Going Small on Health Care – New York Times

Ross Douthat
Ross Douthat

SEVEN years ago the Democratic Party found itself at a crossroads. Its sweeping health care bill was increasingly unpopular — the subject of angry town hall protests, the cause of a shocking special-election defeat in Massachusetts. Some people in the Obama White House, notably Rahm Emanuel, wanted to scale the bill back, to drop the idea of reinventing the individual insurance market and simply expand Medicaid.

Instead the Democrats chose to stick with Obamacare in full, which earned them a historic achievement, Joe Biden’s big bleeping deal — and then a cataclysmic midterm defeat from which their fortunes as a national party have never quite recovered.

Now it is the Republican Party’s turn to face a health care choice. They can forge ahead with the “repeal” (really just the reform) of Obamacare, notwithstanding the massive unpopularity of the legislation being negotiated in the Senate, on the theory that they’re more insulated than the Democrats were in 2010 (after all, they won their recent special-election squeaker) and that the policy achievement is worth the political pain. Or they take the road the Democrats did not, and retreat to a much smaller bill instead.

The case for retreat is stronger than it was for Obama’s party. The Democrats in 2010 were on the cusp of achieving their decades-old health care policy dream; the Republicans in 2017 can’t agree on what their health care policy goal should be. The Democratic bill in 2010 delivered significantly to the party’s base; the Republican bill in 2017 delivers significantly only to the party’s donors. In order to mitigate its unpopularity, Senate Republicans keep making their bill more like, well, Obamacare, which raises the question of why they’re attempting something so complex for such a modest end.

But what would retreat look like? What form would a smaller bill take? Don’t worry, I have the answer.

First, the smaller bill would repeal the individual mandate requiring the purchase of health insurance. It would replace it, as the Senate bill does, with a continuous-coverage requirement — a waiting period to purchase insurance if you go without it for more than two months.

Second, the bill would repeal some of the taxes on health care spending, saving and services imposed by Obamacare — including the taxes on medical devices and prescription medications, the higher threshold for deducting spending on chronic care, and the limits on contributions to health spending accounts.

Third, the bill would maintain the stabilization funds that the Senate legislation pays to states and insurers to help cover the sickest Americans and keep exchange prices from spiraling upward.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, repealing the individual mandate and its penalties would cost $38 billion over 10 years. The stabilization funds would cost $107 billion. The various health care tax cuts I just outlined would cost (roughly) $100 billion. So that’s approximately $250 billion that the small-ball bill would need to find in spending cuts.

It would find those savings by imposing, like the House and Senate bills, a per-capita cap on future Medicaid spending, but a less draconian one than the current legislation envisions. Instead of wringing almost $800 billion out of Medicaid over 10 years, it would try to reduce the program’s spending by $250 billion — just enough for deficit neutrality.

That’s it. That’s the whole thing. Eliminate the hated mandate, keep the exchanges stable, cut a few health care taxes, and pull Medicaid spending downward. Pass the package, declare victory, and pivot to tax reform.

And it would be a victory, however modest, for several Republican constituencies. Eliminating the mandate would satisfy principled libertarians and save money for middle-class consumers for whom Obamacare seems like an unjustifiably bad deal. Cutting medical taxes would please key industries and reduce prices for consumers. The Medicaid per-capita cap would be an experiment in entitlement reform, but on a scale and a timeline that swing-state senators could live with, and that might eventually attract bipartisan support.

True, eliminating the mandate would lead to less coverage. But if the subsidies didn’t change and the Medicaid cuts were limited, much of any drop-off would be genuinely voluntary, and the C.B.O.’s own analysis projects that the exchanges will be stable even if the mandate is repealed. So Republicans could campaign in 2018 on the credible claim that they had maintained Obamacare’s coverage for most people who wanted it, while reducing its burdens on those who don’t.

All of this would be tepid and incrementalist, a failure compared to the dreams of full-repeal advocates and the best-laid plans of right-wing wonks.

But the Republican Party is too divided on health care, too incompetently “led” by its president, and too confused about the details of health policy to do something that’s big and sweeping and also smart and decent and defensible.

So if the party insists on doing something, it should do something appropriately timid. The alternative is a big gamble on a bad bill — not just a crime, but a mistake.

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The Trumpcare Fight Shows Mitch McConnell Knows Just How Overrated He Is – HuffPost

Democrats are rejoicing. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) delayed this past week’s planned vote on the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare. But liberals should hold the champagne. McConnell will be back. His entire political career — the meaning of 40 years of professional energy — depends on it.

Four years ago, HuffPost reporter Jason Cherkis and I spent several weeks profiling McConnell. We found a man with almost no ideological commitments. McConnell believes in power — specifically his own. He is a tactician, not an intellectual leader. His lodestar isn’t economist Milton Friedman or James Buchanan. It’s Niccolo Machiavelli.

And despite his reputation in Washington as a brilliant political mind, McConnell isn’t a very accomplished Machiavellian. He has no great federal legislative achievement to bequeath to future generations (or, at least, biographers). His major work to date is his title. After battling to become Senate majority leader, he now needs to decorate his crown. It doesn’t particularly matter which jewels he selects, but it will be a very sad crown without any at all. Repealing Obamacare would be a big sparkler.

If the dangers of government spending or socialized medicine keep McConnell up at night, his record in Congress doesn’t show it. The man currently trying to ram through a bill that would make health insurance unaffordable for 22 million more Americans used to shower his home state with federal funding for health care projects as a matter of routine.

For decades, McConnell poured federal money into the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, a Cold War-era nuclear power relic that had become technologically obsolete by the 1980s. McConnell’s maneuvering kept it open, preserving a source of well-paid union jobs in southwestern Kentucky. When the workers came down with severe health problems from toxic exposures at the plant, McConnell responded by giving them free government health care. This isn’t a secret in Kentucky. He brags about it in campaign ads every election season.

He also secured dentistry for poor pregnant women, prenatal counseling programs and initiatives targeting heart disease, all on the federal dime. These were patchwork programs, only available in Kentucky. But no principled opponent of government health care could approve of them.

McConnell has taken the same federal-funds-for-me-but-not-for-thee approach to scientific and medical research, flooding the public University of Louisville with research dollars even as he backs nationwide budget deals slashing government investment in medicine.

None of these spending efforts are legislative landmarks. The University of Louisville has a shrine to McConnell at its library. The so-called Mitch McConnell Center for Political Leadership is full of photos of him with other famous people. It has a replica of the desk used by 19th century lawmaker Sen. Henry Clay and a placard stating how much McConnell reveres The Great Compromiser from Kentucky. But there is no Interstate Highway System, no GI Bill, no Medicare, no Dodd-Frank financial regulatory reform bill to congratulate McConnell on.

McConnell’s largesse for Kentucky has been pragmatic, what he needed to provide to get into the Senate and stay there. His passion is the accumulation of political power. To what ends that power is to be deployed is a question for whatever coalition backs McConnell ― he is their strategist, not their theologian.

His first foray into Washington leadership came in the 1998 electoral cycle, when he chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee. It was a promising year for the GOP. Democrats were defending a host of vulnerable red-state Senate seats ― Arkansas, Nevada, Ohio and the Carolinas were all in play ― and Republicans thought they had strong odds in Wisconsin, Washington and California. McConnell raised over $37 million in soft money — a record at the time — and blew it. The Republicans didn’t add a single seat to their majority. In McConnell’s second election on the job, they lost five seats to Democrats and then ceded their majority in May 2001 when Vermont Sen. Jim Jeffords left the GOP and began caucusing with the Democrats.

McConnell’s grand strategy of blanket obstruction under President Barack Obama couldn’t stop Obama’s re-election and ultimately ended with an earthquake in the Republican Party. President Donald Trump was elected on a platform opposed to free trade and tough on banks, obliterating the Republican economic message of the past 40 years.

Before Trump, Republicans generally liked free trade. McConnell had one asterisk on his anti-Obama opposition: He actually wanted to help Obama pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal with 11 other nations. Yet even with a sympathetic president and Republican majorities in both the House and Senate, the GOP leadership somehow couldn’t get it done. The weight of this responsibility falls more heavily on House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) than on McConnell, but it remains an impressive failure for the senator.

McConnell did steal a Supreme Court seat for Republicans by simply refusing to consider any Obama nominee ― a creative and risky maneuver. Justice Neil Gorsuch is thoroughly conservative and will influence American law for years to come. But that win was the exception, rather than the general pattern, and presidents receive much more credit for court legacies than senators do.

McConnell’s track record is just not that of a brilliant strategist. His reputation for genius rests instead on the ineptitude of his opponents.

After The Washington Post’s devastating June 23 report on the Obama administration’s mishandling of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Democrats may finally begin to see that their standard-bearer for eight years had some serious weaknesses in dealing with political opponents. Obama routinely gave in when it wasn’t necessary ― caving to the banks on foreclosure fraud, to Fox News and Breitbart on driving out Shirley Sherrod … and to Republicans on nearly everything during his first term. At the end of 2012, then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) literally threw Obama’s “fiscal cliff” proposals on a fire, knowing that the president didn’t have to make the concessions to McConnell that he planned to offer. Had the fiscal cliff deadline passed, Reid and Obama might have enacted their own bill with whatever they wanted. Instead, Obama dispatched Vice President Joe Biden to hand Republicans a package of conservative goodies so he could call the agreement bipartisan. And McConnell racked up another “victory” off an opponent’s own goal.

So today’s health care battle carries greater significance for the Senate majority leader than for anyone else in Congress. McConnell still has no ideological dog in this fight. But he has to prove to his fellow Republicans that their faith in him is correctly placed. And he has to prove to himself that his decades-long power struggle hasn’t been in vain. He may well lose, but he will not walk away from a fight on which his legacy depends.

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Trump’s wounded, distracted presidency has created a leadership void in Washington – The Boston Globe

WASHINGTON — Some presidents have been accused of leading the country in the wrong direction. At least one has been accused of leading from behind.

Now many critics have an even more profound concern: a president who often doesn’t seem interested in leading at all.

Even his would-be Republican allies are agog, as President Trump lurches from one crisis to the next, impulsively tweeting, lacking a coherent message, and warring with the media. He has shown limited ability to harness support for policy initiatives in Congress, even though it is controlled by his own party. He’s done little to provide the public with a vision for what he wants to do.

He’s given just one prime-time speech to the nation since his inauguration, a joint address to Congress back in February.

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Neither is national leadership coming from outside the White House. Top Republicans in Congress have shown an inability to use the power of majority control to get big things done and an unwillingness to challenge a dysfunctional White House for control of the Washington agenda. And Democrats? Bless their bleeding hearts. They have almost as little influence at the moment as cable television hosts.

With the country confronting profound domestic and international problems, Washington is experiencing a void of leadership unlike in any other period in modern history, according to scholars and political specialists. In its first six months, Trump’s presidency has created an extraordinary power vacuum that is leaving the nation and the globe uneasy.

“I can’t even think of a presidency which controls both houses of Congress getting off to such a weird, unpredictable, chaotic start,” said David Gergen, who has served as a White House adviser to four presidents, both Democrats and Republicans. “To be fair, he’s got a party that’s fractured. . . . But presidents have to do tough things with tough circumstances. That’s why it’s a big job.

“The president, to use a metaphor,” Gergen added, “has been running around like a headless horseman.”

Even more unsettling: There is nothing on the horizon suggesting that this strange and unsettling Washington dynamic will change over the 3½ years that remain in Trump’s term.

“The American political system is based on the president taking the initiative and Congress responding. With President Trump, it’s been the opposite,” said H.W. Brands, a University of Texas professor and biographer of multiple presidents, from Andrew Jackson to Ronald Reagan.

“He doesn’t know the details of the policy, so he’s not a persuasive advocate one way or the other,” he added. “When a president doesn’t know the policy, it doesn’t make for a very effective leader.”

Multiple scholars and political experts contacted by the Globe could not recall a period in recent history when Washington was this rudderless.

There is, meanwhile, plenty to get done. Subway systems in major American cities are in disrepair, while roads and bridges are crumbling. Health insurers are pulling out of key marketplaces, spooked by uncertainty surrounding former president Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act and the failure of Republicans to pass their long-promised repeal-and-replace law. An opioid epidemic is sweeping large swaths of the country.

Everyone agrees the tax code is too complicated, but prospects for an overhaul seem dim. There’s bipartisan agreement that immigration rules need reform, yet no one is wagering the GOP can use its control of Washington to pass anything or strike a compromise with Democrats.

“You have one-party control of Congress, and who would have thought they would have no agenda, no vision, and no ability to get things done?” said John Weaver, a longtime Republican strategist. “Whether you agreed with what they were doing or not, you thought they’d do something.

“The bulk of the blame has to be with the president,” he added. “The speaker and Senate majority leader could [lead in another direction] if they had the desire or intestinal fortitude. But the two we have don’t, and won’t.”

A White House spokesman defended Trump’s record, pointing to optimism among manufacturers, to regulations that have been reduced, and to a recent bill Trump signed into law making it easier to restructure and reform the Department of Veteran Affairs.

“If a leader is defined as a person who frequently gives prime-time addresses or press conferences, then there is a problem with your definition of a leader,” the spokesman, Tyler Ross, said in a statement. “A good leader is one that protects the nation’s economic and national security.

“By placing American interests first, President Trump is overseeing a massive reduction in illegal immigration, the elimination of billions of dollars’ worth of job-killing regulations, and is pursuing fair and reciprocal trade deals to better benefit American workers,” he added. “Today we are an economically stronger and more secure nation. There is nothing ‘leaderless’ about that.”

Trump showed contempt for government when he ran for office, and he vowed to break down and disrupt the Washington establishment. That he is well on the way to doing, and the free-wheeling, proudly pugilistic style of the candidate has held true for his presidency.

White House press briefings are short and contentious. Trump’s Twitter comments are a constant distraction that takes the political focus away from health care and immigration and puts it on his treatment of women, his fights with the media, or almost anything but policy. He won’t even agree with the rest of his party and Democrats that Americans have a common enemy, refusing to publicly rebuke and investigate Russia for meddling in the 2016 election.

While Trump has held 11 press conferences, only one of those took place without a foreign leader also present. That lone solo press conference, which was nearly five months ago, puts him on pace for the fewest for a president in nearly a century, according to figures from the American Presidency Project. Obama had 11 solo press conferences during his first year in office; George W. Bush had five, while Bill Clinton had 12.

Trump has also given almost no major policy addresses, prime vehicles for a leader to advance his agenda or help the nation make sense of challenges, foreign or domestic.

“At this point in the administration of Ronald Reagan, there would have already been two big speeches on the underlying philosophy and why these particular bills would be put into effect,” Brands said. “Same with Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. They knew enough about policy to advance their own policy. It’s hard to say that Trump actually has a health care policy.”

Trump has even ceded the most crucial aspect of foreign policy — how many American lives to risk in overseas security operations. He has left the decision of how many additional ground troops to send to Afghanistan to Defense Secretary James Mattis.

Nor has there been a press conference on his plan to defeat the Islamic State — a public accounting that Trump said on May 21 would take place within two weeks.

And his agenda this week at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, for his first meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin?

“Well, there’s no specific agenda,” national security adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters last week. “It’s really going to be whatever the president wants to talk about.”

The lack of a concerted effort to rally Americans behind a rationale for governing, or a vision for the future, is having an impact, according to polls. When asked how they felt things were going in Washington right now, only 11 percent of Americans said they were excited, according to a USA Today/Suffolk University poll released last week. One-third of those surveyed said they were “uneasy,’’ while 42 percent said they were “alarmed.’’

“There is an opportunity for leadership,” said Meena Bose, director of the Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency, at Hofstra University. “But this White House doesn’t seem to be interested in any of the traditional norms or approaches to building support for passing legislation.”

Ironically, Washington has sunk to a leadership low when it should be easy for the GOP to get things done.

“This is extraordinary because you’ve got no impeachment, you’ve got no international crisis, and you’ve got one-party rule,” said Edward G. Rendell, the former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania.

He thinks that top congressional leaders missed an opportunity when, after GOP congressmen were fired on during a baseball practice, calls for unity and better dialogue didn’t bring out any action.

“Look, the nation’s fed up, we’re producing idiots on both sides of the aisle,” Rendell said. “We’ve got to bring this country together. Forget about Trump. . . . He’s rendered himself irrelevant. But you could have strong congressional leadership that could do some things for the country. That’s the great tragedy here.”

Congress historically has stepped in at times and flexed leadership muscle. Lyndon Johnson as Senate majority leader was one of the most forceful and effective in history. And in the mid-1990s, then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich was so adroit at setting the agenda that President Bill Clinton, at a press conference carried by only one major news network, felt he had to declare, “I am relevant. The Constitution gives me relevance.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell are not always adept at seizing the national spotlight, nor have they been able to unify the competing forces within their caucuses.

“Given the divisions within the Republican Party . . . it wouldn’t be easy under any circumstance,” said Bose, the historian from Hofstra. “I guess the question is, without any pattern of White House leadership to push a bill through to passage, is anything going to happen? The answer seems to be no.”

In some cases, congressional Republicans outperformed Trump in their home districts in the 2016 vote, so they don’t fear him politically or feel they risk repercussions if they ignore his policy desires. In other cases, Republicans have grown tired of his tweets and are willing to openly criticize the chief executive — as many did last week after his crude attacks on MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski and Joe Scarborough.

And while one of Trump’s frequent campaign claims was that he could win people over and cut deals, his tactics so far have seemed to have the opposite effect. What may have worked in the world of New York real estate and tabloid media has not translated well to Washington.

“Since he changes his mind all the time, they don’t want to commit to anything because they don’t trust him,” said Linda Fowler, a professor at Dartmouth College. “And trust is probably the most important thing a leader has going for him or her in terms of getting people to do things.”

Matt Viser can be reached at matt.viser@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mviser.

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Trump vows to stick with social media despite recent backlash – Fox News

President Trump on Saturday took to Twitter to reaffirm his strategy to use social media to combat what he sees as “fake news” from media outlets and get out his message.

Trump’s most recent controversy was his tweet claiming that MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski had a facelift and was “bleeding badly” during a meeting around New Year’s Eve at Mar-a-Lago.

The criticism for that tweet came from both sides of the aisles. Brzezinski, for her part, wrote a column in The Washington Post, saying that she—along with her co-host Joe Scarborough—are “certain” that Trump is “not mentally equipped to continue watching our show.”

She said she is doing fine. Scarborough continued, “We’re OK—the country is not.”

Trump tweeted on Saturday that his use of social media “is not Presidential—it’s MODERN DAY PRESIDENTIAL. Make America Great Again!”

He also tweeted that “the FAKE & FRAUDLENT NEWS MEDIA is working hard to convince Republicans and others I should not use social media—but remember, I won….the 2016 election with interviews, speeches and social media. I had to beat #FakeNews, and did. We will continue to WIN!”

Most of Trump’s critics would read that tweet and say: you may have won the election using that strategy, but now you are the president, and the role requires more seriousness and deference.

Maureen Dowd, a columnist for The New York Times, penned a column Saturday titled, “Cruella de Trump.” She writes, “Trump is isolated in the White House, out of his milieu, unable to shape the story, forced to interact with people he doesn’t own. Even the staffers folding his clothes aren’t on his payroll.”

Criticism for the Brzezinski tweet was not limited to The Times’ editorial page. Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., tweeted, “Please just stop. This isn’t normal and it’s beneath the dignity of your office.”

Fox News’ Brit Hume noted on Twitter: “Please explain how the president of the United States can be ‘bullied’ by the hosts of what he says it is a low-rated cable TV show? Absurd.” Hume tweeted again, “His Tweets make his critics more visible and they diminish him. It’s punching down and it’s a mug’s game.”

Perhaps one of the main concerns for Trump supporters who– like Ann Coulter—enjoy when Trump takes on opponents on social media, there seems to be no limit to what Trump will not post on Twitter.

The White House appears to position Trump’s Twitter use as an asset. Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee, said on Fox News—in response to the tweet—that Trump fights back.

“This is a president that fights fire with fire,” she said.

One of his most famous tweets was the one where he posted, “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Trump—once again on Twitter– said that he “did not make” and doesn’t have any recordings of his private conversations with ousted former FBI Director James Comey.

“With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information,” Trump said he has “no idea” whether there are “tapes” or recordings of the two men’s conversations. But he declares he “did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.”

Comey says any recordings that might exist would support his version that Trump asked him to pledge loyalty and urged him to drop the investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser.

“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey declared at a congressional hearing.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Edmund DeMarche is a news editor for FoxNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @EDeMarche.

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Arkansas nightclub shooting may be gang related, police say – CBS News

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Clubgoers screamed and scrambled for cover as dozens of gunshots rang out during a rap concert in downtown Little Rock early Saturday, leaving 28 people injured from an 11-second melee that police said may be gang-related. 

The volley of gunfire inside the Power Ultra Lounge came so fast that investigators believe multiple people had to have been involved. Police Chief Kenton Buckner credited quick work by first responders for there being no fatalities.

Twenty-five people between the ages of 16 and 35 suffered gunshot wounds, and three others were hurt, perhaps while fleeing, Buckner said. The victims come from across Central Arkansas and were sent to at least four nearby hospitals, CBS affiliate KTHV reports. Two people were in critical condition Saturday afternoon. 

Police said officers did not have any suspects in custody. 

Tennessee rapper Finese 2Tymes was peforming a concert on the second floor of the club when shots rang out.   

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The scene outside the Power Ultra Lounge in Little Rock after a shooting that injured 28.

KTVH

Dajuana Mixon, 19, an Army member, is in critical condition and is expected to recover, according to KTHV. 

“Critical condition and on the ventilator but I have faith in God. She will pull through,” her mother, Renea Domineck, told KTHV. “Whoever pick up guns they have to think about what if it was your family member. Would you want to sit at the hospital and pray your family member going to live?”

Courtney Swanigan, 23, told The Associated Press that when the gunfire rang out, “I just closed my eyes, got down on the ground and put my hands on my head.” 

“We heard gun shots, about 15 or 20 and we ducked down on the floor,” said Kyanna Bogan, who has a hurt foot. “We heard another round of gunshots and we were tumbling down the stairs to get out the door.”  

City officials said they would move Monday to shut down the club under a “criminal abatement” program. State regulators suspended the club’s liquor license earlier Saturday and Mayor Mark Stodola said the property’s manager was delivering an eviction notice. 

“We know we’ve got to use a hammer, we’ve got to use a big hammer on the people who would do violence with guns and hurt people,” Stodola said at an afternoon news conference.

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Footage inside a nightclub in Little Rock, Arkansas, showed the moment shots erupted during a concert on July 1, 2017.

Darryl Rankin

He said the city must “keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people” and suggested that people refuse to patronize clubs that seem to promote violence. Material advertising the concert by Finese 2Tymes showed a man pointing a gun at a camera.

“A promotional video with a gun on the front cover inviting people to a concert … should also be totally unacceptable in our community,” the mayor said.

The shooting capped a violent week in Arkansas’ largest city. Police had responded to a dozen drive-by shootings over the previous nine days.

“This does appear to be a continuation of disputes from some of our local groups,” Buckner said. “You’ve seen some of the things playing out in our streets that has resulted in drive-by shootings.”

The shooting occurred around 2:30 a.m. about 1 mile east of the state Capitol building. First-responders are stationed through the central part of the city and hospitals are a quick ride away.

“We had professional people responding to that incident and they did what they were trained to do, and I know they probably had something to do with the fact we didn’t have any fatalities,” Buckner said. He also credited divine intervention.

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A community prayer in Little Rock after a shooting that injured 28 people.

KTHV

About 100 people gathered at Second Baptist Church on Saturday night for a candlelight vigil, seeking healing for those injured, and the community. Stodola sat in the front row.

“God bless our community. … God bless our first responders,” Robert Holt, president of Let Our Violence End and pastor at Healing Waters Outreach Center, said at the vigil.

Top state officials offered to help the city respond to an increasing number of incidents.

“Little Rock’s crime problem appears to be intensifying,” Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement. “Every few days it seems a high-profile shooting dominates the news, culminating with this morning’s event. I have spoken this morning with Mayor (Mark) Stodola and I have offered both my heart felt concern over this senseless violent tragedy and state assets as needed to address the continued threat of violence in our community.”

A Facebook video posted from inside the club included audio of at least 24 rounds fired in about 11 seconds. Darryl Rankin, who posted the video, said a friend of his who attended the concert with him had a bullet “stuck in his spine.” Buckner said police had not yet spoken with the rapper, who he said has outstanding warrants in the state.

Calls to a number listed for Finese 2Tymes’ booking agent weren’t returned Saturday, but a message was posted on the artist’s Facebook page offering thoughts and prayers for those injured: “THE VIOLENCE IS NOT FOR THE CLUB PEOPLE. WE ALL COME WITH 1 MOTIVE AT THE END OF THE DAY, AND THATS TO HAVE FUN.”

Police cordoned off the area as technicians collected evidence from the scene, which is near a Roman Catholic cathedral and a First United Methodist Church center. A number of worshippers gathered for a funeral at St. Andrew’s while police continued their work.

Glass from the Power Ultra Lounge’s second-story windows littered the ground, along with empty drink cups. In the parking lot, a silver Toyota had what appeared to be a streak of blood on the front passenger-side door.

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An investigator collects evidence near an Arkansas nightclub where police say multiple people were shot, Saturday, July 1, 2017, in Little Rock, Ark.

Andrew DeMillo / AP

“I’m sick of all the killing and I’m tired of all the shooting. The kids getting hurt,” said Raida Bunche, who was waiting outside the club after hearing from a friend that her son had been inside. She found out later that he had run from the club when the shooting started and was not hurt.

Before Stodola announced that the city would shutter the club, officials at the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control office suspended the club’s liquor license and set a July 10 hearing on three potential charges: disorderly conduct, allowing possession of weapons on the premises and “failure to be a good neighbor.”

The club’s license has been suspended 11 times for failing to pay taxes, and it has been cited seven times for 14 various violations including unknowingly furnishing alcohol to minors and allowing alcohol to leave the premises since 2012, ABC Director of Enforcement Boyce Hamlet said.

Arkansas lawmakers this year passed a law allowing concealed handguns in bars, with permission of the businesses’ owners and if the gun permit holder completes additional training. The law takes effect Sept. 1, but the training likely won’t be available until next year.

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Hey, Democrats: Quit defending Obamacare! Let’s fix it — by moving toward a single-payer system – Salon

I’ve spent my life in politics, and the health care bill Mitch McConnell appears so desperate to revive is the single worst piece of legislation I’ve ever read. I say “appears” because I still can’t quite believe he wants to pass it. Its actual enactment would threaten his Senate majority as surely as it would the health of tens of millions of Americans. McConnell’s judgment is so clouded by partisanship and ideology one can easily see how he’d be blind to the bill’s moral dimensions. What’s harder to accept is that so sly a political fox wouldn’t sniff the enormous risk.

As is their custom, Democrats are doing all they can to help him reduce that risk. Hell-bent on proving they can beat something with nothing, they offer criticism but no alternative. Their one tangible vow is to save Obamacare, not fix it. They studiously avoid telling us how they’d do either. This approach has the advantage of allowing even the most corporatist Democrats to stage scripted protests; when nobody asks what anybody’s for, any street-fighting man can be a member of “the resistance.”

This fight feels like a reprise of the Democrats’ 2016 presidential campaign, heavy on moralizing, light on detail. Now as then, the words Democrats live by — “Why take a chance?” and “Don’t scare the donors” — leave them precious little to say. Sixty percent of Americans favor single-payer health care. Zero percent of Democratic leaders in Congress stand with them. The only other practical way to cut costs is a public option. Democrats only whisper its name. Why risk getting lost in the policy weeds or ruffling the feathers of their sometime allies in the insurance industry?

What they do instead is what Bill Clinton guru Dick Morris called “triangulation.” Democrats claim to hate Morris, but 20 years later still crib from his playbook. The idea is to seize the center-right and drive Republicans to the far right, so Democrats soft-pedal even a public option and train their sights on the richest Republican targets: a proposal to let insurers go back to denying coverage based on prior medical conditions, and one to slash Medicaid to finance another massive tax cut for plutocrats. Democrats talk of little else.

Clever, but what if Republicans figure out that to enact such policies would be covert suicide? What if they drop the tax cut and stretch out the Medicaid cuts to make them seem less draconian? Or ban insurers from denying coverage, but let them charge exorbitant prices for it? We may know soon. McConnell’s trying to do just that. It’s not inconceivable he’ll round up the 50 votes he needs. What then?

Republicans will have co-opted every Democratic talking point without adopting any Democratic policy they didn’t have to swallow just to pull their own caucuses together and save their own skins. The top 1 percent won’t get a windfall right away, but they’ll do fine, while millions of the poor and the middle class will be denied what all other developed countries regard as a basic human right. What will Democrats say? What they say now, I’d expect: Obamacare is good. Republicans are bad. Trump’s a liar and a fool. It’s not enough.

It doesn’t help in this fight that Democrats have retained the services of Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer. Pelosi, once a pretty good speaker, is now a very bad minority leader. It’s a job that requires a firm grasp of policy and the ability to live off the land, neither of which she has. Like Pelosi, Schumer rose by raising money from the rich and doling it out to colleagues. At heart a tactician, he’s better at explaining how a policy benefits his party than how it may benefit the public. His deep ties to Wall Street subvert the party’s core values, identity and mission.

Pelosi and Schumer bleat on about “bipartisan legislative fixes” and challenge McConnell to “come to the table.” To discuss what? How many elderly and disabled to throw off Medicaid? They see the bipartisanship riff as a harmless pander, but it fosters a false equivalency and gives Republicans much-needed cover. There won’t be any bipartisan negotiation. Calling for one only makes GOP extremists look respectable. Fixing health care means moving in a whole other direction. Why waste time pretending otherwise?

Democrats spend lots of time “defending Obama’s legacy.” I suppose it’s unavoidable. But Obamacare doesn’t need to be defended. It needs to be fixed, and not just tweaked. We start with a strategic choice: Go direct to single-payer, or look first to a public option? As I know a bit about the latter, I’ll take a stab at framing the issue.

Twenty-six years ago, I proposed what I think was the first public option introduced in a legislative chamber in America. I’d just been elected Connecticut state comptroller and was the final signatory on the state employee health care contract. Negotiations with insurers were coming up and I was trying to get up to speed. Reading the plan, I saw how good it was and wondered if there were a way to open it up to the public. I found people in Connecticut and other states mulling over similar ideas, but nowhere was a program underway. I almost flinched. I was new to the job. The insurance industry, a local behemoth, wouldn’t be happy.

But the idea, if enacted, could transform the marketplace and it had an irresistible simplicity. We’d open the state-employee plan to small business, the self-employed, nonprofits, municipalities and municipal retirees. The program would be mandatory for municipalities and their retirees but voluntary for everyone else. If you liked it you could stay; if not, you could go right back to getting gouged in the individual market. Everyone paid their own way, so state taxpayers were off the hook. In fact, the state saved money, first due to lower per-capita overhead costs and then to lower prices due to increased market clout. In the fight over Obamacare, analyses by the Office of Management and Budget, the Congressional Budget Office and staff of the Bowles-Simpson Commission all found the same thing. Having government provide a public option lowers government’s own cost by a whole lot.

The big winners were those refugees from the individual market, small businesses and the self-employed. They often paid double what big corporate or government buyers paid and for worse coverage. Insurers said it was because they got sicker and it cost more to solicit and administer their business, but wouldn’t divulge data to back up the claim. I soon realized the industry was lying. Small businesses pay more for insurance for the same reason groceries cost more in inner cities; they had no market clout of their own. Our initial survey was startling. By lending them our clout we could cut their health care costs by a quarter to a third. That’s how much rent our antiquated, parasitic insurance industry was extracting from them.

The president of the Connecticut State Senate was my then-rival and now good friend John Larson, today a leader in Congress. He loved the idea and introduced the bill. It passed the Senate. The uproar from the industry was instantaneous and deafening. Angry men in expensive suits crawled the Capitol. The bill died in the House. It was reintroduced every year for 20 years, but never passed.

In 2008, candidate Barack Obama backed a public option and opposed a mandate that would force people to purchase insurance. He observed drily, and correctly, that the main reason most people don’t buy health care is because they can’t afford it. His chief primary opponent, Hillary Clinton, promised the opposite: a mandate but no public option. Obama made other related promises, among them that he’d allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices. He even vowed to let C-SPAN cameras into heretofore secret health care negotiations.

In office, Obama reversed himself. In early 2009, in meetings to which he forgot to invite C-SPAN, he made private pacts with leaders of the insurance and drug industries. He dropped negotiated drug prices and the public option, and picked up Clinton’s mandate. Experts said he needed it to pay for the whole thing. But it also guaranteed insurers permanent, expanded control of the “market.” According to his own analysts, he thus passed on the two greatest sources of savings in his entire plan.

The fatal flaw of the Affordable Care Act is that it costs too much. Early on in the debate over the bill, we heard the novel phrase “bending the cost curve,” a sure sign the White House had given up on actually cutting costs. Those hardest hit were the very small businesses and self-employed the public option was meant to serve. When the law took effect in 2014, a single person previously insured and earning $46,000 a year got no public subsidy but saw her premiums, deductibles and copays soar. Many lost what coverage they had, and paid a fine to boot. When they realized what had been done to them, they didn’t need Fox News to rile them up.

In 2016, backers of Hillary Clinton called Bernie Sanders’ single-payer plan a “fairy tale,” but the real fantasy is that you can grandfather in the insurance and pharmaceutical industries and still contain costs. Obamacare brought health insurance to upwards of 20 million people, an historic achievement. But for the millions of unsubsidized, the mandates and exchanges with which it is most closely identified just made life harder.

America is descending into cartel capitalism. It’s become a nation of middlemen we call “entrepreneurs” but who are really mere gatekeepers and toll collectors. Own the pipeline, own the product. It’s why Google gets money that should go to the New York Times (and Salon), and why Comcast owns NBC. New technologies account for some of the phenomenon. Pay-to-play politics accounts for the rest.

By reputable accounts, close to 30 cents of every health care dollar we spend goes to overhead. As it happens, Canada has the second-highest overhead in the world, at about 16 cents. If we could just tie Canada for last place rather than having it all to ourselves, we’d save enough money to pay for the health care of every one of the 20 million people served by Obamacare, and all of the 28 million it has yet to reach. We could even bring relief to those left out of its equation, who due to high copays and deductibles must splurge on insurance and scrimp on care.

A single-payer system is, hands down, the most cost-effective way to finance and administer health care. But how do we get there? Recent experiences in Vermont and California suggest the barriers to entry at the state level are high, due largely to fragmentation of program jurisdiction. Progressives, who at present are the only political force in the country dedicated to the kind of systemic change the system needs — and the public overwhelmingly supports — must consider their next move carefully.

We must build our system piece by piece, and at low transition cost. A “robust” public option, one that is self-administered as well as self-insured, would do the trick. Our workforce totals 125 million people. Government, nonprofits and businesses employing 100 or fewer people account for one-third of that total. If state employee plans were to invite the others in, they’d quickly recoup their investment and see savings of their own. A third of the country could soon be enjoying its own single-payer health care system, with the rest busting down the door to get in.

Bill Curry

Bill Curry was White House counselor to President Clinton and a two-time Democratic nominee for governor of Connecticut. He is at work on a book on President Obama and the politics of populism.


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Trump Praises Veterans, Hits Media At Kennedy Center Event – HuffPost

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump honored military veterans in Washington on Saturday at a Kennedy Center event that resembled both a political rally and an evangelical Christian religious service ahead of the July 4 Independence Day holiday.

Using the podium again to lash out at the news media, Trump worked to energize evangelicals in his political base, noting that the U.S. currency was inscribed with the words: “In God We Trust.”

“Since the signing of the Declaration of Independence 241 years ago, America always affirmed that liberty comes from our creator. Our rights are given to us by God, and no earthly force can ever take those rights away,” he said.

Attendees at the event for veterans waved miniature American flags from their seats in the theater and raised their hands as a sign of praise while a large choir sang ahead of Trump’s remarks.

.@POTUS: “The fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House but I’m president and they’re not.” pic.twitter.com/QdqF7h7CbU

— Fox News (@FoxNews) July 2, 2017

 Attendees at the event for veterans waved miniature American flags from their seats in the theater and raised their hands as a sign of praise while a large choir sang ahead of Trump’s remarks.

The president praised veterans from each of the U.S. military branches and highlighted his administration’s work to reform veterans’ services.

Trump, who is spending a long weekend at his property in Bedminster, New Jersey, flew back to Washington for the rally but did not spend the night at the White House, preferring to return to Bedminster.

Trump has held campaign-like rallies regularly during his first few months in the White House and kicked off his own re-election campaign far earlier than other incumbents in recent history.

Part of his strategy to connect with his supporters has included criticizing the media, and he included harsh words for the press again in his remarks.

“The fake media is trying to silence us, but we will not let them,” he said. “The fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House. But I’m president, and they’re not.”

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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Trump hits media, honors veterans in first 4th of July speech as president – The Hill

President Trump used his first 4th of July speech in office on Saturday to honor veterans, and continue to hit the media.

“The fake media tried to stop us from going to the White House, but I’m president and they’re not,” Trump said, headlining the Celebrate Freedom Concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

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“The fact is the press destroyed themselves because they went too far. Instead of being subtle and smart, they used the hatchet and the people saw it right from the beginning,” he continued.

“The dishonest media will not stop us from accomplishing our objectives on behalf of the American people. Their agenda is not your agenda,” he said rallying his supporters.

Trump’s comments come after he has intensified his attacks on the news media over the past week, going as far to launch a highly personal attack on MSNBC host Mika Brzezinski, calling her “crazy” and “low I.Q,” as well as claiming she was bleeding from a facelift over New Years Eve at Mar-a-Lago last year.

“The fact is the press destroyed themselves because they went too far. Instead of being subtle and smart, they used the hatchet and the people saw it right from the beginning,” he said.

The president did address issues related to military members and their families, referencing the recently signed Veterans Accountability Act.

“There is no place I would rather be than with you,” he said to the majority military audience.

Trump said past administrations had failed to address the problems with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, touting his move to create the Veterans Accountability Act.”

“[Now] you can finally say you’re fired,” Trump said praising the act. “I was left a mess, the fact is, but we’re cleaning it up. You watch,”

The president flew from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey to the event, and returned after his address. 

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