The Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby [PDF] isn't very popular among Democrats — or a majority of Americans, or some federal judges, for that matter. Democrats in Congress are trying to do something about it, The New York Times reports, and their legislative band-aid may even pass in the Senate. "Since the Supreme Court decided it will not protect women's access to health care, I will," said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the lead author of the Senate bill.
The 5-4 Supreme Court majority ruled that the Affordable Care Act's attempt to make all companies and non-church organizations provide their female employees with birth control coverage violated the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, so the bill worked up by Senate and House Democrats essentially says: not anymore.
The Democrats' bill, introduced Tuesday, leaves the 1993 law intact, as well as the Obama administration's compromise exemption for religious nonprofits with objections to contraception, but says that despite the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, Hobby Lobby and other for-profit "employers may not discriminate against their female employees" in the coverage of preventive health services, and "shall not deny coverage of a specific health care item or service" that's required under federal law.
There's a certain air of political theater to the endeavor — "People are going to have to walk down here and vote, and if they vote with the five men on the Supreme Court, I think they're going to be treated unfavorably come November with the elections," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Tuesday, and the bill is very unlikely to pass in the House — but at least Congress is trying to reclaim some of its intended power. Peter Weber
One Apple engineer is using his own ingenuity to help Santa Cruz's homeless population. Ron Powers spends his evenings and weekends driving around in his mobile laundromat, a van that he outfitted with two washers and two dryers, offering to do strangers' laundry for free. For many people on the streets, Powers' "Loads of Love" initiative is a blessing. Homeless individuals, he says, often throw away socks and other clothes when they get dirty because they can't afford to pay for laundry and buy food. "I want to restore dignity to people," says Powers. "I want to improve health." Christina Colizza
On March 23, 2010, then-President Barack Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, extending health insurance to millions of Americans.
On March 23, 2017, the House Republican leadership — backed by President Trump — will vote on whether or not to dismantle it and enact the American Health Care Act in its place.
In commemorating the seventh anniversary of his signature health-care bill, Obama released a lengthy statement Thursday celebrating the law's successes. "Thanks to this law, more than 20 million Americans have gained the security and peace of mind of health insurance. Thanks to this law, more than 90 percent of Americans are insured — the highest rate in our history. Thanks to this law, the days when women could be charged more than men and Americans with pre-existing conditions could be denied coverage altogether are relics of the past," Obama wrote. "America is stronger because of the Affordable Care Act."
The American Health Care Act, the bill House Republican leadership and the White House are hoping will pass the lower chamber Thursday, promises to undo much of the Affordable Care Act's institutional changes — though it has been criticized by some far-right Republicans for not going far enough in dismantling Obama's law. You can read Obama's full statement below. Kimberly Alters
— Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) March 23, 2017
"Everyone believes that artificial or prerecorded calls — 'robocalls,' as they're known — are awful," writes Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Ajit Pai in a new piece at The Hill. "They're intrusive. They're unwanted." And they also may be on their way out.
As Pai notes, the FCC on Thursday will vote on a proposal to allow phone companies greater leeway to block calls from numbers they have reason to believe are spammy or scammy. The proposal is supported by 33 major carriers and phone manufacturers, including Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Apple, and Microsoft. It is expected to be approved.
While the "Do Not Call" list was supposed to help Americans avoid robocalls, in practice shady and fraudulent callers found workarounds that typically involved fooling caller ID technology. As a result, Pai notes, "American consumers received an estimated 29 billion [robocalls] in 2016. That's about 230 calls for every U.S. household." Bonnie Kristian
This 7-year-old video perfectly illustrates Republicans' uncomfortable hypocrisy over health-care reform
Rewind seven years, and you will find yourself smack dab in the middle of … a gigantic health-care battle between Republicans and Democrats. But if that doesn't give you a case of déjà vu, then-House Minority Leader John Boehner's red-faced hollering about backroom deals and sweeteners in 2010 might — only in 2017, it's the Democrats who are crying foul about Republicans' sneaky tactics. What's more, Boehner's speech was delivered after a year of heath-care debates, whereas the House's vote today comes after just a month of deliberation.
"Look at how this bill was written," Boehner roared in March 2010. "Can you say it was done openly? With transparency and accountability? Without backroom deals struck behind closed doors, hidden from the people? Hell no you can't!"
Sound familiar? Soak up the uncomfortable irony below. Jeva Lange
The Affordable Care Act requires insurers to cover a number of baseline "essential benefits," including hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, and mental health treatments. But on the brink of the health-care vote in the House, a group of Republicans are aiming to repeal ObamaCare's minimum requirements. As the argument goes, Americans shouldn't have to pay for benefits they aren't using; a 60-year-old-man, for example, shouldn't have to pay for maternity care.
But as The New York Times reports, the lack of a baseline could lead to fraud and a looser interpretation of what "insurance" means. At a certain point, policies could even cover "aromatherapy and not chemotherapy."
The Republicans' plan proposes that Americans who are buying their own insurance receive money from the government. But "if the essential health benefits go away, insurance companies would be allowed to sell health plans that don't cover, say, hospital care. Federal money would help buy these plans," The New York Times writes. Here's more:
Mark Pauly, a professor of health-care management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, who tends to favor market solutions in health care, said that while the ObamaCare rules are "paternalistic," it would be problematic to offer subsidies without standards. "If they're going to offer a tax credit for people who are buying insurance, well, what is insurance?" he said, noting that you might end up with the government paying for plans that covered aromatherapy but not hospital care. "You have to specify what's included."
A proliferation of $1,995 plans that covered mostly aromatherapy could end up costing the federal government a lot more money than the current GOP plan, since far more people would take advantage of tax credits to buy cheap products, even if they weren't very valuable. [The New York Times]
President Trump defended a number of his baseless claims in a head-turning interview with Time magazine published Thursday morning. When pushed by reporter Michael Scherer about sharing conspiracies that he couldn't verify as true, Trump became defensive: "I know you are going to write a bad article because you always do," he said.
After touting his ability to have predicted Brexit and reiterating his false claim that three million people voted illegally in the election, Trump explained, "I inherited a mess in so many ways," but added, "Hey look, in the meantime, I guess, I can't be doing so badly, because I'm president, and you're not. You know."
Top Democrat on House intelligence panel says there's 'more than circumstantial evidence' linking Trump campaign to Russia
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) added a new wrinkle Wednesday to the multiple lines of investigation into Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and whether members of President Trump's team were involved. After being briefed by Nunes, Trump said he felt "somewhat" vindicated by the congressman's unsubstantiated assertion that he'd seen "intelligence reports that clearly show that the president-elect and his team were, I guess, at least monitored," legally and apparently incidentally, between the election and inauguration.
The top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.), said it's "deeply troubling" that Nunes shared his information with Trump, a subject of the investigation, rather than the committee doing the investigation. But on MSNBC Wednesday evening, Schiff told Chuck Todd that he's already seen "more than circumstantial evidence" of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. "I can tell you that the case is more than that," he said. "I don't want to go into specifics, but I will say that there is evidence that is not circumstantial and is very much worthy of investigation, so that is what we ought to do."
On Monday, FBI Director James Comey said publicly for the first time that the FBI is investigating possible Trump campaign participation in Russian attempts to sway the election away from Hillary Clinton and toward Trump. There has so far been no evidence made public to tie Trump associates to Russia's hacking of Democratic and Clinton campaign officials and the dissemination of that material. Peter Weber