While most of the nation was focused on former FBI director James Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday other important issues were brewing. The investigations of Russian hacking and the involvement of Donald Trump’s campaign may take years to resolve; here is what was on the front burner last week.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put the Obamacare replacement legislation on a fast track and told President Trump that a bill would be passed before the July 4 recess. Unfortunately we don’t know what’s in this bill. It is being drafted in secrecy by a dozen or so conservative Senate Republicans. No problem, Trump will sign it without hesitation and tout it as a huge advancement for health care.
The Senate will make some improvements to the American Health Care Act that was passed by the House. Still, the final GOP bill will leave millions of people without health insurance. Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood will likely be eliminated and those who receive subsidies may be prevented from purchasing policies that cover abortion — same old, same old.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is creating uncertainty in the Obamacare markets that is driving up premiums. Insurance companies in these markets need assurance from Trump that they will receive payments of cost-sharing reductions next year for those low income policy holders that need help with co-pays and deductibles. In North Carolina, Blue Cross Blue Shield would have asked for an 8.8 percent premium increase for 2018 but due to the cost-sharing payment uncertainty the company asked for a 22.9 percent increase.
One way or another, Republicans are determined to cripple Obamacare and make health care much less affordable for millions of U.S. citizens. And they are likely to make premiums more expensive for the rest of us too.
This week the House passed the Choice Act. This legislation dismantles most of the protections provided by the Dodd-Frank Act that was passed in 2010 in response to the 2008 financial crisis. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.) introduced the Choice Act. He said the Lehman bankruptcy “worked as it should have worked.” In other words when large financial institutions fail they should not be rescued by the taxpayers or subject to Dodd-Frank’s orderly liquidation authority that was designed to avoid a taxpayer bailout. The Choice Act repeals that authority and allows bankruptcy chaos to control.
I suspect that there are very few members of Congress who understand what Dodd-Frank does to protect taxpayers and consumers from uncontrolled financial practices. But one of its key provisions was to establish the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that consolidated the responsibility for 10 separate consumer protections under one agency.
The C.F.P.B. has authority to prosecute unfair, abusive and deceptive practices like the fake accounts Wells Fargo created for its clients. The Choice Act would repeal that authority. Reports indicate the C.F.P.B. has recovered around $12 billion for 29 million consumers who were damaged by questionable bank practices. The Choice Act would essentially pull the bureau’s teeth.
Keep in mind that Republicans wanted market forces to correct the growing financial crisis created by the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008. The majority of Republicans in the House (101) voted against President George W. Bush’s Troubled Asset Relief Program in October 2008. Without TARP’s stabilizing effects the financial markets could have collapsed, leading to a worldwide depression and a ravaged global economy.
So what says the GOP; we’ll turn the clock back to 2008, que sera sera.
Although congressional Republicans are still working on a tax cut for the wealthy, milestone tax legislation was passed in Kansas last week. The Republican controlled legislature overrode the veto of Republican governor Sam Brownback and voted for an income tax increase.
Yes, you read that right; Republicans actually approved a tax increase that will raise Kansas revenues by $1.2 billion over the next two years. It rolled back some of Brownback’s massive tax cut that took effect in 2013. At the time Brownback told the Wall Street Journal: “My focus is to create a red-state model that allows the Republican ticket to say, ‘See, we’ve got a different way, and it works.’ “ And he told TV talk show host Joe Scarborough, “We’ll have a real live experiment.”
Well, Kansas built a tax haven for businesses — but they didn’t come. Instead Kansas legislators had to slash budgets for state services, including funding for education, libraries, public health programs and court systems. Reports indicate that Kansas school teachers left the state in droves. Kansas burned through its $700 million reserve fund and took $1 billion from the highway improvements fund to pay for Brownback’s tax cuts. Even a large sales tax increase in 2015 didn’t help much.
Since 2013 Kansas credit ratings have been downgraded several times; Kansas gross domestic product increases have lagged the nation’s GDP performance significantly; and private employment growth in Kansas from 2013 through March 2017 was 45 percent less than U.S. employment growth. In short, the “cut taxes and grow the economy” experiment failed miserably, not only in Kansas but in other Republican controlled states like Oklahoma and Louisiana.
Obamacare and Dodd-Frank have been beneficial for health care and consumer protection while tax cut experiments have flopped. These facts mean nothing to Republicans. They are driven by ideology and can’t be bothered by evidence of which programs actually work.