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McConnell’s AHCA Kabuki

he McConnell Obamacare repeal and replace “discussion draft” is worse than I imagined possible even taking into account that it would be worse than I imagined possible. I fear he made sure it was horrible so moderate Senators could win staged battles and claim they had saved people (needless to say I am not the first to write of this possibility).

I guess a vox explainer is always useful and Sarah Kliff is very smart thorough and reliable.

The bill is surprisingly aweful in two ways. First it doesn’t slow the phasing out of the ACA Medicaid expansion over 7 years but rather does it in 3 (from 2021 through 2024). Several relatively non reactionary Republican senators stressed how important of 7 year phaseout was to them. Also the bill contains no additional funding to deal with the opioid addiction crisis. Many of those senators specifically proposed this increased funding.

I fear that this is all theater. That the so called moderates will get their 7 years and their opioid treatment funding and then vote yes. Not including them in the “discussion draf” will make this more dramatic, allow the self described moderates to claim credit, and give them cover.

The Senators in question are almost saying this is their price.
I will include phone numbers in case any reader is interested in calling to say he or she is not falling for it. All are from the very useful
https://www.trumpcaretoolkit.org/

The Senators include
Robert Portman of Ohio (202-224-3353) who wrote
portman

This almost explicitly says his price is an extended Medicaid phaseout and, especially, money for treatment of opioid addiction.

Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia (202-224-6472 called senator Capito with the accent on the a not on the i as in the Italian word for understood)
She has a very strong position on increased opioid treatment funding. West Virginia (like Ohio) is hard hit by the epidemic.

Her web page includes

Earlier today, I posted a link to the health care discussion draft on my website for all West Virginians to read. Over the course of the next several days, I will review the draft legislation released this morning, using several factors to evaluate whether it provides access to affordable health care for West Virginians, including those on the Medicaid expansion and those struggling with drug addiction.

Which, again, is very clear. I want to mention that I guessed there was a press release similar to Portman’s before checking, and why, lo and behold, there is (it’s almost as if they coordinated).

Dean Heller of Nevada (202-224-6244 is another self described moderate (and up for election in 2018 and very vulnerable)

His web page has

“Throughout the health care debate, I have made clear that I want to make sure the rug is not pulled out from under Nevada or the more than 200,000 Nevadans who received insurance for the first time under Medicaid expansion. At first glance, I have serious concerns about the bill’s impact on the Nevadans who depend on Medicaid. I will read it, share it with Governor Sandoval, and continue to listen to Nevadans to determine the bill’s impact on our state. I will also post it to my website so that any Nevadans who wish to review it can do so. As I have consistently stated, if the bill is good for Nevada, I’ll vote for it and if it’s not – I won’t.”

Again quite clear. The phrase “the rug is not pulled” is almost explicit that slowly sliding it out from under them would be OK. The reference to Sandoval is important, as Sandoval is very popular in Nevada and signed a letter opposing the House AHCA and generally arguing for bipartisan compromise (so did Gov. Kasich of Ohio whom Portman didn’t mention).

update 3: This is interesting. John Ralston is a very highly respected expert on Nevadan politics. He tweeted

“I don’t think so. And will say he [Heller] votes No after consulting with @GovSandoval.”
replying to another top reporter, Ronald Brownstein, who tweeted “#AHCA reduces # covered by Medicaid in NV by 45%. #SenateHealthCareBill proposes > l/t cuts. Can @SenDeanHeller vote Y? @RalstonReports”
end update:

OK how about Lisa Murkowski (202-224-6665 only interested in voice mail from Alaskans) ?
Nothing yet. I actually find this promising. She might not have decided on the price of her vote.

Finally (for moderates for now) Susan Collins of Maine (202-224-2523) Nothing on the McConnell discussion draft yet. A lot on the Opioid crisis (very bad in Maine too). Also “bipartisan” is her favorite word. Actually the web page section on health looks OK. Her voting record doesn’t. Collins and Murkowski strongly support funding for Planned Parenthood. Neither have said they will vote no if the elimination of that funding stays in the bill (most likely they propose an amendment and it goes down 50-51 including Pence). I do not want to count on Senator Collins growing a spine.

update: Collins spoke with the press instead of having a staffer write a press release. Her comments as reported by Tierney Sneed are mildly interesting

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) gave the Senate health care bill released Thursday a mixed review, but zeroed in on its major cuts to Medicaid as a potential problem for her.

She took issue with how the Senate bill, starting in 2025, used a rate of growth for federal funding for Medicaid that is significantly slower than the typical increases of costs for the program.

“I’m very concerned about the inflator that would be used in the out years for the Medicaid program,” she told reporters in the Capitol a few hours after the bill was released. “It’s lower than the cost of medical inflation and would translate into literally billions of dollars of cuts.”

She added that she was concerned about how the cuts would negatively affect rural hospitals or prompt states to restrict Medicaid eligibility.

This might amount to something. Unlike “pulling the rug out” Heller, Collins is talking about the long term and a huge amount of money. The ceiling on Medicaid spending amounts to a huge cut over 10 years. It is they key measure used to finance the bill’s tax cuts for the rich. Unlike the 3 year Medicaid extension phase out it can’t be fudged. The case for Heller, Capito, Portman Kabuki is strongly supported by the fact that they don’t specifically address the ceiling.

It is vital that people who had no problem before the ACA understand that they will have huge problems if the AHCA passes, because of the huge cuts of legacy (pre-ACA-expansion) Medicaid spending. The fact that Collins discusses this would be a hint that she might actually vote no (if she weren’t actually Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) who always always caves).

end update:

update 2: Collins is stealing the stage. I think she is torturing us. She said she can’t vote for a bill which deprives tens of millions of health insurance (I’ll believe she can’t if she votes no and not before)


ehd update 2:

Separately 4 right wing Senators said the McConnell draft is too close to the ACA: Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Ron Johnson (Wisconsin) and Rand Paul (Kentucky).

I think Paul might really mean it. He is extreme and resistent to party discipline. Also the ACA has benefited Kentucky enormously. Blocking the repeal bill would be good for Rand Paul (and Mitch McConnell). Blocking it for not being extreme enough could be crazy like a fox 11- dimensional Aqua Buddha chess.

Ron Johnson has been hinting a no for a long time. He was just re-elected. Here I think that senators with 6 safe years might be more likely to vote no. Failure to pass a bill with hurt Republicans in the short run. Passing a horrible bill will hurt them in the long run.

I’m pretty sure Cruz and Lee are play acting. My guess is that they said no to establish a bargaining position — if McConnell is the right most position, the bill will move further left than if they pretend they might vote no. I read somewhere thatCruz had an individual statement in which he made it almost clear he was going to get to yes.

Summing up, I have no prediction for how this will end. But I do very strongly suspect that Heller, Capito and Portman will win two (staged) battles and get 7 year phaseout and some opioid money, declare victory and vote yes.

update 4: My prediction was wrong (as usual). Heller denounced the bill. He described many of its horrible aspects, definitely including the long term cuts to legacy Medicaid. This is not an issue which can be fudged, because the amount of money involved is huge. He still might cave, but it would be an authentic cave not a staged victory. This is very good news. Also there is even better news reported by The Washington Post

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) announced that he could not vote for the legislation without revisions, singling out the measure’s long-term spending cuts to Medicaid as the reason for his opposition. The announcement caught some Republicans in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s orbit by surprise.

If McConnell had been counting on Heller, his count could be off. In particular, he might have counted to 49 and assumed he could get one more from a senator unwilling to decide the victory for the Democrats. Heller’s announcement takes pressure off of her (she is named Lisa or Susan).

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The London Bridge Attack

reader alert: I am going to quote and discuss Trump tweets

“Do you notice we are not having a gun debate right now? That’s because they used knives and a truck!”

My immediate reaction was to tweet this this is why we should have a gun debate right now. The fact that 3 terrorists killed 7 victims not 70 shows the benefits of UK gun control. In the USA a single terrorist killed 49 people . My reactions to the horrible news from London included the thought that UK gun control is a very good thing as shown by the fact that the depraved killers were armed only with a truck and knives.

As is often the case, I think we learn something from Trump about the defects in human cognition. When something horrible happens, it is not at all natural to think that it could have been even worse. However, it is often useful.

I worry about writing this post. It seems (even to me) that I am heartless — that if I could grasp the suffering of people who loved the 7 victims — I couldn’t think that things could have been worse. I think that this reaction of distaste for my post (or disgust) which I feel myself is a problem. Reducing the number of deaths due to terrorism requires pragmatic thinking which involves moral arithmetic.

On the other hand, at least Trump is simple. In addition to a refusal to consider how the number of deaths was reduced by gun control, Trump also immediately connected the attack to the policy debate with

“We need to be smart, vigilant and tough. We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!”

This tweet was very widely denounced as an effort to exploit a tragedy for political advantage (which it was) and a sign that, for Trump, it is always all about Trump. Fewer people (including @mattyglesias) noted that the tweet makes no sense. Trump doesn’t know if the terrorists are refugees, immmigrants or travellers from the banned countries. The argument is a Sir Humphrey syllogism: we must do something, the travel ban is something, we must do the travel ban.

Notably, the tweet shows that the travel ban is an expression of islamaphobia. The London terrorists said “Allah”. To Trump that means that the attack is evidence in favor of a ban designed to keep moslems out of the USA. He didn’t think that he is supposed to deny that the ban is about religion not nationality (he also didn’t remember that he isn’t supposed to call the ban a “ban”). The reaction (which I am sure is sincere) is that we have to do more to protect ourselves from them when they are an undifferentiated alien threat including UK born citizens of the UK and “ourselves” include other UK born citizens of the UK.

One immediate fear is that this instinctive reaction is universal and the absense of any filter between Trump’s lizard brain and his twitter feed strengthens him. He certainly didn’t act like a normal politician. In this case, I prefer the normal politicians reaction, but I think I understand why many voters prefer the irrational impulsive Trump response, which was sincere. I think this is how people can know he lies all the time and also say that he is not afraid to speak the truth.

But somehow Trump manages to unite two defects. The emotional reaction in which the horror of 7 deaths prevents one from considering that 70 would have been ten times as horrible (an observation which is, I think, both accurate and appalling) and also the appalling instant effort to use a tragedy to win a debate.

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Moving to Opportunity: Katz, Ludwig, Chetty and Hendren — discussant Bruce Springsteen

This very important paper “Moving to Opportunity” is well summarized by the discussant.

Baby this town rips the bones from your back
It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap
We gotta get [them] out while [they]’re young
`Cause tramps like us, baby we were born to run
[regressions]

As noted by the discussant, the authors find that the benefits for young children of moving out of high poverty areas are very large. In contrast moving in ones teens helps girls but not teenage boys many of whom have already begun “steppin’ out over the line” & are harmed by increased access to “suicide machines”.

As noted, the paper is excellent and important, but I think the more striking fact is that the discussant has managed to summarize it so briefly and accurately while rhyming and playing a guitar.

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$ 2.1 trillion here $ 2.1 trillion there and soon you’re talking real money

I didn’t think they could shock me. Then I read that the Trump OMB made a $2,000,000,000,000 arithmetic mistake

Jon Chait explains “One of the ways Donald Trump’s budget claims to balance the budget over a decade, without cutting defense or retirement spending, is to assume a $2 trillion increase in revenue through economic growth. This is the magic of the still-to-be-designed Trump tax cuts. But wait — if you recall, the magic of the Trump tax cuts is also supposed to pay for the Trump tax cuts. So the $2 trillion is a double-counting error.”

Amazing, I thought. Also Chait is much better at snark even than Paul Krugman who made it sound boring “@paulkrugman
It appears that Trump budget involves two scoops of voodoo economics: faster growth *and* tax cuts without a fall in revenue as % of GDP”

But I was wrong. Chait and Krugman are discussing two different errors (3 scoops of voodoo). Mulvaney et al both counted 2.1 trillion twice *and* assumed tax cuts don’t cause any reduction in the ratio of tax revenues to GDP.

Binyamin Applebaum explains.

One example of the budget-ledger legerdemain: Mr. Trump has pledged to end estate taxation. His budget, however, projects that the government will collect more than $300 billion in estate taxes over the next decade. Indeed, the Trump administration projects higher estate tax revenue than the Obama administration did because it expects faster economic growth.

Mr. Trump, in other words, is proposing to balance the federal budget in part by simultaneously increasing estate taxation and eliminating estate taxation.

Then later and separately explains another error.

The budget’s presentation of the benefits of the administration’s economic policies also raised questions. White House officials said that tax cuts and other changes, like reductions in regulation, would push annual economic growth to 3 percent by 2020, well above the 2 percent annual average since the recession. The budget projects that the increase in economic growth will produce $2.1 trillion in additional federal revenue.

The Trump administration appears to be counting this windfall twice. It needs the money to offset the cost of the tax cuts, but in the budget, the $2.1 trillion is also recorded as a separate line item above and beyond the steady growth of tax revenues.

They are into deep Voodoo.

See also Larry Summers

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Did Recep Tayyip Erdogan Make War on the USA ?

I assume the reader is familiar with the recent violence at the Turkish embassy & Turkish ambassador’s residence in Washington DC. “Body guards” (really thugs) brought by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan attacked peaceful demonstrators. It is clear how the fight started, a rather thin not too tall man in a suit attacked. He has a receeding hairline, a mustache and wore a black suit and a dark blue tie.

Phillip Bump (of the Washington Post) says this is the moment it started.

The striking thing is that seconds earlier someone in the back seat of the car in which Erdogan was sitting said something to a middle aged man who leaned over to hear. That man said something to a young thin man with a receeding hairline and a mustache who was wearing a black suit and a dark blue (or purple) tie. That young man nodded twice and walked off briskly to the demonstration just before the fight started.

He returned a minute later and said something to Erdogan (who had gotten out of the car).

Is this man who takes instructions from someone who took them from Erdogan the man who started the brawl ?
ymm3

The brawl starts with a man in a suit punching a man wearing a blue t-shirt.

ymwm

The assailant has a receeding hairline and a mustacheymwm

Here @pbump shows the order coming from the car

Here a longer clip shows the young man with a mustache get some instruction, walk briskly towards the demonstration then return and report to Erdogan in person.

Here notice that the man who started the brawl by punching the man in a blue t-shirt leaves (heading generally in the direction of Erdogan) while the brawl continues. Cowardice or mission accomplished ?ymm4

These stills are from this youtube video

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Burning a Source ?

Who thinks that Trump is “in the grip of some kind of paranoid delusion” ? That is the very hottest quote in the must read Phllip Rucker “analysis” of what is very wrong with the President.

I immediately tried to guess who had told Rucker that. The source is “One GOP figure close to the White House “. My first guess was Newt Gingrich (who can be relied upon to stab everyone close to him in the back). However, I now think Rucker made it very clear who is the “GOP figure”.

Later in the article I read

Robert M. Gates, a former defense secretary who informally advised Trump during the transition, criticized his handling of Comey’s ouster.

“Not terribly well done,” Gates told John Dickerson in a CBS News interview scheduled to air Sunday on “Face the Nation.”

Hmm Gates is a GOP figure close to the White House who Rucker might have asked to supply additional cutting comments.

The second to last paragraph in the article is

“Trump is so unsophisticated about government, and he lacks even basic knowledge about how the government functions, of what the unwritten but very important rules and traditions are. His attitude toward all those things is they don’t matter: ‘I’m going to drain the swamp!’ ” said a veteran of past Republican administrations who is close to the Trump White House and spoke on the condition of anonymity to candidly critique the president.

That anonymous source is virtually identified as Gates (to the extent that I searched for the quote by searching for “Gates” and had to scroll down and find it by hand to remind myself that the name wasn’t, quite, spelled out.

In other transparent anonymity I read “a third person denied that Bannon first learned Comey had been fired from television news reports and said that he had actually counseled Trump to delay his decision to lessen the political backlash.” Uh what “third” person could be the one who claims that Bannon wasn’t out of the loop, is familiar with Bannon’s thoughts, and notes that they were prescient ?

How about Patrick Caddell (the most hacktacular hack in the world) later identified as “Pollster Patrick H. Caddell, a longtime confidant of Bannon who served in Jimmy Carter’s White House,”? Rucker couldn’t find a Republican to Ballance the general view that Trump is destroying his presidency, so he had to go to old reliable Caddell for the Democrats in disarray distraction.

It’s like reliving the Carter administration on steroids,” Caddell said. “This is an outsider administration being surrounded by Apache knives. Every inch of the political class and both parties are going after him. The president can’t afford in this type of environment to not execute these kinds of announcements better.”

Look at how far down the hack depth chart Rucker (et Costa et Paletta) had to go to find someone willing to say anything sympathetic about the Trump administration. Does anyone (but me) even remember who Caddell was 40 years ago when he was a somebody ?

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Welfare Reform Horror in Mississippi

Bryce Covert and Josh Israel report

Last year, 11,717 low-income residents of Mississippi applied to get a meager government benefit to help them make ends meet. The state’s welfare program, part of federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), gives a maximum of just $170 a month to a family of three. These applicants had applied hoping to get at least that crumb of cash assistance.

But out of the pool—more than 11 thousand—only 167 people were actually approved and enrolled in the program, according to state data obtained by ThinkProgress. Every other applicant was denied or withdrew, resulting in an acceptance rate of just 1.42 percent. Statistically speaking, it’s more like a rounding error.

Read their whole post (which also notes that 20% of single mothers in the USA have zero cash income).

I don’t have anything to say. Clearly nothing can be done to address this horror while Republicans are in power in Mississippi and the Federal Government.

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I haven’t read the Bret Stephens Column on Climate Change

and I’m not afraid to admit it.

I have read more than 700 words of tweets about it.

I have two thoughts on the meta discussion.

First Jonathan FBD Weisman is a remarkably unpleasant person.

In this twitter comment thread he repeatedly typed “you didn’t read the column” in response to criticisms of his criticism of critics of the column. He accused people he didn’t know of intellectual dishonesty based on his reading of their tweets.

He is a reporter. His claims of fact are supposed to be based on evidence. I think his certainty based on nothing demonstrates that he can’t do his job. This aside from the fact that he is being very very rude to customers.

Oddly, I have found Weisman’s reporting to be credible and interesting (I keep track of my thoughts on him because of his profane quarrel with Brad). I am alarmed to find I have trusted the claims of fact of someone who makes claims of fact with reckless disregard. I guess his editors restrain the recklessness which twitter allows. I will continue to treat his reporting as normal NY Times reporting (which I tend to trust).

Second Jonathan Chait is very very hard on conservatives (yeah a shocker). He wrote

… an approach that makes sense if your highest priority is limited government, and you are attempting to reason backward through the data in a way that makes sense of a policy allowing unlimited dumping of greenhouse-gas emissions into the atmosphere. That is a tic of American conservative-movement thought — the conclusion (small government) is fixed, and the reasoning is tailored to justify the outcome. Nearly all conservatives argue this way, and if the Times is going to have conservative columnists — which, in my opinion, it should — they’re going to engage in this kind of sophistry.

I note that the conclusion doesn’t follow. If “Nearly” all but not all conservatives argue this way, the New York Times could probably hire one of the few who doesn’t. My problem (which I posed to myself before reading Chait’s post) is to name a conservative who doesn’t argue that way. If not Bret Stephens who ?

Can you think of a non sophist conservative ? Is there anyone who draws conclusions based on reasoning and evidence (rather than choosing reasoning and evidence based on the conclusion) who is a conservative in good standing with the conservative movement ? I can’t come up with a name.

Now I haven’t read anything by Bret Stephens. Maybe he is the one. But the discussion of his first NY Times column makes me think I should look elsewhere. But where ? I repeatedly have the sense that I have found a reasonable and reasonably honest conservative, but then he* breaks with the movement (sometimes because he was fired for heresy).

*yes all of them are men: Bruce Bartlett, Josh Barro, John Cole.(others I have forgotten).

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Democrats Win One

The US Federal Government isn’t shutting down. Also it seems that Republicans almost totally caved to Democrats in the deal

Kelsey Snell at the Washington Post

Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) boasted that they were able to force Republicans to withdraw more than 160 unrelated policy measures, known as riders, including those that would have cut environmental funding and scaled back financial regulations for Wall Street.

Democrats fought to include $295 million to help Puerto Rico continue making payments to Medicaid, $100 million to combat opioid addiction, and increases in energy and science funding that Trump had proposed cutting. If passed, the legislation will ensure that Planned Parenthood continues to receive federal funding through September.

Manu Raju and Ted Barrett at CNN

In the proposal, there are no cuts to funding for Planned Parenthood, a demand from Democrats.
Funding for the National Institute of Health is increased by $2 billion and there is additional money for clean energy and science funding.

Negotiators also agreed to make a permanent fix for miners health insurance and to provide $295 million for Puerto Rico Medicaid. There is also disaster aid package that includes funding for California, West Virginia, Louisiana, North Carolina. There is increased funding for transit infrastructure grants and to fight the opioid epidemic, and year-round Pell Grants were restored.

Also no money for the wall.

Note that Democrats fought (and won) for the people Trump falsely claimed he would represent — for miners, Opioid adicts (now very many are rural Whites) Louisiana, West Virginia and North Carolina. Republicans, who are only populists during election campaigns, tried to deregulate Wall Street.

This looks like a (half year) budget better than I could have hoped.

Bullies fold when challenged, and Donald Trump is a pathetic negotiator.

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Waldmann Vs Waldman (finally)

I am generally very very impressed by Paul Waldman at the Plum line blog (for one thing I admire the lack of Ego he demonstrates by writing for a blog subtitled “Greg Sargent’s take from a liberal perspective). Waldman is reliably brilliant (so is Sargent).

Now finally I find something he wrote with which I disagree. In the generally excellent “President Trump Appoints Tax Fairy to Key Economic Post” Waldman wrote

The point isn’t that tax increases help the economy and tax cuts hurt it, but rather that tweaking the tax code has very little effect at all. You might get a modest economic bump from tax cuts, but it won’t ever create enough growth to pay for them, as Republicans always insist their next tax cut will do. Democratic economists know this, which is why they don’t think changing the tax code — even in a progressive direction — is a particularly urgent priority.

He is demonstrably wrong. I am a Democratic economist and I think that changing the tax code in a progressive direction is a particularly urgent priority.

I think this is just a case of sloppy writing (yeah I know, look who’s typing). By “economists” Waldman means “economists thinking about GDP growth”. This is unfair to economists. Very few of us are obsessed with GDP and, I think, almost none of us are sincerely indifferent to the distrubution of national income (I am guessing that people who claim they are do so because they know their view that the rich should be richer is unpopular).

Many economists who work in public finance are obsessed with the income distribution and, obviously consider changing the tax code their life’s work. There are excellent reasons to suspect that a more progressive tax code would cause dramatically higher welfare.

I have another objection (after the jump)

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