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

Just before fleeing Washington for the April recess, Republicans unveiled a new amendment they said would revive their struggling bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act—a policy based on a program in Maine that aims to bring down health insurance premiums by funneling older and sicker people into a separate individual market subsidized by the federal government.

Though some lawmakers and staff privately admitted it was merely a stunt to create the appearance of progress on the stalled health care overhaul, others insisted the proposal would breathe new life into the moribund bill.

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If any one goal exists that could motivate fractious Republican lawmakers to come together, it should be cutting taxes.

"It’s probably the one unifying issue all Republicans have," said Bruce Bartlett, an economic adviser to President Ronald Reagan and a Treasury Department official under George H.W. Bush.

But as Republicans turn their attentions from their failed health care overhaul to rewriting the tax code, the road ahead is anything but smooth. Even with control of both chambers of Congress and the White House, many political and fiscal obstacles could derail efforts to slash tax rates for the wealthy and corporations.

With deadlines looming for Congress to avert a government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling, Washington's insiders are airing doubts that Republicans can accomplish tax reform by their originally stated August deadline, if at all.

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Following reports that President Donald Trump is dumping the tax plan he campaigned on and exploring a host of other options, advocates for Social Security are sounding the alarm, pointing to a proposal to eliminate the program's primary source of funding: payroll taxes.

Though it is not yet known how far along the White House proposal has progressed, those who want to protect Social Security say they are taking the news "extremely seriously."

"Even if this is just a trial balloon, we want to puncture it as quickly as we can,” said Nancy Altman, the president of the advocacy group Social Security Works.

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Tierney Sneed contributed reporting.

Congressional Republicans had originally intended to return to their districts for the April recess riding high on the victory of fulfilling their years-long promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Instead, they are returning empty-handed, and will spend the next two weeks hammered by negative TV ads, inundated by frustrated constituents from all sides of the political spectrum, and forced to explain why they haven't been able to pass a bill—or even finish writing one—despite control of both chambers of Congress and the White House.

"It's not the best spot to be in," Rep. Steve Womack (R-AR) admitted to TPM last week. "We are the governing majority, and they kind of expect us to say, 'This is what we plan to do.' It will be reasonable and understandable if my constituents demonstrate a level of frustration when I come back."

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Following President Trump's unilateral decision to launch missiles at a Syrian airbase—a decision reportedly triggered by an emotional reaction to pictures of wounded children in the area—the vast majority of lawmakers in both parties lined up to support the strike, but they acknowledged that Trump did not consult Congress in advance and that they do not know the long-term U.S. strategy in the region.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), asked for the legal justification for launching a military attack without seeking authority from Congress, shrugged off the question in a Friday press conference.

"I think the President has the authority to do what he did," he said, adding that he might be "interested in taking a look at" an Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) "if the President feels like he needs it."

Asked if there any discussions underway about bringing Congress back from their April recess to debate a military authorization, McConnell gave a one-word reply: "No."

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It seemed on Wednesday afternoon that Capitol Hill Republicans had resigned themselves to pausing their effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act until after the two-week April recess—promising to conduct a "slow and deliberate process."

"Obamacare took a year to get done," Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH) told reporters. "I think expectations were put too high in terms of how quickly this could happen."

But that did not satisfy the Trump administration, which reportedly demanded Congress move the ball forward before leaving Washington. That prompted the House Rules Committee to throw together a last-minute markup of a newly unveiled amendment that would funnel people with illnesses and disabilities into high-risk pools run by the states and subsidized by federal dollars.

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For the past seven years, the driving message of the Republican Party has been a pledge to get rid of Obamacare "root and branch," repealing "every word" of President Obama's health care reform law.

But now that Republicans control both chambers of Congress and the White House, this is proving easier said than done. Not only can the GOP conference not agree on what kind of system should replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), some are beginning to rise to the defense of the laws' core protections.

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC), the chief deputy majority whip in the House, told reporters Wednesday that a new proposal that would weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions is "a bridge too far for our members."

McHenry, citing his own past medical history and that of his family, is now arguing against the weakening of certain Obamacare regulations, which he called "really important protections."

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After a brutal chemical weapons attack killed dozens of civilians, including many children, in northern Syria, Republican and Democratic senators on Capitol Hill are blaming the Trump administration for sending signals that encouraged the Syrian regime to "act with impunity."

"This is what obviously happens when the United States of America doesn't behave in a way that [shows] we care about human rights and the needless deaths of innocent people," Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) fumed to reporters on Tuesday, the day of the attack. "When the Secretary of State says that the Syrian people will decide their own future, that sends a signal to Bashar al Assad that he can do whatever he wants with impunity. It encourages the brutality and mass murder."

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It's deja vu all over again on Capitol Hill.

Less than two weeks after declaring their bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act "over" and vowing to move on to tax reform and other issues, Republicans are back at it, repeating the exact steps that led to the bill's demise the first time around.

Once again, we're seeing extensive concessions to the hardline House Freedom Caucus that the group's members say still don't go far enough. Once again, these same concessions are scaring off moderate Republicans. Once again, senators are skeptical that what the House is proposing can pass the upper chamber.

And as with the first bill, President Trump' White House is once again pushing for a rapid vote—potentially as soon as this week—though no text of the new bill has been drafted, there has been no Congressional Budget Office analysis, and Republicans received few details at Tuesday morning's conference.

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