Where’s Erik Paulsen?

Our Representative in Congress hasn’t held a public town hall since September 6, 2011. There’ve been last minute meetings announced on social media shortly before they happen, tele-town halls where questions can be vetted before being forwarded, appearances at local businesses and school, robocalls that come to you saying he’s sorry you weren’t there to take his invitation to the tele-townhalls — but no traditional town hall.

It’s been 2,145 days since Rep. Paulsen’s last public town hall.

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Good news on Social Security and Medicare? Reports show just that BY DEA

The following column by Dean Baker was posted on the Hill website July 19, 2017:

Social Security and Medicare are the country’s two largest and most important social programs, which is why the release of the annual trustees’ reports usually get considerable attention. These are effectively report cards on the financial health of these two programs.

The release of these reports last week actually got relatively little attention, in part because of competition from other big news items, and in part because there was little change from the reports issued last year. However, at least in the case of the Medicare trustees report, the fact that there were no major changes should have been big news.

The reason that a 2017 Medicare trustees report showing pretty much the same financial picture as the 2016 Medicare trustees report (the projected shortfall is actually slightly lower in this year’s report) is newsworthy is that it’s a different group of trustees. (more…)

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Trump threatens electoral consequences for senators who oppose health bill

The following article by Sean Sullivan, Kelsey Snell and David Nakamura was posted on the Washington Post website July 20, 2017:

The Congressional Budget Office on July 19 estimated that a GOP health-care bill ending parts of Obamacare with no immediate replacement would reduce federal deficits by $473 billion over a decade. (Video: Bastien Inzaurralde/Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

President Trump exhorted lawmakers Wednesday to resurrect the failed Republican plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act, injecting fresh turmoil into an issue that had appeared settled the day before, when Senate leaders announced they did not have the votes to pass their bill.

Trump’s remarks, at a lunch with 49 Republican senators, prompted some of them to reopen the possibility of trying to vote on the sweeping legislation they abandoned earlier this week. But there was no new evidence that the bill could pass.

At the lunch, the president also threatened electoral consequences for senators who oppose him, suggesting that Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) could lose his reelection bid next year if he does not back the effort. The president also invited conservative opposition against anyone else who stands in the way.

“Any senator who votes against starting debate is really telling America that you’re fine with Obamacare,” Trump said.

After the collapse of the Better Care Reconciliation Act, which would have repealed and replaced key portions of the Affordable Care Act, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday announced plans for a vote on pure repeal instead, a move that seemed designed to either allow — or force — lawmakers to record a vote on what has been the GOP’s top campaign promise of the past seven years.

As he hosted Senate Republicans for a health-care meeting at the White House on July 19, President Trump touted GOP efforts to revamp the Affordable Care Act. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

A repeal-only approach, which also lacks the votes to pass, would increase the number of people without health coverage by 17 million next year and by 32 million at the end of a decade, according to a fresh analysis released Wednesday by the Congressional Budget Office.

The forecast by the nonpartisan CBO is nearly identical to estimates the office made in January based on a similar bill that passed the House and Senate in late 2015 — and that was vetoed by President Barack Obama.

“I think we all agree it’s better to both repeal and replace. But we could have a vote on either,” McConnell said after the lunch at the White House.

Trump’s remarks introduced a new level of chaos into the GOP, potentially setting up Senate Republicans to take the blame from angry conservatives for failing to fulfill a long-standing GOP vow.

The effort to undo the Affordable Care Act has been fraught for months with internal GOP divisions. The intraparty tension looms over other big-ticket items Republicans are hoping to pass as they control both chambers of Congress and the White House, including passing a budget and enacting major tax cuts. After six months, they can boast no major legislative achievements.

And now, Republican lawmakers head into the 2018 midterm cycle with a president who appears capable of not having their backs.

Despite those tensions, Trump claimed at the lunch that “we’re very close” to passing a repeal-and-replace bill. It was the latest sign of the disconnect between the president and the Senate. It also came a day after Trump tweeted “let ObamaCare fail” — and two days after he called for a repeal-only bill.

As he hosted Senate Republicans for a health-care meeting at the White House, July 19, President Trump said he “worried” whether Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) would support a revised GOP health-care bill that collapsed on July 17. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The White House appeared determined to keep trying for something. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services director Seema Verma met with roughly two dozen GOP senators for nearly three hours on Capitol Hill on Wednesday evening. The meeting was arranged by the White House to help persuade wavering senators to back the repeal-and-replace bill, according to people familiar with the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private planning.

Following the meeting, several senators described the talks as productive, but none would name specific areas of progress or new agreement that resulted from the gathering.

Even as Trump’s team tried to work out policy and political disagreements among members, the president was strong-arming skeptical senators in public. Seated directly to Trump’s right at Wednesday’s lunch was Heller, who is up for reelection in 2018 in a state Democrat Hillary Clinton won.

“Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” Trump asked, Heller smiling at his side. “Okay, and I think the people of your state, which I know very well, I think they’re going to appreciate what you hopefully will do.”

After he returned to the Capitol, Heller sized it up this way: “That’s just President Trump being President Trump.”

Tensions have been evident for a while. After Heller came out against an earlier version of the Senate bill, a conservative organization aligned with Trump vowed to launch an expensive ad campaign against him, angering and shocking many mainstream GOP allies of the senator. Later, the group backed off.

Now, senators are not sure what they will be voting on in the coming days — pure repeal or repeal and replace.

“See, that hasn’t been decided. That’s part of the discussion. So, that’s why I don’t take a position at this point,” Heller said.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), McConnell’s top deputy, said Wednesday: “I know it seems like we’ve got a bit of whiplash, but I think we’re making progress.”

But even he had no clarity on the next step. “We’re still discussing,” he said.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, told reporters Wednesday that there still are not enough votes for a repeal-only bill.

Separately Wednesday, members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus started the process of bringing a repeal-only bill to the House floor — a process meant to sidestep GOP leaders reluctant to expose vulnerable members to a politically perilous vote on legislation unlikely to become law.

The House passed its own revision to the Affordable Care Act earlier this year. Wednesday’s gambit would not only allow conservatives to vote for a straight-repeal bill but also force moderates to do the same — adding to the political divisions that Trump had stoked earlier in the day.

“The American people do not know why we did not have something on President Trump’s desk on Jan. 20,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the group’s chairman. “Here we are at July 20 with nothing to show for it, and they’re tired of waiting.”

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who has expressed opposition at various times during the months-long health-care drive, said that he understood Trump’s push for repeal and replace at the lunch as a call to return to the broader bill McConnell pulled back earlier this week.

“I think the president showed some real leadership here,” Johnson said.

Even GOP senators who oppose the repeal efforts worry about being blamed for failing to act on health care. A recent Gallup poll found that 70 percent of GOP respondents said they support repealing and replacing Obamacare.

Conservative activists are already aggressively targeting centrist Republicans who have opposed the efforts. On Wednesday, a pair of influential conservative groups launched an “Obamacare Repeal Traitors” website attacking Sens. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Rob Portman (Ohio) and Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.).

“They campaigned on ­REPEAL,” says the website, which the Club for Growth and Tea Party Patriots launched. But now, it says, “they are betraying their constituents by joining with Democrats to defeat Obamacare Repeal efforts!”

Capito has said that she supports repealing the Affordable Care Act, but only if it can be replaced with a bill that doesn’t force millions off their insurance and doesn’t “hurt people.”

“I think we all want to get to the right place,” Capito said after the White House lunch. On Twitter, she sought to use Trump’s words to defend her position, writing: “I’m glad @POTUS agrees that we cannot move to repeal Obamacare without a replacement plan that addresses the needs of West Virginians.”

At the lunch, Trump said, “People should not leave town unless we have a health insurance plan, unless we give our people great health care,” meaning that recess plans should be put off if a deal isn’t reached. Marc Short, the White House’s legislative director, told reporters afterward that “this is not something that we can walk away from.”

Trump, who had invited Republican leaders to a health-care strategy dinner Monday night, was apparently blindsided by the opposition from some conservative members, including Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), whose declared no votes effectively killed the legislation. At lunch, he scolded them.

“The other night, I was surprised when I heard a couple of my friends — my friends — they really were and are,” Trump said, without directly naming the duo. “They might not be very much longer, but that’s okay.”

Trump, as he has done numerous times in recent weeks, reminded the lawmakers that Republicans campaigned against the Affordable Care Act for years and that their supporters are counting on them to make good on their promises.

“I’m ready to act,” Trump said. “I have my pen in hand. I’m sitting in that office. I have pen in hand. You’ve never had that before. For seven years, you’ve had the easy route — we repeal, we replace, but he [Obama] never signs it. I’m signing it. So it’s a little different.”

Mike DeBonis, Juliet Eilperin, Ed O’Keefe, Abby Phillip and Amy Goldstein contributed to this report.

View the post here.

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Amid Trump’s Shifting Health Care Stances, a Recurring Infatuation

The following article by John T. Bennett was posted on the Roll Call website July 20, 2017:

President keeps bringing up letting 2010 law fail

President Trump in Warsaw on July 6. (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday again appeared to change his stance on just which path he wants Republican senators to take on health care. But he has long been infatuated with the notion of House and Senate Democratic leaders asking — begging, even — for his help on health care.

This week, the president and his aides have been posturing to put that very scenario in play, even as his own party attempts to resurrect a measure that would repeal most of and partially replace the 2010 health care law in one swoop.

For months, Trump has vacillated on his preferred way ahead on health care. He has at times advocated repealing the Obama-era law and immediately replacing it. On some days, repealing the law now and replacing it with a GOP plan down the road has been his message. And on others, like Tuesday, Trump opines that the GOP health care push has reached a point when the best option is to simply allow the 2010 law to fail. (more…)

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CBO: GOP Plan Would Spike Premiums, Cut 32M From Insurance Rolls

The following article by the Roll Call staff was posted on RollCall.com July 19, 2017:

Credit: Oscar Gronner

A new Senate GOP health care plan would result in 32 million more people without health insurance, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis released Wednesday. The measure, similar to a 2015 bill passed by the Senate, would save $473 billion over a decade.

According to the analysis from Congress’ nonpartisan budget scorekeeper, average premiums in the individual marketplace would increased by about 25 percent next year, increasing to 5o percent by 2020 and 100 percent by 2026.

“Under this legislation, about half of the nation’s population would live in areas having no insurer participating in the nongroup market in 2020 because of downward pressure on enrollment and upward pressure on premiums. That share would continue to increase, extending to about three-quarters of the population by 2026,” CBO wrote on its website.  (more…)

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Trump shows disdain for rule of law with new attacks on Sessions, Rosenstein, Mueller

The following article by James Hohmann with Breanne Deppisch and Joanie Greve was posted on the Washington Post website July 20, 2017:

THE BIG IDEA: President Trump laced into the attorney general, deputy attorney general, acting FBI director, former FBI director and the special counsel in an interview yesterday with the New York Times that, even by Trump standards, is remarkable.

Donald Trump listens during a roundtable at the White House. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The transcript of the 50-minute session in the Oval Office oozes with brooding grievance and reflects the degree to which he has adopted a bunker mentality. It also underscores how much Robert Mueller’s escalating investigation bothers and preoccupies the president six months into his term.

Perhaps most importantly, Trump’s comments raise a host of new questions about his respect for the independence of the Justice Department, FBI and special counsel.

The president asserted his prerogative to order an FBI director to end any investigation for any reason at any time. He denied telling James Comey that he “hoped” the FBI could lay off its investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. “I didn’t say anything,” Trump said. “But … even if I did, that’s not — other people go a step further. I could have ended that whole thing just by saying — they say it can’t be obstruction because you can say: ‘It’s ended. It’s over. Period.’” (He didn’t specify who he meant by “they.”) (more…)

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Trump ends covert CIA program to arm anti-Assad rebels in Syria, a move sought by Moscow

The following article by Greg Jaffe and Adam Entous was posted on the Washington Post website July 19, 2017:

President Trump has decided to end the CIA’s covert program to arm and train moderate Syrian rebels battling the government of Bashar al-Assad, a move long sought by Russia, according to U.S. officials.

The program was a central plank of a policy begun by the Obama administration in 2013 to put pressure on Assad to step aside, but even its backers have questioned its efficacy since Russia deployed forces in Syria two years later. (more…)

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First meeting of Trump’s voting commission makes clear that suppression is the goal

The following article by Kira Lerner was posted on the ThinkProgress website July 19, 2017:

Yet Mike Pence claims the panel has “no preconceived notions.”

Vice President Mike Pence claimed during the first meeting on Wednesday of the White House’s Commission on Election Integrity that the group will go about its work with “no preconceived notions.” Just minutes later, commissioners took turns insisting there is mass fraud across the country that could influence elections.

Kansas Secretary of State and commission co-chair Kris Kobach claimed in his introduction that as many as 18,000 non-citizens could be registered to vote in Kansas, without mentioning the shady math and questionable studieshe used to arrive at that number. The Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky insisted that massive fraud is occurring across the country. And even New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Garder, a Democratic commissioner, argued against making voting easier, saying it doesn’t require a massive amount of fraud to influence elections. (more…)

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Trump has changed his health care stance 3 times in past 36 hours. Here are the receipts.

The following article by Aaron Rupar was posted on the ThinkProgress website July 19, 2017:

CREDIT: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

He’s in favor of everything and nothing

After Senate Republican defections killed off the latest Trumpcare bill on Monday night, President Trump tweeted his support for changing course and immediately repealing Obamacare before a bipartisan replacement plan is drawn up at some point down the road. (more…)

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Trump Accuses Voting Officials of Hiding Something

The following article by John T. Bennett was posted on the Roll Call website July 19, 2017:

At first vote commission meeting, accusations surround data claims

President Donald Trump kicked off the first meeting of a panel he has tasked with probing his own voter fraud claims by questioning why some states are refusing to turn over voting data to his administration.

“I’m pleased that more than 30 states have already agreed to share the information with the commission and the other states that information will be forthcoming,” Trump said. “If any state does not want to share this information, one has to wonder what they’re worried about.”

That’s when the unpredictable president appeared to venture from his prepared remarks and went right after state officials who are withholding the voter data his administration is seeking. (more…)

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