Tag Archives: several

Congress Just Got a Lot Closer to Defunding Planned Parenthood

Mother Jones

On Thursday afternoon, the House voted to approve a resolution that is widely seen by advocates as a step towards defunding Planned Parenthood. Should it become law, the measure would weaken contraceptive access across the country.

The bill, HJ Resolution 43, allows states to withhold Title X family planning funds—about $300 million distributed to states annually—from providers who also offer abortion care, a group that includes Planned Parenthood affiliates. In December, Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services finalized a rule that anticipated this sort of effort by prohibiting states from withholding Title X family planning money from Planned Parenthood and other providers. This House resolution proposed overturning that HHS rule via the 1996 Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to repeal new regulations within 60 days of their passage. A version of this bill is also moving through the Senate.

At a House committee hearing earlier this week, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) called this bill “the most serious threat women have faced so far this Congress.” Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) called this the Republicans’ “first salvo” in defunding Planned Parenthood.

This development comes on the heels of several actions by the Trump administration and Congress that threaten women’s health care. They include Congressional efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s mandate requiring insurance coverage for contraception; the approval by the House of a bill to codify the Hyde Amendment, which prevents the use of federal funds for most abortions; and Trump’s expansion of the global gag order, which prohibits health providers overseas from receiving any US funding if they so much as mention abortion as an option for patients.

In the last Congress, a broader bill to deny federal funds to Planned Parenthood passed both chambers, but was vetoed by then-President Barack Obama. In contrast, Trump’s campaign said often that defunding Planned Parenthood would be a top priority for his administration.

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Congress Just Got a Lot Closer to Defunding Planned Parenthood

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Slavitt: Obamacare Should Be Profitable This Year if Republicans Don’t Blow It Up

Mother Jones

Andy Slavitt ran the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Obama, which included responsibility for Obamacare. Here’s a tweetstorm he posted today:

I talked today/last night to 5 health plan CEOs. Won’t use names but: 1 Blues, 1 integrated w hospital, 2 non-profit, 1 VC backed. All 5 health plan CEOs believe they priced 2017 #ACA business & should at least breakeven. Several of the plans beat their ACA membership projections.

Of the 5 plans, w/ current uncertainty none can yet commit 2 participate in 2018. All seemed aware that new #ACA stability reg is coming. One plan said with all the work to be profitable in the #ACA (they hadn’t been), ironic to question participation now.

….They didn’t say, but I will: if there is ambiguity, they will raise prices if they participate. One CEO who has an actuarial background said he would be at single digit rate increases but for all the uncertainty. It sounds like the plans will submit #ACA rates for 2018 high to hold place in line. Big increases all from repeal & mandate uncertainty.

It is a shame. Not sure if representative, but single digit if we would wipe uncertainty off table. Still can. But needs to be fast….I think people are so weary of the unpredictability of politics. It zaps energy from their real jobs.

We don’t yet have final enrollment figures for 2017, but it appears that even with double-digit rate increases, uncertainty over Republican repeal plans, and deliberate sabotage from the new Trump administration, signups will be only 2-3 percent lower than last year. That’s a pretty stable market, and probably a profitable—or at least breakeven—one. Fairly modest changes could fix a lot of Obamacare’s existing problems, and higher funding could fix the rest of them.

Instead, we have massive uncertainty in an industry that felt like things had finally settled down after years of work. Slavitt is right: it’s a shame. We can only hope that Republicans will wake up and decide that repairing Obamacare and then taking credit for its success is a better path than blowing up the entire individual health insurance market.


Slavitt: Obamacare Should Be Profitable This Year if Republicans Don’t Blow It Up

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Trump Unfamiliar With Both New START and 2013 Immigration Bill

Mother Jones

The latest tidbit of Trump idiocy making the rounds is this disclosure about his call last week with Vladimir Putin:

When Putin raised the possibility of extending the 2010 treaty, known as New START, Trump paused to ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was, these sources said. Trump then told Putin the treaty was one of several bad deals negotiated by the Obama administration, saying that New START favored Russia. Trump also talked about his own popularity, the sources said.

There are, as usual, several things we can say about this:

Trump’s ignorance is almost boundless.
He nonetheless refuses to be briefed before calls with foreign leaders.
The willingness of his staff to leak unflattering anecdotes about him is both epic and unprecedented.

But the bit that caught my attention was this: “Trump also talked about his own popularity, the sources said.” This is far from the first time we’ve heard this. Trump is apparently nearly incapable of talking with a foreign leader without blathering about how terrific he is, how well loved he is, how epic his victory was, and how gigantic the crowds at his inauguration were.

And as long as we’re on the subject, here’s Trump idiocy #2 for the day. Sen. Joe Manchin passes along the following anecdote about immigration legislation from a White House lunch today:

According to the West Virginia Democrat, when Trump noted that there is no current immigration legislation under consideration on Capitol Hill, another senator in attendance, Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), mentioned the 2013 bill. Alexander also noted that the 2013 bill had passed with 68 votes, Manchin recalled.

“Well, that sounds like something good and you all agreed, 68? What happened to it?” Trump said, according to Manchin.

“I’ll tell you exactly what happened, Mr. President,” Manchin said he told Trump. “It went to the House and Majority Leader Eric Cantor gets defeated. They’re crying ‘Amnesty, amnesty, amnesty’ and House Speaker John Boehner could not bring it back up on the floor and get a vote — that’s exactly what happened.”

At that point, Trump said, “I want to see it,” Manchin said. “So he was very anxious to see it. He says, ‘I know what amnesty is.’ And I said, ‘Sir, I don’t think you’re going to find this is amnesty at all.’”

Sean Spicer later “clarified” that Trump opposes the 2013 bill and considers it to be amnesty. And I suppose he does, now that someone has told him what his opinion is supposed to be.

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Trump Unfamiliar With Both New START and 2013 Immigration Bill

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Here’s Why Donald Trump Can’t Defund “Out-of-Control” California

Mother Jones

One of President Donald Trump’s favorite threats is cutting federal government funding to states, cities, and other entities that refuse to cooperate with his policies. On January 25, he issued an executive order titled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” which warns “sanctuary cities” that they could lose federal funds if they continue to protect undocumented residents from deportation. After an appearance by Breitbart‘s Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of California-Berkeley was canceled amid violent protests, Trump tapped out the following tweet:

And during a pre-Super Bowl interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, Trump doubled down on California: “If we have to, we’ll defund…We give tremendous amounts of money to California. California in many ways is out of control, as you know.”

Here’s the thing: Trump can’t just yank funding from states or cities or universities that upset him. Yet the matter is far from resolved: Several cities and one state have already filed lawsuits against the Trump administration over its threats, all but ensuring a battle that could end up before the Supreme Court. Here’s what you need to know about the legal issues behind this fight.

Why can’t the president withhold federal money from states or cities?

The short answer is that Congress, not the White House, has ultimate power over the federal purse. The president’s budget requests may direct Congress how to allocate federal spending, but the matter is not entirely in his hands. And he has no authority to withhold or rescind spending that’s already been authorized.

So couldn’t Congress defund a state or city if the president asked it to?

Hypothetically, Congress could pass a law or budget bill that puts conditions on the federal funding provided to, say, out-of-control California. But numerous Supreme Court decisions protect state and local governments against this type of vindictive policymaking. When the federal government raised the national minimum drinking age to 21 in 1984, it prodded states into enforcing the new law by stipulating that any state that didn’t comply would lose 5 percent of its federal highway construction funds. South Dakota wasn’t happy about this and filed a lawsuit against the federal government. South Dakota v. Dole worked its way up to the Supreme Court, which found that the federal government can apply conditions to funding—with a few limits. One of those limits is the stipulation that any conditional spending must not be “coercive.” As Justice William Rehnquist wrote, there is a point when “pressure turns into compulsion,” and a state might unconstitutionally be forced to comply because it needs the federal money to operate. Additionally, conditional funding can only apply to new money, not funding that’s already been committed.

As a practical matter, states and cities receive federal money through hundreds of different appropriations bills and programs. If Trump and congressional Republicans wanted to effectively defund California, they would have to modify each federal spending provision that affects the state. Conceivably, they could pass a bill that instructs the Department of the Treasury to stop sending money to Sacramento, but that would spark an enormous constitutional crisis.

But aren’t states and cities required to follow federal laws whether they like it or not?

Yes—but again there are limits. When the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of Obamacare in 2012, it also considered the law’s expansion of state Medicaid programs. The Affordable Care Act had threatened to cut off all Medicaid funding to states should they fail to expand the program in accordance with its standards. Citing South Dakota v. Dole, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his opinion that this ultimatum was “a gun to the head” of the states. For many states, federal Medicaid money comprises more than 10 percent of total revenue, and losing that money would effectively cripple them. Six other justices agreed with Roberts on this point, and Medicaid expansion was left to the states.

What about the 10th Amendment?

The 10th Amendment of the Constitution says that any power not delegated to the federal government becomes the responsibility of the states. This is the basis of America’s federal system, whereby states have the freedom to pass laws that are distinct from those passed by Congress.

The Supreme Court has long interpreted the 10th Amendment as the foundation for a check on federal power. Take the case of Printz v. United States. After Congress passed the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1993, a Montana sheriff named Jay Printz challenged its requirement that local law enforcement agencies conduct background checks on gun buyers. He argued that Congress was acting outside of its authority to compel state-level officials to enforce federal law. In 1997, five Supreme Court justices, led by Antonin Scalia, agreed.

The Printz decision underscores what Duke University law professor Matthew Adler calls “an external constraint upon congressional power—analogous to the constraints set forth in the Bill of Rights—but one that lacks an explicit textual basis.” In other words, decades of Supreme Court rulings on the 10th Amendment have formed an effective check on federal power by the states. And that could mean that just as Printz was allowed to resist conducting federally mandated background checks, a court could find that officials in sanctuary states and cities are allowed to avoid enforcing federal immigration law.

Don’t conservatives like the 10th Amendment more than progressives?

In the past, the 10th Amendment has provided cover for advocates of states’ rights and efforts to resist federal civil rights efforts such as integrating schools. More recently, the 10th Amendment became a rallying cry for the Obama administration’s opponents. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is a big fan of the 10th, and tea partiers and “Tenthers” invoked the amendment to push back against Obamacare and even call for secession.

Now it’s liberals who are warming to the promise of the 10th Amendment. San Francisco’s recently filed federal lawsuit against the Trump administration argues that, defunding aside, the anti-sanctuary-city executive order violates the 10th Amendment. The city claims that it is within its rights to not cooperate with federal authorities under the “anti-commandeering” precedent set in Printz, which says higher jurisdictions may not “commandeer” local resources to enforce federal rules. Likewise, Massachusetts has also invoked the 10th amendment against Trump’s “Muslim ban” executive order. Several Boston suburbs have also cited the 10th in their lawsuits against the administration’s sanctuary city order, as has Santa Clara County, California, the home of Silicon Valley. Last week, Portland’s mayor issued a statement that the 10th Amendment protects its sanctuary city policies too.

How could this battle play out?

The feds depend on state and local officials to enforce their policies. The federal system is set up to encourage cooperation between state and federal officials. If that falls apart, Trump will have difficulty enacting his agenda. As Yale law professor Heather Gerken recently argued on Vox, “Even if President Trump spends enough political capital to win this or that battle against blue cities and states, he cannot win the war. The federal government doesn’t have the resources to carry out Trump’s policies.”

The funding question remains up in the air since Trump hasn’t given any indication to how, exactly, he would defund cities and states. However, given that California is in the process of passing legislation that effectively makes the entire state a sanctuary for undocumented immigrants, and given that its elected officials have been vocal about their opposition to Trump, we could see a California v. U.S. case in the near future if Trump tries to follow through. On Monday, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra reiterated his commitment to pushing back against Trump’s defunding threat. “We will fight anyone who wants to take away dollars that we have earned and are qualified for simply because we are unwilling to violate the Constitution under these defective executive orders,” he said.

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Here’s Why Donald Trump Can’t Defund “Out-of-Control” California

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Should BuzzFeed Have Published the Trump Dossier?

Mother Jones

Last night, BuzzFeed decided to publish a dossier of raw intelligence put together by a British former MI6 officer. Like most reports of this kind, it contains lots of tittle-tattle, and there’s a good chance that much of it is untrue. So should BuzzFeed have published? Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan makes the case against:

It’s never been acceptable to publish rumor and innuendo. And none of the circumstances surrounding this episode — not CNN’s story, not Trump’s dubious history with Russia, not the fact that the intelligence community made a report on it — should change that ethical rule.

Quite so, and virtually every mainstream media reporter seems to agree. And yet, I’m not so sure. Several things happened in the past couple of days that make this a trickier question:

The intelligence community briefed Obama, Trump, and several members of Congress about the contents of the dossier.

CNN reported that “US intelligence agencies have now checked out the former British intelligence operative and his vast network throughout Europe and find him and his sources to be credible enough to include some of the information in the presentations to the President and President-elect a few days ago.”

The Guardian reported that the FBI took these allegations seriously enough to apply for a wiretap warrant on several of Trump’s aides.

This is still a judgment call. But it’s not a judgment call about some random celebrity. It’s a judgment call about the soon-to-be president of the United States. And it’s about allegations that the intelligence community is taking very seriously.

What’s more, this dossier has apparently been seen or discussed by practically everyone in Washington DC. It has long annoyed me that things like this can circulate endlessly among the plugged-in, where it clearly informs their reporting unbeknownst to all the rest of us. At some point, the rest of us deserve to know what’s going on.

Put all that together—president, credibility among the intelligence community, and widespread dissemination—and I’m not at all sure that BuzzFeed did the wrong thing. Maybe this will all turn out to be the worst kind of made-up gossip, but at some point there’s enough reporting around it that it’s time to stop the tap dancing and let us know just what it is that has everyone so hot and bothered.

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Should BuzzFeed Have Published the Trump Dossier?

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