House GOP leaders added a Magic Asterisk to the Wealthcare Act, but it’s still not cruel enough for conservatives…. (More)

“A vote of 216 votes in the House would not happen today”

The Wealthcare Act 2.0* has several tweaks:

  • A change in the tax deductibility of medical expenses that the Senate could harness to boost tax credits for older Americans, to the tune of an estimated $85 billion
  • More flexibility for states to add work requirements to Medicaid
  • More flexibility for states to take their Medicaid funding as a lump-sum block grant rather than a per-person check
  • Accelerating the repeal of Obamacare’s tax increases by one year
  • Restricting people from rolling unused tax credit money into health savings accounts (apparently to ease concerns of anti-abortion groups)
  • Changing Medicaid reimbursement procedures in a way that advantages county governments over state governments (for idiosyncratic reasons, Republicans from New York are high on this provision)
  • Changing Medicaid reimbursement rates for the elderly and disabled
  • States that haven’t accepted Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion will no longer have the opportunity to do so

Vox’s Ezra Klein wonders how Republicans will explain the carnage to their constituents:

I keep thinking about something that New York Times columnist Ross Douthat wrote today. “Republican politicians may offer pandering promises of lower deductibles and co-pays, but the coherent conservative position is that cheaper plans with higher deductibles are a very good thing,” he said. It’s a gently written sentence, but it’s damning beyond measure.

Republicans have been promising the literal opposite of the bill they are trying to pass. Trump swore he’d oppose Medicaid cuts – but this law has more than $800 billion of them. He said everyone would be covered – but the CBO estimates this bill will push up the ranks of the uninsured by 24 million people. Republicans everywhere said they would replace Obamacare with a plan that ensured more competition, lower premiums and deductibles, and an end to skyrocketing annual increases – but this bill will have the opposite effect for most of those affected.

So what happens when voters realize their new tax credit doesn’t cover anything close to the insurance they had? What happens when they find themselves with fewer choices, paying much higher premiums after their smaller subsidies, and being told by insurers that costs are doubling because Republicans changed how much more the old could be charged than the young?

Voters will notice all this. And what are Republicans going to say then? That it’s all Barack Obama’s fault? That high deductibles are actually good, they just forgot to mention it? That they needed something they could pass quickly so they could move on to tax reform?

Even so, House conservatives aren’t impressed:

“House leadership does not have the votes to pass this very liberal bill unless they have a bunch of Democrats on board!” declared Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) while exiting the meeting. He called it a “the largest Republican welfare bill in the history of the Republican Party.”
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In spite of all the changes, conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus are still defiant about the bill. Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows told reporters Monday evening that the negotiations on the bill appear to be over. But he doesn’t think it’s necessarily the end.

“I’m confident that we have enough concerns that a vote of 216 votes in the House would not happen today,” he said.

And then there’s that Magic Asterisk, as Vox’s Matthew Yglesias explains:

In an effort to blunt the American Health Care Act’s disastrous effect on older Americans, House Republican leaders are adding a provision that would set aside $75 billion to do … something unspecified.

Really. According to Politico, the new version of the bill will not say at all what to do with the $75 billion. Instead it will just “instruct the Senate” to come up with a plan to use the money to help people between the ages of 50 and 64.

This is a very unusual way to legislate and reflects House Republicans’ desperation to push through basically anything as soon as possible and pass the buck to the Senate.

Basically, the CBO score showed that older Americans will get crushed by the Wealthcare Act. Yes, their tax credits would be twice those of younger Americans, but the Wealthcare Act also lets insurers charge older Americans up to five times higher premiums than younger Americans. It doesn’t take a Ph.D economist to see how that math works.

Most of those older Americans vote for Republicans, and House leaders don’t want to lose those voters. But they can’t figure out what to do about it, so they punt it to Senate Republicans:

Older people are the Republican base, however, so a bill that badly damages their financial interests is a political problem for many House Republicans. Coming up with an actual fix to this problem is not conceptually impossible. But it would require a pretty substantial rethink of the underlying architecture of the AHCA, which is designed, on a deep level, to better serve the interests of people who don’t need much help while doing less to serve the interests of those who do.

But Paul Ryan is determined to have the House vote on this bill on Thursday, which means they don’t have time for any big rethink or prolonged negotiation. So what they’ve come up with instead is, apparently, this $75 billion magic asterisk. The House will pass a bill with what amounts to a blank spot, and then members can say they repealed Obamacare and toss the hot potato of working out the details to their colleagues in the Senate.

In short, New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait writes, they’re back to vapor-ware:

The greatest advantage the Republican Party held, through eight years of political war over the provision of health care, was not having a plan to defend. After November’s elections handed them full control of government, Republicans designed a strategy to retain that advantage: repeal-and-delay, which would have allowed them to eliminate Obamacare without specifying the replacement. Repeal-and-delay failed, forcing them instead to pass a replacement plan. That plan has proven wildly unpopular. Indeed, it is so deeply unpopular that Republicans have given up defending the plan at all. Instead, they are back to promising an unspecified, future plan that will be revealed only after Obamacare has been gutted first.
[…]
The real plan has “three prongs,” of which the bill is only the first. The other two involve a combination of regulatory moves that may or may not be legal and a package of legislative changes that stands a zero-percent chance of being passed into law.
[…]
Fixing the Republican plan is not a technical problem akin to rejiggering some wires in the shop. It means allocating real-world resources. The GOP plan makes coverage unaffordable for the old and poor because they’re expensive to cover, and Republicans don’t want to pay for it. They insist their plan repeal Obamacare’s taxes on the rich, reducing the amount of resources available for coverage. They also insist their plan expand “choice” and “freedom,” which in practice means having the choice and the freedom not to pay for other people’s medical care. But if you don’t make somebody pay for it – either forcing insurers to give them artificially low premiums, or by taxes, then it won’t be paid for.

The regulations Republicans tout, which would allow insurers to sell skimpy plans to healthy people, would exacerbate the problem. Healthy people would get cheaper plans that don’t cross-subsidize medical care needed by the old and sick. That would force the old and sick to bear even more of their costs. If there was a “real” Republican plan in writing, its effects would be even more gruesome. And so it must remain an abstraction.

This is the difference between ranting on wingnut radio and writing laws in Congress. Turns out it’s a whole lot easier to heckle than to legislate….

“One of the most highly impactful information operations in the history of intelligence”

Meanwhile, the FBI are investigating whether wingnut websites colluded with Russian intelligence operatives:

Federal investigators are examining whether far-right news sites played any role last year in a Russian cyber operation that dramatically widened the reach of news stories – some fictional – that favored Donald Trump’s presidential bid, two people familiar with the inquiry say.

Operatives for Russia appear to have strategically timed the computer commands, known as “bots,” to blitz social media with links to the pro-Trump stories at times when the billionaire businessman was on the defensive in his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton, these sources said.

The bots’ end products were largely millions of Twitter and Facebook posts carrying links to stories on conservative internet sites such as Breitbart News and InfoWars, as well as on the Kremlin-backed RT News and Sputnik News, the sources said. Some of the stories were false or mixed fact and fiction, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the bot attacks are part of an FBI-led investigation into a multifaceted Russian operation to influence last year’s elections.

Investigators examining the bot attacks are exploring whether the far-right news operations took any actions to assist Russia’s operatives. Their participation, however, wasn’t necessary for the bots to amplify their news through Twitter and Facebook.
[…]
Russia-generated bots are one piece of a cyber puzzle that counterintelligence agents have sought to solve for nearly a year to determine the extent of the Moscow government’s electronic broadside.

“This may be one of the most highly impactful information operations in the history of intelligence,” said one former U.S. intelligence official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

If I understand correctly, the FBI knows Russian ‘bots’ amplified often-fictional pro-Trump news stories that appeared on wingnut websites, but they don’t yet know whether wingnut websites coordinated that with the Russian bot-writers. I won’t speculate on whether they did, or what that would mean. I’ll just note that yesterday FBI Director James Comey admitted that many of the God-King’s public statements and proposed policies … fit Russia’s agenda quite nicely.

“No evidence of any kind”

And apparently Fox News wants the egg off their faces:

Fox News has reportedly pulled Andrew Napolitano from the air indefinitely after he made claims that a British intelligence agency had wiretapped Trump Tower.

Napolitano, a Fox News analyst, is not scheduled to appear on the network in the near future, the Los Angeles Times reported, according to people familiar with the situation.

Last week, Napolitano made the claims about the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) spying on Trump at former President Barack Obama’s behest.

Napolitano’s claim wasn’t merely a lie. It was a lie echoed by the God-King that triggered an international incident.

Fox News host Shepard Smith also denied Friday that his network has information validating Napolitano’s remarks, saying the network knows of “no evidence of any kind that the now-President of the United States was surveilled at any time in any way.”

Sadly, Republicans are still trying to spin “no evidence of any wiretap” into “there may have been other surveillance.” And because we know Secret Service agents tracked the God-King’s itinerary – as part of their protection duties – that will eventually be claimed as “surveillance” … to prove the God-King’s lie was true.

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Image Credit – Hundred-Dollar Bills: Ervins Strauhmanis (CC-BY 2.0); Thumbs-Down Emoticons: K.P. (ClipArtFest); Composite: Crissie Brown (BPICampus.com).

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Good day and good nuts