Democrats, feel free to modify this poster for your state and district.
So here are today’s non-headlines:
O.K., o.k., the Senate Republicans have a bill… or at least a “discussion draft.” But cutting more from Medicaid than the House bill (Senator John Thune is on Fox news saying major reductions in federal spending on Medicaid are really increases), blocking Medicaid patients from using Planned Parenthood, reducing premium subsidies, letting states waive essential health benefits and leave pre-existing conditions* out of insurance policies—none of that gives anyone better or cheaper health care. Making poor people pay more to get less while giving tax breaks to the rich isn’t a healthcare plan. It’s a wealthcare plan.
Barack Obama agrees:
The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill. It’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America. It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting health care for everybody else. Those with private insurance will experience higher premiums and higher deductibles, with lower tax credits to help working families cover the costs, even as their plans might no longer cover pregnancy, mental health care, or expensive prescriptions. Discrimination based on pre-existing conditions could become the norm again. Millions of families will lose coverage entirely.
Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family – this bill will do you harm. And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation [Barack Obama, Facebook post, 2017.06.22].
Thune and friends don’t have a healthcare bill… but whatever it is, they don’t have the votes to pass it. Ready to give up yet, John?
Negatively Related: Oh, one more non-headline: after flogging his patron Dan Lederman’s expensive intervention on Steve Thorson’s behalf in the Watertown mayoral race for days, Pat Powers has no headlines about or analysis of Lederman’s failure and Thorson’s defeat.
Update 17:55 CDT: The Senate bill keeps the ACA prohibition on insurers’ excluding people with pre-existing conditions or charging them higher premiums; however, by allowing states to eliminate essential benefits, the Senate plan may allow insurers to impose lifetime caps on services folks with pre-existing conditions need.
Update 2017.06.23 06:58 CDT: Huffington Post compares the major provisions of the ACA, the House bill, and the Senate bill:
Help me figure this one out: Senator John Thune says he and his fellow Republican Senators are not hiding their health care plan:
There’s been a lot written about this so-called working group and the small group of people meeting in secret, but those meetings are open to anybody…. Everybody’s clamoring that we’re hiding the ball somewhere. There’s no bill out there yet [Senator John Thune, in Dana Ferguson, “Thune: Health Bill Meetings ‘Open to Anybody’,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2017.06.15].
That’s funny—does he mean “anybody” like patients groups who might have some useful input about changes in health care law?
This week, a group of more than 15 patients groups — including the American Heart Assn., the March of Dimes, the American Lung Assn. and the American Diabetes Assn. — asked McConnell’s office to meet with them next week, proposing any time between Friday and June 22.
A representative from McConnell’s office told them staff schedules were too busy, according to representatives of several of the organizations [Noam N. Levey and Lisa Mascaro, “Republican Secrecy Faces Mounting Criticism as GOP Senators Work Behind Closed Doors to Replace Obamacare,” Los Angeles Times, 2017.06.16].
Does he mean “anybody” like the Department of Health and Human Services?
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said in a hearing on Thursday that his staff had provided “technical assistance” to senators working on the bill, but that he had not seen any “legislative language” himself [Benjy Sarlin and Leigh Ann Caldwell, “The Senate’s Health Care bill Remains Shrouded in Secrecy,” NBC News, 2017.06.15].
Does he mean “anybody” like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who feels he has to invite all Senators to an open-door meeting to get any information about what Thune and friends are formualting behind their closed doors?
Does he mean “anybody” like fellow Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who doesn’t know if Thune and friends are building a health care bill from scratch or just tinkering with the bad House bill?
But again, I don’t know that. Because none of us have actually seen language.
Is it the framework of the House-passed bill and then we’re filling in our own details? I don’t know. We just don’t know.
My constituents expect me to know, and if we had utilized the process that goes through a committee, I would be able to answer not only your questions but my constituents’ questions [Senator Lisa Murkowski, in Dylan Scott, “Lisa Murkowski, a Crucial Senate Swing Vote, Is Very Frustrated with AHCA,” Vox, 2017.06.15].
Forgive me, Senator Thune, but I’m having trouble finding anyone who corroborates your story of openness on how you plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Even the paper to which you make your claim of openness thinks the process is too secretive. You’re acting more like you’re planning a surprise party, not legislation that affects an industry that makes up over a sixth of our economy.
Related Clicking: The Kaiser Family Foundation maps the impact of repealing the Affordable Care Act in each state. In South Dakota, Kaiser figures the ACA has insured 7,000 more people, provided $11 million a year in premium tax credits, and protected the insurability of 126,000 non-elderly people with declinable pre-existing conditions. I’d try to explain how your plan will affect those numbers, but as you said, there is no bill yet, and as you refuse to admit, you won’t let anyone else in to see what you’re thinking of putting in the bill.
Republican Senator John Thune is calling for more government regulation to keep us safe in our future self-driving cars. I would think a good Republican would prefer a strong EMP over regulation as a response to robot danger, but I’m learning I shouldn’t overthink John Thune.
Thune and his Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee heard Wednesday that properly regulated artificial intelligence at the wheel may “cure” drunk driving and “offer massive economic benefits—less congestion, fewer injuries and medical claims, lower fuel costs, increased personal productivity, and better land use.”
Of course, driverless technology applied to tractors could also accelerate the hollowing out of rural America as corporate “farmers” realize they can monitor their fully-automated factory fields from their comfy urban homes:
While we move across the field, a GPS system guides the sprayer. Biesemeier barely touches the steering wheel.
“It won’t be very long before these things are driving themselves and we’re not even out here,” he says.
Purchased over the past several years, these machines allow Biesemeier and his brother to farm nearly 7,000 acres in this rural pocket of northeastern Colorado, near the Nebraska border. Just a few decades ago, it would have been nearly impossible for a single family to adequately manage that much cropland. Now, Biesemeier says, his is a medium-sized farm in this part of the plains.
“It takes a lot of acres to pay that combine off, or that corn planter off, or that sprayer off,” he says.
That means farms on the Great Plains and in many other parts of the country have had to grow in size and adopt new technologies to make ends meet. He can’t just farm 80 acres and make a living, he says.
“I wish you could. I think life would be a lot simpler, easier,” Biesemeier says. “And there’d be a lot more people out here if that was the case” [Luke Runyon, “As Big, High-Tech Farms Take Hold, How Do Nearby Towns Stay Afloat?” KUNC/Harvest Public Media, 2017.06.13].
When there are fewer farmers, there are fewer families who need to come to each little town for parts, groceries, and school. Driverless technology may be one more advance that hurries migration from our old farm towns to Sioux Falls, Aberdeen, and our few other towns big enough to sustain themselves with goods and services beyond support for farm workers that we no longer need.
But here’s something to chew on: could self-driving vehicles create a counterbalancing migration force that could replenish small towns? If machines can chauffeur us everywhere, will more families choose the peace and quiet of small-town life and enjoy more work and family time on their long automated drive to Sam’s Club and Hy-Vee? Or might those drives disappear completely, as small-town residents get their weekly provisions by Hy-Vee drone?
My neighbor Joe Berns offered a solid critique last week of the Koch Brothers’ flunkies’ claims that American capitalism works great for everybody. New Harvard research offers an interesting perspective on that critique in perceptions of health in the world’s greatest capitalist society. The study finds a bigger gap between rich and poor Americans in their perception of the quality of their health and access to health care than between the rich and poor of most other countries. The Atlantic summarizes the data in this chart:
Only 12% of the richest third of Americans report “fair” or “poor” health. 38% of the poorest third report fair or poor health. That 26-point gap (which the Harvard researchers found is independent of whether or not Americans have insurance) is larger than in all but two of the other 31 nations surveyed.
Notice that our richest third report better health than their income-counterparts in most other countries. America’s middle and poor also express better perceptions of their health than the same groups in many other countries. Whether our perceptions are accurate is open for debate, given, for example, that the U.S. leads the world in obese adults and young people. But to the extent that perceptions are valid, our capitalist society appears to be delivering pretty good health results to all Americans relative to the rest of the world, but better results to rich Americans than to poor Americans.
If there are disparities in how well we deliver health care to America’s rich and America’s poor, you’d think the Senate might want to give us some assurance that they are going to make the system better for everybody, right? No dice:
Senate Republicans are working to finish their draft health care bill, but have no plans to publicly release it, according to two senior Senate GOP aides.
“We aren’t stupid,” said one of the aides. One issue is that Senate Republicans plan to keep talking about it after the draft is done: “We are still in discussions about what will be in the final product so it is premature to release any draft absent further member conversations and consensus” [Caitlin Owens, “Senate GOP Won’t Release Draft Health Care Bill,” Axios, 2017.06.12].
Unable to overcome the reality that the Affordable Care Act’s protections of health insurance coverage are better than anything oozing out of Republican slogans, Republicans are signaling that whatever bill they are hiding from us is just for show:
It’s starting to become more likely that the Senate GOP has decided that passing a bill may be impossible and that the best result may be to craft some legislation that is designed to fail simply as a show vote. Party leaders are now openly talking about the idea.
“I still think in the end there is a huge reason why we have to get to 50 on this,” Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, one of McConnell’s top lieutenants, told CNN on Monday. “Obviously, we’re going to have a vote on this one way or the other. But if we don’t pass something and we go into ’18, you know, it’s on us to try to get this fixed” [Matthew Sheffield, “Fearing Public Outcry, Senate Republicans Aim to Keep Health Care Bill Secret Until Last Possible Minute,” Salon, 2017.06.12].
The case for capitalism in health care is mixed: the Harvard study shows American perceptions of health better than in many other countries, but with a greater gap in satisfaction between rich and poor. Our democracy has yet to overcome our capitalist impulses to implement the sensible Bernie Sanders solution (Medicare for Everyone!)… but at least our democratic pressures may be keeping the Senate from making things worse.
When the director of the FBI decided not to bring charges against a Presidential candidate for transmitting classified information on a private server in a way that could have allowed the information to be intercepted by the Russians or adversaries, Senator John Thune still demanded consequences:
“Secretary Clinton has demonstrated that she has no respect for the security of classified information and she should face the consequences,” Thune said [Dana Ferguson, “Thune, Rounds Call for Revocation of Clinton’s Security Clearances,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.07.07].
Senator Mike Rounds groused similarly:
“Access to classified information is a serious responsibility; at a minimum, they should not be trusted to handle this sensitive national security information in the future,” Rounds said [Ferguson, 2016.07.07].
When the FBI found evidence of more questionable transfers of classified information by the same Presidential candidate, Rep. Kristi Noem jumped in to expound on the importance of protecting classified information:
“Careless mishandling of classified information jeopardizes our national security and the safety of our troops and diplomats abroad. With significant questions remaining, further investigation is not only warranted, it is required for the public’s trust to ever be restored,” Noem said [“Source: Clinton-Related Emails Came in Weiner Investigation,” AP via KELO-TV, 2016.10.28].
Now Donald Trump has handed highly classified information directly to the Russians in the Oval Office:
The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.
The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.
“This is code-word information,” said a U.S. official familiar with the matter, using terminology that refers to one of the highest classification levels used by American spy agencies. Trump “revealed more information to the Russian ambassador than we have shared with our own allies” [Greg Miller and Greg Jaffe, “Trump Revealed Highly Classified Information to Russian Foreign Minister and Ambassdor,” Washington Post, 2017.05.15].
Before you start chanting, “Lock Him Up!” Miller and Jaffe note that the President “has broad authority to declassify government secrets, making it unlikely that his disclosures broke the law.” Of course, I’ll understand if you feel uneasy that Trump has now replaced the formal process for declassifying intel with thoughtless bragging to Russian officials.
But hey, how does Senator Thune feel about Trump’s loose lips?
“I would be concerned anytime we’re discussing sensitive subjects with the Russians,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the chairman of the Senate Republican Conference. Thune reacted after an initial briefing on the news report and said he had not reviewed details [Ed O’Keefe, “GOP Senator Says Trump Administration ‘in a Downward Spiral’ After Intel Disclosure,” Chicago Tribune, 2017.05.15].
Concerned—that’s a notable step down from consequences.
Senator Rounds declared three months ago that we need to get tough with a “confrontational” Russia. Rounds is apparently still digging for “share classified intel” in any thesaurus entry for “get tough.” Rep. Noem said in February she hadn’t seen any evidence that the Trump Administration “has been influenced by Russian authorities or those within the Russian government” but said she’d “continuously watch… to see if real evidence comes forward.” She has not yet commented on this real evidence that has come forward.
Related: Thune and Rounds are among 27 Senators who, by FiveThirtyEight.com’s count, have voted 100% so far with Trump. Noem is only at 96.6%, having voted against Trump on one major bill, the appropriations bill for the rest of this fiscal year.
Also Related: The Washington Post reminds us of what Donald Trump said on the campaign trail:
Greenville, N.C., September: “This is really, if we bring it up, this is like Watergate, only it’s worse, because here our foreign enemies were in a position to hack our most sensitive national security secrets. We can’t have someone in the Oval Office who doesn’t understand the meaning of the word ‘confidential.’ ” [Donald Trump, quoted in Philip Bump, “On the Campaign Trail, Trump Was Very Worried About Revealing America’s Secrets,” Washington Post, 2017.05.15]
And why not argue for impeachment—from Republican Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks, last September:
“She betrayed her country by exposing national security information to risk by our adversaries. That is a criminal offense. That makes it an impeachable offense. She probably has committed an impeachable offense, therefore she probably should be impeached. But in all likelihood she won’t be because Congress doesn’t have the political will to do so,” Brooks told AL.com in a phone interview Friday. “Looking at it from a strictly legal standpoint, Hillary Clinton has, in my opinion, committed a high crime or misdemeanor or treason, which is the constitutional standard. Which, under those circumstances, she probably should be impeached if she’s elected president. But at the same time, impeachment is a political matter, and I don’t see based on my observations of this Congress … I don’t see it happening” [Howard Koplowitz, “Mo Brooks: Hillary Clinton Should Be Impeached if Elected, but Congress Lacks Political Will,” AL.com, 2016.09.09].
And remember, Brooks made that argument based solely on exposing information to the risk of leakage, not actually recklessly handing over the information directly to a foreign power.
Update 07:13 CDT: Donald Trump says he has an “absolute right” to tell the Russians classified information… but the Russians say the story that Trump told them secrets is fake.
Golly, even Senator John Thune thinks a good Democrat can run a competitive race for Governor in 2018:
Student: With Gov. Daugaard’s time coming to a close, who do you think is most likely to be the next governor of South Dakota?
Thune: The next governor of South Dakota? Well, I don’t want to jinx anyone by saying who I predict will win. There are a lot of good candidates out there. There are already a few good Republicans who have put their name out there. I don’t know if there is a Democrat out there yet. I am sure there will be. It is kind of a year where with the open seat it will be a very competitive race. I don’t think that anyone at this point has the inside track. I think you have to assume in our state, that unless something goes terribly wrong, the Republican nominee has a built in advantage. That said, good Democrats in South Dakota can get elected. That has been proven in the past, particularly in the federal races. If a good Democrat is nominated it will be a competitive race. In terms of the Republican primary, we have a couple of top tier candidates, and I assume there will be a few more who put their name in the ring [Senator John Thune, transcript, Q&A with Yankton High School students, 2017.05.12].
I’m sure there’s some trick there in Thune’s use of the words good and Democrat in the same sentence. But for now, let’s take our senior Senator at his word and keep an eye out for that competitive nominee.
Let’s also be patient. The primary is more than a year away. Let Thune and everyone else wonder….
Let’s be honest, no one enjoys paying taxes. While that might be the understatement of the century, it’s worth pointing out now that tax season is upon us once again. April is typically enjoyed for other, more enjoyable seasons, like the return of spring or Major League Baseball. Unfortunately, a lot of Americans spend a significant amount of time figuring out whether a return is headed their way or if they’ve struck out with the IRS and will need to write a check to Uncle Sam [Senator John Thune, column, 2017.04.14].
SPOTTED: Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) Tuesday night sitting behind home plate at the Colorado Rockies vs. Los Angeles Dodgers game in LA… [“Wednesday’s Spotted,” Politico, 2017.04.19].
Thune’s last tweet mentioned doing more “to ensure taxpayers’ money is being spent as efficiently & effectively as possible.” We’re not getting the most efficient and effective representation when our senior Senator’s ratio of town halls to Major League Baseball games in California over Easter recess is one to one.
This week’s award for concise letter-writing goes to Missy Slaathaug of Pierre, who penned this missive in her Wednesday local paper:
Right on, Missy!
Senator Thune did speak to Washington High School government students and the POET board of directors yesterday. Senator Rounds did The Greg Belfrage Show, then spoke to the state bankers’ association in Pierre.
Senator John Thune visited Trinity Lutheran School before his town hall in Aberdeen yesterday:
I’m sure the kids were thrilled to meet such an important public official. But I’m curious: couldn’t a public official make time to visit the public schools, for whom in Aberdeen his efforts are responsible for 4% of the general fund and 16% of special education funds?