violating his oath of office and the Constitution, but this is Trump’s America now and the concept of a “fair society” no longer exists.

That being the case, it may explain why a Republican joined with a Democrat in a bipartisan attempt to shore up the cost-sharing subsidies Trump just unilaterally ended as part of another Republican attack on the American people.  Trump’s executive order putting an end to “cost sharing reductions” would have driven the insurance industry to increase premiums by 25 percent as well as make it impossible for low-income families to afford healthcare.

It was another effort by Trump to kill a valid law he claimed was “virtually dead” after his barbaric and illegal executive order ending cost sharing reduction payments. Two members of the Senate reached a bipartisan deal and it isn’t clear if the Republican was involved to save Trump or help the people and insurance industry; it is almost certain it wasn’t to help the people. Republicans never, never ever, do anything to help the people unless they are in the wealthiest 1 percent of income earners.

A short-term (two year) fix to save Americans from suffering a double-digit rate increase and save affordable access to healthcare is the work of Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA). It is noteworthy that Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) teamed up with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) last month to attempt at a similar deal even as Republicans were working to put an end to the ACA. Ms.Collins and Mr. Nelson’s efforts appeared to be genuine efforts to protect the people, not Trump.

On Sunday Senator Collins reiterated what everyone with a pulse knew that what Trump was doing would hurt Americans and the insurance industry. She told CNN’s Jake Tapper:

What the president is doing is affecting the ability of vulnerable people to receive healthcare right now. These certainly are very disruptive moves that will result in smaller numbers of people being insured. That will make it more difficult [for] low-income people to afford their out-of-pocket costs, and that will destabilize the insurance markets.

It is that disruption and destabilization the bipartisan effort hopes to put off for a couple of years if the short term deal manages to squeak through both houses of Congress.  According to Senator Alexander, that is precisely what the intention of the deal is. Only instead of avoiding “disruption and destabilization,” the Tennessee senator claims it is to “avoid chaos.” He said:

In my view, this agreement avoids chaos, and I don’t know a Democrat or a Republican who benefits from chaos.”

According to reports, terrible Trump “appeared” to back the deal he claimed was a “short term solution so that we don’t have this very dangerous little period, it’ll get us over this intermediate hump.” What Trump didn’t say was that without his illegal executive order attempting to kill a valid law, there wouldn’t be a “very dangerous little period.”

However encouraging a sign of bipartisanship to shore up the ACA appears, it is certainly not all good news. The deal includes giving states “more flexibility in the variety of choices they can give to consumers,” and it is a gift to Republican states that want authority to control how healthcare is administered and who they can restrict access to.

For example, to save the cost sharing reductions, Republican states will win free reign to disregard many requirements unique to the Affordable Care Act. Another gift to Republicans is the ability to offer “catastrophic insurance plans” (junk policies) to people of any age. Under the ACA only Americans under the age of 30 can buy worthless policies, or if they received a waiver because they work at jobs paying slave wages.

On the up side, Ms. Murray and Mr. Alexander restored millions of dollars for advertising and outreach activities publicizing the options available during the ACA’s open enrollment period. As part of his illegal and unconstitutional attempt to kill the valid health law, Trump decimated that funding earlier in the year. Senator Alexander “promised” that the deal “will spend about twice as much or more than President Trump wanted to expend.”

Although there was tepid support for “the deal,” there is no guarantee that hard line Republicans in the House and Senate will go along with anything that might possibly extend the life of the Affordable Care Act. In fact, it isn’t entirely clear if any Republican is supporting the “deal” for any other reason than saving the insurance industry or their standard bearer Trump from being in yet another violation of the U.S. Constitution. As anyone with a pulse is likely aware, Republicans have not done anything whatsoever for the health and welfare of the American people and if the deal was simply keeping the cost reduction sharing in place to help Americans afford access to healthcare coverage, it would have been a first.

What isn’t a first is Trump’s blatant disregard for the Constitution. Whether any member of Congress would have invoked Article II to pressure him to rescind his latest illegal executive order is highly doubtful; it is possible, but unlikely. It appears that the only people in Congress that can hold Trump accountable to the law will do anything to protect the corrupt cretin in the Oval Office. In this case it appears that a few Republicans are willing to let the ACA last a bit longer, but not to help the American people. It is more likely they are acting to save the insurance industry and protect Trump from being accused of something he does regularly; violate the U.S. Constitution.

Image: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Threats Failed to Sway Heroic Women Who Saved Healthcare

After the late-night defeat of the GOP’s attempt to take healthcare away from who knows how many millions of Americans, there is a fair amount of praise being heaped on Senator John McCain. If one listens to the typically patriarchal platitudes for a male – courageous, committed, maverick etc – it might appear that he was the only Republican interested in saving the lives of many of those untold millions who still have healthcare, for now. McCain’s vote was important, but no more important than, and certainly not as courageous as, those of two female Republican Senators.

What is woefully being under reported is the heroic action of two Republicans, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and it is down to sexism. Their votes to preserve healthcare for millions of Americans did not come without extreme pressure from Trump that makes their break from the cruel Republicans much more courageous, brave, and “mavericky” than John McCain’s. As an aside, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that McCain’s no vote was a vindictive and pointed “f*ck you” to Trump for his comments last year disparaging Senator McCain’s military service record including being held captive in a North Vietnamese prisoner of war camp for five years.

So as it turns out, the two Republican ladies drew the wrath of more than just the bully in the Oval Office for not toeing the party line and voting with their consciences according to their regard for Americans they were elected to represent.

Last week this “really big” man representing Texas in the House of Representatives, Blake Farenthold, lashed out at the Senate’s lethargic effort to repeal “Obamacare” and leaving tens-of-millions without healthcare.  But instead of blaming the deliberately secretive process, massive outcry from the public, and cruelty to millions of Americans, he naturally attacked Republican women.

According to this “extraordinarily big” man, if those “repugnant” female Republican senators were men, they would be facing him in a gunfight out in front of the capital. That is the kind of pressure Senators Collins and Murkowski faced and yet they still did what only one Republican man had the “courage” to do; serve the people and preserve medical care for tens-of-millions of Americans.

What really incited “big” Texas Farenthold to want a shootout with other Republicans was his claim that any Republican senator who failed to vote with the barbarians was breaking their 2016 campaign pledge. Farenthold said:

[It was] “repugnant that the Senate does not have the courage to do some of the things that every Republican in the Senate promised to do. Some of the people that are opposed to this … are some female senators from the northeast. If it was a guy from south Texas I might ask them to step outside and settle this Aaron Burr-style.

Something Farenthold may not be aware of is that not only is the state represented by Murkowski not in the Northeast,  no Republican in the House or Senate, including himself, or the punk in the White House, campaigned on a promise to take healthcare away from upwards of 30 million Americans – they just didn’t.

And in Murkowski and Collins’ cases, they certainly didn’t campaign on stripping healthcare access and reproductive choice from low-income women; something that has always been a major evangelical goal behind all seven years of the Republican Obamacare repeal effort.

Ms. Murkowski’s no vote was particularly courageous after being publicly harassed and threatened by Trump and his sycophant running the Interior Department, Ryan Zinke. The top man at Interior threatened Murkowski that the Trump administration would withhold funding for infrastructure and energy-related projects important to Alaska if she didn’t vote the way Trump demanded. The message from the Trump administration was that there would be punitive retribution against Alaska residents for Senator Murkowski’s vote against the GOP’s health care repeal legislation.

Predictably, the tough guys in the GOP would not speak up in Ms. Murkowski’s defense for voting her conscience, or call out Trump for what any sane person would deem bullying, “extortion” and “blackmail.” Where the men in the Republican ranks failed, Democrats in the House stepped up and are seeking to initiate an investigation and lawsuit into Trump’s “hit man” Zinke for calling Senator Murkowski to warn her that the administration’s support for energy projects in the state are now at risk because she failed to vote as ordered.

The House Democrats led by Representative Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources committee, were joined by a pair of conservation groups, the Center for Western Priorities and the Western Values Project, to alert Zinke and Trump that they “crossed the line” with their threats of political blackmail. Representative Grijalva said:

Running a department of the federal government means you serve the American people as a protector of their rights and freedoms. It doesn’t mean you serve the president as a bag man for his political vendettas. Threatening to punish your rivals as political blackmail is something we’d see from the Kremlin.

The Western Values Project filed a “Freedom of Information Act” request seeking all internal documents related to Secretary Zinke’s calls to Murkowski as well as any others that he made to other GOP senators for the purpose of “political blackmail.” The executive director of the Center for Western Priorities, Jennifer Rokala, said in a statement:

Ryan Zinke is revealing himself as Trump’s hitman. He’s now threatening to hold public lands and energy policy hostage over a health care bill. This is the U.S. government, not the Corleone family.”

Plenty of Americans would argue that under Trump the government is a veritable mafia crime organization, except that typically organized criminals would not target women for attacks, blackmail or extortion, or Aaron Burr-style gunfights.

It is notable that John McCain did the right thing in voting to preserve healthcare for tens-of-millions of Americans, but it was not heroic or courageous as no small number of media outlets claim. However, the two Republican women, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins were courageous when one considers the undue pressure and threats they absorbed from the thugs in the Trump administration, and the veiled threat from the “big man” from Texas. What reveals the level of cowardice, and patriarchy, in the Republican ranks was a gross lack of support for two of their own who voted like no small number of Republicans wanted to, but were too terrified of the punk in the White House and his thugs.

If the media has to hand out praise to any Republican for stepping up for the people they represent, then they have to first acknowledge the courage of two Republican Senators for standing up to the bully in the White House and voting according to their conscience; something only two Republican women were willing to do under duress and threat and something Senator McCain did not have to endure.

Three Senate Republicans Defect In a Blow To Trump And Koch Brothers

In what was a surprise bit of encouraging news this week while the country was witnessing obstruction of justice in the White House, three Senate Republicans joined Democrats to hand Donald Trump, the Koch brothers, and their fossil fuel cohort what is being called a stunning defeat. It has been well-documented that one of Trump’s major goals was repealing each and every one of President Barack Obama’s efforts to protect the American people, the environment, national security, and to encourage big oil to stop wasting energy. Three Republican Senators stymied Trump’s crusade this week in a victory for the environment and Americans’ well-being.

The Senate was attempting to do Trump’s and the Koch brothers’ bidding in repealing a late Obama-era limit on methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands. The gift to the fossil fuel industry was blocked due to the “defection” of Republican Senators Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. The three Republicans joined Democrats to defeat a barely-passed House resolution in February to “repeal the methane leak rule.” It is difficult to comprehend what kind of cretins would even consider abolishing a rule that prevents a nasty greenhouse gas, and threat to human health, like methane from being deliberately leaked into the atmosphere.

That rule was “issued” last November was an update to a 30-year old regulation meant to “govern” the deliberate leaking and venting of natural gases such as methane. Methane is known to be a particularly “potent greenhouse gas” responsible for contributing to anthropogenic climate change. It is a common energy industry, primarily the fossil fuel industry, practice to “burn off vast supplies of methane gas at drilling sites” because it is not as profitable to sell as oil. The rule specifically targeted drilling sites on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property to prevent “methane waste” that Trump and the oil industry claims is far too strict of a regulation on the poor beleaguered oil industry.

The Senate, like the House, had been assisting Trump, and rewarding the Kochs, in their goal to halt federal oversight of the drilling industry using the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to both abolish current regulations and prevent them from ever being implemented in the future. Trump had been on a “repeal” roll since taking office and has signed 13 different CRA resolutions to eliminate President Obama’s environmental regulations. It is noteworthy that prior to Trump’s “scorched Earth” effort to roll back environmental regulations, that 1996 CRA law was only used “just once before Trump” became president. Trump is a dirty hypocrite because he and his Republican cabal complained bitterly and condemned a real President, Barack Obama, for executive overreach in issuing new rules to protect the people and environment.

Republicans, and Trump as well, have touted their fossil fuel deregulatory crusade as a means to American energy independence and an effort to provide Americans with plentiful and cheap fuel for electricity generating plants. However, the amount of methane burned off into the atmosphere each year from drilling operations is more than enough to provide electricity for about three-quarters-of-a-million (740,000) American homes. When the amount of natural gas that is leaked, or burned off, is included, those wasted gases would power about 5 million American homes each year.

The resolution to repeal the limit on toxic gas leaks had incredible support from Senate Republican leadership as well as the Koch brothers’ oil and gas industry. That support included “a six-figure, multimedia advertising campaign that targeted reluctant Republican lawmakers” that have thus far resisted aiding Trump’s childish and moronic denial of climate change. The oil and gas industry had made pressuring the Trump administration to eliminate the BLM rule one of its highest priorities and one they wanted accomplished immediately.

The chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, John Barrasso (R-WY) not only supported the House-passed resolution to “kill the rule,” he appealed to Trump’s Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to circumvent the normal congressional legislative process and just revoke the methane leak rule unilaterally. But as Reuters has reported, a dictatorial edict by the Interior Secretary would have “involved a laborious bureaucratic process” that would have been “ultimately vulnerable to legal action” from environmental groups and concerned citizens.

The Republican Representative who sponsored the House legislation, Utah Mormon and anti-federal land crusader Rob Bishop is chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee who said Republicans in the Senate had “no rational reason not to vote for it.” Earlier this year, Bishop told The Hill on learning that Lindsey Graham was reluctant to support the repeal; “Senator Graham doesn’t live in the West, and doesn’t understand these issues, clearly.” What Senator Graham does understand, unlike a frightening number of Republicans, is that climate change is a real and present danger and any effort to reduce emissions exacerbating it are worthwhile for the sake of the economy, people’s health, the environment and national security.

The issues are not about oil industry gas leaks and Bishop knows it. The issues for Republicans, particularly Utah Republicans, is their outrageous insistence that the federal government has no right to own land it purchased or regulate its use. This is particularly true in Western states like Utah and it was the primary reason for the so-called Bundy Standoff in Nevada.

Senator John McCain, a Republican who does live in and represent constituents in “the West” gave Mormon Rob Bishop a very clear and rational reason why he joined Democrats to shut down the Kochs’ repeal effort. Senator McCain said,

While I am concerned that the BLM rule may be onerous, passage of the resolution would have prevented the federal government, under any administration, from ever issuing a rule that is similar.”

While the oil and gas industry and its Republican puppets were demoralized and angry that one of their efforts to increase the damage from climate change was thwarted, environmental groups were pleasantly surprised. The Executive Director of the Sierra Club, Michael Brune responded to the Senate vote and said:

Today is a victory for our public lands and for the health of families across America, and a defeat for Donald Trump, corporate polluters, and their friends on Capitol Hill. People across the country will continue to resist and hold Congress and Trump accountable for any efforts to put the profits of polluters before the health of our families and our communities.”

It is likely there won’t be many instances that any Republican will oppose Trump’s, the Koch’s, or their fossil fuel industry cohort’s efforts to wipe out sane regulations to combat climate change, preserve energy, or protect the health and well-being of American citizens. But whatever the reason Senators McCain, Collins, and Graham stood up to Trump, the Kochs, and fossil fuel industry, it is an encouraging sign that there are at least three Republicans who understand that they cannot fulfill their mandate to work for the general welfare of the American people and still pander to the Koch brothers’ oil industry. In this particular instance McCain, Graham and Collins opted to protect the people and in these dark times even one Republican, much less three, opting to serve the people is worth celebrating. It may be a long slog before it ever happens again.