In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Democratic attorneys general from a handful of states announced Friday their plans to file a lawsuit against President Trump’s efforts to end Obamacare subsidies to insurers.

“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that those payments can continue to go forward,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) said in a conference call the attorneys general held with reporters. 

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After the Trump administration announced late Thursday night that it would end key Obamacare subsidies, a few Republican lawmakers spoke out against the move, warning that eliminating those subsidies could raise premiums and cost constituents their health coverage.

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA), a moderate Republican who is retiring at the end of his term, said on CNN that President Donald Trump’s move was “ill-advised.”

“I am fearful now that the President made this announcement that will destabilize the insurance markets, it will raise premiums for a lot of folks,” Dent said Friday morning on CNN, adding that it could also cause some Americans to lose their health insurance and prompt insurers to leave the Obamacare marketplace.

Dent argued that the Republican Party “will own this,” and said that the administration’s move will force Congress to act quickly to pass legislation in order to make cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments.

“President Trump is the President. He is a Republican. And we control the Congress. We own the system now. So we are going to have to figure out a way to stabilize this situation,” Dent told CNN. “Barack Obama is no longer in the equation. So this is on us. And so I believe his action will force us to enter into some kind of bipartisan agreement on the cost-sharing reduction payments.”

“We have to send the bill to the President,” he added later. “Whether or not he signs it, I don’t know. I hope he would. Maybe that’s what he wants us to do. Maybe he is forcing us to take some action.”

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), another Republican retiring at the end of her term, also warned that Trump’s decision to cut off CSR payments could hurt her constituents.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who opposed all of the Obamacare repeal plans proposed by Republicans, said Friday morning in a speech that she was “concerned” by the administration’s decision to end CSR payments, as well as by Thursday’s executive order.

Republican Nevada Gov Brian Sandoval also warned Friday that cutting off the payments will be “devastating” in his state.

“It’s going to hurt people. It’s going to hurt kids. It’s going to hurt families. It’s going to hurt individuals. It’s going to hurt people with mental health issues. It’s going to hurt veterans. It’s going to hurt everybody,” he told the Nevada Independent, referring to the CSR payments. “And so this is something that I’ve been very supportive during my administration in terms of expanding health care and making sure that people have access to affordable health care and I’m going to continue on that path.”

The Trump administration has repeatedly threatened to cut off these crucial payments for insurers who cover low-income Americans with significant health care needs. Over the summer, as the administration was weighing whether to make its August payment, several Republicans urged Trump to continue the subsidies, including Sen. John Thune (R-SD), a member of the Republican leadership team, and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the Republican leading bipartisan talks on legislation to make the CSR payments.

After the announcement, Trump on Friday morning urged Democrats to work with him on a legislative fix to Obamacare, but it’s not entirely clear what the administration would agree to.

Office of Management and Budget chief Mick Mulvaney on Friday told Politico that he is “pretty sure” the administration would not support “a clean Murray-Alexander bill.”

“The president has said pretty clearly that he’s willing to talk to just about anybody about repealing and replacing [Obamacare],” Mulvaney added, per Politico. “But if the straight-up question is: Is the president interested in continuing what he sees as corporate welfare and bailouts for the insurance companies? No.”

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President Trump’s decision to halt key Obamacare subsidies — a decision first reported by Politico and announced in a late night press release from the White House Thursday — has now been crystalized in legal documents filed Friday morning in the legal case brought by House Republicans against the subsidies in 2014.

The filings include a notice from the Department of Health and Human Services that the subsidies, known as cost sharing reduction payments, will be stopped immediately. The next payments were scheduled for Oct. 18.

The payments subsidize insurers for keeping out-of-pocket costs down for low-income consumers, as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. House Republicans had argued the payments were illegal because they were not appropriated by Congress.

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Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) will forego a run for governor and stay in the Senate, she announced Friday, keeping a key moderate Republican in the upper chamber.

“I have decided that the best way that I can contribute to these priorities is to remain a member of the United States Senate,” Collins announced Friday in Maine.

Collins is one of the last true remaining Republican moderates in the Senate, and her decision to stay means the Senate will retain one of the few Republicans who has shown a willingness to stand up to President Trump and break with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

The three-term senator had given serious thought to returning to her state for good and running for governor, something she’s done before, and during the Friday morning event at a regional Chamber of Commerce event she said the “hands-on nature” of gubernatorial work “very much appealed” to her. But she said she could do more by remaining in D.C.

Ultimately I have been guided by my sense of where I could do the most for the people of Maine and for the nation. These are difficult times for our country and the Senate reflects the discord and division that characterize the Senate today,” she said. “I realized how much needs to be done in a divided and troubled Washington.”

Her decision to stay slows a rush to the exits from moderate Republicans and independent thinkers in both chambers. Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Reps. Dave Reichert (R-WA) and Charlie Dent (R-PA) are some of the Republicans who have shown a willingness to buck party leaders who have decided not to run again.

Collins’ vote has been pivotal through much of her time in Congress, especially in recent years. She was one of three Republicans who voted against the GOP’s attempts to repeal Obamacare earlier this year, along with Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), effectively killing the bill.

She was also one of just two Republicans, along with Murkowski, to oppose the nomination Secretary of Education Betsy Devos. She has played a key role on a number of other bipartisan efforts over the years — she was one of just two Republicans to vote for President Obama’s $800 billion stimulus package in 2009, casting the deciding votes for a deal that many economists credit with halting the economic collapse.

If Collins had run and won, Maine law says the governor would pick her replacement, which most experts think means controversial outgoing Gov. Paul LePage (R) would put in a placeholder who would likely be much more conservative than her. Democrats would have likely run a serious challenge in 2020. But now that’s moot — and the Senate will retain one of the few of a dying breed, a true moderate Republican.

 

 

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The Trump administration announced late Thursday night that the federal government will cut off key payments to insurers in a move that will undermine the Affordable Care Act and likely cause premiums on the Obamacare exchanges to increase.

The decision to end the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments, which subsidize insurers that help low-income Americans with significant health care needs afford coverage, is the latest move by President Donald Trump and his administration to undermine Obamacare. It came the same day that Trump announced an executive order that will make it easier for young, healthy Americans to buy cheap plans that don’t comply with Obamacare requirements, causing premiums for less healthy Americans on the ACA exchanges to rise.

The decision to end the payments comes after the administration threatened to cut off the subsidies for months. The constant threat has caused instability in the health care marketplaces as insurers raised their rates or left areas altogether out of fear that Trump would cut off the crucial subsidies.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated in an August report that ending the CSR payments would cause premiums for those who benefit from the payments to rise by 20 percent by 2018 and 25 percent by 2020. The CBO also found that ending the payments would add $194 billion dollars to the federal deficit by 2026.

In a statement issued after 11 p.m. Thursday night, the Department of Health and Human Services bashed Obamacare and argued that the administration cannot legally make the CSR payments without approval from Congress.

“It has been clear for many years that Obamacare is bad policy.  It is also bad law,” Health and Human Services Acting Secretary Eric Hargan and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma began in a statement about the decision.

In the statement, Hargan and Verma argued that the Obama administration never received the proper authority from Congress to set aside funds for the CSR payments. House Republicans sued the Obama administration over the payments, and a federal court ruled that the payments were illegal. The federal government appealed the decision to an appeals court.

“The Obama Administration unfortunately went ahead and made CSR payments to insurance companies after requesting – but never ultimately receiving – an appropriation from Congress as required by law,” Hargan and Verma said in the statement. “After a thorough legal review by HHS, Treasury, OMB, and an opinion from the Attorney General, we believe that the last Administration overstepped the legal boundaries drawn by our Constitution. Congress has not appropriated money for CSRs, and we will discontinue these payments immediately.”

In a statement on the end to CSR payments, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said that the Trump administration would drop the federal government’s appeal of the court ruling, but HHS did not mention the appeal in its statement.

Trump touted the administration’s decision in a tweet early Friday morning and called on Democrats to work with him to “fix” the law.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Thursday night blasted the administration’s decision to end the key payments, describing the move as “sabotage.”

“Sadly, instead of working to lower health costs for Americans, it seems President Trump will singlehandedly hike Americans’ health premiums. It is a spiteful act of vast, pointless sabotage leveled at working families and the middle class in every corner of America. Make no mistake about it, Trump will try to blame the Affordable Care Act, but this will fall on his back and he will pay the price for it,” they said in a joint statement.

 “President Trump has apparently decided to punish the American people for his inability to improve our health care system. Trumpcare collapsed because Americans overwhelmingly recognized the cruelty and higher costs it meant for them and their loved ones.  Now, millions of hard-working American families will suffer just because President Trump wants them to,” they added.

Schumer and Pelosi said that the administration has signaled it will not back bipartisan negotiations led by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) on legislation to continue the CSR payments and give states more flexibility under Obamacare.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman pledged Thursday night to sue the administration over the decision to end the payments. Schneiderman and several other attorneys general intervened in the court case over the payments over the summer, and were granted the ability to defend the payments.

 

 

 

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In 2004, a bipartisan coalition of Alabama leaders moved to eliminate sections of the state constitution mandating school segregation and poll taxes. They assumed it’d be an easy feat — until Roy Moore got involved.

Democrats and Republicans led by then-Gov. Bob Riley (R) worked together on an amendment to remove language in the state constitution mandating “separate schools for white and colored children” and allowing poll taxes, Jim Crow-era requirements that people to pay to vote that disenfranchised most black people.

The changes were purely symbolic — all of the state constitutional language had already been struck down by state and federal courts — but civil rights and business leaders saw it as a way to heal old wounds and make the state more attractive to big business.

The opposite happened instead, and Moore’s fierce opposition likely made the difference.

“He had a huge impact. It was a measure that was set to pass without much opposition and then because he got involved it changed the dynamic completely,” said Susan Kennedy of the Alabama Education Association, the state public teachers’ lobby that supported the amendment.

At the time, Moore, who is currently the GOP nominee and the front-runner to become Alabama’s next U.S. senator, had recently been booted from the state supreme court for defying higher court orders to remove a Ten Commandments statue from in front of his courthouse. That fight had made him a superstar in the religious right both in the state and nationally.

When conservative evangelical activists including the Alabama Christian Coalition began warning about adverse effects of the segregation amendment he stepped up to be the amendment’s most prominent foe — a move that kept his name in the headlines as he geared up for a 2006 primary challenge against Riley and sent the amendment down to a narrow defeat.

“This amendment is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and the people of Alabama should be aware of it,” Moore told the Birmingham News in 2004, warning it would “open the door to an enormous tax increase” — one of many broadsides he issued.

His argument worked. The statewide measure failed by about 2,000 votes, out of 1.4 million cast. Every subsequent attempt to remove the language since that initial failure has failed, most recently in 2012.

Moore’s stance against the amendment was one of many of his efforts over two decades that has built him a fiercely loyal following on the religious right. That base wasn’t enough when he ran against Riley in 2006, but it powered his primary victory over Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) last month and has him favored to win the Dec. 12 general election. It’s also one in a long line of racially charged episodes in Moore’s career.

Moore faces former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, who is best known for successfully prosecuting, decades later, Ku Klux Klan member responsible for the 1963 Birmingham church bombing that killed four young black girls.

Alabama’s state constitution still contains the following language:

“Separate schools shall be provided for white and colored children, and no child of either race shall be permitted to attend a school of the other race.”

A ‘Black Eye’ For Alabama

The battle over removing segregationist language is part of a much larger effort that has pitted reformers, civil rights groups and many in the business community against Old South traditionalists and some other conservatives in the state for much of the last two decades.

The amendment was a part of Riley’s push to modernize the state constitution, a sprawling, racist document dating to 1901 that codified Jim Crow and created a strong state central government.

“Federal and state court rulings have struck down a lot of these [clauses] as unconstitutional, but it was viewed by many as a black eye for the state,” Toby Roth, who served as Riley’s chief of staff during the constitutional fights, told TPM.

The amendment to remove segregationist language sailed through the Democratic-controlled state legislature with strong bipartisan support, and supporters expected it to pass when put to a statewide vote. But lawmakers also added a provision that would have stripped a 1956 amendment passed in the wake of the 1954 Supreme Court decision desegregating schools. That amendment said Alabamans had no constitutional “right to education or training at public expense.”

Moore and hardline conservatives pounced to argue the removal of that language would allow for a backdoor tax increase by judges who would see it as granting a constitutional right to an education, warning it would hurt taxpayers and threaten private schools and homeschoolers.

Lawmakers were caught off-guard by the heated opposition. But while they’d had past success in removing other racist language, even in those efforts it’d been clear that not everyone in Alabama was ready to let go of the Old South: A 2000 amendment to remove language banning interracial marriage had passed, but by a closer-than-expected 60 percent to 40 percent margin.

This amendment got caught in a more recent fight over education funding as well, an issue that’s both racially charged and far from symbolic for many voters in the state.

In 1993, a state judge had struck down the education language as unconstitutional while ruling that the state needed to spend more on schools. The state supreme court struck down that ruling in 2002, with Moore on the court. Many white Alabamians had pulled their kids out of public schools during desegregation, creating a new de facto segregated school system in parts of the state and leaving little incentive for white Alabamians, especially wealthier ones, to pay to improve schools that in parts of the state were heavily black.

“People were afraid that it would reignite the [school] equity argument that was sued over in the 1990s,” said Kennedy. ”

Many voters’ opposition to more school funding was and is ideological and financial, not purely racially driven. But civil rights groups argue that the effect is the same.

“When you talk about not guaranteeing or taking away the language from the Constitution not guaranteeing the right to a public education, that’s racist,” Southern Christian Leadership Conference President Charles Steele Jr., a former Alabama state senator, told NPR at the time.

The most prominent politician besides Moore battling the amendment was his protege and former staffer, Tom Parker, who was running for the Alabama Supreme Court at the time. During that campaign, Parker spoke at an event celebrating  Nathan Bedford Forrest, the Confederate general and Ku Klux Klan leader, hosted by opponents of the civil rights movement, and handed out Confederate battle flags at the funeral of a woman believed to have been the last living widow of a Confederate soldier.

Tom Parker listens as Roy Moore speaks at Parker’s swearing in as a state supreme court justice in Montgomery, AL on Jan. 14, 2005. (AP Photo/Jay Sailors)

The battle over the amendment came just a year after the Christian Coalition had helped defeat a Riley-backed push to increase state taxes to invest more on education and infrastructure.

The ongoing tax fights had made many conservatives wary of any constitutional changes, with a faction that simply opposed any tweaks.

“You do have a more conservative wing of the Republican Party that’s always suspicious of any constitution changes as a backdoor attempt to raise taxes,” Roth said.

Parker and Moore explicitly made that argument.

Moore told the Associated Press that the amendment was “another attempt to open the door for a court-ordered tax increase without the consent of the people” after they’d defeated the earlier amendment, while Parker ran radio ads saying that it would create “a new right to education for citizens of all ages” and warning “liberals will use this to pressure judges into raising your taxes.”

Parker won by a narrow margin even though he was heavily outspent in the race.

Moore’s other controversies

Moore is best known nationally for his controversial religious views. He’s said Muslims shouldn’t be allowed in Congress, that Sharia law is already being implemented in parts of the Midwest, and that “homosexual conduct should be illegal.”

But his racial views have also raised questions.

Moore’s Foundation for Moral Law hosted the neo-Confederate, pro-secession League of the South’s annual “Secession Day” events in 2009 and 2010, though Moore’s staff claim he didn’t know about it . League leaders have participated in pro-Moore rallies both times he was removed from the state court. They also vociferously opposed the 2004 segregation amendment and actively campaigned for Parker, Moore’s protege. As TPM previously reported, Moore’s biggest donor, Michael Peroutka, is a neo-Confederate who has advocated that the South should secede and for years served on the League of the South’s board.

Moore has said he doesn’t support secession and believes “all men are created equal,” though he’s declined to disavow the League or Peroutka. His campaign didn’t respond to multiple requests to discuss this story.

Moore also spoke at an event for the Council of Conservative Citizens in 1995 — a  group that Charleston mass murderer Dylann Roof would cite as a key influence two decades later.

“I did not consider the Council of Conservative Citizens to be a ‘white supremacist’ group when I spoke to them 20 years ago,” Moore said in 2015, pointing out other prominent Republicans had spoken to the group.

Moore’s office is adorned with a portrait of Confederate President Jefferson Davis and busts of generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson, though he’s claimed that’s because they’re fellow West Point graduates.

He hasn’t shied away from racial controversy during his current Senate run either. Moore has continued to question whether President Obama was born in the United States, and referred to “reds and yellows” as he lamented racial division during a campaign speech. Moore’s Facebook page has shared memes claiming Obama was Muslim and one that showed black people stomping a cop car with text saying the way to stop riots was to “play the national anthem — they’ll all sit down.”

Moore’s Motivations

Those who supported the amendment are split about Moore’s reason for taking on the fight.

Most don’t think his views are rooted chiefly in the racial politics that conservative Alabama politicians in both parties have exploited for years. But while some see a purist ideologue, others see an opportunist who’s fine making common cause with more fringe figures to further his own ambitions.

“I can’t say at this point what drove Roy Moore other than his own self-interest,” University of Alabama Law Professor Bryan Fair, who is black and serves on the board of the Southern Poverty Law Center, told TPM.

Fair argued Moore’s involvement may have been crass opportunism.

“It was perceived as a racial issue by significant parts of the population, especially the African American population, who very much wanted to see this language removed,” he said. “Roy Moore didn’t use the N word but one doesn’t have to use the N word to be a racist or act with racial motives or with a callousness or indifference towards racial inequality.”

Others think Moore and his allies on this fight were purists driven by an ideological opposition to state-funded education — one critic who asked not to be named in order to speak frankly described him as “a religious nut” and a “zealot” but not a racist. Moore has often railed against public schools and even once wrote that public pre-school was an “unjustifiable attempt to indoctrinate our youth” and compared it to Nazi indoctrination programs.

“I would not go so far as to say the Moore camp had racist motivations. It would be completely consistent with them being suspicious of activist judges trying to raise revenues from the bench. Could you find someone who had racist motivations who was on his side on this? I’m sure you could. But I’ve disagreed with Judge Moore on several things and I would never ascribe his personal motivations to a racist agenda,” said Roth, Riley’s former chief of staff.

“There is a philosophy that any additional services offered by the state government will cost additional money and there is a constituency that wants to leave a cap on that. The segregationist language was secondary to that concern for them,” said Kennedy.

Others think both are true — that Moore is an ideologue driven by theocratic, anti-government views who is also a savvy politician willing to make common cause with racists, even though racial animus doesn’t drive his own views.

“Moore spoke to some crazy groups in the past like the League of the South but that wasn’t race-based, it was a lot more about groups that buy what he’s saying,” said another former Riley staffer. “Moore is not a George Wallace racial demagogue guy. He’s a demagogue on a lot of things, race just isn’t one of them.”

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will get a left-wing challenge from a rising Democratic star.

According to CNN, California Senate President Kevin de Leon (D) will run for the Senate, pitting him against the longtime senator in an all-party primary.

De Leon has been mulling a run for a while, and has received a lot of encouragement from progressives who are fed up with Feinstein’s relatively moderate positions — and how blandly she’s talked about much of President Trump’s actions.

His run could set up the first serious left-wing challenge of a sitting Democrat in recent memory. Feinstein, 84, recently announced she’d run for reelection. But California’s unique all-party primary system could make her hard to defeat. The top two vote-getters in a primary advance to the general election, and if two Democrats advance — a real possibility — Feinstein could draw Republican votes.

The race will likely be defined generationally — de Leon is 50 — as well as geographically and racially, as the Latino de Leon is Los Angeles-based in a state where northern Californians like Feinstein have long dominated politics.

He’s not the only one looking at a bid: Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer is also rumored to be mulling a run, though Steyer did so two years ago before deciding not to challenge now-Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA).

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It’s hard to predict the effect of an executive order aimed at undermining Obamacare that President Trump signed Thursday, as the order was vague and left most of the details to the relevant departments writing the regulations.

But there’s at least one claim Trump made during the signing ceremony that probably won’t pan out: “This will cost the United States government virtually nothing,” he promised, while vowing people “will have great, great health care.”

Such a claim is at odds with the stated goals of the order and how it would affect government spending related to the Affordable Care Act.

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A congressional ethics watchdog released a report Thursday that found Rep. Chris Collins (R-NY) may have broken ethics rules and federal law with actions he took as a board member of the biotech firm Innate Immunotherapeutics.

The independent Office for Congressional Ethics (OCE), which may investigate allegations against lawmakers and refer its findings to the House Ethics Committee, found there is “substantial reason to believe” Collins shared nonpublic information about the purchase of Innate stock with investors and that he took official actions to help Innate: two National Institutes of Health employees told OCE that Collins asked an NIH employee to help Innate with a clinical trial.

It asked that the House Ethics Committee further review those two actions. The watchdog said it did not find substantial reason to believe that Collins purchased discounted stock, however.

The House Ethics panel said Thursday that it was again extending a review of the allegations against Collins.

The committee first extended its review following a report that Collins purchased Innate stock while the Food and Drug Administration was considering whether to approve a drug made by the company. Collins also introduced an amendment to a House bill related to FDA drug approval that would impact Innate, according to the Daily Beast’s reporting.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price did not cooperate with the OCE investigation, according to the watchdog’s report. The watchdog recommended the House Ethics Committee subpoena Price, who said in his confirmation hearing that he purchased Innate stock after hearing about it from Collins.

Correction: The initial version of this post incorrectly referred to the Food and Drug Administration as the Federal Drug Administration.

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President Trump signed an executive order Thursday taking aim at the Affordable Care Act, after Congress’ failure to pass a bill to repeal it.

The order is vague — it mainly directs certain agencies to relax a few key health care regulations imposed under President Obama — so it’s hard to assess its potential impact or the shape of the legal battle that will likely meet it. Its main goal appears to allow the purchase in certain scenarios of cheaper but more barebones plans, at the risk of diverting healthy people away from the more comprehensive policies mandated by the ACA and raising premiums for those reliant on the more generous plans.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the order is that it does not go as far as Obamacare supporters had feared it could have in undermining the 2010 health care legislation.

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