Tag Archives: budget

Nobody Knows Anything, Washington DC Edition

Mother Jones

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From President Trump’s press office:

From President Trump’s budget chief:

Tomorrow’s headline: EPA chief says “protecting the environment” not the “primary aim of this agency.”

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Nobody Knows Anything, Washington DC Edition

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Democrats Don’t Brag Enough About the Stuff They Do

Mother Jones

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A couple of days ago Paul Krugman wrote about the Trump double-cross:

Let’s talk about West Virginia, which went Trump by more than 40 percentage points, topped only by Wyoming. What did West Virginians think they were voting for?

They are, after all, residents of a poor state that benefits immensely from federal programs: 29 percent of the population is on Medicaid, almost 19 percent on food stamps. The expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare is the main reason the percentage of West Virginians without health insurance has halved since 2013.

….Trumpcare, the budget office tells us, would cause 23 million people to lose health insurance, largely through cuts to Medicaid….Then we need to add in the Trump budget, which calls for further drastic cuts in Medicaid, plus large cuts in food stamps and in disability payments. What would happen to West Virginia if all these Trump policies went into effect? Basically, it would be apocalyptic.

….So many of the people who voted for Donald Trump were the victims of an epic scam by a man who has built his life around scamming. In the case of West Virginians, this scam could end up pretty much destroying their state. Will they ever realize this, and admit it to themselves? More important, will they be prepared to punish him the only way they can — by voting for Democrats?

Since I happened to be chatting about this yesterday, I want to offer an alternative explanation for what’s going on here. More accurately, I guess, it’s a supplementary explanation, since there’s not much question that Donald Trump has indeed pulled a very long con on voters like the ones in West Virginia.

Basically it’s this: what do you expect if Democrats don’t support their own policies? For the past five years, Republicans have battered Obamacare as the most horrific policy ever enacted. Democrats have—what? Hidden under rocks, mostly. Moderates looked at the polls and decided to avoid even talking about Obamacare. Progressives mostly scorned it as a piece of crap and spent their energy explaining why we should all support single-payer instead. So what’s the result? Lots of people think Obamacare is horrific. After all, that’s what one side says, and the other side hardly even fights back.

West Virginians on Medicaid probably have no idea they’re getting it via Obamacare. West Virginians who buy insurance from Healthcare.gov probably have no idea they’re insured via Obamacare. West Virginians who got a payroll tax break early in the Obama years probably have no idea they even got it, let alone that it came from Democrats. West Virginians who got new roads or schools from the stimulus program probably have no idea it came from Democrats. West Virginians who got an increase in the minimum wage in 2007-09 probably have no idea it was passed by Democrats.

On the other hand, they certainly do know that Obamacare is destroying the nation; that Democrats want to take away their guns; that Mexicans took away all their jobs; that Obama wanted to let a flood of ISIS terrorists into the country; and that fanatical leftists want to allow men into their daughters’ bathrooms.

Republicans are going to say what they’re going to say. There’s not much you can do to stop them from lying. What you can do is to loudly and proudly demand credit for the stuff you’ve done. If no one really knows that you subsidized their insurance or provided them with Medicaid or raised their wages or built them new schools, you can hardly expect them to vote for you.

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Democrats Don’t Brag Enough About the Stuff They Do

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CBO Agrees: Trumpcare Wipes Out Protections for Pre-Existing Conditions

Mother Jones

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Earlier this month I passed along a note from Matthew Fiedler of the Brookings Institution. Long story short, he suggested that the Republican health care bill would do more than eliminate community rating only for folks who failed to maintain continuous coverage.1 He theorized that once a separate set of rates was set up, insurers could open it up to anyone. Since this second rate schedule would be medically underwritten—i.e., based on health status—it would be very cheap for young, healthy folks. In the end, healthy consumers would all gravitate to the medically-underwritten rates while unhealthy consumers would be stuck with the higher community-rated prices. Over time, the difference between these rates would grow, which means that anyone with a pre-existing condition would end up paying much higher rates than similar healthy people.

This was an interesting suggestion, but since then I haven’t heard anyone else support Fiedler’s argument. Until today, that is. AHCA allows states to apply for waivers from two provisions of Obamacare. The first is the requirement to provide essential health benefits. The Congressional Budget Office describes the other waiver:

A second type of waiver would allow insurers to set premiums on the basis of an individual’s health status if the person had not demonstrated continuous coverage; that is, the waiver would eliminate the requirement for what is termed community rating for premiums charged to such people. CBO and JCT anticipate that most healthy people…would be able to choose between premiums based on their own expected health care costs (medically underwritten premiums) and premiums based on the average health care costs…(community-rated premiums).

….CBO and JCT expect that, as a consequence, the waivers in those states would have another effect: Community-rated premiums would rise over time, and people who are less healthy (including those with preexisting or newly acquired medical conditions) would ultimately be unable to purchase comprehensive nongroup health insurance at premiums comparable to those under current law, if they could purchase it at all….As a result, the nongroup markets in those states would become unstable for people with higher-than-average expected health care costs.

So the CBO expects precisely the result that Fiedler predicted. This is genuinely big news and deserves wider reporting. For all practical purposes, AHCA eliminates the requirement that insurers charge the same rates to everyone, even those with pre-existing conditions. They still can’t flatly turn you down, but they can do the next best thing: make insurance so expensive for those with pre-existing conditions that most people can’t afford it. That’s especially harmful since the subsidies under AHCA are so skimpy.

This provision of AHCA has no direct budgetary impact, so it ought to get tossed out by the Senate parliamentarian.2 We’ll have to wait and see how that turns out.

1“Community rating” is the requirement that everyone pays the same price for insurance, even if they have a pre-existing condition.

2AHCA is being passed as a reconciliation bill. These bills are only allowed to address issues that directly affect the federal budget.

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CBO Agrees: Trumpcare Wipes Out Protections for Pre-Existing Conditions

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Congress is not happy about Trump’s budget taking away environmental protections.

A lot of climate hawks spent late 2016 and early 2017 in reassessment or mourning. Meanwhile, Anthony Torres was busy channeling his fellow engaged millennials into direct action, including coordinated sit-ins at the offices of New York’s Chuck Schumer, the new Senate Minority Leader, and Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware. The message: Do not play ball with the polluter-in-chief.

The son of a Nicaraguan immigrant father and a working-class New Yorker mother, Torres grew up with sea-level rise on his Long Island doorstep, and he understands how poverty, climate, and other social challenges are all knitted together. He’s proven especially adept at rallying peers to his side, both in an official capacity at the Sierra Club (where he helped coordinate communications and direct actions that aided in a defeat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership) and in extracurricular work with groups like #AllOfUs, a progressive collective aimed at organizing young people around threatened communities.

His advice on connecting different constituencies: “Activists need to create a story that is accessible to people who are not necessarily in our movements but who are in need of a bold and inspiring vision,” Torres says. “To me, it’s telling a story of America that intersects with race, gender, and class” and turning what might seem like differences into “a weapon in our arsenal that creates an America that never has happened before — a country for all of us.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.

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Congress is not happy about Trump’s budget taking away environmental protections.

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BREAKING: Trump Budget Numbers Make No Sense

Mother Jones

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Jon Chait says the Trump White House has made a $2 trillion mistake:

Trump has promised to enact “the biggest tax cut in history.” Trump’s administration has insisted, however, that the largest tax cut in history will not reduce revenue, because it will unleash growth….But then the budget assumes $2 trillion in higher revenue from growth in order to achieve balance after ten years. So the $2 trillion from higher growth is a double-count. It pays for the Trump cuts, and then it pays again for balancing the budget.

It’s true that the budget summary document includes a line item called “Effect of economic feedback” (in Table S-2) that comes to $2.062 trillion over ten years. Is that the same as the economic feedback that will pay for tax cuts? Who knows, really. It’s all just made-up nonsense anyway. But here’s an interesting thing. In the detailed projections, the Trump budget projects lower tax revenue than the final Obama budget:

What’s up with that? Does the Trump budget not include any economic feedback after all? But even if it doesn’t, why is their projection lower than Obama’s? Is it so they can use this lower number as a new baseline for comparison when they unveil their growth-exploding tax plan later in the year?

I know, I know: who cares? The Trump numbers are just random gibberish plucked from the sky. Still, you’d think they could at least make them agree from one spreadsheet to the next. Where’s the economic feedback in the tax revenue numbers?

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BREAKING: Trump Budget Numbers Make No Sense

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Donald Trump Just Released a Plan to Destroy Medicaid

Mother Jones

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When President Donald Trump released his first full budget Tuesday, he directly contradicted one of his most explicit promises from the presidential campaign. “I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” Trump unequivocally promised back in 2015.

Trump’s 2018 budget, if approved by Congress, would do just that. It calls for more than $1.4 trillion in cuts to Medicaid—the federal program that provides health insurance to low-income Americans—spread out over the next decade. Rather than simply adopting the Medicaid cuts that House Republicans passed earlier this month as part of their bill repealing of Obamacare, the president’s budget actually goes even further.

It’s hard to overstate how dramatic these Medicaid cuts would be. The House bill not only rolls back Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid, it also imposes a cap on how much money the federal government sends to state governments. The Congressional Budget Office expects that Medicaid spending would drop by $880 billion over the next 10 years under the GOP’s plan, compared with current law. The cuts compound over time. By 2026, yearly Medicaid spending would have dropped by 25 percent, with 14 million fewer people enrolled in the government insurance program.

But Trump’s budget doesn’t end there. It calls for an additional $610 billion drop in Medicaid funding over the next decade. How, exactly, it achieves that isn’t entirely spelled out, but the budget outline emphasizes spending caps and block grants that would lower the amount of Medicaid dollars that the federal government gives to states. If both the House’s Obamacare repeal and Trump’s budget were put into effect, in 2027 federal Medicaid spending would be nearly 50 percent lower than it would be under current law.

Trump’s embrace of Medicaid reductions could put a group of Republican senators in a tricky position. Before their colleagues in the House had even unveiled their plan to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, four senators wrote a letter to their House counterparts warning them against dramatic cuts to Medicaid funding. Those four senators—Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)—have good reason to be wary. All four represent states that adopted Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, which offers insurance for people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. So far 19 states have resisted taking federal funds for the program, but it’s popular with the public, and politicians might face a backlash if they suddenly take those benefits away from their constituents.

“I am seriously interested in reforms to Medicaid and better ways to make the money go further, but I’ve seen a lot of benefits to the Medicaid expansion in our state, particularly in the mental health and opioid and drug abuse areas,” Capito said earlier this month after the House bill passed.

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Donald Trump Just Released a Plan to Destroy Medicaid

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Trumpcare Still Hasn’t Been Sent to the Senate

Mother Jones

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As we all know, the Republican health care bill can’t survive a Democratic filibuster, so it’s being considered via reconciliation, which requires only 51 votes in the Senate. That means the bill has to obey reconciliation rules.

Normally, this is not a big problem. If some aspect of the House bill violates the rules, it gets removed in the Senate and life goes on. But what if the bill violates the prime rule of reconciliation—namely that it reduce the deficit? Then it’s dead and everyone has to start all over. This means the House has to be pretty careful that their bill does indeed reduce the deficit.

But how do they know if it reduces the deficit? Easy: the CBO scores the bill and tells them. But Paul Ryan famously rushed passage of the bill in the House before CBO had time to deliver a score, so no one knows for sure if it still reduces the deficit. Bloomberg reports on what this means:

House Speaker Paul Ryan hasn’t yet sent the bill to the Senate because there’s a chance that parts of it may need to be redone, depending on how the Congressional Budget Office estimates its effects….”I had no idea,” Dennis Ross of Florida, another member of the vote-counting team, said Thursday, adding that the prospect of another vote “does concern me.” GOP leaders never said publicly they were planning to hold on to the bill for two weeks or longer.

In the end, I imagine the bill will get scored as a deficit reduction and then be sent to the Senate. But the fact that Ryan is still holding onto the bill shows that he knew perfectly well how irresponsible it was to force a vote before the CBO delivers a score. In addition to being callous and malignant, the whole thing is also a massive FUBAR.

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Trumpcare Still Hasn’t Been Sent to the Senate

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Trump Tax Plan Unveiled!

Mother Jones

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Last night I wrote that the Trump tax plan would be little more a than a rewrite of his campaign document. I was wrong. Here it is:

It’s not worth the 60 seconds it would take to check this, but I’m pretty sure this is less detailed than Trump’s campaign document. What a fucking embarrassment. It’s like something a high school class would put together. Even with only five days to work with, you’d think the Treasury Department of the United States of America could produce a little more than this.

But let’s go through the whole thing. There’s a little more than you see in the tweet above:

Three tax brackets instead of seven. However, there’s no telling how this affects taxes until Steve Mnuchin tells us where the cutoff points are.

Doubles the personal exemption from $12,000 to $24,000. This will help middle-class families, but it’s a little hard to know how much it will help them until we get details on….

Elimination of itemized deductions. Which ones? All of them? Good luck with that. But you can be sure that one of the targets will be the deduction for state income taxes, since that mostly benefits the hated blue states of California and New York.

Elimination of the estate tax. A huge boon for the super-duper rich.

Elimination of the AMT. A huge boon for the rich.

Elimination of Obamacare’s 3.8 percent tax on investment. A huge boon for the rich.

Reduce business tax rate to 15 percent. A huge boon for corporations and the rich, especially those with income from pass-through businesses. Apparently Mnuchin doesn’t care that Senate rules make this almost literally unpassable.

Tax repatriation holiday. A huge boon for corporations and the rich.

Territorial taxation system for corporations. There’s no telling what effect this would have. There are good territorial systems and bad ones. It’s all in the details—though it’s a pretty good guess that Trump will opt for one of the bad ones.

The driving force behind this appears to be Trump’s desire to call this the biggest tax cut in American history. The previous champ was Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut, which cost 3.9 percent of GDP. That means Trump is gunning for 4 percent of GDP.

The Congressional Budget Office pegs GDP over the next ten years at $239 trillion. To get to 4 percent, Trump’s tax plan will need to cut taxes by $9.5 trillion. This is obviously ridiculous. Maybe Trump isn’t accounting for inflation or something. That would get him down to $4.3 trillion.

Really, who knows? I suppose Trump will call it the biggest tax cut in history regardless of how big it is. He doesn’t care. The one thing we can be sure of is that the rich will swoon. At a guess, something like 90 percent of that $9.5 (or $4.3 or whatever) trillion will go to the top 10 percent. The rest of us get a few crumbs.

Of course, this whole thing is DOA in Congress anyway, which will pretty much ignore Trump and create its own tax plan for the rich. This one-page “plan” is really just a publicity stunt so Trump can say he introduced it during his first hundred days. What a doofus.

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Trump Tax Plan Unveiled!

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Trump’s Tax Cut Plan Will… Pay… For… Itself!

Mother Jones

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Back during Steve Mnuchin’s confirmation hearings for Treasury Secretary, he said he was surprised that IRS staffing had gone down. This just reduces the number of audits they can perform, and therefore the amount of tax revenue they collect from high earners. Just think about it. If you increased hiring, it would pay for itself!

It was très adorbs. But Mnuchin is a quick learner, and he never brought that subject up again. Instead, he’s now talking about a much more acceptable kind of plan that pays for itself. The subject, of course, is tax cuts:

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the economic growth that would result from the proposed tax cuts would be so extreme — close to $2 trillion over 10 years — that it would come close to recouping all of the lost revenue from the dramatic rate reductions. Some other new revenue would come from eliminating certain tax breaks, although he would not specify which ones.

“The plan will pay for itself with growth,” Mnuchin said at an event hosted by the Institute of International Finance.

The Congressional Budget Office will have a very different take on this, and their take is the only one that matters. So why does Mnuchin even bother with this tired old charade? Maybe so that Donald Trump can yell and scream about how the CBO is rigged when they say that his tax plan is a deficit buster? Maybe to give congressional Republicans an excuse to fire Keith Hall and install a new CBO director who will give them whatever numbers they want?

Who knows? Maybe it’s just reflex. While we wait to find out, however, here’s a chart showing income tax receipts following the five most recent big changes to tax rates. You can decide for yourself if tax cuts pay for themselves or if tax increases tank the economy.

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Trump’s Tax Cut Plan Will… Pay… For… Itself!

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It’s the Wall Wot Won It

Mother Jones

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Phil Klinkner takes to the pages of the LA Times this morning to tell us that immigration was a big deal in the 2016 election:

Comparing the results of the 2012 and 2016 ANES surveys shows that Trump increased his vote over Mitt Romney’s on a number of immigration-related issues. In 2012 and 2016, the ANES asked respondents their feelings toward immigrants in the country illegally. Respondents could rate them anywhere between 100 (most positive) or 0 (most negative). Among those with positive views (above 50), there was no change between 2012 and 2016, with Romney and Trump each receiving 22% of the vote. Among those who had negative views, however, Trump did better than Romney, capturing 60% of the vote compared with only 55% for Romney.

….Overall, immigration represented one of the biggest divides between Trump and Clinton voters. Among Trump voters, 67% endorsed building a southern border wall and 47% of them favored it a great deal. In contrast, 77% of Clinton voters opposed building a wall and 67 % strongly opposed it.

This gibes with my anecdotal view that a fair number of Trump voters didn’t pay much attention to anything he said except that he was going to build a wall and keep the Mexicans out. All the budget and regulation and Obamacare and climate change stuff was just noise that they didn’t take very seriously. But building a wall was nice and simple, and they thought it would bring back their jobs and keep their towns safe.

Having said that, though, I want to repeat a warning: everyone should stop looking for tectonic changes that account for Trump’s win. Hillary Clinton was running for a third Democratic term during OK-but-not-great economic times, and that’s always difficult. Most of the fundamentals-based models predicted she’d win by a couple of percentage points, and she actually did much better than that—until James Comey decided to destroy her. And even at that, she did win by a couple of percentage points. It was a fluke of the Electoral College that put Trump in the White House, not a historic shift in voting patterns.

The real question is how Trump won the Republican primary. At the presidential level, that’s a far more interesting topic than what happened in a fairly ordinary general election.

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It’s the Wall Wot Won It

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