You get a miniature update today. Things to keep an eye out for this week are:
- House tax bill markup begins today. They have 17 days, including weekends, to finish this bill and get a vote before Thanksgiving. The bill is likely to change a lot between now and then. I'll try to keep an eye out for those bigger changes.
- Manafort and Gates are back in court today. They will both seek to get off of house arrest today.
- This Ross story that Monica shared with us last night is still evolving. NPR said this morning that both Rex Tillerson and Gary Cohn were also mentioned in the papers.
- Rand Paul was attacked at his home on Friday. Initially, the news made it sound like nbd, but we're hearing now that he's got several broken ribs, a punctured lung, and it's uncertain when he'll be back in the Senate. See here.
- The Senate will be confirming more DOJ nominees this week.
- Kirstjen Nielsen gets her confirmation hearing this week to replace Gen. Kelly as Secretary of Homeland Security. She'll be in front of Committee on Wednesday at 10am.
- The VA elections are tomorrow. This gubernatorial race will have national implications, and it's certainly been a dirty one. I cannot WAIT to stop seeing the TV ads. Virginians: go out and vote Ralph Northam tomorrow. Those of you living outside Virginia can help with phone banking here.
I'll send a better update tomorrow!
Not too much news since yesterday, so just some brief bullets...
- The fate of the tax bill is not looking good. Multiple GOP moderates in the House, and a few GOP Senators have spoken out against it since it dropped yesterday. The bill will be marked up in the Ways & Means Committee next Wednesday, where we expect to see major changes - especially since the JCT analysis says that it violates the Senate's Byrd Rule.
- The president is off to the Asia now, where he will be attending a summit, meeting President Duterte of the Philippines (accused of genocide - NBD), and trying to negotiate peace in the Korean peninsula.
- As I mentioned yesterday, Carter Page testified without a lawyer to the House Intel Committee for over 6 hours yesterday. According to his own statements after the testimony, and those of members in the meeting, he invoked the 5th on a number of occasions, but also did a lot of talking. One of the things he said was that he told Jeff Sessions about the Russia meeting proposal. OOPS. Democrats in the Senate are now demanding that the AG reappear in front of the Judiciary Committee, and even Republicans are wanting to hear more from him, but haven't gone as far as suggesting a new hearing yet.
- The Department of Justice is filing a complaint with SCOTUS against the ACLU, claiming that they misled the DOJ regarding the timing of Jane Doe's abortion. Seems like they're beating a dead horse right now, but who knows. Seems like they're seeking disciplinary action against Jane Doe's lawyers. I'd like to think that SCOTUS doesn't bother itself with such petty matters. At this stage, I have a lot more faith in the ACLU to make a good argument than the DOJ.
- Manafort and Gates will appear in court again early next week to receive their bond hearing. Yesterday the judge sent them back home on house arrest with electronic tracking for the weekend, and issued a gag order on Manafort's attorney to not speak about the case to the press. The trial date is set for May 7. Mueller's team expects the prosecution's side of the trial to last 3 weeks. Manafort's lawyer says he will file pretrial motions of dismissal for evidence obtained "unlawfully".
- Last night, the president's Twitter account shut down for 11 minutes. Reportedly, an outgoing employee was having a laugh, Twitter called it "human error", but now folks in the national security space are calling it a major risk. I'll be interested to see what if anything happens about this.
Other than that, not much happening up here!
I expect that I will NOT have time to do an update Monday. I should be able to push out breaking stuff, but don't expect a big analysis in the morning.
Good morning, and happy tax rollout day!
Diving right into things...
Here's a rundown of the tax bill that was just released: https://www.wsj.com/articles/republicans-stick-with-big-corporate-tax-cuts-in-house-bill-1509629510
As I said yesterday, the biggest problem in this whole thing is how these cuts will be paid for AND follow budget reconciliation rules AND appease all moderate/hyperconservative members. It's going to be a big job to get all of that sorted out, and THEN have to agree with the Senate.
No sooner did the Twitter, Facebook, and Google lawyers leave the Hill yesterday, did the House open up a treasure trove of Russian-backed ads that were used in the 2016 campaign. Look them up, and if you recognize them, spread the word to your networks that they were fakes.
Another thing that came out after the hearings was this article from BuzzFeed came out: https://www.buzzfeed.com/alexkantrowitz/twitter-offered-rt-15-of-its-total-share-of-us-elections?utm_term=.eugOGbxzY#.lqyQNrgy1
Much of the questions during the hearings this week surrounded exactly how much profit these companies earned from Russian ads, and exactly who was behind them. None of the lawyers were particularly interested in talking about that, and that really annoyed the Senators.
This morning, the WSJ is reporting that prosecutors may have identified 6 (!) Russian government officials who may have been behind the meddling: https://www.wsj.com/articles/prosecutors-consider-bringing-charges-in-dnc-hacking-case-1509618203
If they can make the connection between those officials and US/Trump campaign officials, this thing could blow up big time.
BREAKING: Clovis has withdrawn. Thank holy goodness for that
Late last night, the president removed his Twitter filter and suggested in all caps that the perpetrator of this week's attack should get the death penalty. Because he has no idea how the justice system works, he wouldn't know that that statement alone could derail the whole case if it goes to a jury. The judge will have a very difficult time finding jurors who were not affected by that tweet.
The good news is that most experts think that there's enough evidence (including a confession and an apparent total lack of remorse), that this case likely won't have to go to trial.
Democrats should all be concerned about possible rigging in the 2016 primary. The article is by Donna Brazile, and the headline is "Inside Hillary Clinton's Secret Takeover of the DNC".
Here's the article: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/02/clinton-brazile-hacks-2016-215774
Of course I wish Hillary had won. Please don't mistake my anger at this article for that. It's just infuriating that on both sides of the 2016 election nothing was free or fair.
Enrollment for ACA health insurance begins today and lasts until December 15. Tell everyone you know! [FactPower note: Please see FactPower's enrollment information here.]
NEW YORK ATTACK
The president this morning tweeted that the attacker got to the United States by way of a visa lottery program called the Diversity Visa Program he blamed Chuck Schumer for. I'm just going to fact check that real quick, with the help of Senator Flake:
1) Visa information is not public, so IF we know how the man got his green card yet, it's knowledge that right now only the FBI has. The State Department even issued a statement yesterday saying as much.
2) Senator Flake this morning retweeted the presidents tweet and said: "Actually, the Gang of 8, including @SenSchumer, did away with the Diversity Visa Program as part of broader reforms. I know, I was there."
3) The president has access to the most up-to-date and in-depth Intelligence in the world. This was nothing more than lashing out at his political enemy to exploit a situation.
I'm having some serious déjà vu this week with all that's going on in this space.
Here's the conclusion our office has come to about this whole thing. They may very well come out with a bill tomorrow (it's still really not certain that they will), but no matter what they come out with tomorrow will change. They're going to have to walk back all of the pay-fors because they'll piss too many people off, and then they'll be back at square one trying to make up for a $5.5 trillion deficit loss (only $1.5 trillion is allowed under budget rules).
I know this is all very wonky. On Marketplace this morning, there was a great conversation about the tax bill. Here's the link so you can listen: https://www.marketplace.org/latest
The lawyers from Facebook, Twitter and Google got ripped apart yesterday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, and as we speak they're about to experience that same thing by the Senate Intelligence Committee.
At this stage, what lawmakers seem to want to know most is:
1) What kind of platform are these online companies: social platforms or content platforms. The differentiation is important because if Facebook, Twitter and Google are purely social and not producing their own content, the onus to regulate that content falls on them (and they claim that they're improving there). If they are producing their own content, which some groups and politicians claim they are, then some think the government has the responsibility to regulate ads just like they do on TV and the radio.
2) Right now, these platforms, especially Facebook, are resisting regulation. They claim that it's too hard to root out hostile actors purchasing political ads, but they're trying. The exchange between Al Franken and Facebook's lawyer yesterday demonstrated that, so google that and watch it.
I'm sure today's hearing, which just started, will focus more on the national security aspects of this conversation, rather than the legal points. This will definitely be a meatier conversation because this is the committee that's been most effective investigating Russian meddling in the election.
Other than that, there's not terribly much going on up here today. It's open enrollment day, so spread the word (also a very good Morning Edition story on that this AM). I'm tuning into the Intel hearing now, and will of course keep you posted.
Moore was on Capitol Hill yesterday, and it didn't go so well.
DEPT OF JUSTICE NOMINATIONS
New batch of DOJ nominations. All men. This brings the ration to 50:3 for DOJ noms...
Happy Halloween! This is a really busy week. Here's what's going on today:
There are all of a sudden A LOT of experts on this issue right now, and this is going to be the headline for the rest of the week and beyond. I think the WaPo Daily 202 did a really good job of breaking down takeaways this morning though, so I'll summarize that for you.
1. The indictments tell us that multiple members of the Trump campaign flirted with the idea of getting help from the Russians. This is what George Papadopolous was arrested for.
The timeline fits:
DNC email hack was March 2016 --> Papa communicated with someone believed to be linked to the Russian government in April --> In July, Trump famously encouraged the Kremlin to release the emails.
Throughout the course of that timeline, the photo of Trump, Papa, Sessions, and others were photographed sitting around the same table. This photo ON ITS OWN refutes the White House's claim that Papa was a low-tier campaign staffer. Pro tip: Low-level campaign staffers, paid or unpaid, DO NOT sit at the same table as the candidate on the regular. Period.
Other things that happened during that time period were, of course, the Trump Tower meeting that Manafort and Don Jr. were involved in.
2. Sam Clovis will be in the hot seat next week on Capitol Hill. [See yesterday's last message]
3. We know that Papa is still to some extent helping Mueller's team as a "proactive cooperator". Seth Abramson, former prosecutor and current law professor at UNH (and an outstanding Twitter resource for this) said yesterday that, "there is every reason to think that Papadopoulos was wired for sound not long after his arrest on July 27th, 2017 at Dulles airport."
He wouldn't have gotten such a nice plea deal had he not gotten some good sound for Mueller's team or at least sufficiently convinced Mueller's team that he could get good sound.
Another thing the Papa arrest tells us is that Mueller's team is REALLY good at keeping things secret. If you're not in D.C., you didn't feel the shockwave that rocked this town after that announcement dropped yesterday. It is extremely difficult to keep secrets in this town, and now we know Mueller and his team can do it extremely effectively.
4. The updated timeline raises more questions about what Trump himself new and when. Here are some questions WaPo poses:
- Was Trump present when Papa said that he could set up a Trump-Putin meeting? According to the indictment, there was indeed a national security meeting with foreign policy advisers, which is where Papa told the group that he had the connections to the Kremlin. It is unclear whether Trump himself was present at that meeting.
- Did Trump know Papa had been interviewed by the FBI when he called James Comey in January to ask for loyalty? There are allegations that the FBI interview and the Comey call happened on the same day, January 27th.
5. Mueller is playing hardball, meaning if you cooperate, you get a shiny deal like Papa. If you don't, you get hit hard, like Manafort and Gates.
Just to recap what they're facing: Manafort and Gates' bond is $10 million and $5 million unsecured, respectively. They are both also under house arrest with daily reporting.
Only four times in history has someone been convicted under the FARA law for failing to register as a foreign agent, and usually it's a simple civil penalty. This is the first time the violation has been elevated to a criminal one, which means Mueller is going for maximum leverage with Gates and Manafort.
A former Watergate special prosecutor said of Mueller's charges that "the only defense that [Manafort has] is to go in there and start singing like a canary to avoid jail time", and indeed, both Manafort and Gates each face over a decade in prison. However, based on the statement Manafort's attorney gave yesterday, that doesn't seem to be the strategy they're taking. My guess is that they plan to drag this out as long as they can.
Gates brought a public defender with him to court yesterday, and there was no statement.
6. Unsealing Papa's guilty plea was Mueller's insurance policy that it makes it politically untenable for Trump to fire him.
Congressional GOP have been mostly mum on this issue until now, fleeing from reporters and cameras yesterday so as not to have to say anything. The deafening silence was broken only by a peep about how they're not worried about Mueller and his job. There was legislation drafted just a few weeks ago to protect Mueller and his funding, but that seems to have all but died at this point.
Some key lawmakers have also noted, perhaps disguised as other comments, that firing Mueller would cross some sort of line for them, saying things like "it's important to let our legal system run its course" (Grassley), or "He's not going to get fired by the president" (Hatch).
It's also been made clear that the president's counsel both in and outside the White House have advised him to tamper his public responses, and to not go after Mueller personally. My feeling is that his rage will boil over at some point, and he'll say something terrible.
Apparently Steve Bannon is urging the president to take action against Mueller, from which we can also assume that Steven Miller is quietly doing the same.
7. This week, the week the House is set to roll out it's huge tax reform plan, will be the test to see how much this revelation by Mueller's team will affect the president's legislative agenda. The agenda has had a hard enough time as it is without huge news like this, so it will be interesting to see the fallout from it on Capitol Hill as the days go on.
8. With Tony Podesta's downfall, Mueller has proven what we've known all along: his investigation is not political or partisan. He's going after big players who have broken big rules, regardless of who they've given money to or voted for in the past.
AS A REMINDER
This is not the only part of the Russia story. Today at 2:30pm, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear from lawyers from Facebook, Twitter and Google about Russian interference in the election.
According to Axios, here is how the tax debate is shaping up. I know no more than I did yesterday, officially.
"The House is set to release its tax plan on Wednesday, but the Senate is planning on releasing its own bill about a week or so after. The bill will differ in some significant ways from the House bill, and is geared toward attracting moderates like Sen. Susan Collins — and even potentially Democrats.
Here's how the Senate plan is shaping up, per congressional aides and an administration official.
- The Senate is likely to not fully repeal the "estate tax" — a 40 percent tax on estates worth more than $5.49 million for individuals and $10.98 million for couples. This is a key demand of Collins, per Bloomberg.
- The Senate is more likely than the House to do a full repeal of the state and local tax deduction.
- Yes, but: If there's any hope of courting Democrats, the deduction probably can't be fully repealed. There are currently quiet conversations ongoing with Democrats viewed as potentially gettable (such as Sens. Claire McCaskill and Tom Carper on the Finance Committee), per an administration official.
- Like the House, there are likely to be four individual tax brackets — including keeping the current top rate of 39.6 percent on the wealthy (another Collins demand, although specifics matter). Both chambers have discussed levying this rate on people making $1 million and higher.
- The Senate is unlikely to make changes to 401(k) contribution limits, although President Trump may have killed this idea in both chambers last week.
- The Senate, along with the House, is likely to have a phase-in of the lower corporate rate.
The other thing that happened yesterday is that, contrary to her early support of the bill, Susan Collins drew a red line on what she will not accept in a final version: Lowering taxes for folks who earn more than $1M/year, and she doesn't want to see the Estate Tax go away. Additionally, she made comments about how she is skeptical of a deficit-raising tax cut plan.
Remember: This bill has to be identical in the House and in the Senate, and at this stage where we don't have text, only rumors, it doesn't sound like they will be remotely similar.
This place is swarming with lobbyists this week because, in addition to their own constituents, the GOP is beholden to just about every major cause that has a lobby shop in Washington, and needs to come up with a plan that appeases them all and keeps their cash flowing. This is why tax reform is so hard, btw.
FEMA Director Brock Long was meant to testify in front of the House Homeland Security Committee tomorrow, but for some unknown reason, that testimony has been postponed. This could have something to do with the fact that the Whitefish contract has been cancelled, so now the GOP might think it's unnecessary for him to testify.
This Whitefish thing has been a big deal for Puerto Rico, and I haven't covered it well enough with you folks, so with the help of the WaPo Energy 202 from yesterday, here is my analysis:
- The move from the Puerto Rican governor now is to make mutual aid requests from New York and Florida ---- in the eyes of many, this should have been the first move.
- The Energy 202 paints a good picture of this controversy with Whitefish:
-- Zinke's son worked for the company last year.
-- Whitefish paid its foremen $462/hour and its lineman $319/hour. These are scales higher than its competitors, which begs the question as to why Puerto Rico of all places, an island strapped with debt, would choose them. As an example, the Army Corps of Engineers has been offering firms $195/hour for journeyman linemen and $230/hour for general foremen. Why did PR go with the costlier option?
-- Whitefish's owner, Andrew Techmanski (close friend of Ryan Zinke), also is a shady character. His wife was listed as one of Whitefish's two managers, despite reports from her Facebook page that she had just started a new job as a nurse practitioner. Some suspect that she is on the contract to help Whitefish qualify as a "economically disadvantaged woman-owned small business", which is bad for real business that qualify as such.
-- Within the contract itself stated that the rates could not be audited or reviewed by FEMA or PR's government, the comptroller general, or PREPA.
- So far the Administration has denied wrongdoing, Ryan Zinke even issuing a statement.
- The final decision to grant the contract to Whitefish was that of Puerto Rico's electric utility, PREPA.
The Administration and federal government must do a few things now:
1. Visibly assist Puerto Rico with getting its electric grid back up and running -- this is of utmost importance.
2. Review FEMA's response. My boss has learned that FEMA took 12 days to get to many Puerto Ricans. This needs to be looked into.
3. Help Puerto Rico investigate and hold someone accountable for the Whitefish contract. Even though the contract is cancelled, doesn't mean there shouldn't be any follow up.
4. Do something about Puerto Rico's debt situation. This has been a years-long, ongoing crisis, and it's time the U.S. government stepped up. In a GOP-controlled congress with other priorities and problems to deal with though, don't count on it.
ANOTHER GOP RETIREMENT
Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) is retiring and will not seek reelection in 2018. This guy is very close with Pence. Possibly eyeballing him for an Admin post (Commerce Secretary if Ross is brought down by Russia?)...or maybe VP Pence fancies himself his own Cabinet...just in case.
That's all for now -- stay tuned, Happy Halloween, and don't forget to remind folks that open enrollment starts TOMORROW.
Well, this is going to be a hell of week on Capitol Hill. There is SO much happening.
To nip the news of the day in the bud...
Paul Manafort and Rick Gates have turned themselves into the Grand Jury this morning for booking, and their charges have been released.
The indictment is 31 pages long and includes 12 counts including:
- Conspiracy against the U.S.
- Money laundering
- Unregistered agent of a foreign principal
- False Statements
- 7 counts failure to report foreign bank accounts (amounting to $75 million)
This is huge, but will be slow-moving. White Collar crime is notoriously slow, but this is a really big first start.
The news on this will be ongoing all day, so I won't go too deeply into it. Here are some fun facts:
- The judge presiding over this indictment is Obama Appointee Amy Berman Jackson
- MANAFORT was the guy who convinced Trump to change the Republican National Platform to be more Russia-friendly regarding Ukraine -- which signals to additional potential charges relating to collusion.
- Rick Gates, if you remember, is the one who took the blame for Melania's plagiarized convention speech.
- Indictment does not include any reference to the Trump campaign, but the timeline includes the period that Manafort served as campaign chairman, which may preclude more charges.
- Here's the indictment. I don't have a legal mind to analyze this, but maybe some of you do: https://www.justice.gov/file/1007271/download
- People to follow for updates on this today (on Twitter): Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson), Andrew Beatty (@AndrewBeatty), Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariott), and Walter Schaub (@waltshaub)
- CNN just said that they will be in front of the judge at 1:30 this afternoon
OPEN ENROLLMENT STARTS WEDNESDAY AND ENDS DECEMBER 15. TELL EVERYONE YOU KNOW.
We expect to see legislative language from the House on Wednesday. We're hearing that there are still a lot of sticking points among Republicans, but as with healthcare, we don't know anything for sure.
HEARINGS THIS WEEK
Today, 5pm: Senate Foreign Relations on the Authorization for the Use of Military Force. Mattis and Tillerson will be testifying.
Intelligence Committee: Nomination of John C. Demers to be Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division at the U.S. Department of Justice.
Judiciary Committee: Extremist Content and Russian Disinformation online with representatives from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube
Intelligence Committee: Social Media Influence in the 2016 U.S. Elections with representatives from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube
Energy and Natural Resources Committee to receive testimony on the potential for oil and gas exploration in the 1002 area (Arctic). This is part of the Budget instructions...and it's bad.
Other than that, the Senate is working on...you guessed it...Judicial nominations!
Stay tuned...this will be a big week in news. Other things coming are the Administration's Fed nomination, the president's trip to Asia, and any other crazy shit that might go down.
Apparently the president, the Vice President and the Attorney General are having lunch together today.
Russia tidbit: Before he became Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross was Vice Chair-Owner of the Bank of Cyprus where Manafort allegedly hid tens of millions of dollars.
RUSSIA: George Papadopolous pleaded guilty earlier this month to making false statements to the FBI. This case was unsealed today. (This is the campaign aide who tried to set up the Russia meetings.) Manafort and Gates plead not guilty. Bond for Manafort: $10 million. Bond for Gates $5 million. ALL THREE MEN (including Papodopolous) have surrendered their passports. Manafort and Gates will be on "home detention", and Papodopolous has further restraining orders attached to his charge.
Oh right, SCOTUS returns today too: https://www.ballotpedia.org/Supreme_Court_cases,_October_term_2017-2018#tab.3DCases_by_sitting
PUERTO RICO: The FBI is looking into the Whitefish contract, which was cancelled yesterday.
TRANSGENDER MILITARY BAN: court bans Administration from changing military policy on transgender service members.
Jared Kushner just wiped his twitter account. Very interesting stuff going on today... Also, Podesta has stepped down from his lobbying firm.
This is big, and call-worthy:
In Papo's (I'm going to name him this from now on because his name is too damn long) indictment, it cited a "campaign supervisor" having emailed him (Papo) encouraging him to travel to Russia.
Yahoo News, in this article, is claiming that that supervisor is Sam Clovis: https://www.yahoo.com/news/mueller-discloses-trump-campaign-aide-pled-guilty-lying-russian-contacts-181302597.html
Here is the paragraph specific to Clovis:
"The charges against Papadopoulos provide substantial new details about communications between the Trump campaign and figures close to the Russian government — a central part of the investigation by Mueller. The court records unsealed Monday do not provide a clear account of how senior Trump officials followed up on Papadopoulos’s efforts to set up a meeting with Russian officials.
But they quote one unidentified campaign “supervisor” as emailing him in August 2016 that “I would encourage you” to make a trip to Moscow to arrange such a meeting. A Trump campaign source identified the supervisor as Sam Clovis, a conservative radio host who was co-chairman of the campaign. Another “high ranking” official — identified by the source as campaign chairman Paul Manafort — received an email from Papadopoulos saying that “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite some time and has been reaching out to me to discuss.” Manafort forwarded that email to his associate Richard Gates and wrote: “Let’s discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.” (Some of these emails were quoted in a Washington Post story this past August that first identified Clovis, Manafort and Gates as the campaign officials who sent and received them.)"
Here's what you can call your Senators about: Sam Clovis has his CONFIRMATION HEARING to be the USDA top Scientist.
Aside from Clovis NOT being a scientist (http://www.npr.org/2017/09/04/547934012/trumps-nominee-to-be-usdas-chief-scientist-is-not-a-scientist), he is also a terrible person (https://www.thedailybeast.com/he-screams-about-race-traitorsand-trump-loves-him) and NOW rumored to be involved in this Russia mess.
So read these articles, and call your Senators, especially if they sit on the Agricultural Committee.
Hello and happy #JetFumes Thursday!
The Senate is scheduled to vote to confirm a judicial nominee, and then they'll tee up cloture on another one, McFadden for DC. Then they will all get out of here.
The House is scheduled to vote on final passage of the Senate Budget Resolution, which I suggested yesterday is not guaranteed that it will pass. (Pete King is now saying that he and his caucus in the House have the votes to tank the Budget Resolution. I think if you're represented by an R in the House, now is a good time to call. This is particularly for members in NY and NJ -- encourage them to KEEP the State and Local Tax Deduction. That seems to be the sticking point here.) The Republicans can afford to lose 22 of their own, but that's it. I'll be keeping a close eye on the House floor today because, well, that's what I do.
It was just announced that the president will name the opioid crisis a "public health emergency", which is quickly being criticized because it's a much narrower classification that a presidential "national emergency". There are some important things that this declaration will NOT do:
- It will NOT unlock new federal funds to address opioid abuse. Whereas a "national emergency" would have suspended Medicaid regulations and opened up a huge swath of HHS money and power to deal with the crisis. Instead, the Administration says they'll work with Congress to get more funds in the end-of-year budget, which is already being seen as a contentious bill, likely to shutdown the government completely. The Administration also didn't put a number on what they want from Congress.
- The declaration will be up for renewal every 90 days. For a crisis that's been going on for over a decade, this seems pitifully insufficient.
What the order WILL DO:
- Expand access to telemedicine services. According to Axios, this will "allow people to make temporary appointments with specialists (among federal and state workers) who can be deployed to address the opioid crisis under this declaration in rural areas."
- DOL can issue grants to provide displaced workers with work opportunities (not entirely sure what this has to do with the opioid crisis, but okay).
- Certain HIV/AIDS programs will shift more substance abuse treatment to people eligible for these programs.
Overall, I think this is a wildly inadequate response to the biggest addiction crisis in history.
After facing serious backlash from mainland and PR officials, there will be an oversight official appointed to oversee the reconstruction of the Puerto Rican power grid by the small Montana company with links to the Trump campaign. TBD if there will be further action taken, but Dems in Congress want an investigation.
To give a bit of a glimpse into next week, here are some interesting upcoming hearings:
5pm Foreign Relations -- Hearings to examine the Authorizations for the Use of Military Force, focusing on Administration perspectives. Tillerson and Mattis will be witnesses.
2:30pm Judiciary -- Hearings to examine extremist content and Russian disinformation online, focusing on working with tech to find solutions -- folks from Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube will be there.
We got a bit of a timeline on how this whole process might go down yesterday. Here's what we think might happen:
• Rep. Brady plans to release text next week, probably Wednesday the 1st
• House Ways & Means plans to mark up early the following week, possibly Tuesday the 7th
• They expect it to be a one day markup
• Senate Finance Committee won’t mark up until the conclusion of the House W&M markup
• As soon as the House W&M markup is done, SFC would mark up – likely the week of Nov. 13th (SFC majority staff have indicated they could also possibly go later in the week of the 7th, we think that’s probably unlikely)
• SFC will have an original Senate product separate from the House product
• SFC does “conceptual” markups, without leg text, so there won’t be leg text as they are marking up…won’t have it until after SFC reports out
This is a VERY ambitious timeline, and there are already opposing voices speaking up on the GOP side in the House and the Senate. The big challenge in the Senate will be to make whatever this bill is deficit-neutral (a little hard to do when you're chopping the government's income, aka cutting taxes), and House GOPers have issues with the State and Local deductions, among other things.
I think we might hear from the judge today about the 18-state lawsuit against the Administration's cuts to CSRs and promotional material for the ACA...unless I missed it yesterday in all the chaos that was going on here.
Alexander-Murray CBO score is up here https://www.cbo.gov/publication/53232
Seems like this is a little misleading because CBO didn't adjust their baseline to reflect the Administration cutting the CSRs in the first place. Not sure what the result of that will be.
There is a LOT going on here right now, so I'll just quickly run through it.
- Yesterday the House Intel Committee Chairman (who supposedly "recused" himself from Russia-related stuff) announced a multi-committee investigation into the Clinton campaign and emails.
- No sooner did that happen, then WaPo came out with an article that the Clinton campaign and the DNC, along with anti-Trump GOPers paid for portions of the research that led to the Trump Dossier. Here's the article that details that: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/clinton-campaign-dnc-paid-for-research-that-led-to-russia-dossier/2017/10/24/226fabf0-b8e4-11e7-a908-a3470754bbb9_story.html?tid=ss_tw&utm_term=.9341ae875942
- Why this is important now: Clinton lawyers and spokespeople, back in 2016, when asked by the press about the research that led to this dossier, lied about their campaign's involvement in it. The current DNC chairman and a former spokesman for the Clinton campaign have both denied knowledge and involvement in this, which suggests that it was only known by the very high levels of both organizations.
- Exact dollar amounts that went to this were not disclosed, but if I were a Clinton/DNC donor (I'm not and never have been), I would be pretty outraged that my money went to something that proved unverified and ineffective in the end, and ALSO wrapped up in a larger scandal that's now being used to smear the Democratic presidential nominee even further.
- A reporter from Mother Jones is also annoyed because he reported on this issue LAST YEAR, and more importantly, shortly before the election. Here is his piece: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/10/veteran-spy-gave-fbi-info-alleging-russian-operation-cultivate-donald-trump/
On a separate but similar topic...
- The Senate Judiciary Committee's investigation into Trump's obstruction of justice has taken a turn for the partisan since Jeff Sessions' most recent testimony. Republicans and Democrats on the Committee that once worked well together have now said that they'll be conducting their own investigation - sounding a lot like the House side investigations that are happening. Here's the piece on that: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/10/the-senate-judiciary-committees-russia-probe-just-blew-up/
- This only emphasizes the urgent need for an independent commission, similar to the one which investigated Benghazi. It's clear Congress can't get over the partisan bickering, with the single exception of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Yesterday's drama in the Senate brought this place to a grinding halt, with Corker's morning outburst and then Flake's retirement announcement. If you haven't had a chance to watch his floor speech, do. It was poignant, emotional, solemn, and truly one of the more memorable speeches given from that floor.
While a lot on the left are hailing these guys heroes of the Resistance, let's not get carried away. What they've both done is brave, but it would have been braver to speak out AND keep their seats in the Senate. Also, let's not count on them really derailing from the Trump agenda in their last few months in office.
So take it all with a grain of salt. If you're represented by either of these two guys, definitely give them a call to say thank you, but let's not kid ourselves. These guys are as conservative as it gets.
The Senate passed a big package of aid money for Puerto Rico and California, with another request from the Administration expected next month, again in the 10s of billions. This time though, they're expected to want offsets for the spending, so heads up for that.
Will keep you posted today, stay tuned.
Nothing too new to report on the Senate front. Likely to be a vote on the supplemental emergency package today, and the rest of the weeks will be those two noms I mentioned yesterday.
The president will be on Capitol Hill this afternoon to dine with the Senate GOP caucus, and it's going to be LIT.
Happening now, on CNN and Twitter, the president and Senator and Bob Corker are in a HUGE war of words. The president started it on Twitter this morning, targeting Corker with his usual diatribe.
Corker responded pretty simply saying, "Same untruths from an utterly untruthful president. #AlertTheDaycareStaff"
Manu Raju just caught the Senator on camera, and Corker UN-CORKED, saying that the president will be remembered for the "Debasing of our nation", he said that the "staff all over the world would figure out ways of controlling him", that "the President has great difficulty with the truth" that the president has a "lack of desire to be competent".
He also said, no, he doesn't see the president as a role model, and that he REGRETS SUPPORTING HIM IN 2016, saying "I wouldn't do that again".
Oh to be a fly on the wall at lunch today...
Definitely watch that whole Corker interview. It's pretty profound:
Some pretty shady stuff going on down there right now.
Apparently a small Montana firm landed a $300 million contract to get the power grid up and running. The company is called Whitefish, and it was chosen over activating "mutual aid" arrangements with other utilities, many of whom have much more experience in emergency aid than this tiny company does. Whitefish has just under 300 employees in Puerto Rico currently.
Here's the stinky part: Whitefish is based in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. It's chief executive, Andy Techmanski, knows Zinke. Both men have claimed not to be involved in this situation, but many former Energy Department officials are calling it highly unusual that such a small, for-profit company would get responsibility for the entire Puerto Rican power grid. Here's the WaPo article: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/small-montana-firm-lands-puerto-ricos-biggest-contract-to-get-the-power-back-on/2017/10/23/31cccc3e-b4d6-11e7-9e58-e6288544af98_story.html?utm_term=.74a69041d99f
The Daily Beast took another angle, connecting Whitefish's primary financier with a private-equity firm founded and run by a man who was a major donor to the president in 2016. Here's that article: https://www.thedailybeast.com/dollar300m-puerto-rico-recovery-contract-awarded-to-tiny-utility-company-linked-to-major-trump-donor
I think that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs gave a really good update on where the investigation of Niger stands yesterday. His press briefing lasted 50 minutes long, and he was calm, composed, answered questions frankly and honestly, and he was patient.
There is still a handful of Senate hearings on the new legislation for the AUMF, and to look into precisely what happened in Niger.
SCOTUS has dismissed the travel ban 2.0 case as the ban expires today. Expect to hear from the Admin today on new screening rules for refugees.
JANE DOE ABORTION CASE
The Appeals Court ruled (again) that our friend Jane Doe can get an abortion.
SEN. JEFF FLAKE
Senate GOP YOLO ("You Only Live Once") Caucus just gained another member: Jeff Flake will not run for reelection in Arizona. Senate team YOLO: McCain, Corker, Flake. That's enough to flip unsavory 50-vote threshold legislation.
That's all I've got right now, stay tuned!
Oh also, apparently Kid Rock was on some talk show this morning and when asked if he's running for Stabenow's Senate seat, he responded, "F*%& no, why would anyone think that?" So that ends that.
FactPower note: Please view Sen. Flake's speech on the Senate floor starting 49:25 in this video. It is both gut-wrenching and poignant. FactPower wishes Sen. Flake every success in his mission throughout the balance of his term.
House and Senate are back in today until Thanksgiving.
As of now, the Senate will just have a procedural vote on another financial supplementary package for relief for Puerto Rico and California. They'll vote on final passage later this week and then likely proceed to more nominations. Once I get a lineup of who is on deck, I'll send you some info.
McConnell said over the weekend that he's willing to bring a market stabilization bill to the floor for a vote only if he's sure the president will sign it. That was likely a subtle hint to POTUS to make up his mind about this Alexander-Murray deal because the truth of the matter is that the bill will pass the Senate, and it will be good for everyone politically to pass it.
I expect I'll have more intel on this after my staff meeting.
While it's not on the schedule yet, I expect John McCain to get Pentagon officials in front of his committee (Senate Armed Services) this week or next. Many folks on both side of the aisle are calling for a Benghazi-style Congressional investigation.
There will probably be a lot of parallels now between the tax reform effort and the healthcare fight earlier this year. Passing the budget resolution was the easy part. Now instructions go to committees to actually create the legislation.
If it's anything like last time, it'll be done mostly in secret, which Dems will go up in arms about. The Administration's goal is to have this done by Thanksgiving, but that's a pretty lofty goal. As I get more information on this, I will post it. Right now, we're mostly in the dark.
I'm finding that a really good person to follow for Russia updates is University of New Hampshire law professor Seth Abramson (@SethAbramson). I imagine this guy has a timeline map up all over his office walls detailing this investigation because what he tweets is remarkably concise.
This morning, he posted an article saying that while this Administration has largely ignored the sanctions packaged passed by Congress early this year, it has just levied sanctions against a Putin critic. Bill Browder is a human-rights activist and largely responsible for the Magnitsky Act:
Additionally, we're hearing this morning that Tony Podesta's lobbying firm is now under the scope of Robert Mueller's investigation.
I am getting really impatient waiting for the other shoe to drop on this one.
I'll probably have more updates after my staff meeting!
As I predicted, the slew of confirmation votes in the Senate will mainly be for Judicial nominees. Here is a list of nominees that have been voted out of the Judiciary Committee, and could come up for a vote, and why your Senators should vote NO on them:
Eastern District of NC: Thomas Farr
- Farr has a long record of defending laws that weaken voting rights for African Americans, which is an especially important issue in North Carolina. One of the cases that stands out is NC's sweeping voter suppression law, passed in 2013 that he defended in court. The law required voters to present government-issued IDs, shortened early voting, and eliminated same-day voter registration. The 4th Circuit Court ultimately struck down the law in 2016.
- Opposed by many civil rights groups and the Congressional Black Caucus
- Farr also has a record of defending redistricting maps that were rejected on the federal level.
- In 2015, NC civil rights groups sued the states for violating the National Voter Registration Act, he again defended the law. He lost that case too.
- According to Huffpost, "Farr also has ties to the late Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), whose legacy includes opposing the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, and leading a 16-day filibuster against naming a federal holiday after Martin Luther King Jr. Farr was Helms’ campaign attorney in 1984 and 1990. In 1990, Helms sent postcards to 125,000 African American voters falsely stating they could be prosecuted and imprisoned for up to five years if they tried to vote in a precinct in which they had lived for fewer than 30 days." That campaign was sued by the Justice Department for the mailing.
District of South Carolina, Donald Coggins
- Nominated first by President Obama in February of 2016.
- As far as I can see, there's nothing wildly controversial about this guy.
Middle District of Tennessee, William "Chip" Campbell Jr.
- Handles civil litigation in his current firm
- Former Marine
- Seems well-qualified and overall non-controversial.
Western District of Tennessee, Thomas Parker
- Handles civil litigation and criminal matters in his current firm
- Also non-controversial from what I can see.
Court of Appeals, Amy Barrett
- Current Notre Dame law professor
- This nominee was ripped apart by Democrats at her confirmation hearing in September because of her Catholic faith. Sen. Feinstein doubted that Barrett would uphold Roe v. Wade because of her religious beliefs.
- Barrett refused to discuss how her religious beliefs have influenced and will shape their legal thinking.
- Wrote a 1998 paper exploring whether a Catholic judge should recuse herself from death-penalty cases if she would be unable to impartially uphold the law because of her religious beliefs. She and her co-author did NOT argue that judges should step away from such morally complicated cases.
- Clerked for Scalia
- Did say that she would follow SCOTUS precedent in any role as a judge.
Western District of Oklahoma, Scott Palk -- POSSIBLE VOTE THIS WEEK
- Also a holdover nominee from the Obama Administration.
- Dean of Students and Assistant General Counsel at the University of Oklahoma College of Law
- Was US Attorney in the Western District of Oklahoma
- Seems largely non-controversial
Northern District of Alabama, Annemarie Axon
- Litigates trust, estate, and business cases
- Serves as President of the YWCA Junior Board, President of Girls on the Run Board of Directors, member of Mountain Brook City Schools Foundation Board, member of the American Cancer Society.
- Unsuccessfully defended the Palestinian Authority from a lawsuit brought by families of Americans who died in Hamas terrorist attacks.
- Voice voted to advance out of committee
Northern District of Georgia
William Ray II
- Former State Senator, as such he opposed a federal hate crimes bill
- Currently serves on Appeals Court
- Approved by voice vote in Committee
- Currently defends white-collar criminals, formerly a Federal prosecutor
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
- Former member of the US Sentencing Commission, also served int he WH Counsel's Office under George W. Bush
- Renominated for the Sentencing Commission by Obama
- Currently Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General and Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Criminal Division of the DOJ (Trump appointee)
- Former Assistant US Attorney in D.C. (Obama appointment)
- Brought about first US prosecution under the federal female genital mutilation statute
- Got a 27-year sentence for a Russian hacker convicted of defrauding victims
- Former D.C. police officer
Last night, in a record-short vote-a-rama, the Senate voted along party lines to advance the FY18 Budget Resolution. This does a few things that I began to outline yesterday.
This legislation, once it has all been written, will face another vote-a-rama in the Senate before it goes to the White House.
There were some tidbits that got into the final language last night:
- A Hatch amendment creating a deficit-neutral reserve fund to protect Medicare and Medicaid. Don't be fooled - this is what we call a side-by-side to a Sanders amendment that had specific language protecting Medicare and Medicaid programs that the Budget Resolution "scaled down" over 10 years. This Hatch amendment is a farce that has some weak language about how the programs are important, but nothing more.
- A Heller amendment providing tax relief to families with children. I believe this has to do with the Child Tax Deduction. But again, it's a weaker version of an amendment that a Democrat proposed.
- A bipartisan amendment offered by Susan Collins giving tax relief to small businesses.
- A Flake amendment pushing for a simpler tax code.
- A Donnelly amendment creating a point of order (prohibition) against any legislation giving tax breaks to US companies for outsourcing American jobs.
- A Kaine amendment to require a CBO score on any legislation 28 hours before hitting the floor FAILED because Enzi, the chairman of the Budget Committee, interprets the Budget Act to mean that he, as chairman, has the power and discretion to score the bill himself, using any scoring entity. What he doesn't realize is that this will bite him when the Democrats gain the majority again, and he no longer has that power.
- A Capito amendment reducing deductibility of Federal deductions (like the state and local tax deduction) for low- and middle-income families.
- A Portman amendment providing an international tax incentive to companies who want to invest in the US and provide US jobs.
- A Fischer amendment providing tax relief for families while maintaining the progressivity of the current system.
- A Udall amendment providing for a deficit-neutral reserve fund to provide full and mandatory funding to the payment in lieu of taxes program.
- Enzi also provided a big amendment of final negotiation points with the House in the hopes of expediting the conference period.
What didn't pass was the slew of Lee and Paul amendments to instruct the HELP Committee to repeal the ACA, among other really awful amendments.
On the whole, there were a lot of places in this tax reform debate where Dems and Rs agree - where they don't agree is the process by which this is going down.
All of the amendments that passed, with the exception of the Enzi amendment, are what we call "feel-good" amendments. The entire process last night seemed like an exercise in passing these amendments and vociferously rejecting all Paul and Lee amendments (none of them had more than 5 Yes votes).
Lamar Alexander was overheard last night saying something to the effect of: They should just stop trying to repeal Obamacare. They're hurting people.
I'm still not sure where this bipartisan bill will go, and when. My feeling is that most Senators feel that this bill, while not ideal, is better than nothing.
I imagine it will be chucked into the end-of-year spending package.
Schumer is really trying to strong-arm McConnell into bringing it to the floor though. They have the votes (60), and if McConnell refuses, the Dems will use it as a dagger for the GOP in 2018. I can just see the attack ads now..."McConnell blocked a bipartisan agreement to save healthcare from getting to the Senate floor..."
We'll see what happens...
TEXAS IMMIGRANT ABORTION
The administration pulled together a hasty appeal on this case yesterday, and have yet again delayed this poor girl's abortion, which was going to happen today or tomorrow.
A DC Appeals court will hear the case today. Incidentally, this panel will be occupied by Merrick Garland, who will allow live audio streaming during arguments.
Unfortunately the three-judge panel is stacked 2-1 with right-leaning judges. The girl, however, has done everything she legally needs to do to have this abortion in Texas though. The only sticking point is that she is undocumented and being held at a detention facility. We'll see what happens with this case today.
John McCain is furious right now because (Chairman of the Armed Services Committee) hasn't gotten a satisfactory briefing on this tragedy. He is considering a subpoena to compel testimony. He suggested yesterday that the Administration is not being completely forthcoming about what happen.
I have only heard bits and pieces, but this is what I've got:
- Chad was becoming a strong US ally against Boko Haram and other al Qaida factions in that region. The Council on Foreign Relations did write a piece yesterday suggesting that they pulled their troops out of Niger in retaliation to being included in the Administration's latest travel ban. This seems legitimate. Rachel Maddow also reported on this last night, with a more Maddow-esque bent.
- There is also information floating around that the three soldiers that initially went into this ISIS-infested area in Niger were given bad intel FROM THE PENTAGON. This is the part of the story that pundits are calling Benghazi-like. Here's the story as I'm hearing it - and I cannot independently verify it because we're not hearing anything directly from the Pentagon:
-- Three US soldiers went to a meeting in an area close to the border of Mali, which is known to be ISIS infested.
-- These soldiers did not have US backup (ground and air support), they were backed up by the French military, who is not authorized to intervene or even fire in US opps in that region.
-- So as to avoid suspicion, the US soldiered traveled in pickup trucks, not armored vehicles.
-- The alleged faulty intel that our guys were given said that they were unlikely to be confronted by ISIS in this region, but that wasn't the case. They walked into an ISIS ambush.
-- It took their French "backup" 30 minutes to respond, and remember, they were not authorized to help.
-- About a dozen Green Berets (including the soldier called Johnson whose wife the president spoke to in that awful way) came and fought a battle with more than 50 ISIS fighters.
-- Eventually a US rescue helicopter arrived, but it wasn't a military helicopter. It was a helicopter contracted out by the military from a private operator/contractor. They landed and performed triage.
-- However, these contractors did not have an official roster of US soldiers on the ground, which is how Sgt. La David Johnson was left behind.
-- According to the Pentagon, his locator beacon was activated on the battlefield, which means he was alive when the contractors left.
-- His body was recovered 48 hours later, and according to his widow, she could not have an open casket. This suggests that his body was mutilated after he was left for dead.
Again, these are all claims that experts and reporters are putting together based on what little information the Pentagon has provided. I would like to see McCain go full maverick on this, just like the GOP-controlled Congress did for Benghazi. He's pissed and got nothing to lose, and he controls the committee that would investigate this, so I am optimistic that action will be taken.
This also highlights an entirely different, but not unrelated conversation about private military contractors and the dangers they pose to our military personnel.
CONGRESS THIS FALL
Next week the Senate will vote on the supplemental funding bill to provide relief to Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and I believe also Texas and Florida. The only reason this is going to quickly make it through is because Cornyn got a promise from Mick Mulvaney and the WH that there will be yet ANOTHER supplemental before Thanksgiving.
Other than that, there's nothing other than nominations up on the Senate calendar for the fall. You know what this means? This means, I get to use my boredom looking deeply into every nominee so that YOU and your networks can bombard Senators' offices with calls to reject their nominations. McConnell really wants to focus on judicial nominees, and there are LOTS of REALLY terrible people up for nomination in that category.
While you're at it, you could tell them to do some legislating, rather than pushing it all to the end of the year and risking a government shutdown.
The rumors that we've been hearing since yesterday is that there's not much of an appetite in the Senate to drag this vote-a-rama out all night, as is typical with a budget.
We're also hearing that in addition to Democrats, who are exasperated with this process, that some in the GOP caucus are also very annoyed by this. We heard back during opening statements from Corker, but there's a lot of annoyance coming from folks like Tillis, Sasse, Flake, and others. Senator Purdue even, major conservative from Georgia, submitted an amendment creating "a deficit-neutral reserve fund to eliminate deficit-neutral reserve funds". When asked about it by a wonky budget reporter, he just responded that he thinks the process is a "sham".
This doesn't mean that these folks will vote against this resolution - they won't.
It'll be interesting to see what will happen once this bill makes it past the Senate. Here are the steps it will need to take:
1. Instructions will go to the Senate Finance Committee to create the actual tax reform legislation.
2. Instructions will go to the Environment and Public Works committee for them to craft legislation to allow Arctic drilling. There is an amendment being voted on today to eliminate those instructions, but it's not likely to pass.
3. The House passed a budget resolution before they went on recess, but it (unsurprisingly) looks very different than what we expect the final version of the Senate's bill to look like. The two chambers will have to conference to make sure their bills look exactly alike before sending a final version to the White House. This is the stage in the legislative process where bills, especially budgets, often die.
We'll see what happens here, but don't expect the fireworks we saw in July surrounding the healthcare budget. Unless something crazy happens like Thad Cochran dies - which I am NOT hoping for - but that could definitely turn the tide today.
Murray and Alexander are officially going to drop their bill today. I heard on the radio today that they have 10 Democrat and 10 GOP sponsors, which in my mind is a moderate amount of support for a bill that shouldn't have ever had to happen.
Still really uncertain as to what will happen here. Best case scenario, it gets tacked onto a larger funding package at the end of the year. The likelihood of a government shutdown is high this year though, so it's not to be without drama.
In other news, a federal judge in California is expected to announce a ruling on the 19-state lawsuit filed against the Trump administration on its decision to cut CRS funding. Definitely waiting eagerly to see what will happen. The ruling will come in the form of a restraining order, reversing the president's decision.
The DOJ has appealed the judge's decision to allow the 17-year-old undocumented girl to get an abortion. It seems now that the government is simply trying to delay the judge's motion from going into effect until the girl is beyond the 20-week stage of her pregnancy, which in Texas make an abortion illegal. She is now 15 weeks. The government is essentially trying to hold this poor girl hostage.
Senate just went into session, which means I have to hop to my amendment tracking (current count: 283). Happy Thursday and stay tuned!
It seems like this thing is probably going to pass the Senate. Murkowski, Collins, and McCain have all signaled support for it, Thad Cochran is back, and it's still unclear whether Menendez will be back to vote against it. Rand Paul is a hard (and aggressive) no, and Bob Corker is still a wild card, though he did vote for the motion to proceed on the measure.
We're still in the debate phase, amendments are trickling in as well. Today we expect there to be a vote on a Sanders amendment to protect Medicare and Medicaid, and then a Hatch side-by-side that purportedly does the same, but the language is much weaker in his amendment.
This whole process is eerily similar to the last budget resolution on healthcare. earlier this year. The Senate will likely pass something this week that will be punted to the House. The House will come up with something vastly different, and then they'll have trouble meeting in the middle.
Again, the House is out of session this week, so the earliest they'd begin taking this up is next week.
I've got whiplash from everything that happened just yesterday on healthcare.
First, during his presser with the Greek PM (who wasn't wearing a tie at the White House?!?!?), the president was asked a comment by the press about the ACA. He said something to the effect that it's "dead" and "collapsing", SECONDS before Murray and Alexander announced their bipartisan agreement to stabilize markets.
When he was asked a follow-up question about that deal, he said that his folks had been involved in the negotiations, and he was supportive of the plan because it would pave the way to implementing a block grant system next year.
PRO TIP: The Murray-Alexander plan restores the CSR payments that the president got rid of last week, among other things, to stabilize insurance markets. If this legislation passes, we'll basically go back to the place in the market, with a few changes, where we were before the president used the power of the pen. This would have been one massive, terrifying circle this year, and it's sounding like the president wants to do it all over again next year.
The president then spoke at the Heritage Foundation and gave a scripted, and very critical response to the Murray-Alexander plan (which Heritage immediately criticized yesterday after its release).
WaPo made a solid attempt at trying to make sense of all this yesterday: https://www.washingtonpost.com/powerpost/key-senators-reach-bipartisan-health-care-subsidy-deal-and-trump-expresses-support/2017/10/17/72be5b04-b355-11e7-a908-a3470754bbb9_story.html?utm_term=.d05f45f2b7c9
While there is tentative support for this approach from the Democratic side, the GOP aren't having it. When McConnell did his presser yesterday, nowhere in his outline of the calendar was this legislation, so it still faces some significant hurdles to get completely off the ground.
Change might come easier on the legal side of this issue. Just as we're seeing with the travel ban, the presidents words may get him into trouble with the ACA, too, or so claims a Vox reporter today. Here's what they say:
"The president has a legal obligation, under Article II of the US Constitution, to 'take Care that the laws be faithfully executed.' That means he must make sure that our laws are implemented in good faith and that he uses his executive discretion reasonably toward that end. His agencies likewise have a legal obligation, under the Administrative Procedure Act — the statute that sets the rules for our entire federal regulatory apparatus — not to use their power to engage in arbitrary action."
If some good lawyer out there can give it a go from this angle, we might make some progress on this issue. Here's the rest of the article: https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2017/10/17/16489526/take-care-clause-obamacare-trump-sabotage-aca-illegal
ACA Update: The president has now made it Twitter official that he doesn't support Alexander-Murray, but supports Alexander "as a person". Ugh.
We hate this guy, we really do. So nothing should give us more pleasure than to see him eviscerated in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee again. Well, today is your lucky day! Remember WAY back when Sessions cancelled his appearance for the DOJ Oversight hearing because of Russia, and Mueller, and a spat with the president, and all other things? Well, today is the day he gets to have that hearing, and I'm giddy about it. He's done SO many terrible things since his last appearance that he'll have to talk about out in the open, and I just can't wait to see him squirm.
Tune in at 10am on C-SPAN and maybe other major networks.
The Army did something potentially illegal, and extremely inflammatory yesterday that got next to no attention. According to Mic, an outlet that I mostly trust, the Army sent out a memo on Monday banning the shipment and enlistment, effective immediately, of all green card holders. This counters a previous DOD policy issued last week (that also went largely unnoticed) that said green card holders couldn't ship or enlist until they completed a background check.
The Mic article said this:
"Barring green card holders from enlisting in the military is against federal law, which states that an 'alien who is lawfully admitted for permanent residence' may be enlisted in 'any armed force.'"
Current law states that immigrants can fast track their green card status by serving honorably in the military. This completely negates that program.
I expect to see legal action on this promptly, but it wouldn't hurt to call your electeds about it. Especially those on the Armed Services Committee.
Here's the full article: https://mic.com/articles/185297/exclusive-army-bans-green-card-holders-from-enlisting-a-move-that-may-break-federal-law#.JfzhMYlLu
We're hearing rumblings that there will be a vote on the House-passed aid package in the Senate on Friday. This signals to me that leadership doesn't expect vote-a-rama to be an incredibly prolonged event on Thursday, and that they have the votes to pass it.
Stay tuned, there's lots more to come today, I'm sure!
The Senate voted to begin debate on its latest budget resolution by a very slim margin of 50-47. Rand Paul has already said he's a no on final passage, even though he voted to begin debate. Murkowski and Collins are leaning yes, McCain and Corker are wild cards.
Cloture will be invoked on Thursday, with vote-a-rama to follow. I have no prediction about where this will go, especially after the healthcare one this year.
Very important, and something you can remind all of your GOP senators: a budget resolution is NOT necessary for tax reform. A budget resolution is necessary for tax reform to pass without Democratic votes.
Sources close to Lamar Alexander say that he and Senator Murray have circulated a draft bill to fund CSR payment for two years. Obviously, this isn't the permanent fix that Dems would like to see, but I sense that Murray will have to give some pretty big concessions to save this thing and move talks in the direction of a permanent fix.
HEALTHCARE UPDATE 2:20PM from FactPower:
Sens. Alexander and Murray have a rough outline of a bipartisan compromise. See here. In exchange for a 2-year extension of federal payments to insurers, Republicans want Congress to give states "meaningful" flexibility with regard to opt-out provisions. Alexander says "the definition of meaningful" is the remaining stumbling block. However, both Alexander and Murray are optimistic they will reach compromise.
Subpoena dropped today for Carter Page for his testimony in front of the Senate Intel Committee. He'd previously said he would take the 5th. Additionally, we're hearing that subpoenas are imminent for Michael Flynn and his son.
The House is on recess and the Senate only has some nominations on the docket. McConnell and the president are lunching today though, and they're expected to discuss the budget resolution in the Senate and healthcare. The budget will serve as the vehicle for tax reform legislation, and we're expecting to vote-a-rama it on Thursday into Friday. McConnell's fate seems more and more in jeopardy as leader in the Senate. After golfing with the president, Lindsey Graham said on TV over the weekend that if they can't fulfill GOP campaign promises, they'll lose bigtime in the house and "it'll be the end of Mitch McConnell as we know it". Can't imagine who would take over for him if that were to happen... I haven't heard much on healthcare this weekend, but I expect the Senate negotiators to spring into action this week to try and do something before the open enrollment period.
- Thad Cochran will NOT be back in the Senate this week (calling into question our budget resolution voting on Thursday).
- Sen. Mike Lee endorsed Roy Moore for Senate (because of course he did). He is currently the only sitting GOP member to do so.
- Rumors abound that IF Sec. Tillerson leaves his post/is fired that CIA Director Mike Pompeo will take his place as Secretary of State, and none other than Sen. Tom Cotton will take over the CIA. I'd like to see that happen this year in the Senate.....
Also some more fun reading on the corrupt swamp creatures in the cabinet this morning:
A warning about a potential Pence presidency:
And some juicy Russia-scandal news:
More to come on budget and healthcare later.
The Mystery Of Wilbur Ross' Missing Billions
Between the November election and January inauguration, Ross quietly moved a chunk of assets into trusts for his family members, leaving more than $2 billion off of his financial disclosure report—and therefore out of the public eye.
Somebody told the president that there's no such thing as the ACA anymore. That Obamacare is dead and gone. He just said that during his LIVE cabinet meeting. Pro tip: The ACA is still the law of the land. But maybe now he'll stop trying to get rid of it if he thinks it's already gone...
Just a quick update on Senate goings-on from my meeting:
- Budget resolution is still a go despite Cochran's absence. Menendez is also absent (his case will proceed with all 18 charges). We expect debate to begin on Tuesday for this, with vote-a-rama on Thursday. If they sense that the votes aren't there, they'll pull it.
- This work period is 5 weeks long, and there's no indication from the majority that they will do anything except nominations, this budget, and the supplemental aid package (potentially next week). THIS MEANS:
...will all be delayed until December 8. This is unacceptable, and so I think the theme this week and next when you call your Senators should be: Get to work and pass these urgent bills NOW. They have the time, they're just not inclined to do it. Another way to put it is this: you're willing to bastardize Senate rules to pass tax cuts for the mega-wealthy and raise the deficit, but you won't go through regular order to fix the sabotaged healthcare system, provide for CHIP's reauthorization, and maybe just START talking about funding the government after December 8?
There is time to do all of this, they're just not doing it.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Our Washington DC source has shared a lot of information about the president's cessation of CSR subsidy payments to insurance companies. We are getting into some rather complicated territory here, and that is when health policy experts often disagree sharply. FactPower has studied this situation thoroughly, ad we respectfully disagree with the picture being painted by our Washington DC source. As a service to our readers, we provide our alternative point of view at the bottom of this briefing, drawing from the conclusions of the Congressional Budget Office and other health care analysts we follow. For now, we urge readers not to panic. We'll explain why at the bottom.
Last night's series of announcements was like a 1-2 sucker punch in the gut. I'm going to do my best to break it down for you.
In addition to the Executive Order signed yesterday, the Administration announced late last night that it will "immediately" end ACA CSR subsidy payments.
Not only will this hurt the poor who buy heavily subsidized health insurance, but it will also hurt middle-income folks, and health insurance will become virtually impossible to own.
We've gotten some preliminary CBO numbers: ending subsidies will increase premiums by 20% by 2018, 25% by 2020, and will increase the deficit by $6 billion by next year and $21 billion by 2020.
Some background on these CSR payments:
- A DC district judge ruled that they were illegal in 2014 after a Congressional GOP lawsuit was filed, finding that Congress hadn't appropriated funds for the subsidies. The Obama administration appealed the ruling, and the current Administration was continuing payments on a month-to-month basis.
- The Administration claims that they can't "lawfully" make these payments. This decision was made after the Sessions Department of Justice declared CSR payments unlawful without Congressional appropriation.
- A coalition of states, including New York and California stand ready to take legal action against cutting off CSR payments.
- This move also puts incredible pressure on Congress to appropriate money to fund the ACA subsidies. The sticking point is this: Democrats see ACA subsidy money as an entitlement, like Medicaid or Social Security, and Republicans have seen it as unappropriated, illegal government money. The problem is, and this is a problem facing both chambers of Congress, that there is just so little time left in the calendar for extra things, and this issue being one that Republicans and Democrats just don't agree on will mean an extremely difficult fight throughout the rest of the year.
- Minor comfort can be taken in the fact that the changes implemented through the executive order yesterday won't occur until federal agencies write rules and adopt regulations to implement them. This process, which includes a long period of public comments, could take months. The NYT suggests that the regulations won't go into effect until 2019. What consumers are likely to feel immediately is the insurance industry's reaction to these changes: higher premiums, potential pulling out of markets.
Some of the political consequences of this I see happening are as follows:
- Democrats are furious. While bipartisan negotiations in the HELP Committee for stabilization were slow-moving, they were still progress to be seen. This act by the Administration is seen by Democrats as a spiteful move to sabotage the ACA. I anticipate that on everything else for the rest of the year, they're going to hold their ground on negotiations. This could either halt negotiations altogether, or force the Republicans to give in and deal to fund CSRs and stabilize the market, and in a really ideal world, this would cement the ACA firmly into law.
- This will probably kill any hopes of tax reform the GOP had. You can't have an administration make a unilateral deficit-increasing decision that will hurt so many people and then expect to pass MORE deficit-increasing tax cuts. It's just not realistic, and Senators like Corker, McCain, and Paul will not go along with it. As much as these guys hated the ACA, they would have rather seen CSRs funded so they could get tax cuts through.
- There's some strange stuff going on in the Senate GOP caucus right now. Susan Collins announced today that she's going to stay in the Senate rather than run for Governor of Maine, which is really good for us. McCain is still sick, but right at this moment seems to be doing fine. The wild card now is Thad Cochran. Remember when Trump said that a Senator was in the hospital? Well, Cochran has been recovering from a urological surgery, and has said that he'll be back in town next Monday when we go back into session. There was an article out today though that suggests that things aren't as rosy as that in Cochran-land. The man is 79 years old, and folks close to him and his situation are saying that he may not be back next week, or maybe not for weeks to come because his condition isn't improving.
- This could be very interesting going into the rest of the fall. With Menendez more or less out because he's on trial, McCain's health unstable, Cochran out indefinitely... it could make for some interesting negotiation dynamics in the coming weeks.
- At this point, there is nothing stopping the Democrats from shutting the entire government down this December until they get the deals they want on the ACA and DACA. They're so full of rage that there's very little political risk in this. Congress NEEDS democratic votes to get funding passed, and I don't think democratic leadership is inclined to help if they don't get some concessions.
I'm going to keep my ear to the ground on this today, but my feeling is that we'll hear more strategy on how we're going to tackle this on Monday after the leaders have a chance to regroup.
HEALTHCARE UPDATE: The first lawsuit has been filed to challenge the president's default on CSR subsidy payments.
In other news, last night the Administration says it will extend the DACA deadline of March 5th if Congress fails to act. It seems like there's some good bipartisan movement on this, despite the wishlist the Administration sent down last week. Right now, that list seems to be being largely ignored.
The House sent us over a big funding package yesterday that includes Puerto Rico, flood insurance, and wildfire money. It remains to be seen what the Senate will do with this legislation, and how dramatically it will be changed, but I hope to see some quick work done here.
There are going to be a lot of scary stories about the ACA over the next couple of weeks, and I admit, this is a very scary situation we're in. I recommend you tell folks to call THEIR Representatives and THEIR Senators to urge action to re-fund ACA subsidies and stabilize markets. If you're calling GOP members, urge them to buck the spiteful administration and think about all the people who are going to be hurt by this. If you're calling Democrats, urge them to stand strong to fight this, and thank them for all they've done so far.
This is a really tough time, and I hope everyone can try and stay positive. Despair and dread won't do anybody any good right now, even though it's the reactive response to all of this. Keep fighting, and I'll keep you posted.
FactPower's take on the halting of CSR subsidy payments by the president:
There is no need to panic, for the most part. As mentioned above, the president has terminated Cost Sharing Reduction subsidy payments only -- and not the premium reduction subsidies which he has no authority or ability to terminate. This affects policies only on the individual market, not employer-sponsored health plans (which are not "Obamacare" policies). About 7% of all insurance policies are purchased on the individual market.
Premium reduction subsidies (which are not being eliminated) help to offset premium payments for lower income Americans. Under the ACA, people earning from 100% to 400% of the Federal poverty level are not required to pay any more than a certain percent of their income for the second cheapest silver plan available to them. Everything above that computation is paid by the federal government. Again, that is not being eliminated.
What is being eliminated is the payment to insurance companies to subsidize policies for Cost Sharing Reductions for low income Americans -- reductions in deductibles, copayments, coinsurance, and out of pocket maximums. Insurers still provide these Cost Sharing Reductions. The president is simply refusing to pay for them, as required under the terms of their contracts. Fortunately, insurers saw this coming and jacked up their rates quite a bit to compensate for the government's default. That said, they are still able to back out of their 2018 contracts because of this default. We will see whether they opt to do this. Our feeling is they will not, because the default is already more than baked into their 2018 rates, which should be very nicely profitable for them.
The $20 question on everyone's mind is whether insurance rates for 2018 will go up. In the well studied opinion of FactPower (and the Congressional Budget Office), they will not, for the vast majority of people. This is why:
For the 85% of all individual market policyholders who receive premium subsidies (those earning between 100% and 400% of the Federal Poverty Level, roughly $12,000 to $48,000 per individual in the lower 48 states), there will be no noticeable difference in the portion of the premium they are expected to pay. That is because the maximum outlay is calculated under the ACA as a percentage of income. When premiums increase, the government shoulders the full impact, in the form of increased premium subsidies, dollar for dollar.
Here's a weird wrinkle we may hear about: Many Americans with subsidized individual market policies may talk about decreases in their net premiums (what they actually pay, after subsidies). This may not be a good thing, and we cannot attribute it to any brilliance on the part of our president. In a healthy market, there are several silver plans from which to choose. Some people opt for a more expensive plan because it provides better benefits. However, they only get subsidized on the basis of the second cheapest plan, so they pay the difference out of pocket. If the 2018 market has only a single plan, for instance, then subsidies will be based on that plan. There will be no difference to pay. This might be a good thing if the lesser plans were the ones to withdraw from the market. Or it might be a bad thing if the better plans were the ones withdrawn. Either way, they will cost the same, and that amount will be less than what someone might have paid for a better plan in a more diverse market. Anyway, don't be surprised if someone says, "Wow, my premiums have dropped to a quarter of what they were last year, thanks to our beloved President Trump!" You'll know that (1) they have a heavily subsidized policy, and (2) they had spring for a somewhat "better" policy in 2017 than the second lowest priced one.
For the remaining 15% of of the individual market that doesn't receive premium assistance subsidies, silver plans will get more expensive, but bronze and gold plans will not (as much). That is because insurance commissioners are likely to approve rate increases only to plans which are impacted by CSR subsidy payment default, namely the silver plans. For unsubsidized consumers, silver and gold plans are expected to have a similar price tag, so consumers would likely either buy a (better) gold plan for the same money or buy a bronze plan for much less. These consumers will lose "choice" in the market (no longer having an affordable silver option), but they will otherwise be unaffected by the price hike. This is not to say they won't experience some rate increases due simply to the turmoil the president has created in markets. However, these increases won't be directly attributable to CSR subsidy default.
Longer term, there could be market-destabilizing impacts from CSR subsidy default. Insurance companies hate uncertainty. If they don't know whether they're going to get paid in an ACA market, they might decide not to do business in that market. That said, the pull-outs that we've seen are likely ploys to panic the public, jack up premiums (and profits), and conspire to establish regional monopolies (1-insurer markets). Insurers are set to make record profits. They're doing quite well, thank you!
The president's CSR follies are fiscally foolish, and that is a bit surprising for anyone who fancies himself a brilliant businessman (even someone of the president's intellectual prowess). Although the consumer will be protected from the brunt of the impact of premium increases, thanks to the ACA's consumer protections, the federal government will get a very raw deal. That is because insurers will be jacking up premiums far more than is necessary simply to compensate for CSR subsidy default. According to the CBO analysis of this scenario, our saving $118 billion in CSR payments by defaulting on CSR subsidy payments will cost taxpayers $194 billion by 2026. Most of this taxpayer money ($191 billion of it) will be pocketed by insurance companies in the form of higher profits, as well as medical providers in the form of higher payment for medical services. Under the design of the ACA, it should actually be refunded to policy holders, but it won't in practice, due to slick accounting tricks. FactPower has written an article about it here. (For a more technical accounting, see our paper here.)
To summarize, this is what will happen as a result of the president's CSR subsidy default:
FactPower will be releasing an article later today, offering our take on this development.
Just a quick update this morning, and it's just a theory of mine that I've been sitting on since yesterday.
Yesterday Politico came out with a "leak" story about how the President was expected to nominate Kirstjen Nielsen to be the next Secretary of Homeland Security. Later in the day, he did in fact do that.
This is curious to me for a couple of reasons...
Nielsen has been John Kelly's right hand since before his day one in this Administration. She's been instrumental in the weeding-out of controversial figures in the White House (Gorka, Spicer, etc), and is known by her hard-ass demeanor, and no-bullshit talk.
It is very strange to me that Kelly would let her go, while he's still struggling to bring a chaotic White House under control.
Here's my theory: I think the reason Kelly supported this nomination is because he doesn't want Nielsen's reputation ruined, or her to be jobless upon his inevitable demise as Chief of Staff, which signals that his position may not be as secure as some may think. I believe that he's giving her leave and a soft landing as a preemptive measure to what might be the departure of yet another Chief of Staff. None of this is confirmed, of course, but I can't think of another reason John Kelly would let go one of the only people he trusts. Some food for thought....
In other news, the heath care EO that I described yesterday is coming this morning. Expect swift legal action. Other than that, the House is going to pass another big aid package today and then take off for the rest of the week.
This might be the only update this week too, just because there's nothing really going on in Congress at the moment.
The president keeps threatening to change the ACA through executive order "soon", so here's some insight on what that could do. It'll mostly be a series of rule-lifting, but could be very harmful to states.
1. The order will instruct the departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and Treasury to take steps to "make it easier for people to band together and buy insurance through 'association health plans'"
These plans would be largely similar to the large employer's health plans offered in the ACA, and they would include a ban on lifetime limits, but they will be absent other regulations, including the requirement that health plans cover certain benefits.
2. The order will also instruct agencies to start winding back the Obama-era rule curbing "short-term medical insurance", and will allow people to buy those plans for up to a year.
3. The order will also instruct agencies to expand health reimbursement accounts, which are the employer-funded arrangements that employees can use to pay out-of-pocket medical costs and premiums.
4. Part of his instructions to the Labor Department will include a directive to encourage the sale of insurance across state lines using something called "association health plans". This order in particular could face legal challenges.
In addition to all of this, the president signaled over the weekend that he was in talks with Democrats about market-stabilization efforts. Not sure what this means yet, and it could have just been said to rile up the GOP caucus.
Here is a good WSJ article detailing the order: https://www.wsj.com/amp/articles/trump-to-sign-order-to-expand-health-insurance-options-for-self-insured-1507410483
And a Vox article providing a more left-leaning bias: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/10/8/16439492/trump-obamacare-association-health-plans
We are expected to take the Senate Budget Resolution that passed committee to the floor next week for vote-a-rama. This is expected to happen Thursday, but there's nothing set in stone yet. We'll know more next Monday when we go back into session.
The House will vote next week on another Puerto Rico aid package, which may end up creeping its way into the Senate sooner rather than later, but I rather expect it will end up in the larger funding package that we have to pass before December 8. Just as an FYI: the Jones Act waiver for Puerto Rico has expired, and it doesn't appear that the Administration has any inclination to re-waive it. This is making commodities in Puerto Rico very expensive. It might, however, spur legislative action to pass the McCain bill to repeal the Jones Act entirely.
More emergency aid money will be needed for Puerto Rico, and now also northern California.
This is bad...
McConnell has taken a couple of seemingly minor steps to make sure this conservative Administration gets its picks for judicial slots all over the country. Keep in mind, McConnell was instrumental during the Obama Administration in preventing judicial nominees from making the bench. There was a backlog of hundreds of nominees, whose nominations just fizzled into history with the changing of Administrations. Here's what he's doing:
- Judicial nominations and confirmation have been elevated to a top priority in the Senate. This means that judges will be brought to the floor faster than other nominees in other departments and agencies.
- He has eliminated blue slips, which had previously been respected as the minority party's channel to express concern with any given nominee. The GOP abused this tactic during the Obama Administration when they were in the minority, but Senator Leahy, who was at the time chairman of the Judiciary Committee, allowed the slips to be used.
- The 30-hour rule, which allows for 30 hours of debate on nominees, will be "set aside" for debate on judicial nominees. He's not going to repeal the rule, but he's going to more or less disregard it.
There are 166 judicial vacancies across the country, and with fears that the GOP might lose the Senate majority in 2018 (still very, very unlikely), they want to jam through nominees this Congress.
My suggestion is to read up on the pending nominees (http://judicialnominations.org/pending-nominees) and call your Senators if you find any that you find particularly unsavory. I will try to keep you posted on the EXTRA bad ones.
A mini-briefing today. Monday is Columbus Day. Full briefings resume Wednesday, although there may be another mini-briefing or two.
1) It appears as though FEMA has removed Puerto Rico statistics from its website. WaPo reported on this last night, and NPR said they found statistics on a Spanish-language website.
2) Axios is reporting that CIA Director Pompeo is being considered to take Tillerson’s place as Secretary of State. Now, there’s no indication that Tillerson is going anywhere, but this is a pretty typical flow of events for this administration. Someone contradicts the president -> that someone gives the “this is fine, everything is fine” speech/statement -> some Friday rolls around and said person resigns/is fired.
Today is the Senate Budget Committee's markup of the FY18 budget resolution. The House is expected to pass their final version on the floor today.
I love politicians at the ends of their careers, because it gives them the freedom to go back to WHY they became politicians in the first place. We're seeing that from Corker this year, and sadly, we're seeing that from McCain too.
What Corker said yesterday, in more detail is this:
"There are 52 of us on the Republican side, hopefully this will end up being bipartisan, and it won’t just get down to Republican votes, but I’m voting to move this along, and voting to help us move through some of the parliamentary issues that don’t align with the House, but unless this bill in its final analysis number one, produces growth, in other words there’s something that’s helping working people to have better wages through productivity and that kind of thing. Unless it reduces deficits – let me say that one more time – unless it reduces deficits and does not add to deficits with reasonable and responsible growth models, and unless we can make it permanent, I don’t have any interest in it."
Translated, this means that he's going against his colleagues in a few important ways:
1) He thinks that bringing about tax reform via budget resolution is entirely the wrong way to do it because a budget resolution, unless amended, is only binding for ten years. Not only that, the ONLY thing a budget resolution does, is give authority to appropriating (in this case tax-writing) committees to spend money. The budget resolution is not a law. The law will come from the Senate Finance Committee, and THAT is the legislation they want to pass with 51 votes.
2) He agreed with Senator Feinstein's point that this process is a thinly-veiled way to jam partisan legislation through, not unlike what they did with healthcare. Let's think about it practically: We are marking up the budget for the fiscal year of 2018. We are currently on day 5 of the fiscal year of 2018. That's the first signal that this budget has nothing to do with the budget. Unless of course, they decide to pack in 11 appropriations bills - which they're not going to do. To do this would invite a shitstorm of potentially terrible legislation: ACA repeal (and all the horrible things that go along with it), massive defense spending, repealing rules, just to name a few.
3) They're going through this "process", which they didn't do earlier this year for ACA repeal, because they think it'll appease people like Corker and McCain --- Corker doesn't seem fooled. He wants tax reform, he wants all of the conservative things that we hate, but he wants the changes to be made in a bipartisan way, and he wants the changes to be permanent. This budget process will do none of that.
So I advise everyone to take what happens today in the markup with a grain of salt. They may agree on some amendments, but expect that most will be shot down. Most of the work on this will be exactly like in January: done on the floor, and more or less drawn out until they bring up the tax reform legislation and that'll be the text they move forward with. If they have the votes.
Today is the deadline to renew DACA applications. Efforts are still underway to make this program law, but the progress is slow. According to the latest numbers, approximately 48,000 recipients have not yet renewed their status. They MUST be received today, so tell folks to spend some money on getting the same-day postage.
Senator Flake has introduced the latest attempt at a compromise. You can read what little details we have here: http://www.politico.com/story/2017/10/05/jeff-flake-daca-dreamers-bill-243484
TRANSGENDER MILITARY BAN
BuzzFeed is reporting this morning that the administration has asked the first judge to drop the suit against it in relation to the transgender military ban. Read the article for details:
Sen. Schumer proposed yesterday that the bipartisan ACA stabilization bill should be introduced with the Senate's CHIP extension legislation. In theory, this is a good idea, but we 1) Need an agreement first, and 2) Don't know how acceptable this will be for the majority.
I have to go now and get to work. There's a lot of Russia stuff since the presser yesterday, but it's being pretty well-covered today, so I'll let that go for now.
Lindsey Graham is going to introduce his 20-week abortion ban bill today since the House passed theirs yesterday. Don't freak out - it's not going anywhere in this chamber. (Fun fact on Lindsey Graham, who has been a leading voice against women's reproductive rights: He's never been married, nor has he ever had kids. So he is, in fact, probably the LEAST qualified person on this great Hill to be telling women what to do with their bodies.)
UPDATE, 5:00 PM:
BUDGET: The Johnson amendment to provide reconciliation instructions to the HELP Committee did not make it into the tranche they're voting on. This means ACA repeal will definitely NOT be in FY18.
And...that's a wrap, folks. This is what got into the budget at the end:
Gardner 1 – DNRF* to protect Medicare and repeal IPAB
Kennedy 1 – DNRF related to work requirements
Kennedy 2 – DNRF to ensure tax reform protects middle-income tax payers
Kaine 4 – To prevent Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security from being cut in exchange for deficit-increasing tax cuts **
King 2 - To establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund for legislation that relates to making the cost of child and dependent care more affordable and useful for American families.
Murray 5 - To ensure the timely and adequate provision of disaster and other assistance for relief and recovery efforts to Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Texas, Florida, and other areas of the United States devastated by hurricanes and flooding in 2017
King 3 - To require the Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation to produce estimates of certain distributional effects across income categories resulting from major legislation
Harris 4 - To establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to worker training programs, such as training programs that target workers that need advanced skills to progress in their current profession or apprenticeship or certificate programs that provide retraining for a new industry.
Kennedy 1 - To establish a deficit-neutral reserve fund relating to implementing work requirements in all means-tested Federal welfare programs.
* DNRF = Deficit-neutral reserve fund
** This was a surprise. We expected it to be voted down on a party-line vote, just like most of the other Dem amendments, but Corker ended up voting in favor of it. Now, we don't know if this vote had something to do with his spiel yesterday, or if he didn't know what he was voting for....because he said out loud that he didn't really know what the amendment did. Regardless, it's a good amendment to have in the budget.
In other drama, we think the GOP staff's counsel made a mistake in the original Chairman's mark (text of the budget resolution), and if we figure out what it was, we might have a BIG surprise coming. If we find it to be a non-technical mistake...meaning it's something minor that they can't correct, it could kill this whole thing before it even starts.
The Budget Committee will get a copy of the budget next week, and counsel will compare the two copies closely.
Judiciary Committee: Equifax CEO will testify about breach at 2:30 - after he testifies in front of Senate Banking at 10am.
Intel: Not a hearing, but at 12:15 there will be an update on the Russia investigation.
Budget: FY18 Budget markup - opening statements only.
The talks on saving DACA recipients took a turn for the partisan this week when the president dined with GOP leaders the other night. Apparently his conversations with Chuck and Nancy seem by the by, and we're back to fighting against a secretive and partisan process. I haven't heard much more on this, but will keep you posted.
Still no word on how the market stabilization negotiations are going. We still expect to see something preliminary this week, but time is running out, especially for those states getting hit with major premium hikes.
There's a NYT article that reports today that it SEEMS like the majority of justices are in favor of limiting gerrymandering. The case they heard yesterday could be momentous for the 2018 elections. It will be decided in the spring.
There's already GOP bickering about this. They plan to do it through another budget resolution (why my life is so crazy this week), and there are already disputes about the things being cut, by how much, and how they affect the deficit and debt.
The latest rumblings I've heard are that Susan Collins doesn't want reconciliation at all for tax reform -- she'd rather write legislation the normal way, go through committee, hold hearings, etc. John McCain is also in favor of this, but he hasn't explicitly spoken out against reconciliation.
Lisa Murkowski wants Alaskan drilling, which she gets in this version of the budget resolution. John McCain and Susan Collins both oppose this.
Rand Paul says he won't vote on anything that increases the deficit.
Lindsey Graham says he won't vote for anything until healthcare is taken up again.
So -- it's a pickle, to say the least.
Loooots of drama this morning, thanks to Pro Publica. If you don't already follow these folks, you should. Here's what they've broken:
Ivanka and Jared have also been fined again for not submitting the rest of their ethics paperwork. I'm starting to think they're just going to take the menial fines so as not to submit the rest of things. Hopefully some good lawyer somewhere will realize this and file suit (Walter Shaub...hint, hint).
Just to keep a running tally, these are the Cabinet Secretaries (and their staffs) who are currently under investigation for fraudulent use of taxpayer money:
David Shulkin (I've heard his chief of staff will likely take the fall for his scandal)
I'm so glad we've got such bipartisan support for watchdog protection and Inspector Generals.....
The Senate continues its boring week of nominations, which probably isn't a bad thing considering everything else going on right now. I'll try to run through some important things, including what we're working on this week on my staff.
First of all, I got some intel on how the government wants to proceed with CHIP reauthorization. The bill will start in the House, and will likely be lumped in with Puerto Rico funding, which is seen as "must pass". This bill will be what we call a "minibus". Here's what it will include:
- $1 billion of extra Medicaid funding to Puerto Rico -- The reason this is happening is because despite a demand for an additional emergency disaster aid package, the White House hasn't provided one, so Congress can't proceed
- A raise in Medicare rates for wealthier seniors
- Redirecting $$ from the ACA prevention fund, and shortening a grace period for enrollees who don't pay their premiums (this is the poison pill)
- Both the House and Senate CHIP bills (House bill markup is on Wednesday, Senate introduction is also Wednesday) would maintain the extra funding for CHIP from the ACA for two years, and then phase it out.
The Senate hasn't outlined how their bill would be paid for yet, but here's how the House proposes to pay for theirs:
- The higher Medicare charges for enrollees earning more than $500,000
- Allowing states to dis-enroll lottery winners from Medicaid (this kinda makes sense)
- ACA shortened grace period (above)
- Redirect money from the ACA's prevention and public health fund to community health centers
- Strengthen Medicaid’s third-party liability policy by making it easier for state programs to avoid some medical costs if they’re already covered by private plans or other government programs
The problem with a bill like this is that there's a lot of nasty stuff going into a bill with some very, very necessary things. The bill will extend non-ACA CHIP program for 5 years, which is definitely needed, and provide aid for Puerto Rico, which was already facing a Medicaid fiscal cliff in the near future. I suggest you have your groups follow tomorrow's markup on the House side, listen to the true details of the bill, and decide how to act from there. Unfortunately in this kind of situation, there may be some sacrifices to be made to get the greater good sorted out. Also keep in mind, whatever version of the bill that passes the House (potentially this week) will likely look very different than the Senate's bill, and then what the two chambers ultimately end up agreeing on.
Patty Murray and Lamar Alexander REALLY want to come to an agreement and have it presented before we go on recess next week. Here's what I know so far about the ideas being circulated. Bear in mind, none of these are final:
- Funding of extra ACA subsidies through the end of 2019
- Somewhat expand the range of health plans that individual shoppers can buy
- Insurers would be guaranteed two years of federal payments to cover cost-sharing discounts
- A new "copper" plan, which equates the skinny coverage the GOP have been trying to sell this year, which just covers catastrophic medical needs
- Small expansion of the ability of states to structure their marketplaces in alternative ways
- MAINTAINS essential health benefits
From everything I've heard on this, the Democrats definitely have the upper hand in these negotiations. The deadline to fund is fast approaching, and if this negotiation fails, all Democrats have to do is blame it on the GOP, and that will be the tone of the 2018 midterms.
We got all first degree amendments to the FY18 budget resolution yesterday, most of which came from Democrats. They were mostly uneventful, except for Ron Johnson's amendment with reconciliation instructions for the HELP Committee to consider ACA repeal. Right now it's really TBD on whether that amendment gets consideration, so I'll keep you posted on that.
Our expectation is that the GOP will either file a ton of side-by-side amendments today, or no more amendments at all to try to skirt this thing through as quickly as possible, and as empty as possible. That would make the resolution look very similar to the one we saw in January. They'd put on a big show on the floor (likely in 2 weeks) of voting on Dem amendments, but in the end, they'd introduce one giant substitute (tax reform legislation), and that would be the final product.
I think this thing is going to get just as stuck as the earlier resolution though. There are already a lot of fiscal conservatives whining about how this will affect the debt/deficit, so that's bound to be a fight.
There are LOTS of hearings today, and two of them in particular surround the scandals at Wells Fargo (which seems to be never-ending), and Equifax.
The Wells Fargo CEO will testify at 10am before the Senate Banking Committee on his company "one year later". I like to watch these hearings just to see Elizabeth Warren rip billionaires to shreds.
Tomorrow this committee will hear from Equifax's CEO on their current conundrum.
The Equifax CEO is testifying on the House side today.
As I mentioned yesterday, keep your eyes peeled for the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing on the Administration's decision to end DACA. That's sure to be a heated discussion as well.
Seems like the House might have at least postponed bringing legislation to the floor that would legalize silencers, at least for this week. Regardless of what happens with that, the chances are extremely unlikely that it would be brought up in the Senate any time soon, or at all.
John McCain and Mike Lee's legislation permanently exempting Puerto Rico from the Jones Act officially made it to the Senate Calendar yesterday on a fast-track bases, avoiding committee time. It's unclear when it'll be brought up for debate, but it's there, which signals that McConnell wants to take it up this year.
I can't even with the amount of stuff that dropped yesterday. I don't have a good handle on what it all was, but definitely read that twitter thread I sent around.
I'm also hearing rumblings about Mueller trying to, in his investigation, limit the possibility of preemptive pardons. I will definitely keep you posted on this because if it's true, it means he's seeing that as a good possibility. Here's an article on this: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-03/mueller-tasks-adviser-with-getting-ahead-of-pre-emptive-pardons
In additional scandal, the Interior Department's Inspector General has initiated an investigation into Sec. Zinke's travel, four expensive trips of which he has acknowledged. He claims everything is above board, but who even knows. Another Secretary that's starting to make headlines is Betsy DeVos with her exorbitant security costs, said to top $6.5 million over the next year.