Tag Archives: current

Trump Plans to Cram His Entire Legislative Agenda Into Days 96-99

Mother Jones

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Did Mack Sennett ever make “The Keystone Cops Go to Washington”? No? No matter. That’s what it feels like right now.

Let’s see if I can do justice to our current legislative follies. For starters, it appears that we’re going to get health care, tax reform, and infrastructure all in one week. Why? I guess so that President Trump can say he got going on all of them in his first hundred days. Which totally doesn’t matter and Trump couldn’t care less about it. But he released a truly comical list of all his accomplishments anyway. Not that he cares. But anyway. Let’s move on.

Health care: The House Freedom Caucus has allegedly agreed to an amendment to the previous House bill—the one that crashed and burned last month thanks to the HFC’s opposition—that now makes it acceptable. They haven’t actually said so in public yet, but maybe tomorrow they will. Maybe. Basically, it allows states to opt out of the essential coverage requirements of Obamacare. Except for Capitol Hill, that is. Members of Congress will continue to get every last thing on the list. And there’s no change to pre-existing conditions except for one teensy little thing: insurance companies can charge you more if you have a pre-existing condition. How much more? The sky’s the limit, apparently. Does $10 million sound good? In practice, of course, this means that they don’t have to offer coverage to anyone with a pre-existing condition.

Tax reform: It turns out the Treasury Department really was taken by surprise on this, so Wednesday’s announcement will be little more than the same stuff Trump released on the campaign trail. Corporate taxes get cut by nearly two-thirds, to 15 percent. Ditto for “pass through” corporations like, oh, just to pull an example out of the air, The Trump Organization. There will be no offsetting spending cuts. There will be no border tax. There will be nothing much for the non-rich except a modest change to the standard deduction. There will, of course, be no details about which deductions and loopholes, if any, Trump plans to plug. It will be a gigantic deficit buster. And just for good measure, it’s probably literally unpassable under the Senate’s rules.

Infrastructure: In a laughable attempt to get Democratic support for his tax bill, Trump plans to add infrastructure spending and a child tax credit to it. The problem is that Trump’s infrastructure plan is little more than a giveaway to big construction companies, and his child tax credit—designed by Ivanka!—is little more than a giveaway to the well off. In other words, instead of one thing Democrats hate, the bill now has three things Democrats hate. I’m just spitballing here, but I’m not sure this is how you make deals.

This is lunacy. The barely revised health care bill probably won’t pass the House, let alone the Senate. Tax reform is just a PowerPoint presentation, not an actual plan. Plus it’s such an unbelievable giveaway to the rich that even Republicans will have a hard time swallowing it. And the infrastructure stuff is DOA. It will almost certainly be opposed by both Republicans and Democrats.

This is like watching kids make mud pies. I guess that’s OK, since this is all terrible stuff that I hope never sees the light of day. Still, I guess I prefer even my political opponents to show a little bit of respect for the legislative process.

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Trump Plans to Cram His Entire Legislative Agenda Into Days 96-99

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Rabbi Jack Moline’s Resistance Reading

Mother Jones

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We asked a range of authors, artists, and poets to name books that bring solace or understanding in this age of rancor. Two dozen or so responded. Here are picks from the Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance.

Latest book: Growing Up Jewish
Reading recommendations: I can’t avoid including the Book of Psalms. Aside from the fact that it is the only book in the Jewish Bible that is of undisputed human authorship, it is a collection of essential yearnings and gratitudes that give me a sense that our current troubles, existential and political both, are neither new nor permanent. In addition, the melodies to which so many of the psalms have been set are inseparable from the words. And how can I not also hear Leonard Cohen in every “hallelujah.”

Rainer Maria Rilke’s Book of Hours probably makes me sound like a poetry buff, which, alas, I am not. But Rilke’s extraordinary talent for combining deep spiritual sensitivity with intuition about the human condition can rescue me from almost any funk. I feel the same way about Israeli poet Dan Pagis.

I remember reading Margaret Atwood‘s The Handmaid’s Tale when it first came out. I can remember where I was sitting as I read each chapter. The early chapters that almost breezily describe how quickly an inclusive society can collapse into a corrupt theocracy and, most impressively to me, the epilogue in which future academics look back with disdain and incredulity on the dark age of female servitude still inspire me never to give up resisting injustice and never to give up hope that the moral arc of the universe…well, you know. These two features, by the way, are what make this book a better choice right now than Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America.
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So far in this series: Kwame Alexander, Margaret Atwood, W. Kamau Bell, Jeff Chang, T Cooper, Dave Eggers, Reza Farazmand, Piper Kerman, Bill McKibben, Rabbi Jack Moline, Karen Russell, Tracy K. Smith. (New posts daily.)

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Rabbi Jack Moline’s Resistance Reading

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So How Are Millennial Men Doing?

Mother Jones

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James Pethokoukis has a pair of posts up today that reignite a longstanding question: What’s the right way to measure inflation? And what does that mean about earnings and income mobility over time?

These are both complicated questions, but we can start with a very simple chart. If we want to compare, say, 30-year-old men to their fathers, and their fathers to their fathers, we can do it pretty easily. The Census Bureau collects data on median cash earnings (i.e., not counting health care, employment perks, or government benefits) and then all we have to do is adjust for inflation. But which measure of inflation?

The CPI story is grim: In the previous generation, young men earned about 8 percent more than their fathers. That’s not great, but it’s better than nothing. However, in this generation, millennial men earn 10 percent less than their fathers.

The PCE story is different. In the previous generation, young men earned 22 percent more than their fathers. That’s pretty good. In the current generation, millennial men earn about the same amount as their fathers. Stagnation like that is bad news, but at least millennials aren’t literally losing ground.

So which should we believe? There are arguments for both, and it’s a political hot potato too since inflation measures show up in all sorts of benefit calculations. It would be nice if the economic community could thrash out agreement on an overall best measure, and then make it available as a standard series going back 70 years, but if it turns out that the new measure leads to (for example) lower cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security benefits, you can expect a massive pushback. Republicans have shown a particularly aggressive form of this kind of political hackery in the past, approving of new inflation measures that would decrease benefits, but opposing the same measures if they meant that people might pay higher taxes.

All that conceded, we really should be able to agree on a good, general-purpose inflation measure. We can still have lots of different measures for specialized purposes, but the headline inflation rate should be something that, say, 90 percent of economists can agree about. (There will always be a few outliers.)

In a way, though, this doesn’t matter too much for the question of how millennial men are doing. On one measure, their market earnings have dropped from 124 percent of per-capita GDP to 72 percent. On the other measure they’ve dropped from 108 percent to 72 percent. That’s pretty grim either way.

For more on this, Pethokoukis points us, first, to a new study by Bruce Sacerdote, which suggests that consumption has increased substantially over the past several decades, once you adjust for inflation bias and include the growth of government benefits. On a less happy note, he also points us to a study by Scott Winship about income mobility. Winship concludes that although there’s still a fair amount of income mobility within the broad middle class, there’s very little at either end. Poor kids stay poor, and rich kids stay rich.

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So How Are Millennial Men Doing?

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Friday Is D-Day For the Republican Health Care Bill

Mother Jones

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From Politico:

President Donald Trump is demanding a vote Friday in the House on the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said. If the bill fails, Trump is prepared to move on and leave Obamacare in place, Mulvaney said.

This makes sense on a whole bunch of levels:

As a threat against conservatives: Vote for the bill or else Obamacare stays around forever and it’s your fault.

As a boredom minimizer: I doubt very much Trump himself cares one way or the other about health care, and he’s probably tired of all boring technical talk that surrounds it (EHBs, continuous coverage, age bands, etc. etc.). He also instinctively understands that the whole thing is a shit show that’s making him more and more unpopular.

As politics: The current debacle has shown that there’s just no sweet spot acceptable to both moderate and conservative Republicans. Why keep beating yourself up over it?

As revenge against liberals: Trump has said that 2017 is the year Obamacare unravels. He will now do everything he can to make that come true, and there’s a fair amount he can do.

As substance: It frees up time for taxes and trade, things Trump is more interested in.

Besides, I don’t think Trump wants to stay in Washington over the weekend. The Mar-a-Lago golf course beckons. So let’s just put this baby to bed one way or the other, OK?

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Friday Is D-Day For the Republican Health Care Bill

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Republicans Now Considering How to Make a Bad Health Care Plan Into a Complete Wreck

Mother Jones

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Our acronym for the day is EHB, which stands for Essential Health Benefits. These are things which every health care plan is required to cover, and Obamacare spells out ten of them:

  1. Doctor visits
  2. Emergency room visits
  3. Hospital visits
  4. Prescription drugs
  5. Pediatric care
  6. Lab services
  7. Preventive care
  8. Maternity care
  9. Mental health care
  10. Rehabilitation services

The Republican health care bill is still having trouble getting enough votes to pass, so Paul Ryan is thinking about placating conservatives by repealing all of these EHBs. This means that a health insurer could literally sell you a policy that didn’t cover doctor visits, hospital visits, ER visits, your children’s health care, or prescription drugs—and still be perfectly legal. Here’s a rough estimate of how much we spend nationally on each of these categories of EHB:

There are many problems with repealing Obamacare’s minimum required benefits, but I’d like to list just three:

Oh come on. This is ridiculous.

Even if the current version of AHCA doesn’t cause a death spiral, it sure would if EHBs got repealed. Insurers would assume that anyone who asks for a policy that covers one of these (former) EHBs is pretty sure they’re going to need it. Naturally they’d price their policies accordingly: Worthless policies would get really cheap, but comprehensive policies would get astronomically expensive. Virtually no one would be able to afford them.

There’s a good chance that repealing the EHBs would not only produce crappier insurance policies, but would also cost the government more money. Think about it. Every year AHCA provides you a tax credit for health insurance. You might as well use it, right? So insurers would all compete to offer policies that cover almost nothing but cost exactly $2,000 or $3,000 or $4,000. Everybody would sign up for one, because it’s free so they might as well. So instead of, say, 10 million people using the tax credits, 30 million would. These policies wouldn’t do squat, but Uncle Sam has to pay for them anyway—and now he’s got to pay for three times as many of them.

This is all pretty straightforward stuff, and it’s hard to believe that Ryan would go down this catastrophic road. Enough’s enough. If I had to guess—and we might well know the answer before I wake up on Thursday—I’d say that Ryan tries to buy off the conservatives by taking maternity benefits off the EHB list and leaving everything else alone. After all, it’s maternity care that really seems to be a burr in the ass of the Freedom Caucus folks.

Why? Because they’re knuckle-draggers. It’s hard to put it any other way. They figure that being pregnant is solely a woman’s responsibility and there’s no reason men should have to help pay for it. Really. I’m not joking. What can you even say to people so terminally dimwitted?

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Republicans Now Considering How to Make a Bad Health Care Plan Into a Complete Wreck

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