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Alice Ollstein

Alice Ollstein is a reporter at Talking Points Memo, covering national politics. She graduated from Oberlin College in 2010 and has been reporting in DC ever since, covering the Supreme Court, Congress and national elections for TV, radio, print, and online outlets. Her work has aired on Free Speech Radio News, All Things Considered, Channel News Asia, and Telesur, and her writing has been published by The Atlantic, La Opinión, and The Hill Rag. She was elected in 2016 as an at-large board member of the DC Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Alice grew up in Santa Monica, California and began working for local newspapers in her early teens.

Articles by Alice

Amid the wrangling over the budget omnibus that must pass Congress by the end of next week to avoid a government shutdown, lawmakers are locked in a heated debate about whether to prop up or further chip away at Obamacare’s individual market.

Dueling proposals recently introduced in the Senate take aim specifically at the question of cheap, deregulated, short-term health insurance plans, which are expected to lure younger and healthier people out of the ACA market and drive up premiums for those who remain.

A Democratic bill would sharply limit those short-term plans and force them to adopt Obamacare’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions. But a Republican effort, supported by the White House, wants to go in the opposite direction. It seeks to extend the length of short-term plans and make them renewable, essentially making the short-term plans indistinguishable from regular insurance plans and creating a entire shadow health care market free from the ACA’s rules and regulations.

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The cycle is getting shorter.

Before House Republicans had even learned the details of a new White House proposal for a three-year renewal of DACA paired with three years of border wall funding, the White House had already walked back the idea.

The Washington Post reported Wednesday afternoon that White House officials had been reaching out to Capitol Hill leaders to gauge their enthusiasm for the short-term deal, saying President Trump was on board with the plan despite his prior insistence that any immigration package include cuts to legal immigration. Just a few hours later, White House spokesperson Raj Shah said Trump does not support the short-term package and will only back a more comprehensive bill.

While the trail balloon was still aloft, several Republican lawmakers told TPM they would not be on board if such a provision was added to the upcoming budget omnibus.

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Next Friday’s omnibus budget deadline may be Congress’ last best chance for passing a bill to stabilize Obamacare’s volatile individual market and prevent premiums from shooting up just before November’s midterm elections. But the bipartisan effort that has dragged out since last summer may crumble in the face of opposition from conservative lobby groups and demands from President Trump and House Republicans that Democrats say are “poison pills.”

Even if Congress manages to pass some form of the bipartisan package lawmakers have spent months negotiating—restoring the cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers terminated by the Trump administration last year and implementing a national reinsurance program—health care experts and some lawmakers say that won’t do enough to stop the bleeding.

“When Alexander-Murray was originally crafted and we all signed onto it on a bipartisan basis, the sabotage was still limited,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) told TPM in a sit-down interview in her office Tuesday. “There’s been so much more since then, so what might have been much more than a Band-Aid right now is more limited in how much it can do.”

Read the latest reporter’s sum-up (Prime access) on GOP efforts to undermine Obamacare »

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The news that President Trump had abruptly fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson while he was on an overseas trip hit Capitol Hill Tuesday morning, as details trickled out throughout the day about the unclear circumstances of the ouster and what will happen in the weeks ahead.

“The State Department is in chaos,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) exclaimed to reporters, shaking his head as he stepped on the escalator in the Capitol’s basement.

Reacting to the news about Tillerson and another top State Department official fired Tuesday for contradicting the White House’s version of events, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) quipped: “At the rate this administration is hemorrhaging staff, pretty soon the President’s barber is going to play a big role in American foreign policy.”

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Lawmakers see the omnibus budget that must pass Congress in the next two weeks as the last opportunity to mitigate some of the damage that has been done to the individual market over the last year — both through the administration’s regulatory actions and Congress’ repeal of the individual mandate. But it’s far from a sure thing that the omnibus will pass. Conservative groups are railing against health care-stabilization bills, the White House is demanding that poison pills be included, and legislation relating to a bunch of other hot-button issues — from immigration to gun control — is threatening to drag the omnibus down. Prospects are grim even for policies that would save the government money and bring down insurance premiums.

As the federal government continues to throw up its hands over Obamacare, states are moving rapidly to make their own changes.

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A group of immigrants whose Temporary Protected Status was revoked by President Trump, and their U.S. citizen children, filed a class action lawsuit against the Trump administration on Monday afternoon at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Lawyers on the case tell TPM that the immigrant parents, many of whom have lived in the U.S. for decades, are challenging the abrupt cancelation of their status as arbitrary and a violation of their right to due process. They are also arguing, citing President Trump’s infamous “shithole” comment and other disparaging remarks about immigrants, that the administration’s decision was unconstitutionally based on racial animus.

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The government transparency group American Oversight sued CMS Administrator Seema Verma and the Department of Health and Human Services on Friday after the agency refused to hand over Verma’s communications and ethics waivers regarding her involvement in major state Medicaid decisions that she previously worked on as a private consultant.

The lawsuit comes after HHS refused to respond to five FOIA requests the group filed last August and four updated requests submitted this January, and after reports that Verma violated her recusal from Kentucky’s Medicaid waiver decision.

As Verma’s CMS moves aggressively to green-light state efforts to impose work requirements, lifetime limits, premiums and other fees and restrictions on their Medicaid programs, American Oversight and congressional committees have attempted to investigate whether Verma has any conflicts of interest.

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Since coming into power last year, the Trump administration has worked to undermine and chip away at the Affordable Care Act, repealing some key provisions and encouraging states to push the envelope on cutting back their Medicaid expansions under Obamacare. But in a letter to Idaho on Thursday, CMS Administrator Seema Verma drew a red line, saying the state cannot move forward with its plan to defy the remaining provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

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Congressional Republicans’ hopes that President Trump would back down from his threat to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports were dashed Thursday when the President signed an executive order implementing the tariffs and suggested more global trade upheaval in the months to come.

“I’ll have a right to go up or down depending on the country,” he said. “We’re going to be very flexible. We’re going to see who is treating us fairly.”

In response, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) sail Thursday that he will soon draft a bill to block the tariffs from taking effect, calling Trump’s move “a marriage of two lethal poisons to economic growth – protectionism and uncertainty.”

“Trade wars are not won, they are only lost,” he said in a statement. “Congress cannot be complicit as the administration courts economic disaster. I will immediately draft and introduce legislation to nullify these tariffs, and I urge my colleagues to pass it before this exercise in protectionism inflicts any more damage on the economy.”

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