Supreme Court to take case on baker who refused to sell wedding cake to gay couple – Washington Post

By ,

The Supreme Court on Monday said it will consider next term whether a Denver baker unlawfully discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to sell them a wedding cake.

Lower courts had ruled that Jack Phillips, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop, had violated Colorado’s public accommodations law, which prohibits refusing service to customers based on factors such as race, sex, marital status or sexual orientation.

There are similar lawsuits from florists, calligraphers and others who say their religious beliefs won’t allow them to provide services for same-sex weddings. But they have found little success in the courts, which have ruled that public businesses must comply with state anti-discrimination laws.

[Colorado court sides against baker who cited religious beliefs, refused same-sex marriage cake order]

The court granted the case after weeks of considering it. In 2014, the justices declined to revisit a New Mexico Supreme Court decision that found that a photographer violated a state civil rights law when she declined to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony.

Since then, the high court has found that marriage is a fundamental right that states may not prohibit to gay couples.

The justices also reversed the Arkansas Supreme Court and said the state must list same-sex parents on birth certificates in the state. To refuse, the court said, is to deny married same-sex couples the full “constellation of benefits” that government has linked to marriage.

Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined Justice Neil M. Gorsuch’s dissent, which said the law regarding such issues is not yet settled and stable.

The Washington Supreme Court found that Barronelle Stutzman, owner of Arlene’s Flowers in Richland, Wash., violated a state civil rights law that bars discrimination in public businesses on the basis of sexual orientation. The court also ruled that the law does not infringe on her free speech.

The Texas Supreme Court is considering a challenge to Houston’s provision that gives the same benefits to spouses of gay workers as it does to those of straight workers. Gay rights activists say the Supreme Court’s 2015 landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges should have settled the issue.

[Supreme Court rules gay couples nationwide have right to marry]

In the Colorado case, David Mullins and Charlie Craig visited Masterpiece Cakeshop in July 2012, along with Craig’s mother, to order a cake for their upcoming wedding reception. Mullins and Craig planned to marry in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriages were legal at the time, and then hold a reception in Colorado.

But Phillips refused to discuss the issue, saying his religious beliefs would not allow him to have anything to do with same-sex marriage. He said other bakeries would accommodate them.

The couple filed a complaint, and in 2014, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission determined that Phillips’s action violated state law. That ruling was upheld in Colorado state courts.

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Koch Network ‘Disappointed’ in Health Care Bill, Targets Midterm Elections –

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Just days before an expected Senate vote on the Republican health care plan, the leaders of the Charles and David Koch network had few words of praise for the GOP bill at a retreat here this weekend. Top aides of the organization say they are “disappointed” with the bill’s contents because, in their view, it doesn’t do enough to dismantle the Affordable Care Act but say they are working to make it better.

“At the end of the day, this bill is not going to fix health care,” said James Davis, a spokesperson for the Koch network, an affiliation of groups run by the politically active billionaire businessmen.

The semi-annual gathering brought together donors who contribute at least $100,000 per year to the upscale Broadmoor resort at the foot of the Rocky Mountains to discuss policy — and the next campaign.

The organization plans to spend between $300 and $400 million on politics and policy in the 2018 mid-term election, which is more than the network spent in the 2016 election when they stayed on the sidelines of the presidential election because of their distaste for then-candidate Donald Trump. The organization, however, has spent the past three election cycles drumming up opposition to Obamacare and running campaigns against it.

Related: GOP Health Bill Breaks Trump’s Promise to Lower Deductibles

While panels here included a broad range of their conservative and libertarian policy and political priorities, and fundraising for them, health care was a persistent topic.

Attendees include six senators and five House members who mingled among the nearly 400 donors over the course of the three-day event. Five of the six senators in attendance have said they are either undecided or opposed to the Senate GOP’s Better Care Reconciliation Act as it is currently written.

Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a repeat guest of the Kochs, participated in a discussion open to the press where he was asked by the moderator if he’d support the Senate bill. Sasse demurred, saying, “The press is here, right? I have nothing to announce.”

Sasse admitted to dodging the question, telling the moderator who noted his evasiveness, “I was actually ducking, but whatever” to laughter.

Sasse did express some of his concern with the bill, saying that it doesn’t take into account employee mobility in the health care system. He said that he also hasn’t finished reading the 143-page bill and said it’s little more than a “Medicaid reform package.”

Just days after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell unveiled his plan that repeals all of Obamacare’s taxes on the wealthy and the health insurance industry and dramatically cuts Medicaid, the organizations under the Koch umbrella remain largely opposed to it because of the subsidies for people to purchase insurance and, they say, it doesn’t do enough to rid insurance companies of coverage requirements.

They vowed to challenge Republicans who don’t support their objectives.

“Our network voraciously opposed Medicaid expansion in state after state,” said Tim Phillips, head of Americans for Prosperity, during a session with reporters who had to be invited to attend.

“These Republicans who expanded Medicaid were flatly wrong,” Phillips added, referring to Govs. Brian Sandoval of Nevada and John Kasich of Ohio among others. “So we’re going to continue holding these Republicans accountable.”

Related: Senators Urge Slowdown on Senate Health Care Vote

Two senators in attendance, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Jeff Flake of Arizona, have pressing concerns about the politics of health care when it comes to 2018. Flake is expected to have a difficult re-election campaign next year and Gardner is head of the campaign committee that works to elect Republicans to the senate and often attends the Koch retreats, which is a fruitful opportunity to recruit donors to the NRSC. Both have said they need to consult with their governors and stakeholders in their state before they decide how they vote on the measure that is likely to come up for a vote this week.

Others at the retreat included conservatives Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas who both came out last week opposing the bill in its current form, taking similar positions as the Kochs.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, the second ranking Republican in the Senate, was also there. As the Republican whip, tasked with finding the votes to pass the measure. “It’s going to be close,” Cornyn told reporters here of the vote expected at the end of this week.

When asked if President Donald Trump was going to help pass health care this week, Cornyn said, “We’re trying to hold him back a little bit.” A super PAC backing President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence announced that they’d run a million dollar ad campaign against Republican Senator Dean Heller in Nevada after he announced his opposition to the health care bill.

Cruz was seen in deep discussion with Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who helped to usher in the a compromise amendment with moderate Rep. Tom MacArthur, R-N.J., that led to the passage of the House health care plan last month.

Meadows told a small group of reporters that he could support the Senate bill if changes were made, including a proposal by Cruz that would allow states to offer Obamacare plans along side non-compliant Obamacare insurance that lack robust coverage.

Cornyn said he’s been talking with Lee and Cruz to “address their concerns.”

The Koch network, through the non-profit Americans for Prosperity and the super PAC Freedom Partners, came out strongly against the House health care bill until changes were made that reduced requirements on insurance companies that they must offer robust, and in effect, more expensive health plans.

The Koch group has mixed reactions overall to the Trump administration. They praise his nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court and his effort at rolling back regulations and reforming the Veterans Affairs Department. But they are disappointed with their disinterest in moving forward on criminal justice reform.

Marc Holden, co-chair of the network, said that despite set backs with Jeff Sessions as attorney general, they’re “still grinding on it” at the federal level. Holden adds that there are a few allies within the Trump administration who support their bipartisan efforts to undo overly stringent sentences for nonviolent offenders and make it easier for convicted felons to re-enter society after time served.

“We’re still excited about the progress on Capitol Hill,” Holden said, predicting that criminal justice reforms would get the support of 70 senators.

One of the featured guests at this seminar is former Dallas Cowboys player Deion Sanders. He partnered with Koch-backed Standing Together on a $21 million effort to fight poverty in Dallas.

“We’re going to make life so much easier for others,” Sanders said during a plenary session with Charles Koch. “It doesn’t take courage to stand with this man. It takes common sense to stand with this man.”

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Senate Republicans face key week as more lawmakers waver in support for health-care bill – Washington Post

By Ashley Parker, and ,

Senate Republicans are facing down an increasingly daunting challenge to secure the votes necessary to pass legislation to dramatically change President Barack Obama’s signature health-care law, and several senators said they would like more time to debate and tweak the plan as GOP leaders push for a vote this week.

At least five Republicans have already come out against their party’s bill — which can only afford to lose two votes — and over the weekend, more began expressing serious reservations and skepticism about the proposal.

The mounting dissatisfaction leaves Senate Republican leaders and the White House in a difficult position. In the coming days, moves to narrow the scope of the overhaul could appeal to moderates but anger conservatives, who believe the legislation does not go far enough to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.

A key moment will arrive early this week when the Congressional Budget Office releases an analysis of the bill that estimates how many people could lose coverage under the Republican plan, as well as what impact it might have on insurance premiums and how much money it could save the government.

The stalled Republican effort to pass a sweeping rewrite of the Affordable Care Act was further threatened Sunday when Republican senators from opposite sides of the party’s ideological spectrum voiced their disapproval, imperiling hopes for a Senate vote this week and President Trump’s chance to fulfill a core campaign pledge. 

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on Sunday expressed deep concerns about how the bill would cut expanded Medicaid funding for states, a key pillar of the Affordable Care Act that several centrists in the Senate are wary of rolling back, saying on ABC’s “This Week” that she worries about “what it means to our most vulnerable citizens.”

Collins also said she is concerned about the bill’s impact on the cost of insurance premiums and deductibles, especially for older Americans. 

“I’m going to look at the whole bill before making a decision,” she said, later adding, “It’s hard for me to see the bill passing this week.”

Underscoring the challenge facing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), speaking on the same Sunday show, also voiced concerns with the bill — but for entirely different reasons.

Paul — who, along with fellow Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Mike Lee of Utah, has already said he cannot support the current bill — rejected the Republican plan as not fiscally austere enough but said that in the face of an impasse, he could support legislation that simply repeals Obama’s health-care law.

“I’ve been telling leadership for months now I’ll vote for a repeal,” Paul said. “And it doesn’t have to be a 100-percent repeal. So, for example, I’m for 100-percent repeal, that’s what I want. But if you me 90-percent repeal, I’d probably vote for it. I might vote for 80-percent repeal.”

But simply repealing Obamacare or large parts of the law without making any other changes to the nation’s health-care system is not a realistic political possibility at the moment.

McConnell and his team remain convinced they must call a vote soon to avoid having health-care discussions dominate the summer, when they aim to move on to retooling tax legislation. In their circle, further talks are also seen as an opening for others to bolt.

“It’s not going to get any easier,” Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) told reporters on the sidelines of a three-day seminar organized by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch in Colorado Springs. “And, yes, I think August is the drop deadline, about August 1.”

As senators took to the airwaves Sunday, there were developments behind the scenes as GOP leaders made calls and worked to cobble together votes. But no firm decisions on vote-winning revisions were made.

There was new talk among key GOP figures about wooing moderates by altering the bill’s Medicaid changes, according to two people involved who would not speak publicly. By tweaking how federal funding is determined for Medicaid recipients and linking aspects to the medical component of the consumer price index, there is a belief that some moderates could be swayed, since they want assurances that funding would keep up with any rises in the cost of care, the people said.

Then would come the tightrope: If some senators can be persuaded to support revisions to the Medicaid portion of the bill, several conservatives are warning that unless their amendments are also included, they are unlikely to support the legislation. The hope is that a combination of those Medicaid changes and amendments from conservatives could pave the way to passage.

Progress in these conversations could postpone a vote for a couple weeks until after the Fourth of July holiday, the people said, but Senate leadership and the White House want to move this week if they can.

The administration itself, meanwhile, is sending mixed signals. An allied leadership PAC is launching an intensive advertising campaign against centrist Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), a no vote, to pressure him to support the bill. And on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, said Trump “is working the phones, he’s having personal meetings, and he’s engaging with leaders.”

Still, the president’s own support for the legislation has at times been lukewarm. Over the weekend, he acknowledged he once called the initial Republican bill, which originated in the House, “mean” in a private meeting, but also urged senators on Twitter to pass it. 

Trump’s aides have seemed to signal that the White House is more likely to support the final Senate proposal over the original House bill going forward, and speaking this weekend on “Fox & Friends,” Trump said, “I want to see a bill with heart.”

Conway added that “the president and the White House are also open to getting Democratic votes,” and asked, “Why can’t we get a single Democrat to come to the table, to come to the White House, to speak to the president or anyone else about trying to improve a system that has not worked for everyone?”

But Democratic support seems unlikely. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), speaking on “This Week,” said Democrats would only sit down with Republicans if they stop trying repeal Obamacare. In an interview with The Washington Post, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) spoke of trying to postpone a vote on the bill to mount a stronger fight against it.

“One of the strategies is to just keep offering amendments, to delay this thing and delay this thing at least until after the July Fourth break,” Sanders said. “That would give us the opportunity to rally the American people in opposition to it. I think we should use every tactic that we can to delay this thing.”

In fact — despite Trump’s campaign promise he would not cut Medicaid — the Senate bill includes deep cuts to projected spending on the program, deeper even than the House bill over the long run, and is expected to leave millions without or unable to afford health insurance.

On Sunday, there was also some confusion — or misdirection — about what exactly the Senate bill would do. Speaking on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), claimed the Republican plan “will codify and make permanent the Medicaid expansion,” and added, “No one loses coverage.” His comments echoed those by Conway, who told “This Week,” “These are not cuts to Medicaid.”

Johnson, the senator from Wisconsin who surprised some fellow Republicans by co-signing a letter asking for more changes to the bill, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that there was no hurry to vote before the end of June.

“There’s no way we should be voting on this next week. No way,” Johnson said. “I have a hard time believing Wisconsin constituents or even myself will have enough time to properly evaluate this, for me to vote for a motion to proceed.”

At the same time, Johnson said he was not a pure no on the bill.

Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), who criticized the secretive process by which the new bill was crafted and had preferred his own compromise to extend most of the Affordable Care Act, struck a similar tone on “Face the Nation.” After saying he was undecided, he clarified that small changes could win his vote.

“There are things in this bill that adversely affect my state that are peculiar to my state,” Cassidy said. “If those can be addressed, I will. If they can’t be addressed, I won’t. So right now, I am undecided.”

Progressive activists spent the weekend warning that Republicans such as Johnson and Cassidy could vote for the bill with minor tweaks. In Columbus, Ohio, at the second of three rallies Sanders and organized to pressure swing-state Republican senators, MoveOn’s Washington director, Ben Wikler, warned a crowd of at least 1,000 activists that the protests of Senate Republicans might amount to nothing more than kabuki theater.

“This is the week when Mitch McConnell and Republicans are going to introduce these tiny amendments and Republicans are going to say, ‘Oh, the bill is fixed! Oh, I can vote for it now!’ ” Wikler warned. “Are we going to let him get away with that?”

And looming over the discussions is another challenge: the Republican-controlled House, where any revised Senate bill would head and its ultimate fate would be decided. According to a White House official, Trump advisers are keeping in close touch with the conservative House Freedom Caucus — which helped tank the White House’s initial health-care push — as the Senate considers the bill, making sure that whatever ends up passing could pass muster with House conservatives.

David Weigel reported from Columbus, Ohio. James Hohmann in Colorado Springs contributed to this report.

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John McEnroe: Serena Williams would be ‘like No. 700 in world’ on men’s circuit – ESPN

5:48 PM ET

  • news services

Seven-time major champion John McEnroe, when asked, can confidently say Serena Williams has earned the designation as the greatest woman to play tennis.

However, in an interview Sunday as part of the book tour promoting his new memoir “But Seriously,” McEnroe qualified her greatness by telling NPR that if Serena played on the men’s circuit she’d be “like No. 700 in the world.”

“That doesn’t mean I don’t think Serena is an incredible player. I do, but the reality of what would happen on a given day is Serena could beat some players, I believe, because she is so incredibly strong mentally,” McEnroe said.

“But if she had to just play the circuit — the men’s circuit — that would be an entirely different story.”

McEnroe went on to say that maybe at some point a women’s tennis player can be better than anybody.

“I just haven’t seen it in any other sport, and I haven’t seen it in tennis. I suppose anything’s possible at some stage.”

McEnroe has praised Williams in the past. When she won Wimbledon in 2015, McEnroe called Serena “arguably the greatest athlete of the last 100 years.” And after Williams’ US Open victory in 2012, McEnroe stated, “You’re watching, to me, the greatest player to ever play the game.”

At 33, with that 2015 Wimbledon victory, Williams became the oldest woman to win a Grand Slam title, surpassing by 26 days Martina Navratilova and her Wimbledon title in 1990.

Serena has 23 singles Grand Slams and 14 more in doubles. Roger Federer, by comparison, has 18 singles Slams and none in doubles.

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Senate Leaders Try to Appease Members as Support for Health Bill Slips – New York Times

WASHINGTON — Senate Republican leaders scrambled Sunday to rally support for their health care bill even as opposition continued to build outside Congress and two Republican senators questioned whether the bill would be approved this week.

President Trump expressed confidence that the bill to repeal the guts of the Affordable Care Act would be approved.

“Health care is a very, very tough thing to get,” Mr. Trump said Sunday on the Fox News Channel. “But I think we’re going to get it. We don’t have too much of a choice, because the alternative is the dead carcass of Obamacare.”

The Run-Up

The podcast that makes sense of the most delirious stretch of the 2016 campaign.

Over the weekend, senators and their aides were poring over the bill, drafting possible amendments, preparing speeches and compiling personal stories from constituents who they portrayed as either beneficiaries or victims of the Affordable Care Act.

The bill was drafted in secret by the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who unveiled it on Thursday. Mr. McConnell wants a vote this week, before lawmakers take a break for the Fourth of July holiday.

But the bill’s supporters were battling a dire internal threat: reluctant Republicans. Senator Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, said Sunday that “there’s no way we should be voting” on the legislation this week. “No way.”

“I have a hard time believing Wisconsin constituents or even myself will have enough time to properly evaluate this for me to vote for a motion to proceed” to the legislation, Mr. Johnson said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

And Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” said: “It’s hard for me to see the bill passing this week, but that’s up to the majority leader. We could well be in all night a couple of nights.”

Senate Republican leaders were trying to lock down Republican votes by funneling money to red states, engineering a special deal for Alaska and arguing that they could insure more people at a lower cost than the House, which passed a repeal bill last month.

But the forces arrayed against the Republican push to dismantle President Barack Obama’s signature domestic achievement are formidable. Much of the nation’s $3 trillion health care industry opposes the bill. And Mr. McConnell has done little to woo the health care stakeholders who were assiduously courted by Mr. Obama from his first months in office as he fought for his legislation.

The outside forces against the bill also appear to be growing: Top lieutenants in the conservative Koch brothers’ political network sharply criticized the legislation over the weekend, saying it was insufficiently conservative and did not do enough to rein in the growth of Medicaid. And a number of Republican governors have joined doctors, hospitals and patient advocacy groups in opposing the bill, in part because of its cuts to Medicaid.

Mr. McConnell has only a few days to wheel, deal and cajole reluctant senators to get behind legislation that has grown less popular with more exposure. He has considerable firepower to win votes, by guaranteeing amendments that would address the concerns of individual Republican senators, playing on their loyalty to him and their fealty to conservative voters still demanding an end to the Affordable Care Act. At the same time, Democrats say, he has striking liabilities. Mr. Trump has endorsed the bill, and Democrats say they will take every opportunity to link the legislation to an unpopular president.

Republicans have endlessly cataloged problems with the Affordable Care Act, which they deride as “Obamacare,” but party leaders face a bigger challenge now as they try to persuade wavering Republican senators and a skeptical public that they have a better plan. Democrats have met that push with withering criticism, saying “Trumpcare” is far worse.

And the Democratic wall of opposition is backed by less partisan voices. Senators are being flooded with appeals like this from the advocacy arm of the American Cancer Society: “Cancer is scary enough. Don’t take away our coverage.”

The American Childhood Cancer Organization, a charitable group formed by parents, is mobilizing a small army of grass-roots lobbyists with the message that the Senate Republican bill, with its deep cuts in Medicaid, “will threaten the lives of children battling cancer.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said the Senate bill was “unacceptable as written” and would “wreak havoc on low-income families.” At the same time, the bishops said they liked two sections of the bill that seek to “prohibit the use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortion or plans that cover it.”

Meantime, Republicans are finding allies to be few and inconstant. Mr. Trump has said that “Obamacare is dead” and that he is “very supportive” of the Senate bill. But that support will be of limited help to Mr. McConnell. Few senators feel loyal to Mr. Trump, whose erratic message has often weakened his influence on Capitol Hill.

After pushing for passage of the House repeal bill, he criticized it as “mean” a few weeks later. A spokeswoman, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said last week that Mr. Trump did not necessarily support cuts to Medicaid, even though his budget and the Senate bill would make such cuts.

So far, five Republican senators have announced they cannot support the health care bill as drafted: Dean Heller of Nevada, who says the measure cuts coverage too deeply, and four conservatives — Rand Paul of Kentucky, Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah and Mr. Johnson — who say it does not do enough to lower health costs. Other Republicans, like Ms. Collins and Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, have expressed misgivings.

Republicans have assembled reams of data to show that premiums are soaring and choices are shrinking as insurers withdraw from markets in many states. They assert that Democrats have no constructive solutions. And they will use Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont as a punching bag.

Mr. Sanders has long advocated a single-payer health care system, what he calls “Medicare for all,” and he repeated that position on “Meet the Press’’ on Sunday. The No. 2 Senate Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, said Mr. Sanders had become “the chief spokesman for the Democrats in the Senate” on solutions to “the failures of Obamacare.”

But that criticism comes amid a striking shift in public opinion. Fifty-one percent of Americans now have favorable views of the Affordable Care Act, according to a monthly tracking poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation. “That’s the first time in our 79 tracking polls over seven years that this share has topped 50 percent,’’ said Craig Palosky, a spokesman for the foundation.

Medicaid is by far the largest program of federal grants to the states, and state officials are always trying to tweak the formula for distributing that money to their advantage.

In his budget request to Congress, Mr. Trump said he wanted to “cap federal funding for the Medicaid program,” and the House and Senate bills would do just that, converting Medicaid from an open-ended entitlement program to a system of per-capita payments for beneficiaries.

A novel feature of the Senate bill would redistribute federal Medicaid money from higher spending states like New York to lower spending states like Alabama.

One noteworthy exception to this provision is tailor-made for Alaska. “This paragraph shall not apply to any state that has a population density of less than 15 individuals per square mile,” it says.

Only five states — Alaska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming — meet that criterion, and Alaska’s two Republican senators have expressed concern about the bill’s potential effect on their state, where medical costs are exceptionally high.

Ms. Murkowski said federal legislation must recognize the state’s high costs. Premiums on the insurance exchange in Alaska average about $1,000 a month for an individual, according to federal data. But the special provision may not be enough to win her vote. Ms. Murkowski is also concerned about two other sections of Mr. McConnell’s bill, one that would cut federal funds for the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and another that would block federal Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood.

The Senate Republican bill sets Medicaid spending targets for each state. A state that exceeds its target is subject to financial penalties. But the bill would tweak these targets “to promote program equity across states.”

If a state’s Medicaid spending per beneficiary is more than 25 percent above the national average, its spending target would be reduced by the secretary of health and human services. If a state’s spending is more than 25 percent below the national average, its target would be increased.

These adjustments must be made in a way that does not increase federal spending, so states will, in effect, be vying with one another for a limited pot of federal money.

Democrats said the reallocations would often take money from blue states and give it to red states, because Democratic states often have more generous Medicaid programs with higher levels of spending.

Republicans said the reallocations were not only good politics, but also good policy. “Some states are fiscally conservative, and others are fiscally out of control,” said a Republican aide working on the legislation. “Some states may be overspending while others may not be spending enough.”

Senate Republicans say that other provisions of their health care bill will make it possible to insure more people at lower cost than the House bill.

Sheryl R. Skolnick, an analyst at Mizuho Securities who follows the health care industry, said this might be possible if the subsidies are smaller and the benefits are “skinnier.” Currently, she said, subsidies are tied to the price of a “silver plan” that covers 70 percent of the medical costs for a typical consumer. Under the Senate bill, the subsidies would be linked to the price of a plan that covers 58 percent of those costs.

“Smaller subsidies on lower premiums mean lower spending and more coverage,” Ms. Skolnick said.

But those lower-price plans typically have much higher deductibles. “People may be paying less, but they will be getting less,” said Jeanne M. Lambrew, a health policy coordinator at the White House under Mr. Obama.

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Pakistan oil tanker truck explosion kills at least 120 – CNN

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Trump lashes out at Obama over latest report on Russian election meddling – Washington Post

President Trump on Saturday called out Obama administration officials for not taking stronger actions against Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, contradicting his past statements and suggesting without proof that they were trying to help Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

His tweets came after The Post revealed Friday that the Obama White House had received reports as early as August 2016 regarding Russian President Vladimir Putin’s direct involvement in the cyber campaign with instructions to defeat or damage Clinton and help to elect Trump, according to “sourcing deep inside the Russian government.”

The Washington Post’s national security reporters unveil the deep divisions inside the Obama White House over how to respond to Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. (Whitney Leaming,Osman Malik/The Washington Post)

The Obama administration would not publicly say Russia was attempting to interfere with the election until Oct. 7, and the news of Putin’s attempts to aid Trump would not surface until after the election.

Trump has long disputed that the Russians interfered with the election, calling it “all a big Dem HOAX” just this week.

But on Friday evening, after the publication of The Post’s article, Trump demanded to know why Obama hadn’t done more to stop the meddling.

Just out: The Obama Administration knew far in advance of November 8th about election meddling by Russia. Did nothing about it. WHY?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2017

He followed up with more tweets on Saturday, attempting to put the focus on Obama’s inaction.

Since the Obama Administration was told way before the 2016 Election that the Russians were meddling, why no action? Focus on them, not T!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2017

The Post’s article explains in detail why Obama, who reportedly was gravely concerned by an August CIA report about the hacking,  managed to approve only “largely symbolic” sanctions before he left office.

Those reasons included partisan squabbling among members of Congress, initial skepticism by other intelligence agencies about the CIA’s findings, and an assumption that Clinton would win the election and follow up.

“We made the judgment that we had ample time after the election, regardless of outcome, for punitive measures,” a senior administration official said in the article.

Trump, however, raised his own theories.

Obama Administration official said they “choked” when it came to acting on Russian meddling of election. They didn’t want to hurt Hillary?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 24, 2017

He provided no explanation or evidence for why this would have helped Clinton.

How on Earth would that hurt Hillary? You literally are so desperate…

— William LeGate (@williamlegate) June 24, 2017

The Post article recounts how Obama learned about the Russian intrusions and the administration’s attempts to find support to make the information public.

According to the article, less than a month after 20,000 stolen Democratic Party emails were leaked to the public, a CIA memo warned Obama that the hack had been ordered by Putin in an attempt to “defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee.”

Interviews with administration officials revealed that Obama directly confronted Putin over the allegations during a meeting of world leaders in China. He also ordered his deputies to safeguard the election and seek bipartisan support from congressional leaders to condemn Russia’s actions.

“The administration encountered obstacles at every turn,” write Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima and Adam Entous.

Complacency may have also undercut the administration’s efforts to punish Russia. Like many polls suggested, it believed Clinton would win despite the hacks.

By his final weeks, aside from warnings and rhetoric, Obama had  approved only narrow sanctions and a plan to plant “cyberweapons in Russia’s infrastructure” — if the next president so chose.

As one senior Obama official told The Post, “I feel like we sort of choked,” which Trump would quote in his tweet.

As he has with other newsmaking events, Trump used the article to argue that a months-long focus by the media, Congress and federal investigators on his campaign’s alleged ties to Russia has been misdirected.

“Focus on them, not T!” he tweeted Saturday afternoon.

For some Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, the bombshell report affirmed what they said they had long suspected.

“Nothing like the extensive hacking effort and manipulation effort could occur without involvement,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) told CNN. “Now we actually know: Yes, Putin directed it. … He had a specific goal to defeat Hillary Clinton.”

Some Republicans defended Trump’s legitimacy but expressed concern about another country threatening democracy in the United States.

#Russia is a problem & they attacked our democracy. This is about defending the integrity of our government & our election system. @NewDay

— Adam Kinzinger (@RepKinzinger) June 23, 2017

“The reality is, in two or four years, it will serve Vladimir Putin’s interest to take down the Republican Party,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) told CNN. “If we weren’t upset about it, we have no right to complain in the future.”

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Senate health-care bill faces serious resistance from GOP moderates – Washington Post

By and ,

A small group of moderate Republican senators, worried that their leaders’ health-care bill could damage the nation’s social safety net, may pose at least as significant an obstacle to the measure’s passage as their colleagues on the right.

The vast changes the legislation would make to Medicaid, the country’s broadest source of public health insurance, would represent the largest single step the government has ever taken toward conservatives’ long-held goal of reining in federal spending on health-care entitlement programs in favor of a free-market system.

That dramatic shift and the bill’s bold redistribution of wealth — the billions of dollars taken from coverage for the poor would help fund tax cuts for the wealthy — is creating substantial anxiety for several Republican moderates whose states have especially benefited from the expansion of Medicaid that the Affordable Care Act has allowed since 2014.

Their concerns that the legislation would harm the nation’s most vulnerable and cause many Americans to become uninsured have thrust into stark relief the ideological fault lines within the GOP. Though Senate conservatives were the first to threaten to torpedo the bill, contending that it is too generous, the potential loss of nearly half a dozen moderate lawmakers’ votes may be the main hurdle. Since the bill will get no support from Democrats, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can afford defections from no more than two Republicans as he tries to bring it to a vote this week.

His odds worsened Friday when Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), who is up for reelection next year, said he could not support the bill in its current form. Heller specifically cited its cuts to Medicaid, not just by ending its expansion in Nevada and 30 other states but by restricting government spending for the program starting in 2025.

This bill “is simply not the answer,” he declared, describing some of the 200,000 Nevadans who have gained health coverage through the expansion. He rhetorically asked whether the Republican plan will ensure that they have insurance in the future. “I’m telling you, right now it doesn’t do that,” he said.

Though three of the other four wavering GOP centrists also come from Medicaid-expansion states, not all were as explicit as Heller in their reactions after the Better Care Reconciliation Act was finally unveiled late last week. Both Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) said that they would evaluate it with an eye toward its effect on low-income residents.

“It needs to be done right,” Murkowski said in a tweet. “I remain committed to ensuring that all Alaskans have access to affordable, quality health care.”

Part of the pressure the moderates now face is that Medicaid consistently draws widespread support in surveys. A poll released Friday by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that three-fourths of the public, including 6 in 10 Republicans, said they have a positive view of the program. Just a third of those polled said they supported the idea of reducing federal funding for the expansion or limiting how much money a state receives for all beneficiaries.

Even among Republicans, the foundation found, only about half favor reversing the federal money for Medicaid expansion.

Congressional budget analysts plan to issue their projections as early as Monday on the legislation’s impact on the federal deficit and the number of Americans with insurance coverage. Already, proponents and critics alike are predicting that the Senate proposal would lead to greater reductions through the Medicaid changes than the estimated $834 billion estimated for a similar bill passed by House Republicans last month.

“The focus of Republican efforts largely has been on costs,” said Lanhee Chen, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. “You do have a different set of issues that the two sides have been focused on, which partly explains why this has been such an intractable and difficult debate to find common ground on.”

Under the Senate GOP version, 2021 is when Medicaid’s transformation would begin. The expansion, which has provided coverage to roughly 11 million people, would be phased out. What is now an open-ended entitlement, with federal funding available for a specific share of whatever each state spends, would be converted to per capita payments or block grants.

Then, four years later, the federal government would apply an inflation factor to spending increases that would be equal to the urban consumer price index rather than the higher medical inflation rate used in the House bill.

“There has never been a rollback of basic services to Americans like this ever in U.S. history,” said Bruce Siegel, president of America’s Essential Hospitals, a coalition of about 300 hospitals that treat a large share of low-income patients. “Let’s not mince words. This bill will close hospitals. It will hammer rural hospitals, it will close nursing homes. It will lead to disabled children not getting services. . . . People will die.”

To some extent, the division within the GOP’s ranks reflects geography. Some of the most reticent senators come from states where health-care systems stand to lose the most financially if the bill passed.

According to an analysis by the Commonwealth Fund, hospitals in Nevada would be saddled over the next decade with at least double the costs in “uncompensated care” — bills for which neither an insurer nor a patient paid. It examined the House legislation but noted that the Senate bill would doubtless hit harder because of its deeper reductions in federal Medicaid payments.

Hospitals in West Virginia would suffer an even greater spike in uncompensated care, about 122 percent during the decade. But the analysis showed that the greatest damage would come in McConnell’s own state: Kentucky, which has had the nation’s largest Medicaid expansion under the ACA, would see a 165 percent jump in unpaid hospital bills.

Yet conservative Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), one of the bill’s champions, said it would establish “a very, very gradual and gentle transition to a normal inflation rate” for a program in which he said costs were spiraling out of control. Beyond Medicaid, it would permit private health plans to cover fewer services and would allow individuals and employers to eschew coverage without penalty — elements that its authors say could lower how much consumers pay for their insurance.

“The idea that there’s a sector of our economy that has to permanently have a higher inflation rate than the rest of our economy is ridiculous,” Toomey said Thursday. “I think that it’s absolutely essential to putting [Medicaid] on a sustainable path so that it will be there for future generations.”

Avik Roy, a conservative health expert who serves as president of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, said the legislation’s proponents need to show “that competitive insurance markets can work for the poor and the vulnerable and the sick.”

People too often equate federal spending with establishing a safety net, when greater competition and a free market could produce better results at a lower cost, in Roy’s view. The Senate bill would extend “quite robust” tax credits to many people, he said, even to those living in poverty who were not eligible for Medicaid: “Republicans have a different view of what a safety net should look like.”

Pressure is coming from outside groups on the right. Though the four conservatives who have voiced opposition to the bill might be pushed hard — Sens. Rand Paul (Ky.), Mike Lee (Utah), Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) — Heller will be a special target. A super PAC, America First Policies, reportedly is planning a seven-figure ad buy just in Nevada.

But patient-advocacy organizations that focus on an array of diseases are intensifying their own lobbying on the bill, including running print and online ads in several key states. If one health issue has emerged as a flash point, however, it is the nation’s opioid epidemic.

Shatterproof, a national nonprofit organization focused on addressing addiction, estimates that 2.8 million people have gained access to substance-abuse treatment under Medicaid expansion. In Ohio alone, total federal funding provided 70 percent of the $939 million that the state spent to combat the epidemic last year.

Capito and Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio) have asked the chamber’s Republican leaders to provide in the bill $45 billion over 10 years to address opioids; the measure currently provides $2 billion. But that amount, Shatterproof chief executive Gary Mendell said Friday, is less than a tenth of what experts predict will be needed over the next decade. And providing a designated fund while leaving millions uninsured makes little sense, he added.

Shatterproof just launched a six-figure advertising buy in Ohio, West Virginia and Maine — which is represented by another undecided Republican, Sen. Susan Collins — to urge the states’ senators to vote against the bill. Mendell noted that Portman has been a champion on substance-use treatment for years, and it was difficult to run ads targeting him.

“His people need to understand that this has to be a no vote,” Mendell said.

Specific constituencies aside, some policy experts regard the Senate’s plan as a wholesale reversal of the government’s path to offer health insurance to ever-wider groups of Americans, piece by piece. That started with the creation of Medicaid and Medicare as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society and could be ending with the ACA.

“This is bringing us back to where we were before 1965,” said Paul Starr, a Princeton University professor of sociology and public affairs who has written extensively about the history of U.S. health-care policy. “There is no longer the federal commitment to back up the states in terms of health care for the poor.”

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Texas mom arrested after children die in hot car – CNN

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Friday Talking Points — Trump Did Not Deny Tapes Exist! – HuffPost

Every so often, we have a certain reaction to a bit of political news. We then fully expect at least a few other political commentators to have the same reaction, only to be surprised when it seems that nobody else read things the way we did. This is precisely where we find ourselves over President Donald Trump’s recent tweets, where he supposedly put the issue to rest of whether secret audio recordings were ever made in his White House. Everybody seems to be buying his spin, and nobody questioned the obvious loophole he left himself. Because if you read what he wrote and take it at face value (not reading more into it than he actually says), Trump still has not answered the question of whether such tapes exist or not. Not even close.

Here are the two Trump tweets in question:

With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information, I have no idea…

…whether there are “tapes” or recordings of my conversations with James Comey, but I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.

Trump not only makes the loophole obvious, he actually rubs our faces in it — “I have no idea whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings.” Got that? There might be tapes, but Trump “has no idea” if they even exist or not. His final declaration carefully uses the word “I” to avoid any statement pertaining to anyone else at the White House: “I did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.”

This, as any parent of a teenager knows, is technically called “getting cute” with the facts. Trump’s tweets were reportedly vetted by several lawyers before he was allowed to release them, which isn’t really surprising at this point. Even without lawyers, Trump is a master at “getting cute” with how he says things. The tweet which got him into all this trouble is a prime example: “James Comey better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations” — since all Trump is really saying is that Comey “better hope” that any such tapes don’t exist.

In Trump’s recent tweets, all he is really saying is that he personally “did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.” Trump didn’t push the “Record” button himself. Trump has no such tapes concealed upon his person. That’s it. That’s all Trump is admitting to. He’s not saying that anyone else in the White House didn’t make such tapes, or now has such tapes. Indeed, Trump even goes out of his way to state this explicitly: “I have no idea” whether any such tapes exist, or ever existed. No idea!

There is a world of difference between what Trump said and a real across-the-board denial, such as: “Such recordings do not and have never existed in my White House,” or: “No tapes were ever made, period.”

But, it seems, nobody else parsed Trump’s statement in such a literal way. All the news stories so far blithely read into Trump’s statement a lot more than is actually there. The assumption of: “Well, Trump has now fully addressed the issue — there are no tapes” is utterly false, and yet the entire punditocracy seems to be happily pulling the wool over their own eyes. Now, we haven’t read everything everyone’s written, so if there are others who have noticed this wide discrepancy between what Trump seems to be saying and what he actually said, we apologize for not noticing. But it still strikes us as odd that so many are going along with what seems to be a pretty obvious ruse.

We sincerely hope that some congressional Democrats will bring this discrepancy up during some future hearing into the Trump White House, and also that Robert Mueller is paying attention to what Trump didn’t say more than the extremely narrow admission that he actually did make. Because we don’t think anyone really ever thought that Trump himself secretly pushed “Record” on his smartphone and then casually laid it on a table during Oval Office conversations. We don’t think anyone ever thought that such recordings, if they do exist, would only exist on Trump’s personal phone, either. Trump admitting that neither of these is the case certainly does not lay to rest the question of whether such tapes were ever made by anyone — not by a long shot.

But we’ve got plenty of other things to get to, so we’ll just leave it at that for the time being. Has it really gotten to the point where Trump uses blatant weasel words and nobody even notices? We sincerely hope not.

The week’s political news was dominated by two events. The first was a special House election in Georgia, and the second was Mitch McConnell finally releasing the Senate’s healthcare reform bill. We’ll get to the Senate bill in the talking points, but we have to draw back a bit from the Democratic defeat in the Georgia election and take a bigger-picture look at what’s going on. Because by week’s end, there was almost an open revolt by some Democrats against Nancy Pelosi continuing to stay in her House leadership role.

We wrote about the Pelosi controversy yesterday, without taking a pro or con position. Pelosi’s problem is her wide name recognition, and her negative numbers. A recent poll put her at 30 percent approval nationwide, and 50 percent disapproval. Independents disapprove of her to the tune of 58 percent. Even among Democrats, Pelosi has 19 percent disapproval. In order to win back the House, Democrats are going to have to compete in swing districts. In these districts, Pelosi’s numbers are probably worse. And Karen Handel just showed every Republican House candidate how to successfully demonize Pelosi in their ads.

It’s not just Pelosi, however. The party faces a much bigger problem. Divisions within the ranks continue, and nobody at the top of the party even seems willing to address the growing schism. When Republicans lost in 2012, they put together a post-mortem document recommending changes in the party by March of the next year. Democrats have yet to do anything similar. We wrote about this back in April, in an article that ended:

Convene a group to identify what Democrats have been doing wrong and what they’ve been doing right. Create a document which lays out strategies for future success, and then (unlike the Republicans) actually pay some attention to it. Create a list of priorities for the party and tactical advice for individual Democratic candidates. It is time to begin moving forward, and part of that should be examining what has been going so wrong over the past few years. People need to get beyond their 2016 primary election choice and start working together once again, or this sort of flareup is just going to happen over and over again. And nobody really wants to see that.

And yet, here we are, in the midst of yet another flareup, still with no plans to even identify what has gone so wrong for the party in the past few elections. The progressives are still upset with the establishment Democrats, and vice-versa. A whole lot of energy is spent on bickering that should really be spent on opposing Republicans.

The best argument for fixing what’s wrong that we saw this week came from Billy Michael Honor at HuffPost. He lives in the Georgia Sixth District where Democrat Jon Ossoff lost to Handel. Here’s what he had to say about the race, after personally experiencing it from within the district:

This, however, was not the only reason Ossoff lost the 6th. More than brand saturation the primary problem was messaging. Whether they admit it or not, the Democratic Party thought Ossoff could ride the wave of Trump hate into Washington DC. This is why Ossoff’s campaign platform was pretty much a conglomeration of cherry picked issues that appealed to various 6th district interest groups topped with the ever motivating “help us stand up to Trump” message.

The problem with this message is it lacked any compelling progressive vision for the future. It also lacked anyway to substantively convince the average politically uninterested citizen why they should give a damn about the Democratic Party. The message simply says, “vote for us, we won’t be as bad as the other group.” This is how Hilary Clinton lost the general presidential election, this is how Jon Ossoff lost last night and this is how Democrats will continue to lose if they don’t get the message right.

Hello? Tom Perez? Are you paying attention? Democrats have got to figure this out, and soon. How many political corpses does it take before you order an autopsy?

Of course, as always, there was plenty of other things going on in the political universe, so we’re going to have to just run quickly through some stories you may have missed.

A contractor for the Republican National Committee left a massive database of almost every American voter (200 million of them) unsecured on the internet this week. It’s impossible to say whether anyone else downloaded this information or not.

Sean Spicer is slowly fading into the background, but the Trump White House seems to be having problems replacing him. As CNN snarkily put it: “So far, all that search has revealed is that the people the White House wants aren’t interested in the job and the people who are interested in the job aren’t wanted by the White House.” Not surprising — who in their right mind would want Spicer’s job, at this point?

Jobs — two factories (Carrier and Boeing) that Trump hailed as “saving American jobs” are now either outsourcing the jobs or just laying people off. Winning!

Trump appointed William C. Bradford to a job dealing with Native Americans, even though he’s had some eye-raising comments in the past about other minorities, including actually defending the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II by saying “it was necessary.” Nothing like minority outreach from Republicans, folks!

Donald Trump called the notion that Russians meddled in the 2016 election a “big Dem HOAX” and then went on to — bizarrely — state that Obama didn’t do enough to stop it. It either exists or it doesn’t, Donny… you can’t have it both ways.

Trump now starts his day with a call with all his lawyers about the mounting Russia scandal. The idea is to allow him to “compartmentalize” this so it doesn’t get in the way of the rest of his day. How’s that going?

By the time the president arrives for work in the Oval Office, the thinking goes, he will no longer be consumed by the Russia probe that he complains hangs over his presidency like a darkening cloud. It rarely works, however. Asked whether the tactic was effective, one top White House adviser paused for several seconds and then just laughed.

And we’ll close today with a few blasts from the past, mostly because they didn’t fit into the Talking Points section at the end. Here is Mitch McConnell, from February of 2010, on the process Democrats were using to pass healthcare reform.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are working behind the scenes on a plan aimed at jamming this massive health spending bill through Congress against the clear wishes of an unsuspecting public. What they have in mind is a last-ditch legislative sleight-of-hand called reconciliation that would enable them to impose government-run health care for all on the American people, whether Americans want it or not.

Boy, those were the days, eh? Here’s one more to keep handy, since there will quite likely be a few last-minute deals struck by McConnell over the course of the next week. From December of 2009:

Americans are right to be stunned — because this bill is a mess. And so was the process that was used to get it over the finish line. Americans are outraged by the last-minute, closed-door, sweetheart deals that were made to gain the slimmest margin for passage of a bill that’s about their health care.

We have two Honorable Mention awards this week, the first for Rhode Island’s teacher of the year, Nikos Giannopoulis, who photobombed Donald Trump more successfully than anyone else has yet managed to do. Check out the photo to see why HuffPost wrote the headline: “Bold, Gay Teacher Of The Year Photo Bombs Donald Trump With Fan.” Priceless!

The second Honorable Mention goes to all the disabled protesters who locked down Mitch McConnell’s office yesterday, providing the evening news with film of cops trying to deal with protesters in wheelchairs. Visually, this was the perfect protest, really, and they are to be commended for their commitment and their impeccable timing.

But the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award goes to Senator Elizabeth Warren, for the speech she gave against the Republican healthcare bill. She does not, to put it mildly, mince words. Read the whole speech, it’s a doozy (and it’s not that long). Here are just a few highlights from it:

Today, we finally got a look at the monstrosity of a bill that Republicans have been hiding behind closed doors for weeks. Yes, it is finally clear how the Republicans were spending their time, locked in those back rooms.

Now we know the truth — Senate Republicans weren’t making the House bill better. Nope, not one bit. Instead, they were sitting around a conference room table, dreaming up even meaner ways to kick dirt in the face of the American people and take away their health insurance.

. . .

The Senate bill is crammed full with just as many tax cuts as the House bill. Tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, tax cuts for wealthy investors, tax cuts for giant companies. But all those tax cuts don’t come cheap. They start to add up after a while. So Senate Republicans had to make a choice. How to pay for all these juicy tax cuts for their rich buddies?

I’ll tell you how: blood money. Senate Republicans wrung some extra dollars out of kicking people off tax credits that help them afford health insurance. They raked in extra cash by letting states drop even more protections and benefits, like maternity care or prescription drug coverage or mental health treatment.

And then they got to the real piggy bank: Medicaid. And here they just went wild. Senate Republicans went after Medicaid with even deeper cuts than the House version. The Medicaid expansion? Gone — ripped up and flushed down the toilet. And the rest of the Medicaid program? For Senate Republicans, it wasn’t enough that the House bill was going to toss grandparents out of nursing homes or slash funding for people with disabilities or pull the plug on health care for babies born too soon. No. Senate Republicans wanted to go bigger.

. . .

Medicaid is the program in this country that provides health insurance to one in five Americans. To 30 million kids. To nearly two out of every three people in a nursing home. These cuts are blood money. People will die. Let’s be very clear: Senate Republicans are paying for tax cuts for the wealthy with American lives.

. . .

Senate Republicans know exactly what they are doing with this health care bill. Their values are on full display. If they want to trade the health insurance of millions of Americans for tax cuts for the rich, they’d better be ready for a fight. Because now that this shameful bill is out in the open, that’s exactly what they’re going to get.

Well said! While Democrats everywhere are denouncing the meanness of the Republican bill, this is clearly the best framing of the issue to date. Because make no mistake about it, it is blood money — and Democrats should forcefully point this out.

Because Elizabeth Warren showed them the best way to do so, within hours of the bill’s release, she is easily our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week. Tell it like it is, Liz!

[Congratulate Senator Elizabeth Warren on her Senate contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]

We have two Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards to hand out, one literal and one visceral.

Jon Ossoff certainly disappointed more Democrats than anyone else this week, by running the most-expensive House race in American history and losing. He lost by almost four points, which was much worse than expected. Democrats would be riding a wave of enthusiasm right now if he had pulled out a victory, but since he didn’t they are pretty despondent instead.

Ossoff reportedly started out his campaign strongly against Donald Trump, but later decided to dial all of that back and run as a guy who could reach across the aisle and get stuff done. This, to state the obvious, didn’t work with the voters. Whether his campaign was mostly at fault for his loss or not will be endlessly debated in the coming months by Democrats. But what cannot be debated is the sheer volume of disappointment Ossoff’s loss just caused. By literal interpretation, Jon Ossoff was indeed the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

But before we get to the second award, we have two minor awards to hand out as well. Both Michael Bloomberg and Johnny Depp deserve at least an (Dis-)Honorable Mention this week, for idiocy. In Bloomberg’s case, it was for telling Democrats to just get behind Trump for the better of the country. Um, OK, Mike… sure.

Depp’s case was a little more serious, since he made a joke about assassinating presidents. This is always to be condemned as strongly as possible, but since he’s not a Democratic politician we didn’t feel it rose to the level of the MDDOTW award.

Especially since there was an even-bigger example of inhumane political comments this week. Which is why the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week goes to Phil Montag, who used to be “the volunteer co-chair of the technology committee” for Nebraska Democrats. Used to be, because he just got fired, for saying the following about Republican Steve Scalise, who was shot at a baseball field recently: “I’m glad he got shot. I’m not going to fucking say that in public.” When then asked why he was saying it anyway, Montag responded: “I wish he was fucking dead.”

The response was swift, from Nebraska Democratic Party Chair Jane Kleeb:

“As soon as I heard it, I sent it to the (party) officers and then sent an email to Phil Montag informing him I am removing him from his appointed position as Co-Chair of the Technology Committee,” Kleeb told the [Omaha] World-Herald. “Wishing a Member of Congress or any individual dead is disgusting and has no place in our party.”

Kleeb reported the conversation to law enforcement out of concern it was a genuine threat, she told the paper.

That is entirely the right response, we have to say. Nobody who would say something that odious belongs in the party leadership in any way, shape, or form. Period.

On his way out the door, we have to throw into that box of personal possessions a brand-new Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[Both Jon Ossoff and Phil Montag are now nothing more than private citizens, and it is our blanket policy not to provide contact information for such persons, sorry. Besides, Ossoff is probably already getting an earful from plenty of other Democrats right about now.]

Volume 442 (6/23/17)

Before we get to the awfulness of the Senate healthcare bill, we have to begin with two very funny tweets. Both transcend mere talking points and enter into the realm of downright laughable political humor. Apparently there was some strict interpretation of the dress code for women being enforced in Paul Ryan’s office. Erica Werner tweeted her response:

Ladies of the House: there is a crackdown today on going sleeveless into the Speakers Lobby. Forewarned is forearmed as it were

Heh. That’s pretty funny. But this effort was outdone by the response from Haley Byrd, which knocked it out of the park:

I thought @SpeakerRyan supported the right to bare arms

Well done! We doff our hats in salute to such excellent political humor.

One more amusing tweet deserves mention as well, as Matthew Yglesias beautifully bridged the gap between two Trump subjects this week:

Interestingly there ARE tapes of Donald Trump promising to cover everyone, cut deductibles, and lower premiums.

OK, all kidding aside, we’re dedicating our whole Talking Points section to the Senate “take no prisoners” healthcare bill. We feel this is necessary, because if Mitch McConnell is to be believed, by this time next week the bill will already have been voted on. That’s not much time to mount a resistance, which is (of course) the whole point of such an absurdly short schedule.

Some weeks we struggle to put together seven talking points. Not this week — we had too many to choose from, in fact. AARP had a good talking point about how seniors’ health costs would skyrocket (calling it an “age tax“) but there were too many others to even include it this week. Democrats only have days to fight back against the GOP steamroller, so they’d better get busy, that’s all we can say.

The difference between the two bills

The Washington Post had a helpful column pointing out the differences between the House and Senate bills.

But in reality, the Senate bill will be at least as bad as the House bill over time. What we’re really seeing here is an elaborate shell game: The Senate bill moves money around in a largely superficial way that enables Senate Republicans to vote for the same fundamental underlying policy priorities embedded in the House bill, while pretending not to. Here’s the gist:

1. The House GOP bill gives the wealthy an enormous tax cut, financed (relative to current law) largely by hundreds of billions in cuts to health-care spending on poor people.

2. The Senate bill gives the wealthy an enormous tax cut, financed (relative to current law) largely by hundreds of billions in cuts to health-care spending on poor people.

Dancing merrily

Alexandra Petri, also at the Post, was even snarkier. She wrote an entire article as a tongue-in-cheek plea to remember who the bill helps, and the dire circumstances for them if the bill were not to pass. We strongly recommend reading the entire article, because it is downright hilarious, in a gallows-humor sort of way.

Frankly, I think we are being unfair to the Senate version of the health-care bill. Too much time has already been spent on all the problems it creates — for the indigent, the pregnant, the elderly, those who depend on Medicaid. But what about the problems it solves?

We are taking those too lightly, I feel. The Affordable Care Act placed a great burden on a great many people, and the Senate bill seeks to relieve their sacrifice.

Think of the families teetering at the steep pinnacle of the income distribution, wondering whether their finances will stretch to cover a lifesaving surgery for their purebred dressage horse. Thanks to the tax breaks this bill offers, they can rest assured that Dick Whittington Lord Mare Of London will get a replacement knee and continue to dance merrily over the course.

This is not just a tax break for the wealthy. It may well be the difference between life and death for countless sports cars and golf tourneys across America. Before, their money was wasted on dialysis for strangers who might possibly not even understand the finer points of badminton. Now that money is being restored, and it will go where it is most needed.

$33 billion for 400 families

The credit for this statistic goes to Brandon DeBot at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“An analysis of the Republican healthcare plan exposed a jaw-dropping fact. The 400 richest families in the entire country will get a tax break to the tune of $33 billion. This is exactly the same amount that Republicans are cutting in Medicaid funds from four entire states. Anyone who doubts that this bill is nothing short of taking money from the sick and the poor in order to hand over to those who least need it, just think about that statistic. $33 billion could give big tax cuts to 400 families, or pay for medical care for four United States. Republicans certainly aren’t trying to hide their real priorities in life, are they? I guess those vaunted Republican ‘family values’ only applies to the top-earning families in America, eh?”

More than just politics

The American people have weighed in already.

“Of course, we don’t have public polling on the Senate bill, and we likely won’t before the Senate votes on it. But the public’s view of the House bill is getting worse as time goes by. Only 16 percent of all Americans think the House bill is ‘a good deal.’ A full 48 percent think it is ‘a bad deal.’ Even among Republicans, only 34 percent think the House bill is a good deal. Now, if Democrats didn’t care about the disastrous effect this bill is going to have on millions upon millions of families, and if they only cared about how it would help them politically, they’d be cheering Republicans on. ‘Go ahead, pass your bill,’ they’d be telling Republicans, ‘it’s only going to make it that much easier to defeat you in the next election.’ Mitch McConnell is only scheduling 20 hours of debate for the bill in the Senate, while the final Senate debate over Obamacare took 25 days. So Democrats spent more days in open debate than Republicans are going to spend hours. That’s pretty stunning, but the American people have already weighed in. The Republican plan is massively unpopular, and it will only continue to get more unpopular as the public learns more and more about what is in it. No wonder they want to move so fast.”

Obama trolls Trump’s meanness

President Obama weighed in this week as well, and he didn’t mince words. He also showed how Democrats everywhere should use the word “mean” or “meanness” as much as possible in the coming debate, just to get under Donald Trump’s skin.

Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family — this bill will do you harm. And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation.

Five, and counting…

Already, it looks like the bill may be in trouble within Republican ranks.

“Within hours of the Senate bill being released, four Republican senators went on the record as being against the bill. Since Mitch McConnell can only afford to lose two votes, this could be a problem. Or maybe not — other than Rand Paul, it’s hard to believe the other three will actually vote against the bill at the end of the day. The four state that the reason they can’t support it is because they want the bill to be even meaner than it already is. So it’s probably just posturing. But McConnell should be worried about the fifth Republican senator’s stated reason for opposing the bill. Dean Heller of Nevada — who is up for re-election next year — voiced his concerns in a way that doesn’t give him any wiggle room to change his mind later. On the drastic and deep cuts to Medicaid, Heller said: ‘I cannot support a piece of legislation that takes away insurance from tens of millions of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Nevadans.’ That’s pretty unequivocal, and it is impossible to fix by merely tweaking the bill next week. So if Heller and Paul are both solid ‘no’ votes, that means only one more Republican defection will kill the bill.”

Boehner put it best

We devoted a large portion of our FTP [429] column to what John Boehner (inaccurately) claimed Democrats were doing with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, back in the day. His words bear repeating once again, because they are so accurate when describing what Republicans are now doing. Boehner was visibly angry during this speech, screaming some of it at the top of his voice on the House floor.

No, today we’re standing here looking at a health care bill that no one in this body believes is satisfactory. Today we stand here amidst the wreckage of what was once the respect and honor that this House was held in by our fellow citizens. And we all know why it is so. We have failed to listen to America. And we have failed to reflect the will of our constituents. And when we fail to reflect that will, we fail ourselves, and we fail our country.

. . .

[L]ook at how this bill was written. Can you say it was done openly, with transparency and accountability? Without backroom deals and struck behind closed doors hidden from the people? Hell, no, you can’t!

Have you read the bill? Have you read the reconciliation bill? Have you read the manager’s amendment? Hell, no, you haven’t!

. . .

But what [Americans] see today frightens them. They’re frightened because they don’t know what comes next. They’re disgusted because what they see is one political party closing out the other from what should be a national solution. And they’re angry. They’re angry that no matter how they engage in this debate, this body moves forward against their will.

Shame on us. Shame on this body. Shame on each and every one of you who substitutes your will and your desires above those of your fellow countrymen.

Chris Weigant blogs at:

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

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