Tuesday, 8 August 2017

News Snapshot: Healthcare vote, Sanctions

Healthcare Vote

What a month!

On the last episode of American Healthcare, we discussed the Senate's attempt repeal and replace Obamacare. Well about two weeks ago, Senate Republicans grew weary of trying to reassure skittish members and decided to try something, anything. They narrowly voted 51-50 to begin debate on the bill, the first step in a vote. Notice this meant two Republicans voted "no." One of them was Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, who was later attacked by President Trump on Twitter: 

Since the Republicans couldn't agree on what to replace Obamacare with, the leadership decided to just go with the "repeal" part. Very few people expected the bill to pass, and it was evidence for the desperation of Republican leadership. The bill failed in the Senate 55-45, including seven Republicans who voted "No", as loud protests demanding the repeal to stop raged outside the Capitol Building.  

Next Republicans decided to pass a narrow skinny bill, which was a far cry from the original repeal and replace they promised on the campaign trail for seven years. It would repeal some parts of Obamacare without a replacement. The CBO ruled the bill would lead to 15 million more Americans uninsured by next year and a 20% increase in premiums. The American Medical Association, the AARP, and the health insurance lobbying group AHIP all came out against it. 

In a dramatic moment, the bill failed in the Senate 49-51, with the most important vote against cast by Republican John McCain, who recently received brain surgery. There were audible gasps in the room as we walked up to the vote counter and gave a thumbs-down.

With this vote, the Republicans have once again been foiled and will have to go back to the drawing board.

Heightening Tensions

In other news, Congress successfully passed a bill imposing increased sanctions (a kind of economic punishment) on Russia that also allowed them to bypass the President if he wanted to remove or loosen sanctions. Trump did not support the bill, but nonetheless, he signed it into law. The Russians reacted with disapproval and expelled American diplomats. 

Another country also received sanctions, North Korea, when the U.N. Security Council, made up of the most powerful nations in the U.N. including the United States, voted unanimously to increase sanctions on North Korea. China delivered them another slap in the face when they asked the North Koreans to stop the missile testing and said they would comply with the sanctions. Experts believe that North Korea is mostly holding on because China continues to do business with North Korea as the rest of the world sanctions them. 

Friday, 30 June 2017

Replacing ObamaCare

The bill to replace Obamacare narrowly passed in the House of Representatives about two months ago. However, it will have to pass the Senate before it reaches the President Trump’s desk to sign into law. In the Senate, Republicans are weaker than in the house, where the Senate is split 52 Republicans – 48 Democrats. It will need 50 votes to pass (Vice President Pence can vote to break the tie). However, much like in the House, Republicans are divided over the bill. It’s a given no Democrats will vote for it, and nine Republican senators have already said they won’t support it. The problem is why. Some senators are against it because the bill doesn’t do enough to repeal what they see as wasteful spending, while others think it doesn’t spend enough to cover people’s healthcare. Adding more or less spending to the bill would make half of the nine even more dissatisfied while satisfying the other half. Republicans can only afford to lost two votes, so they are in a bind.

It doesn’t help that only 17% of Americans support the bill. Incredibly, only about a third of Republicans support this bill to repeal Obamacare. The bill has also angered the Democrats because it was written with little debate or testimony. The Congressional Budget Office, which predicts the actual effects of legislation, published a report saying the bill, if it becomes law, would mean 22 million Americans would no longer have insurance. In light of this, the Republicans have pushed forward the deadline but have indicated they would even skip their summer recess (vacation) to get the bill done.

Protests of the Senate replacement bill

What does the bill actually do?
  • Employers are no longer required to pay for healthcare
  • Almost all of ObamaCare's taxes eliminated
  • Tax Credits instead of subsidies to cover health insurance costs
  • States can apply for waivers so insurers don't have to cover "essential health benefits" (e.g. pharmaceutical drugs, dentist visits) but all states must cover pre-existing conditions and the young
  • All "essential health benefits" not required after 2019
  • Medicaid, the already-existing healthcare program for very low-income people, would stop having an expanding budget by 2024 
  • States could require people to have a job to receive welfare

Sunday, 21 May 2017

What is this Russia business?

The Russian scandal, which involves the Trump's campaign of working with Russia, has developed in what feels like a Law and Order episode ever since Trump took office. The firing of national security advisor Mike Flynn over contact with the Russians and possibly working for Turkey, the testifying of Sally Yates that Obama warned Trump about hiring Flynn, and evidence that multiple people in the Trump campaign were in contact with suspected Russian spy Sergey Kislyak has all led to the past week.

The political world is on fire with the firing of FBI director James Comey, which Trump himself admitted he did to get rid of the Russia investigation. Sean Spicer, Trump's press secretary (kind of a spokesman) offered contradictory explanations on this that left more questions than answers. Insiders say Trump hoped Comey's controversial letter that doomed Hillary's campaign meant Democrats would be on board for this, but apparently not.

This and records that Trump pleaded Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn could amount to an obstruction of justice, something Trump could be impeached for. You might be thinking, wouldn't the Republicans have to vote to do that? Why would they? However, numerous Republicans have been more and more critical of Trump and have expressed frustration at the constant drama he causes. If Trump were impeached, his more level-headed and establishment-friendly Vice President Mike Pence would be president. Pence would be massively preferred by most Republican congressmen.

The latest is that Comey left a memo documenting all of Trump's attempts to shut down the Russia investigation and that there are tapes of the now-infamous dinner where Trump asked Comey to shut the investigation down. Even worse for Trump, as Democrats called for a fairer investigation a special prosecutor who mostly can't be influenced by Trump named Robert Mueller. He has a golden reputation for being impartial, tough, and thorough. Some politics is still in play-- people in the FBI resent Trump for firing their well-liked director and now Robert Mueller, who is investigating Trump, is a former FBI director who liked Comey as well. In trying to jettison the investigation, Trump brought the full wrath of the FBI down on him. However, some of this is Trump's fault. At a meeting closed off to American press, Trump met with the suspected spy I mentioned (Sergey Kislyak) at the request of Putin and revealed U.S. intelligence about ISIS in what sources report was meant to show off how he got all the info. Meeting with a Russian spy, giving him U.S. intelligence, only allowing Russian press in, and doing this all at the request of Russia's prime minister was probably not a good move right now, even if the information shared was minimal and in his right to do.

As you can imagine, Trump was not silent about what is happening on Twitter:

Media biases to be aware of: We are nowhere near impeaching Trump and we aren't sure if what Trump has done amounts to an obstruction of justice. So avoid left-wing clickbait about how 2 congressmen called for Trump's impeachment. However, keep in mind that this possibility is being raised and could be politically possible before this year ends. On the other hand, be skeptical of right-wing media saying that this is all nothing or is led be Democrats. There is bipartisan support for the investigation and it seems like there are legitimate grounds for an investigation.