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Washington Report October 13, 2017
13 Oct 2017

Washington Report October 13, 2017

Throwing A Bomb Into Insurance Markets … Pottery Barn Rule …. Ryan May Cancel Christmas … Open Warfare Between Corker & Trump … Susan, Diane & Thad … Ben to Sean … Weirdest Story You Will Read Today … Apocalypse in CA … and other news of the week.

Today is Friday the 13th. Still better than Monday, the whatever.

Joyce Rubenstein
Capstone National Partners


Throwing A Bomb Into The Insurance Markets

Now Trump Owns the Broken Health-care System

WaPo THE BIG IDEA: President Trump took two giant steps Thursday to disembowel the Affordable Care Act. ONE: [Trump] announced late last night that he will immediately halt cost-sharing reductions (AKA ‘subsidies’). These $7 billion in annual subsidies to health insurers allow around 7 million low-income Americans to afford coverage.TWO: Earlier in the day, the president signed a far-reaching executive order that makes it easier for individuals and small businesses to buy alternative types of health insurance with lower prices, fewer benefits and weaker government protections.

This is not “letting” Obamacare fail. Many nonpartisan experts believe that these active measures are likely to undermine the pillars of the 2010 law and hasten the collapse of the marketplaces.The Pottery Barn rule comes to mind: You break it, you own it. Yes, the plate you just shattered had some cracks in it. But if you dropped it on the ground, the store is going to blame you.

WHAT ENDING SUBSIDIES MEANS …Trump has threatened for months to stop the payments, which go to insurers that are required by the laws to help eligible consumers afford their deductibles and other out-of-pocket expenses. But he held off while other administration officials warned him such a move would cause an implosion of the ACA marketplaces that could be blamed on Republicans … The fifth year’s open-enrollment season for consumers to buy coverage through ACA exchanges will start in less than three weeks, and insurers have said that stopping the cost-sharing payments would be the single greatest step the Trump administration could take to damage the marketplaces … Ending the payments is grounds for any insurer to back out of its federal contract to sell health plans for 2018.

The subsidies, which are worth an estimated $7 billion this year and are paid out in monthly installments, may stop almost immediately since Congress hasn’t appropriated funding for the program. Scrapping the funding is likely to provide another jolt to the already fragile Obamacare markets. The impact may be cushioned by the fact that many insurers had priced next year’s plans higher than they otherwise would have, fearing this decision. Others have already fled the Obamacare markets, which are set to begin open enrollment in Nov. 1 for the 2018 plan year. Insurers rely on the subsidies to reduce out-of-pocket costs for low-income Obamacare customers. They’re still on the hook to provide the discounted rates to their members under the law, despite no longer receiving the federal funding.

ABOUT THAT EO … the White House says the executive order will give people more choices, but: “Critics, who include state insurance commissioners, most of the health-insurance industry and mainstream policy specialists, predict that a proliferation of these other kinds of coverage will have damaging ripple effects, driving up costs for consumers with serious medical conditions and prompting more insurers to flee the law’s marketplaces.”

“The most far-reaching element of the order instructs a trio of Cabinet departments to rewrite federal rules for ‘association health plans’ — a form of insurance in which small businesses of a similar type band together through an association to negotiate health benefits. These plans have had to meet coverage requirements (such as covering pre-exisitng conditions, maternity care, etc.) and consumer protections under the 2010 health-care law, but the administration is likely to exempt them from those rules and let such plans be sold from state to state without insurance licenses in each one. Among policy experts, critics warned that young and healthy people who use relatively little insurance will gravitate to association health plans because of their lower price tags. That would concentrate older and sicker customers in ACA marketplaces with spiking rates.”

Beyond yesterday’s directives, Trump has been personally involved in undercutting the system. For months, officials in Republican-controlled Iowa had sought federal permission to revitalize their ailing health-insurance marketplace. Then President Trump read about the request in a newspaper story and called the federal director weighing the application. Trump’s message in late August was clear … Tell Iowa no. HHS has slashed grants to groups that help consumers get insurance coverage. It also has cut the enrollment period in half, reduced the advertising budget by 90% and announced an outage schedule that would make the website less available than last year. … HHS has told its regional administrators not to even meet with on-the-ground organizations about enrollment.”



WSJ “Trump has privately told at least one lawmaker that the payments may continue if a bipartisan deal is reached on health care. In this way, cutting off cost-sharing payments is reminiscent of Trump’s decision to end DACA last month. He has just created an artificial political crisis by ending another Obama-era program. He believes that Congress will swing into action so that millions of vulnerable people are not harmed by his decision. Instead of undocumented immigrants who were brought to this country as children, this time it’s the poor and chronically ill who are pawns. It is a risky way to govern.

SOUNDS A LOT LIKE DACA Consider the DACA fix: Trump gave Congress a six-month deadline to figure out a way to protect millions of Latino kids brought to the U.S. as children, from deportation (the Dreamers). Then on Sunday night he unveiled a list of hardline immigration demands that has made it much harder to get a deal. Now the March 5 deadline is getting squishy. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said last night, for example, that Trump told him he was willing to “give it some more time” to allow lawmakers to find a solution for the “dreamers” if Congress does not pass legislation.”


Ryan May Cancel Christmas

Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan (R-WI), said yesterday that he’s willing to keep lawmakers in D.C. through December to pass a tax bill. (Of course, we’ve heard those threats many times before and the smell of jet fumes always seems stronger).

Tax Reform

Politico “House Republicans are moving closer to keeping some form of the state and local tax deduction, and President Donald Trump isn’t standing in the way, signaling a possible breakthrough in an early spat over tax reform. Several lawmakers who huddled with GOP leaders Thursday indicated that the talks were going well. ‘They’re trending towards a solution,’ said Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), a member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. WSJ
“The aim, lawmakers say, is to keep the break for middle-income households while repealing it for higher-income households. One idea is to cut off the deduction for households whose incomes exceed a certain level. The challenge will be finding agreement on where that dividing line should be.”


Trump Scorns But Doesn’t Bolt

AP “Under U.S. law, Trump faces a Sunday deadline to notify Congress whether Iran is complying with the 2015 Nuclear accord … and determine if it remains a national security priority. [Today] Trump declared that the Iran nuclear deal is no longer in U.S. national security interests, but he won’t withdraw from the landmark accord or immediately re-impose sanctions against Tehran. The step would not withdraw the United States from the deal but would give the U.S. Congress 60 days to decide whether to reimpose the sanctions on Tehran that were suspended under an agreement that was negotiated by the United States and other world powers during the administration of former President Barack Obama.”

FIX IT USToday “Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Corker said Friday he will introduce legislation to fix “major flaws” in the Iran nuclear deal — a step he says will eventually solidify and strengthen the agreement even as President Trump moves to undermine it.”


Open Warfare Between Bob Corker and Trump

NYTs OpEd “Over the past few months, the country has been in a foul sort of trance. Among people who work in politics, Republicans as well as Democrats, it is conventional wisdom that President Trump is staggeringly ill-informed, erratic, reckless and dishonest. … But it’s also conventional wisdom that with few exceptions, Republicans in Congress are not going to stand up to him. … Thus, even though a majority of Americans consider the president unfit for office, a fatalistic sense of stasis has set in.

Credit Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, for momentarily snapping us out of it. On Sunday evening, after a Twitter feud with Trump, Corker gave an interview to The NYTs in which he said publicly what Republican officeholders usually say only privately. Trump, Corker told the reporters is treating the presidency like “a reality show” and could be setting the nation “on the path to World War III.” Corker has previously said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Chief of Staff John Kelly “help separate our country from chaos.” On Sunday, he identified the agent of that chaos. “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House, it’s a situation of trying to contain him,” Corker said of Trump.

Also, Corker … made it clear that Trump’s tweeted provocations of North Korea are impulsive rather than strategic. “A lot of people think that there is some kind of ‘good cop, bad cop’ act underway, but that’s just not true,” he said. JerryTaylor, of the Libertarian Think Tank, the Niskanen Center, is in frequent contact with anti-Trump Republicans, and he senses a growing sense of urgency among them. “Having an unstable narcissist who is ignorant of politics, policy and foreign affairs with the nuclear codes has probably turned them white as a sheet,” he said. “There is some degree of serious responsibility that they fully realize that they hold.”


Susan To Stay In Senate

Politico “Republican Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced Friday that she would … stay in the Senate. Collins’ decision preserves her role as a key moderate and swing vote in the Senate. She had considered running for governor for months and faced pressure from fellow Republicans and moderates to stay in the chamber.”

Diane Running

“I came to the conclusion that this is how I’m meant to spend my life.”
– Diane Feinstein (D-CA)about her decision to seek reelection.

(State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and billionaire environmental activist Tom Steyer are strongly considering challenging her, according to confidantes to both men.)

Thad’s Health

Politico “Republicans are worried about Thad Cochran (R-MS). The Mississippi senator has been recovering the past several weeks from a urological procedure. And concern is growing on and off Capitol Hill over whether the 79-year-old lawmaker will return to work on Monday when the Senate comes back from recess. Cochran missed the last two weeks that the Senate was in session. As Chair of the appropriations panel, Cochran plays a critical role in government funding, particularly as Congress closes in on a mid-December deadline to keep federal agencies open. Cochran remaining out of work would also cause headaches for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) as he looks to pass budget and tax reform legislation, since it takes only three senators who are absent or opposed to legislation to sink a given measure. The Approps Committee markup is on Thursday.”

Plus, Cochran’s seat is viewed as particularly important, given that the establishment went all out to help him beat former state Sen. Chris McDaniel in the 2014 GOP primary. He is next up for reelection in 2020, and Republicans are desperate for him to stay in office and avoid a special election. McDaniel is already planning a campaign against incumbent Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) in 2018.”





From Sen.Ben Sasse (R-NE) responding to Sean Hannity’s assertion that supporting Sasse had been ‘one of the biggest mistakes of [his] career.”





Trump’s Washington

– Trump’s pick for NOAA chief causes a storm’ – “As a top executive at AccuWeather, Barry Myers has pushed for limits on the kinds of products that the National Weather Service offers to the public, saying they offered unfair competition to his industry. Now, President Donald Trump’s nomination of Myers to lead the weather service’s parent agency could allow him to make those kinds of restrictions mandatory – to the benefit of his family-run forecasting company. The AccuWeather CEO’s nomination to head [NOAA] is stirring criticism from people who worry he would hobble the weather service, which provoked an industry backlash more than a decade ago by making hour-by-hour forecasts, cellphone alerts and other consumer-friendly data widely available online. A bill that Myers supported 12 years ago, sponsored by then-Sen. Rick Santorum, would have prohibited the agency from competing with private providers in most circumstances.” (Politico)

— Trump tapped Kathleen Hartnett-White, a former chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and a known climate change skeptic, to chair the Council on Environmental Quality. “Like other members of the Trump administration, she has long questioned the overwhelming scientific consensus on human-fueled climate change and has criticized the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a volunteer group of climate scientists whose findings are considered the gold standard of climate science. And she has described efforts to combat global warming as little more than an attack on the fossil fuel industry.” In her new role, Hartnett-White will coordinate environmental and energy policy across the federal government.” (WaPo)


Weirdest Story You Will Read Today

WaPo “Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has his staffers wave a special secretarial flag over his agency’s headquarters whenever he is in the building — reviving a Buckingham Palace-esque tradition that no one can remember ever happening in the federal government. “A security staffer takes the elevator to the seventh floor, climbs the stairs to the roof and hoists a special secretarial flag whenever Zinke enters the building. When the secretary goes home for the day or travels, the flag — a blue banner emblazoned with the agency’s bison seal flanked by seven white stars representing the Interior bureaus — comes down.  Responding [to questions], a spokeswoman for Zinke, a former Navy SEAL commander, defended the Navy flag-flying tradition as ‘a major sign of transparency.’ Zinke, who rode to work on horseback on his first day in office, has also commissioned commemorative coins with his name on them to give to staff and visitors.”


On Puerto Rico

Backlash on Trump’s Puerto Rico tweet — “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”

NYTs “The message was as stark as it was startling. President Trump indicated on Thursday that he was losing patience. … Caught off guard, his advisers scrambled to reassure Puerto Rico that Washington was not abandoning it. Under withering criticism from Puerto Ricans for his administration’s flawed response to the devastation there, Trump sought to hold the territory responsible for its own plight because of chronic mismanagement — prompting an immediate backlash from Puerto Ricans and mainland lawmakers in both parties. More than a month after Hurricane Irma swept ashore and three weeks after Hurricane ­Maria delivered a crushing blow, [83%] of Puerto Rico remains without power, and many of its 3.4 million residents still are struggling to find clean water, hospitals are short on medicine, commerce is slow, and basic services are unavailable.”

Clarification from FEMA’s Deputy Public Affairs Director — Eileen Lainez (@FEMAspox): “.@FEMA will be w/Puerto Rico, USVI, every state, territory impacted by a disaster every day, supporting throughout their response & recovery”.

Some movement: The House overwhelmingly approved its $36.5 billion disaster aid package for Maria and wildfire recovery yesterday, by a vote of 353 to 69. All 69 lawmakers who opposed the measure were Republicans who complained that the funding was not offset by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget. (WaPo)


Is FB’s Vision of Inclusivity a Threat To Democracy?

For months, Facebook has been trying to counter criticism about its influence on the 2016 presidential election. The company has hired three crisis communications firms and has bought digital and newspaper ads. Mark Zuckerberg, its chief executive, has posted live video to the social network to explain how much he cared about election integrity. This week, it sent Sheryl Sandberg to Washington to charm Congress and the public.

Ms. Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, acted as the giant tech company’s chief ambassador in the capital on Wednesday and Thursday — shuttling around to talk with dozens of lawmakers, and making numerous promises about how the company would change. In a public appearance she admitted that Facebook had made mistakes during the presidential campaign. She offered lawmakers who are investigating Russia’s meddling in the election more data from the company. The complaints about Facebook have also helped propel debate about the technology industry more widely, and whether the biggest technology companies — like Facebook, Google and Amazon — have grown too large and powerful. Some lawmakers are now talking about potential ways to regulate the businesses.”


Russia Watch

Twitter Deleted Data Potentially Crucial to Russia Probes’ “Twitter has deleted tweets and other user data of potentially irreplaceable value to investigators probing Russia’s suspected manipulation of the social media platform during the 2016 election, according to current and former government cybersecurity officials. Federal investigators now believe Twitter was one of Russia’s most potent weapons in its efforts to promote Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton, the officials say, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“By creating and deploying armies of automated bots, fake users, catchy hashtags and bogus ad campaigns, unidentified operatives launched recurring waves of pro-Trump and anti-Clinton story lines via Twitter that were either false or greatly exaggerated, the officials said. Many U.S. investigators believe that their best hope for identifying who was behind these operations, how they collaborated with each other and their suspected links to the Kremlin lies buried within the mountains of data accumulated in recent years by Twitter.’ (Politico)

EVEN POKEMON GO USED by extensive Russian-linked meddling effort,” CNN “One Russian-linked campaign posing as part of the Black Lives Matter movement used Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr and Pokémon Go and even contacted some reporters in an effort to exploit racial tensions and sow discord among Americans, CNN has learned. The campaign, titled ‘Don’t Shoot Us,’ offers new insights into how Russian agents created a broad online ecosystem where divisive political messages were reinforced across multiple platforms, amplifying a campaign that appears to have been run from one source — the shadowy, Kremlin-linked troll farm known as the Internet Research Agency.”


Apocalyptic Scene

The death toll rose to 31 Thursday as California authorities began assessing the damage from the deadliest spate of wildfires to strike the state in more than 80 years, even while the blazes continued to consume swaths of land and drive people from their homes. California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection officials said some 190,000 acres had been scorched across the state by Thursday afternoon as high winds and dry conditions spread the fires with frightening speed. Sonoma County, north of San Francisco, sustained the most damage, with 17 people confirmed dead and 400 reported missing; in the city of Santa Rosa, officials reported nearly 3,000 homes destroyed.”

Still uncontrolled: “The National Weather Service provided a morsel of good news Thursday, reporting that the gusts that fueled the blazes and made them harder to fight had died down and were projected to stay light through Friday. The respite was expected to be brief, however, as high north winds were expected to kick up over the weekend.”


Harvey Weinstein Scandal

Following decades of alleged sexual harassment at the hands of Harvey Weinstein, 28 brave women stepped forward and shared their devastating stories. Weinstein was terminated on Sunday by the board of The Weinstein Company in light of the allegations.

ONE RESPONSE … BuzzFeed “A pair of New York lawmakers are aiming to end the sort of confidentiality agreements that shield workplace sexual harassment and that have been cited in the ongoing Harvey Weinstein scandal. The new language to an existing bill, to be introduced on Friday, would void any contract provision where an employer can force an employee to keep quiet about sexual harassment and discrimination claims. It would include claims that are settled in arbitration, where non-disclosure agreements routinely keep the details of allegations secret.”

Paid Leave … when your dog is sick. Si!

An Italian dog owner who wanted paid time off to care for one of her dogs offered her bosses a simple explanation: “They are my family.” It worked.

In what a pet advocacy group called a groundbreaking decision, the woman’s employer changed its mind and gave the woman leave to care for her sick 12-year-old English setter. Pet advocacy groups say the woman’s achievement could pave the way for similar claims in the future. (Admit it, you’re smiling!)

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