Rep. Tom MacArthur met with livid constituents for the first time since he resuscitated the GOP health bill
Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.) held his first town hall on Wednesday night since his amendment on pre-existing conditions revived the GOP health-care bill, leading to its passage in the House. He took questions from his constituents for nearly five hours in Willingboro, and it was not a friendly crowd — not that he'd expected it to be. Before the town hall, his office had noted that Willingboro is 73 percent black and had only given him 12 percent of its vote last fall, points he reiterated during the town hall.
MacArthur fielded a series of questions about President Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey (he said he wasn't in favor of an independent investigation, yet, but he also said "I didn't come here to defend the president tonight"), but most of his constituents wanted to talk about health care. Many of them blamed him for, as one man put it, bringing the American Health Care Act "back from death." One woman shouted, "My blood will be on your hands," and when MacArthur said he was happy that ObamaCare expanded insurance coverage but "I'm looking at an insurance market that is collapsing," a man yelled out, "That's because you drilled holes in it!" There were a lot of calls for switching to a single-payer system.
Another constituent noted the AHCA includes big cuts to Medicaid and slightly bigger tax cuts that primarily benefit the super wealthy, giving as an example the $37,000 a year MacArthur, a former insurance executive, would save under the law. MacArthur disagreed with the assessment of the bill. "This isn't tax cuts for the rich — this is tax cuts for everybody!" he said, explaining that it zeroes out taxes and income on profits from stock investments. You can get a flavor of what The Washington Post's David Weigel called the "toxic" environment in the CNN report below. Peter Weber
After narrowly voting to approve the American Health Care Act last Thursday, House Republicans (and their Democratic colleagues) returned home to their districts for an 11-day break. While GOP leaders and the Trump administration are trying to beat back the narrative that their health-care bill would cost millions of Americans their health insurance and sharply raise prices for people with pre-existing conditions, some House Republicans faced more local versions of that battle back home. On Monday, the most high-profile AHCA clash was in Dubuque, Iowa, the home of Rep. Rod Blum (R).
On Monday afternoon, Blum sat down for an interview with reporter Josh Scheinblum of KCRG-TV Dubuque, but it didn't last long. When Scheinblum asked Blum why he was prescreening attendees to his four town halls this week, Blum explained he only wanted people to attend from his district, and when Scheinblum followed up with a question about out-of-district donors, Blum, 62, walked out.
— John Whitehouse (@existentialfish) May 9, 2017
Soon after that clip aired on local TV, Blum held his first town hall meeting in the gym of Dubuque Senior High School, and it was not a friendly crowd. Blum, a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, fielded a lot of questions about the AHCA, which he voted for. He actually agreed with many constituents that the bill was rushed through and flawed, though his complaint was that it wouldn't kill off the Affordable Care Act comprehensively enough — he referred to the AHCA as TrumpCare several times, and also ObamaCare 2.0.
"The way Blum struggled Monday night to explain his vote — through the loud boos of rowdy, impolite, and infuriated constituents — is just a narrow sampling of the growing concern and confusion caused by Republican plans to revamp the nation's health-care system," says Ed O'Keefe at The Washington Post. You can read more about Blum's town hall at The Washington Post and watch some footage of the waving red signs at KCRG-TV9. Peter Weber
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has chosen his team to write the Senate Republican version of the American Health Care Act, and senators will apparently scrap the House version and start over. "This process will not be quick or simple or easy," McConnell said Monday. But the group of 13 senators McConnell has tapped for the task — including himself and his top two deputies — has raised eyebrows because, among other things, it includes 13 men and no women.
Robert Pear at The New York Times suggests that McConnell, a shrewd tactician, chose to include only men, including far-right Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), "to placate the right." But his picks "may have inadvertently created a dangerous alliance," Pear adds, between Republicans who are more moderate on health care, especially Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who came up with the "Jimmy Kimmel Test" for health-care legislation. If they band together, they just need one more Republican to effectively veto any bill — and between Medicaid and pre-existing conditions, there are AHCA skeptics in the Senate GOP caucus.
But it isn't just the homogeneity that has people talking; McConnell also left out several senators with potentially useful experience. Collins, for example, notes that she "spent five years in state government overseeing the Bureau of Insurance many years ago, and I think I can bring some experience to the debate that will be helpful." Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), the only black Republican in the Senate, owned one of the most successful Allstate insurance branches in South Carolina before running for Congress, Pear says.
And, of course, health care is an important topic for women as well as men, and the House AHCA would have some sticker shock for women in particular — if pregnancy were deemed a pre-existing condition, as allowed in the bill, a healthy 40-year-old woman could pay $17,060 more in premiums for her pregnancy, or up to 425 percent more than under ObamaCare, according to an analysis by the liberal Center for American Progress. The AHCA also bans federal funding for Planned Parenthood for at least one year, and prohibits federal tax credits to be used on any insurance plan to covers abortion. Michelle Wolf took an acerbic look at the GOP's all-male health-care panel on Monday's Daily Show, and you can hear her thoughts below. Peter Weber
House Republicans scored a sort of hat trick of disapproval on Thursday, when the health industry's main two lobbying groups joined the major organizations for doctors and hospitals in urging significant changes to the health-care bill they just passed. This opposition from doctors, hospitals, and insurers is "a rare unifying moment," says The New York Times.
Insurers said they were concerned about the sharp cuts to Medicaid, reduced financial support for elderly people who buy their own insurance, as well as uncertainty over payments to help insurance companies cover low-income customers. "The American Health Care Act needs important improvements to better protect low- and moderate-income families who rely on Medicaid or buy their own coverage," Marilyn B. Tavenner, CEO of America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), said in a statement.
The large majority of health-related industries wanted changes to the AHCA — medical device manufacturers support the bill and the pharmaceutical industry hasn't weighed in — because they'll lose customers and thus money, especially from the cuts to Medicaid and other changes that will lead to employers scaling back or dropping coverage for their employees. But they also expressed deep concerns about patients and the unintended consequences of some 24 million fewer people having health insurance, under Congressional Budget Office estimates.
"To me, this is not a reform," Michael Dowling, CEO of New York's Northwell Health system, tells The New York Times. "This is just a debacle." When lots of people suddenly lose their insurance at the same time the government cuts payments to cover lower-income patients, hospitals that server poorer patients "will just be drowning completely when this happens." The American Medical Association, AARP, American Hospital Association & Federation of American Hospitals, and associations focusing on specific diseases also oppose the law as written. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Retail Federation, and National Federation of Independent Business support the AHCA, while another group representing small-business owners, the Main Street Alliance, opposes it. Peter Weber
Conservative columnist and Fox News regular Charles Krauthammer is not a fan of the Affordable Care Act, but after House Republicans voted to partially repeal and replace it on Thursday, he said he thinks, ironically, ObamaCare won the day. "I think what conservatives and Republicans are beginning to understand is how the fundamental view of health care among the American people has changed," he told Tucker Carlson Thursday night.
"ObamaCare is a disaster on the ground," he said, "and politically it ruined the Democrats. However, there's an irony and a hidden victory here: Over these past seven years, people's expectations have changed. You watched the debate over the last three months, Tucker. What are the grounds? The grounds are all liberal grounds: How many people are going to lose their coverage? How can you leave people out in the cold? The Jimmy Kimmel thing. It's showing that the country is at a point where I think it believes in universal coverage."
"I saw a piece this week entitled 'The conservative case for single-payer,'" Carlson said. "I'm not sure most conservatives are there yet, but do you think that's where it's going?" Krauthammer said yes. "Whether it will end up single-payer, like in the Canadian system, or not, I'm not sure, but I will guarantee you this," he said: "Within a few years there won't even be an argument about whether or not government has an obligation to ensure that everybody gets health coverage."
Krauthammer had made a similar argument earlier on Fox News, and was more specific in his predictions. "I think, historically speaking, we're at the midpoint," he told Chris Wallace. "We had seven years of ObamaCare, a change in expectations, and I would predict in less than seven years we'll be in a single-payer system." He said the Senate will scrap the House bill, pass its own, and the two will be reconciled in a conference committee. "Who knows where it will end up, but it will be a rickety arrangement, it's likely that Republicans are going to suffer at the polls, and as a result of that — if that happens — you're going to get a sea-change in opinion," he concluded. "Then there's only two ways to go: to a radically individualist system, where the market rules, or to single-payer. And the country is not going to go back to radically individualist." Watch below. Peter Weber
GOP ex-congressman explains why House Republicans probably won't be punished for their health-care vote
On Thursday, House Republicans passed a deeply unpopular health-care bill that will affect all Americans and one-sixth of the U.S. economy, while Democrats taunted them with the Steam song "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" — as you probably already knew if you were watching cable news on Thursday:
— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) May 4, 2017
Democrats are working off the assumption that since they lost big in the 2010 midterms after passing the Affordable Care Act — Nate Silver runs through how much ObamaCare hurt them — Republicans put their majority at risk on Thursday, with a special eye toward the yes votes from 46 House Republicans in districts that Hillary Clinton or President Obama won at least once since 2008, and more specifically the 14 in districts Clinton won in November. GOP strategist Tom Davis, a former Virginia congressman and ex-chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, disagrees with that political assessment.
Generally, Davis told The Atlantic that as unpopular as the American Health Care Act is nationally, including among swing voters, House Republicans faced a higher electoral risk from opposing it, since "the Democratic base is going to be spiked no matter what" and "a dispirited base going into the midterms" is more dangerous for Republicans than losing independents.
More specifically, the House Republicans in districts Clinton won are insulated because they tend to be "higher-income suburban districts" where President Trump is unpopular but so is ObamaCare, Davis argued. "You're not taking their stuff away, they are not the people who are getting punished" under the GOP plan, he said. And the House Republicans representing lower-income and rural Trump voters will be protected by cultural issues and Trump's nationalist bent. Unsurprisingly, Democratic strategists disagree with Davis. You can read their counterargument at The Atlantic. Peter Weber
Watch Paul Ryan in 2009: 'I don't think we should pass bills that we haven't read, that we don't know what they cost'
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was House speaker in 2009, when Congress was working to pass the Affordable Care Act, and she has gotten endless amounts of grief after saying in March 2010 that "we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy." On Thursday, House Republicans are voting on their partial replacement for the Affordable Care Act, the American Health Care Act, without a Congressional Budget Office score, and it's not clear House members have had a chance to read through the bill, which was amended as late as Wednesday night.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), who introduced that final amendment, said Wednesday night it would be nice to have a CBO score first. "I wish that we had it, alright?" he said, but there's no time to wait "because I don't expect it probably for a couple weeks."
In July 2009, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) was a member of the House with his own health-care plan, and he went on MSNBC to criticize the speed at which the Democrats were moving to push ObamaCare through Congress. "Are Republicans being genuine in their complaint that this is moving too quickly?" asked Carlos Watson. "Well, yes, I don't think we should pass bills that we haven't read, that we don't know what they cost," Ryan said. "I don't think that's being effusive."
"We want to see health-care reform done, but we want to do it right," he said. "And if you rush this thing through before anybody even knows what it is, that isn't good democracy. That's not doing our work for our constituents. What's wrong with going home for August, having town hall meetings, listening to our constituents, and then coming back in September and doing this right?" Watson offered a counterargument, but Ryan doubled down: "You're right, we could work this thing through, but we shouldn't rush this thing through just to rush it through for some artificial deadline. Let's get this thing done right." Ryan has kindly and transparently kept this interview on his YouTube page.
The AHCA was introduced in committee on March 8, less than two months ago. The House passed their version of ObamaCare in November 2009, three months after Ryan complained that Democrats were moving too quickly, and ObamaCare wasn't signed until March 23, 2010. Peter Weber
At least 2 Republicans are returning to Washington from medical emergencies to vote on the GOP health-care bill
House GOP leaders need at least 216 Republicans to vote for the American Health Care Act on Thursday, assuming all members are present, and at least two House Republicans are returning from medical emergencies to cast their votes. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who underwent emergency foot surgery April 27 that he originally said could keep him away from Washington for three to four weeks, says he is rushing back for the vote, and Rep. Bruce Poliquin (R-Maine) — whose vote on the AHCA is undecided or unknown — says he'll do everything he can to get back for the vote following a last-minute family medical emergency, according to The Hill's Scott Wong.
Republicans plan to vote on the legislation Thursday even though there is no Congressional Budget Office analysis of the costs and benefits and many members will not have read the newest version of the bill before voting yea or nay. The legislation would affect one-sixth of the U.S. economy and every American, and the last CBO score predicted that 24 million fewer Americans would have health insurance under the plan.
Incidentally, the bill the House will vote on exempts members of Congress and their staff from the legislation's unpopular threats to people with pre-existing conditions and defined essential health benefits, like maternity care, though Republicans say the House will also vote on a separate measure to close that loophole. Peter Weber