Category Archives: Legislation

Amend the Constitution to reform the U.S. Senate

While the U.S. Supreme Court grapples with the question of ending partisan gerrymandering of House seats, little attention is paid to the truly undemocratic Senate where each state, regardless of population, has two senators, the result of the Connecticut Compromise between the large states which wanted equal representation in Congress based on population, and the smaller states that worried about losing autonomy to the larger states. The undemocratic nature of the Senate offended many of the framers but it was necessary in order to obtain ratification of the Constituion by the states. It was a compromise of political expediency that has long since outlived its purpose.

America has developed from a rural agrarian society in 1787 to an urban population overwhelmingly concentrated in large metropolitan cities. This has resulted in the United States now being a non-majoritarian democracy, in which small rural states weild a disproportionate share of political power over the majority living in more populous states.

Population Map

E.J. Dionne Jr., Norman J. Ornstein and Thomas E. Mann,the authors of “One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported,” explain this dynamic in an op-ed today, Why the majority keeps losing on guns:

Why does our political system make it impossible even to consider solutions to gun violence? After the massacre in Las Vegas that has so far taken nearly 60 lives and left more than 500 injured, the first reaction of the many politicians who carry water for the gun lobby was to declare it “premature” to discuss measures to keep guns out of the wrong hands.

The “premature” word echoed from President Trump’s White House on down, and those who used it were really saying that Congress would never enact even modest efforts to prevent mass shootings. This is damning evidence of the stranglehold that far-right lobbies have on today’s Republicans, who extol law and order except when maintaining it requires confronting the National Rifle Association.

But something else is at work here. As we argue in our book, “One Nation After Trump,” the United States is now a non-majoritarian democracy. If that sounds like a contradiction in terms, that’s because it is. Claims that our republic is democratic are undermined by a system that vastly overrepresents the interests of rural areas and small states. This leaves the large share of Americans in metropolitan areas with limited influence over national policy. Nowhere is the imbalance more dramatic or destructive than on the issue of gun control.

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Suffer the Children: do nothing Tea-Publican Congress let’s CHIP program funding expire

While the Trump administration continues its unrelenting sabotage of “Obamacare,” our do nothing Tea-Publican Congress failed to get around to reauthorizing funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), cutting off federal funding for some 9 million children as of midnight on September 30.

Steve Benen explains, Congress fails to follow through on key children’s health program:

Now that legislating has wrapped up for the month – lawmakers left town yesterday – September wasn’t quite “the month from hell” as originally feared, largely because Democrats and Donald Trump struck a deal to punt questions over government funding and the debt ceiling a few months  [until early December].

But perhaps more interesting than what Congress did in September is what it didn’t do. One of the tasks members were supposed to tackle this month was reauthorizing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and as TPM explained yesterday, that didn’t happen.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), who sits on one of the key committees in charge of health care, confirmed to TPM that Congress will likely allow CHIP to lapse by Saturday’s deadline, putting the health insurance of millions of children in jeopardy.

“I’m confident the money will come but obviously it’s not going to come on time,” she said wearily.

Funding for CHIP, which provides health insurance for nearly 9 million children nationwide, expires this Saturday. The Senate Finance committee has worked for months on a bill to reauthorize it for the next five years, but the work was pushed to the back burner as Republicans chose instead to spend weeks taking one last unsuccessfully run at repealing Obamacare.

I’ll confess, when Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) struck a bipartisan deal on Sept. 12 to extend CHIP for five years, I more or less assumed everything would work out. After all, that’s usually what happens: Congress approaches a deadline, some bipartisan pairings work on an agreement, and it passes in the 11th hour.

Except, this time, it didn’t work out at all. Senate Republicans focused their energies on yet another ACA repeal gambit, and reauthorizing CHIP was pushed to the back-burner.

Now, my point is not that 9 million children will lose their coverage over the weekend. If that were poised to happen, you’d probably be hearing a lot more about this. There have been previous instances in which CHIP wasn’t reauthorized in time – if you’ve been reading me forever, you might recall George W. Bush twice vetoed a CHIP bill 10 years ago around this time – without triggering an immediate crisis.

But The New Republic’s Clio Chang wrote a good piece explaining why this shouldn’t be dismissed, either.

[M]ost states have enough funding to maintain the program for a few months. But ten states would run out of funding by the end of the year and Minnesota would run out by the end of October. According to an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “When their federal funding runs out, states with separate CHIP programs (rather than CHIP-funded Medicaid expansions for children) may be forced to impose enrollment caps or freezes, or shut their programs entirely.”

Furthermore, there would be numerous adverse consequences that would begin immediately. States would have to start shifting costs to cover administrative tasks necessary for ending the program, such as sending parents notices in the mail. And the lack of assurance that the program will exist in the future makes it impossible for states to budget and plan. Basically, states would have to focus on a variety of things completely unrelated to the program’s intent of expanding access to and improving children’s health care.

Chances are, Congress will circle back to this in the near future, but there’s no good excuse for lawmakers missing this deadline in the first place. The actual reason – Republicans were too busy with a failed attempt to take coverage from millions – only adds insult to injury.

Chang added that this is “the latest evidence that the GOP has become incapable of governing responsibly,” and under the circumstances, it’s hard to imagine anyone seriously arguing otherwise.

One of the reasons this bill was not brought up for a vote is because leadership did not want dead-ender Tea-Publicans to offer amendments to the CHIP authorization bill seeking to repeal “Obamacare” before the reconciliation rules expire on September 30. They would rather let the CHIP funding expire without drawing attention to it, and hope that no one really notices before they can bring up the agreeed upon authorization bill, hopefully before states start running out of funds.

UPDATE: The Arizona Republic reports, Insurance coverage for more than 22,000 low-income Arizona kids in jeopardy:

KidsCare, Arizona’s version of the federal program, covers 22,389 children, according to September figures of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS).

Arizona was the only state without an active CHIP program when Arizona froze enrollment in 2010 due to Great Recession-triggered budget cuts.

The Arizona Legislature last year passed a bill, signed by Gov. Doug Ducey, that allowed new signups. A family of three that earns between $28,180 and $40,840 would be eligible for KidsCare in 2017. Similarly sized families that earn less than $28,180 could still be eligible for Medicaid if KidsCare funding disappeared.

Last year’s legislative action helped lower Arizona’s uninsured rate among children to 7.3 percent in 2016, down 1 percentage point from the year before, according to a report from Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families.

With more than 12,000 Arizona children signing up for KidsCare since December 2016, it’s likely Arizona’s uninsured rate is now even lower.

But the Arizona legislation passed in 2016 required AHCCCS to initiate steps to halt new enrollment if the federal government eliminates funding.

State law requires AHCCCS to notify the governor and state legislative leaders if there is insufficient program funding, and to stop processing new applications.

Arizona should have enough money to cover KidsCare expenses through the end of the calendar year, even if Congress does not extend the CHIP program, said Heidi Capriotti, an AHCCCS public information officer.

But AHCCCS might need to consider other actions should Congress not act in a timely manner, according to Capriotti.

“If federal funding is exhausted, then it would be up to policymakers to decide how to proceed,” Capriotti said.

* * *

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to consider a CHIP bill next week, although details of the legislation have not been released.

U.S. Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz., sent a letter last month to Speaker Paul Ryan urging swift action by the House on CHIP. U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., and Arizona’s three other House Democrats, Kyrsten Sinema, Ruben Gallego and Raul Grijalva, also signed the letter.

“Our providers and state officials need certainty to effectively plan for providing care to those enrolled and eligible for coverage,” the letter stated. “Parents need peace of mind to make sure their children will not experience disruptions in their health care.”

The Price is Right: Tom Price resigns over use of charter flights

The New York Times breaks the Friday news dump story that embattled Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has resigned under pressure on Friday after racking up at least $400,000 in travel bills for chartered flights. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out. Health Secretary Tom Price Resigns After Drawing Ire for Chartered Flights:

Already in trouble with Mr. Trump for months of unsuccessful efforts to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health care program, Mr. Price failed to defuse the president’s anger over his high-priced travel by agreeing to pay a portion of the cost and expressing “regret” for his actions.

In a statement, the White House said that Mr. Price “offered his resignation earlier today and the president accepted.”

It said Mr. Trump will tap Don J. Wright of Virginia to serve as acting secretary at midnight Friday. Mr. Wright currently serves as the deputy assistant secretary for health and as director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

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Bruce Bartlett destroys the GOP’s ‘trickle down’ tax myth that he helped to create

I happened to catch economist and former deputy assistant to the Treasury under George H. W. Bush, Bruce Bartlett, discussing the Trump tax “plan” (actually just an outline) released on Wednesday on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnel.

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Bartlett had some harsh words for the faith-based supply side “trickle down” economics that got its start with Arthur Laffer under the Reagan administration, which his boss George H. W. Bush used to deride as “voodoo economics.”

(Beginning at the 10:00 minute mark)

O’Donnell: You recently wrote that “Everything Republicans now say about taxes is wrong.”

Bartlett: “Well, I think that they took a good idea of lowering marginal tax rates and doing tax reform and they simply got carried away. They started making exaggerated arguments saying these tax cuts would pay for themselves with no loss of revenue, and that’s just hogwash, that’s just a lie. And anybody who says it is a liar. And I think that the people who say it know that they’re lying. There is not a single serious study, there’s no serious study of anything by this administration or anybody on the right these days, that would back up in the slightest possible way the talking points that they continually throw out there as just propaganda.

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Ducey is a disaster for Arizona

Governor Doug Ducey, the ice cream man hired by Koch industries to run their Southwest subsidiary formerly known as the state of Arizona, self-labels himself, for purely propaganda purposes, as “the education governor.”

The governor’s label would be a joke if his misguided policies did not come with serious and dire consequences for the actual condition of public education in Arizona.

Perhaps the governor should accept responsibility for his policies making Arizona the worst — that’s right, dead last — in public education, as the Republic’s Laurie Roberts describes. Arizona ranks as worst state to be a teacher:

Quick, what is the worst state in which to be a teacher?

If you said Arizona, give yourself a gold star.

WalletHub this week released its annual rankings for the best – and worst – states in  which to spend a career in the classroom. The financial services website compared the 50 states and Washington D.C., analyzing 21 key indicators, ranging from income growth potential to class size to safety.

The best states in which to be a teacher: New York, New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut, Pennsylvania.

The worst: Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, Hawaii and finally, down there in our usual spot at the bottom of the barrel, Arizona.

We ranked as one of the states with the highest turnover, the highest student-teacher ratios and the lowest spending per student.

And we ranked as dead last in the number of people expected to be competing for teacher jobs by 2024. Gee, I wonder why.

Lest you think things are looking up, two years ago Arizona ranked 49th  overall. Now, we’re 51st.

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Senate pulls zombie ‘Trumpcare’ bill from a vote, another win for the resistance

Score another win for the resistance, with special thanks to the disability rights group ADAPT for their fearless opposition to the zombie “Trumpcare” bill. Protesters disrupt Senate health-care hearing, 181 arrested:

The Senate Finance Committee was forced to briefly delay its hearing on the Republican health-care bill on Monday after police were called in to remove loud protesters, many of whom were representing the disability rights group ADAPT. The demonstrators chanted “no cuts to Medicaid, save our liberty” and “kill the bill, don’t kill me,” and could still be heard in the hallways after they’d been removed from the room.

Growing frustrated with the noise, panel chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) snapped: “If you want a hearing, you better shut up.”

Update: A spokesperson for Capitol Police released a statement Monday night saying a total of 181 protesters were arrested.

This marks the first time in the history of the Senate Finance Committee that any protestor was arrested by Capitol Police.

On Monday, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) issued its preliminary assessment of the zombie “Trumpcare” bill, because it does not have sufficient time to complete a full analysis up against the artificial deadline of September 30 imposed by the Senate’s use of the budget reconciliation rules. CBO finds ‘millions’ will lose coverage from repeal bill:

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) projected Monday that the last-ditch GOP ObamaCare repeal bill would result in “millions” of people losing coverage.

The agency did not give a specific number given a lack of time to do the analysis before a vote, but said the “direction of the effect is clear.”

CBO said the reduction in coverage would be felt in three areas: in Medicaid, because the bill repeals ObamaCare’s expansion of Medicaid; in private coverage, because the bill repeals subsidies that help people afford it; and because the mandate to have coverage would be repealed.

After the CBO analysis was released, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) told reporters she would vote against the zombie “Trumpcare” bill, providing the third declared vote against the bill along with Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Rand Paul (R-Ky), effectively blocking passage of the bill. Collins said she hoped senators could return to the bipartisan ObamaCare stabilization negotiations that were abruptly cut off by GOP leadership last week.

Sen. Susan Collins is this week’s winner of the “zombie kill of the week” award.

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