My Rant of the Week: Congress

Sometimes I wish I was clueless.  Indifferent.  Uninformed.  Unfortunately, for me, I am none of these things.  And my poor husband has been subjected to my ranting all week about what’s been happening in Congress.  He is a saint.

All week, I’ve watched Senators posturing, sermonizing, feigning concern for the American people and grandstanding.

I am sick of all of them – both in the House and the Senate.  Using my mother’s favorite expression, “they all stink on ice.”  Using an expression from a good friend of mine, “they’re all rat bastards.”

I agree with both sentiments.  I am convinced, and I doubt anyone can change my mind about this, they’re all in it for themselves.  They couldn’t care less for the American people; they’re all concerned about keeping their little fiefdoms and power.

Whether President Trump is trying to drain the swamp, cesspool or sewer, these guys in Congress aren’t going to let their power slip away from their greedy little hands. They’ve made careers out of politics and President Trump, in my opinion, is in for the fight of his life.  That’s what it’s all about. The Washington machine is very well oiled on both sides of the aisle and they’re not going to let some outsider from New York come in and turn their world of privilege, power and control upside down.

Clearly, John McCain’s vote this week against the “skinny repeal” bill showed me that he hates President Trump more than he loves Arizona or doing the right thing. I firmly believe that.  (Although I wish him well with his current fight against cancer, I doubt he is being treated under Obamacare.)  I saw no reason for the Senate to cut this bill off at the knees and salvage, at least, some good will for the President and Republicans, knowing full well it would go back to the House, which would then make further revisions, and a completed bill could be voted upon based on their supposed consciences.  But no.

The most disturbing thing about this week’s circus atmosphere is the fact that these same clowns in Congress have been promising the American people for SEVEN years they would repeal Obamacare.  In January 2016, Obama, of course, vetoed the bill, Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015.  Sen. McCain voted to repeal at that time. So what changed?  Paul Ryan, at the time, said:  “The idea that Obamacare is the law of the land for good is a myth. We have now shown that there is a clear path to repealing Obamacare without 60 votes in the Senate. So, next year, if we’re sending this bill to a Republican president, it will get signed into law.”  Yeah right.  Think again.

An easy answer to all this would be, of course, “term limits.”  But our truly brilliant Founding Fathers chose not to include such limitations in our Constitution.  Rather, they determined six years for a Senator and two years for a Representative would enable the “people” to vote regularly and frequently and would make those members of Congress responsible to the “people” by being on a short leash.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the Founding Fathers could’ve ever imagined legislators being in Congress for decades, like Maxine Watters, for example, who has, over the course of 40 years represented a Los Angeles Congressional District in which she does not even live, amassed a fortune that enables her to live in one of the wealthiest communities of Los Angeles.

I doubt the Founding Fathers could’ve ever imagined that the populace would become so apathetic, indifferent, uninformed or just plain stupid that a person like Watters, who believes Putin invaded Korea, could be elected over and over and make a career out of politics.

The other day, John McCain, in his speech in Congress, foreshadowing his nay vote, said, “We are not the president’s subordinates. We are his equal.” I hope we all keep that in mind when these self-righteous politicians start losing their next elections and start blaming the President for his “lack of leadership.”  Their loss will be theirs, not the President’s.

I do want to finish with one positive note. Even if President Trump doesn’t get one item on his agenda passed through Congress, I will be forever grateful that he appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.  I am hoping he will have an opportunity to appoint another originalist during his term in office. After all, it is the Supreme Court which interprets statutes under the supreme law of our land – our Constitution.  (I wonder if Rep. Maxine Watters or her constituents even know this.)  For me, the Supreme Court has always been the most important part of America’s political landscape and, particularly, in the 2016 election. So, I say “thank you” to President Trump.

I say “adios” to every member of Congress who has put his or her interests before those of the American people.  You all stink on ice.

I don’t get it, but if you do, God bless you.

Daydreams of a Less Consequential Washington

Back in late summer of 2011, when Rick Perry was running for president, the (then) Texas governor’s message to voters was somewhat of a unique one:

“I’ll work every day to try to make Washington, DC as inconsequential in your life as I can.”

Small-government conservatives understood and shared his sentiment. The notion of centralized power being peeled away from the top-heavy federal government (an entity that most Americans don’t trust), and dropped down to local governments (and in some cases, the private sector), was an appealing one. The belief, of course, is that with fewer hurdles and restrictions standing in the way of individual freedom, the pursuits of happiness and the American Dream can be more easily achieved.

Liberals didn’t get it. Some believed Perry was vowing to abdicate presidential leadership, and undermine the responsibilities of elected representatives on Capitol Hill. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews even framed Perry’s words as a call for anarchy.

Writing for The Politico, Jeff Greenfield put forth the argument that Americans have never embraced the idea that the government should be inconsequential in their lives. He described how U.S. citizens have historically wanted and/or needed federal intervention, whether it be in regard to education, voting rights, the welfare state, etc.

Of course, Perry’s statement wasn’t that the federal government had no role to play in Americans’ lives. He just wanted to reduce that role, pushing the power closer to the people.  Greenfield was right in that much of the country expects government benefits and aid, and these people have only grown in numbers over the years. Perhaps the most glaring evidence we’ve seen of this was the 2016 election, where both of major-party presidential nominees campaigned against entitlement-reform, and for government-heavy healthcare.

Still, it would have been interesting to see how Perry’s theme would have played with the general electorate, had a series of gaffes and political misfires not sunken his primary hopes. He used the slogan again when he ran for president the second time, but with Candidate Trump soaking up all of the media’s attention (from a ridiculously bloated GOP field), and uncharitable memories from four years earlier, his candidacy didn’t get very far.

Perry likely won’t ever run again, but our current political climate is further illustrating the wisdom of his doctrine with each passing day.

Take the issue of healthcare, for example. We learned early in the Obama presidency that a political party with enough power in DC can go against the will of a strong majority of voters, and — in one fell swoop — completely screw up a significant portion of the U.S. economy.

Prior to the passage of Obamacare, national polls showed that roughly 20% of Americans were unhappy with their healthcare situations. Rather than focusing on the concerns of this relatively small percentage of individuals, the Democrats turned the nation’s entire insurance system on its head, selling (and signing into law) fatally-flawed legislation on a plethora of false premises and promises. The Affordable Care Act has left us with skyrocketing premiums and deductibles, fewer healthcare choices, and another insolvent entitlement.

The looming catastrophe, and promises of “repeal and replace,” led to Republicans picking up significant seats in DC. And now that the GOP finally holds the presidency, one would think that the party would be in a great position to start righting the healthcare ship.

Only, that’s not what’s happening.

Republican lawmakers, despite repeated efforts, can’t reach enough of an internal consensus to move forward on any kind of reform bill. And with a deeply distrusted (and increasingly unpopular) Republican president sitting in the Oval Office, anything with his name attached to it has become politically poisonous. In fact, President Trump’s election-win managed to do the unthinkable by pulling Obamacare’s approval rating above water (for the first time in its existence).

Additionally, the political demagoguery from the Democratic party has again reached levels of pure insanity, with U.S. senators (most notably Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders) publicly claiming that even modest changes to the current system will result in mass deaths. The rhetoric may be reckless and utterly dishonest, but it has also been effective.

I live in Colorado, where the effects of Obamacare have hit us particularly hard. The individual health-insurance market has been devastated. Major exchanges have collapsed. My family lost our affordable plan early on, and soon after, I lost my doctor. I have friends who are paying more for their monthly health insurance premiums than they are for their home mortgages. And I assure you, none of us are amused by the perpetual clown-show in Washington that creates and maintains these obstacles.

It all begs a few simple questions: Why do a handful of elected leaders, who don’t even represent our state, get to make such consequential healthcare decisions on our behalf? Why should a U.S. president’s popularity or unpopularity matter at all, when it comes to the healthcare coverage of a private citizen? Why on earth is Washington DC this consequential in our lives?

To find the answers, we unfortunately have to look at ourselves. We keep electing populist personalities who promise us the world, rather than individualist leaders who are humble enough to believe that communities should have a significant say in what’s best for them. The more problems we entrust high-ranking political salespeople to deal with, the less likely they are to be solved. And because too few of us understand that, we’ve put ourselves in a position where we have to endure the endless posturing and drama that plays out every day in DC, while hoping something constructive will eventually come from it.

Unfortunately, that’s rarely the case. But we’ll keep getting behind such leaders, and we’ll continue to be let down, because we’ve made Washington far too consequential in our lives. Sadly, at this point in our history, the alternative feels like little more than a daydream.

On Healthcare, Trump is Giving Us What We Paid For

In a piece I wrote last October, I presented the argument that of all the GOP presidential candidates that primary voters had to choose from in the election, Donald Trump was the last person Republicans should have trusted to take on Obamacare.

The nominee rarely talked about the issue during the campaign, despite opposition to the Affordable Care Act being a big reason for why the GOP had made significant gains in congress since 2010. And when Trump did weigh in on healthcare, his rhetoric was usually incomprehensible. Though vowing to repeal the ACA (on grounds of costliness and government restriction), he complimented government-run single-payer coverage and promoted universal healthcare. He even took opportunities to parrot left-wing talking points, equating Republicans’ free market ideas to letting people “die on the sidewalks.”

Though Candidate Trump’s reflexively liberal stances on various topics were well-documented throughout the campaign, the broader picture on healthcare seemed to be that he neither understood nor particularly cared about the issue. After all, Making America Great Again wasn’t about details or serious plans, but rather harnessing populist sentiment. Trump understood that it’s much easier to demagogue a complicated concern than it is to offer a credible solution (especially one that involves rolling back a government entitlement).  So, he punted. And many on the Right shrugged.

Six months into the Trump presidency, despite multiple attempts to pass healthcare-reform legislation, GOP majorities in the House and Senate haven’t been able to get the job done. They’re about to head home for their Fourth of July recess with nothing beyond a continually changing bill to show for it.

The are a few reasons for this, including too much disorganization and little consensus within the Republican party, and the shameless scare tactics of the Democratics (including the disgusting claim that GOP reform will literally “kill” people). But perhaps the biggest problem — as I had worried back in the election-cycle — is Trump himself.

Part of the issue is the president’s chronically low approval numbers. They’re symptomatic of the lack of trust Americans have in him. Trump’s petty conduct, his dishonesty, and the needless fights he picks have assisted the media in expending his political capital. Obamacare now has more public support than ever before, in large part because of that trust deficit.

Another element — a big one — is that the man who ran for the White House as a consummate deal-maker appears to have little idea of what he’s doing.

Reporting for The Weekly Standard earlier this week, Andrew Egger wrote that “the president’s efforts are hindered by the fact that he seems to care more about signing a bill than he does about the policy issues at stake. Several senators who have spoken with Trump about the evolving legislation describe an executive with little apparent understanding of the basic principles of the reforms and virtually no understanding of the details.”

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has listened to Trump’s vague healthcare remarks. At times, the president can’t even seem to agree with himself on the matter, categorizing a version of the House-passed bill that he supported as “mean.”

Speaking to Republican senators at the White House the other day, the president said of the struggling legislation, “This will be great if we get it done. And if we don’t get it done, it’s just going to be something that we’re not going to like, and that’s okay, and I understand that very well.”

I can’t imagine such remarks instilled a lot of confidence.

Of course, it’s not fair to place all of the blame on Trump. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have also made mistakes, seemingly caught unprepared to effectively deal with an issue that Republican candidates had been running on (and winning with) for eight years.

But President Trump is the leader of the party. His failure to understand the inner-workings of a bill that he claims is great, and effectively communicate that greatness to the electorate, has become a major hindrance. Trump may be a strong salesman when it comes to himself, but when advocating for policy, the results haven’t been particularly good.

Also at fault: Republican voters. Yes, you.

If the issue of healthcare were as important to Republicans and conservatives as we had been insisting for years, we would have nominated someone who had some passion (or at least enough interest to understand it) to help lead the effort against Obamacare. We didn’t do that. We instead (at least a plurality of us) got behind the guy who repeatedly said (on the few occasions when he actually talked about healthcare) that he was going to cover “everyone” and that the “government will pay” for it. Not exactly “repeal and replace” rhetoric.

Whether or not you believe that other Republican candidates would have defeated Hillary Clinton (I personally think several of them had a good shot), we shouldn’t be at all surprised that President Trump has been this weak on the issue. He doesn’t care or know enough about it to effectively sell reform ideas — not to his party’s leaders and not to the constituents they work for.

Thus, there’s a pretty good chance that when something eventually does get passed, the bill will look even more like Obamacare than the current one does…and a lot less like what Republican voters have been demanding for nearly a decade. Something tells me that the president and his most loyal supporters would be perfectly fine with that, but it would be a huge failure for both the party and the country.

There Can’t Be a Reset on Health Care

PriceNo one ever said that dealing with the health care debacle would be easy, and we’re getting our first taste of those difficulties right now with the unpopular reception of the American Health Care Act.

Despite its backing by President Trump and Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, many in the Republican party are claiming that the proposed U.S. Congress bill is no better than the Affordable Care Act, President Obama’s signature (and fatally flawed) “achievement.”

Conservatives are opposed to the AHCA primarily because it doesn’t, in itself, address a number of problems associated with Obamacare. It also doesn’t propose a number of cost-cutting solutions that Republicans have been promising for some time. Some of the critics’ gripes are certainly legitimate, but some stem from a failure (willful in some cases) to acknowledge a few important factors.

There are Republican constraints that legislators in the House are forced to work with. National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru wrote a good piece last week illustrating the limitations tied to the Senate’s budget reconciliation process, the Democratic filibuster, and even the ideological balancing-act required to successfully navigate through both chambers of congress.  These hurdles keep a number of Obamacare provisions from being immediately addressed, making the AHCA the first phase of what Speaker Ryan has been referring to as a “three-phase plan.” The larger cost-cutting measures are slated to come later in the plan.

Sound complicated? It is, and it was always going to be…even if the slogan “repeal and replace” was rather easy for Republicans to campaign on over the past few years.  The explanation for the complexities: Obamacare went on to become the law of the land, and its rules and regulations are now deeply embedded in our health care system. And even though the law is failing, the role it currently plays cannot be ignored.

Unfortunately, there is no magic reset button. I wish there were.

As Greg Gutfeld recently said on Fox News’s The Five, a government program is like having “bubblegum in your hair. You can’t get it out once it’s in there.”

I’ll amend that sentiment a bit. You can get it out, but it’s a pain in the ass, and the result is not going to look the way you were hoping. This is especially true with government programs that a large number of people have become dependent on, as is the case here.

So, rather than heckling the mother who’s using a jar of peanut butter and a pair of scissors to try and detach a sticky wad from her son’s curls, maybe the Right should work on being a bit more understanding…and pragmatic.

Is the ACHA the best possible answer for replacing Obamacare, even as the first phase in a three-phase solution? It may not be. Some of the conservative opposition to it is quite reasonable. And if the different factions within the Republican Party can shape this or another bill into something better that can still get passed, that’s great. But that’s the trick: getting something passed. If that component didn’t factor in, the ACHA would look much more like a lot of conservatives want it to.

The reality is that Obama and the Democratic party left the country with a huge mess that they’re not inclined to help fix. Unfortunately, that’s politics. Beyond them, there’s a conspiratorial wing of the Right (including people in the conservative media) that doesn’t want any health care reform, believing it’s an “establishment” plan to politically damage Trump for a GOP primary challenge in 2020. And if you don’t think that group has influence, you haven’t been paying attention over the past couple of years.

People are suffering under Obamacare. I personally know families that are paying more for their monthly health insurance than they are on their home mortgage. They can’t afford to sit through more political theater and political non-starters in Washington.

Getting the ball rolling on reform legislation is crucial. Getting something passed that ultimately lowers costs is crucial.

Let’s try to keep those two things in mind as we move forward.

Blood Trade(3)

Trump Has Forfeited Obamacare for the GOP

untitled-designObamacare was always going to fail, primarily because it wasn’t designed to succeed.

Contrary to President Obama’s repeated promises over the years, the Affordable Care Act wasn’t devised to allow Americans to keep their old plan or their old doctor. It wasn’t crafted to bring down the cost of healthcare, or to lower premiums, deductibles, and copays. The plan wasn’t to make health coverage affordable to the vast majority of Americans, and those who came up with the legislation certainly didn’t have the concept of sustainability in mind.

In fact, one of its architects, Jonathan Gruber, admitted in 2013 that it was purposely written in a “tortured way” to conceal the bill’s true ramifications on the American public. According to Gruber, the ACA would have never passed, had it not been for the “stupidity of the American voter.”

We were outright lied to (over and over again) by President Obama and the Democratic party, and those lies affected the lives of each and every American.

I don’t doubt that some Democrats in Washington had good intentions, back then, to help uninsured Americans gain health coverage. Those intentions paled in comparison, however, to the perceived prestige of a historical legacy — one they didn’t think would come from addressing relatively small issues, like a pre-existing conditions clause (where there was bipartisan support).

No, a historical legacy is earned through massive, sweeping change…even when the vast majority of the American public is happy with the current situation. A historical legacy is earned through transforming an entire system.

The Affordable Care Act was a social justice crusade, not a responsible plan for addressing a serious problem. And when it comes to crusades, the end always seems to justify the means — no matter how dishonest or impracticable those means are.

Even in the face of gross hyperbole and patently false rhetoric (from people who hadn’t even bothered to read the bill), most Americans never bought into the con. Obamacare was deeply unpopular from the onset, requiring the bill to be passed through congress along strict partisan lines, using every dirty legislative trick in the book. The Democrats won, and the bill was signed into law.

As a result, people like me lost their doctors. We lost plans that we liked and could afford, because the law arbitrarily deemed those plans to be unacceptable. State exchanges have collapsed, and individual markets have been decimated. Here in my home state of Colorado, I have friends who now pay more for their monthly, high-deductible health coverage than they do for their home mortgages.

The numbers don’t lie. In 2008, prior to the passage of the ACA, the average annual premium for families in employer-sponsored plans was $12,680. This year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the average premium for a family is $17,500 — nearly a $5,000 increase.

It was reported this week (and confirmed by the White House) that insurers through will be raising next year’s premiums by an average of 25 percent. That’s more than triple the increase for 2016.

The staggering increase is being blamed on the long-predicted scenario of not enough young, healthy Obamacare customers enrolled in the system to support those who are older and ailing. The result has been a number of insurers dropping out, with the remaining ones struggling to cover the costs.

This situation, entirely of the Democratic party’s making, is an absolute disaster. A lot of Americans are suffering today, because a group of politicians wanted to feel really great about themselves, instead of focusing on helping those who actually wanted or needed their help.

Even Bill Clinton recently called Obamacare “the craziest thing in the world.”

Speaking at a rally in Flint Michigan, the former president said, “So you’ve got this crazy system where all of a sudden 25 million more people have health care and then the people who are out there busting it, sometimes 60 hours a week, wind up with their premiums doubled and their coverage cut in half.”

He was right, and he ironically managed to do a better job of prosecuting President Obama’s signature achievement than Donald Trump has throughout his entire campaign.

Just imagine if the Republicans had nominated a presidential candidate who:

  1. understood this issue
  2. pounded away at it every day
  3. passionately articulated a realistic alternative (Paul Ryan has some ideas)
  4. wasn’t a vocal proponent of single-payer healthcare
  5. was otherwise electable

Unfortunately, the GOP has forfeited that opportunity.

Instead of talking often and intelligently about the collapse of Obamacare, and instilling confidence in its repeal and replacement, the party is perpetually doing clean-up work for a man who can’t stop offending voters and raising new doubts about his temperament and competency.

Even when Trump attempts to address the health-coverage catastrophe, he ends up muddling the message. This morning, while speaking to a crowd in Florida, he apparently made up a story about all of his employees struggling with the Obamacare exchanges, before later stating that his corporation provides them with coverage.

Trump neither understands, nor particularly cares about this issue. This was evident way back in the primary, when he was promoting universal healthcare, and parroting left-wing talking points about Republicans being content with letting people “die on the sidewalks.”

Just two weeks out from the election, he isn’t much better. He speaks about repeal and replace as if it were an afterthought — a mere bullet point among a list of other grievances. He hasn’t even bothered to dangle the issue like bait above conservatives’ heads, like he has repeatedly with Supreme Court nominees.

While Trump has managed to tap into a heck of a lot of populist anger over the past year and a half, Obamacare is an area where he has largely taken a pass. And by association, so has the GOP.

It’s a scary situation when the person the country will likely have to rely on to deal with Obamacare’s epic problems is Hillary Clinton. If that happens, the best we could possibly hope for is the influence of her husband, who actually seems interested in this issue, and is to the right of her politically.

My guess, however, is that Hillary will pursue the single-payer route, in the interest of her progressive base. If that happens, the Republicans in congress (assuming they hold their majorities) should be able to prevent it. Unfortunately, they won’t be able to actually fix the situation, being that they’ll be facing the same presidential veto that they are now.

It’s a terrible shame for the country that this vital opportunity was squandered, but it was a choice made by a plurality of Republican primary voters. And so we must live with it until the next election.

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