Having captured McCain’s vote today on opening debate on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act in the Senate, President Trump now calls Senator McCain “a very brave man” who “made a tough trip” from Arizona to Washington, D.C.
Of course, practically, Thune and Rounds simply voted to forge ahead with debate on a bill that has not yet taken shape, that has not been through the normal committee process, and that has not been scored by the CBO or any other reliable agency to give us a reasonable estimate of the fiscal, economic, and public health impacts that their wild amendment mystery meat may produce.
This is not good policy-making. This is not humanitarian politics. This is not open, transparent government. The only guiding principle at work in this health care redeform process is Trumpublicans overriding mania for erasing anything with Barack Obama’s name on it.
Senator John Thune was supposed to be among the lucky “leaders” dining with the President last night. That Trump® Steak must not have gone down well: South Dakota’s senior Senator is on the news today saying Americans “deserve an explanation” from his steak-hoster about Russian election-meddling and Russian meetings with Team Trump:
“I think that the American people do deserve a full explanation of what happened in all these various meetings,” he said in reply. “I think that the Intelligence Committee here in the Senate is looking into that. The Mueller special counsel is looking into that. I think we’re going to get those answers in due time, but I think that more is better. To me, the administration is served by getting everything out there and being as transparent as they possibly can. Because, this issue, in order for it to go away, I think that is the best way to just cleanse it, and get it out there, and let the American people decide.”
“More transparency is good,” he added.
“More transparent than they are now?” [CNN’s John] Berman asked.
“I think there has been a reluctance for whatever reason, I think, by the administration, in some cases, to get all the information out there, and I think they’re well served to do that, frankly,” Thune replied. “My guess is that they’ll probably find — and the intelligence committees and the others that have looked at this have not found any evidence of collusion to this point, and I think that the administration would be able to turn that page and move forward and focus on other things if they would get this issue behind them. And I think that that sort of transparency would enable that to happen” [Matt Shuham, “Thune: ‘There Has Been a Reluctance’ from Trump to Be Transparent on Russia,” Talking Points Memo, 2017.07.18].
Drollinger’s Capitol Ministries® Members Bible Study lists Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds among its sponsors. Thune and Rounds apparently support Drollinger’s notion that only his flavor of Christians can effectively lead the our nation:
How misinformed, simplistic, and overlooking is the wisdom of our nation’s leaders wherein the formation of righteous individuals through aggressive evangelism is never even mentioned let alone emphasized! We need Franklin Graham to hold a crusade in the Capitol! What could be more important to the righteousness of our nation! Such ignorance in our priorities bespeaks of the famine of biblical literacy in our Capitol! Make no mistake here: it is righteousness that exalts a nation! Therefore the priority of evangelism is the key to a great nation more so than anything else! You need to get this through your head my friends: Evangelism is the germination of righteousness! We need today to convert Public Servants who are lost without Christ! [Ralph Drollinger, “Members Bible Study,” Capitol Ministries®, 2017.07.10]
A former college basketball star turned evangelical Christian whose own church disavowed him over his bigotry and radical theology, Drollinger has variously proclaimed that Catholicism is “the world’s largest false religion,” that female legislators who continue working after having children are sinners, and that homosexuality is an “abomination.” He has also written that social welfare programs are un-Christian. “It is safe to say that God is a Capitalist,” Drollinger once wrote, “not a Communist.” In a January radio interview, Drollinger praised then-senator Jeff Sessions, who “hungers and thirsts for the Scripture,” for his performance during his confirmation hearing, when he provided a Biblical justification for his draconian views on immigration. “I’ve had the distinct honor of teaching him on this subject, and many others,” Drollinger said. “There’s nothing more exciting, when you’re a Bible teacher, to see one of the guys you’re working with—to see him or her articulate something you’ve taught them when they’re under the gun” [Brendan O’Connor, “The Trump Cabinet Has Its Own Weekly Far-Right Bible Study Group,” Fusion, 2017.04.20].
Scripture is clear; those who are at enmity with Him — who passively or actively reject the Son of God — their prayers are worthless and go unheard. And the State suffers for want of His blessing. The righteous leader is a man of potent prayer [Drollinger, 2017.07.10].
The potency of prayer appears not directly proportional to the righteousness of the supplicant. The most righteous man ever to walk the Earth prayed that a cup pass him by and saw that prayer go unanswered.
But if prayer is potent, what does the potency do? My favorite theologian regularly reminds me that prayer isn’t about winning blessing: Prayer doesn’t change God, she says, recalling the cinematic version of another favorite theologian. Prayer changes us. The more unrighteous people are, the more changing they need, and thus the more they need to pray and have those prayers heard.
Of course, that assumes there is any gradation among the unrighteous. And in a truly Christian view, any conceivable gradations that distinguish John Thune and Mike Rounds as more righteous than Al Franken or Amy Klobuchar are infinitesimal compared to original sin, the fundamental and humanly irreparable fallibility that stains all mankind.
Ralph Drollinger and his favored Christians do not have God’s private phone number. They do not have a divine right to rule. And they do not have any theological basis for their unChristian claim that they and their Great Leader are more righteous or more suited to public service in the eyes of an infinite and constantly disappointed Creator than any of their fellow beings.
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].
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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?
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.
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:
“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].
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?
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]
“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.
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….