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National Govt & Politics
Republicans make big push to forge final health care deal
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Republicans make big push to forge final health care deal

Republicans make big push to forge final health care deal
Photo Credit: Jamie Dupree

Republicans make big push to forge final health care deal

Spurred on by President Donald Trump's latest call for action to repeal and replace the Obama health law, Republicans accelerated their work on Wednesday in a push to forge a GOP health care agreement, but even with a new sense of urgency, Republican leaders still face divides in the Congress on several key issues that could imperil the effort.

Let's take a look at some of the issues that are involved in GOP discussions:

1. Trump gives thumbs up to tax credits. This is one of the biggest issues right now in the health care debate among GOP lawmakers, whether you give Americans tax credits to help them buy health insurance. In his speech Tuesday night, the President plainly said "tax credits" - but that means different things to some GOP lawmakers. "A tax credit is just a subsidy in another form," frowned Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). The idea has drawn opposition from conservative House Republicans, who worry it will be an expensive entitlement; that opposition from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and others could threaten action in the Senate.

2. GOP leaders push to get a vote done. A day after President Trump's speech, House and Senate Republican leaders made clear they want to get moving on health care, with talk of votes in House committees as early as next week. That came as a bit of a surprise, since no health care bill is even in final form. Most GOP lawmakers are not involved in the negotiations, and so they are on the sidelines, not only waiting for the final language of the legislation, but also all the cost estimates and related facts and figures that go with it. Some of the machinations are starting to worry conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation.

3. Medicaid reform for the states. This is a very big issue, because it pits the 31 states which expanded their Medicaid programs under the Obama health law, against the 19 states that did not. Republicans like the generic idea that states can be given money through block grants, and then have the power to run their own Medicaid operation without massive red tape from Washington, D.C. But the level of money involved, along with how many people would be covered is a big stumbling block, as this has divided not only GOP lawmakers in Congress, but Republican Governors as well.

4. Taxing health benefits from your employer. As I wrote back in January, one option for the GOP was to treat health benefits provided through your job as a taxable benefit - like regular income. The idea is that such a a plan would help keep a lid on the increase in health care costs. That is still a part of the discussion. "The current tax code discriminates against people who don't get health insurance at work," Speaker Paul Ryan said earlier this week. It's still not clear what income level the cap would be at, and how much money that new tax would bring in, as no final bill is publicly available as yet.

5. There are not easy answers on health care. President Trump took some flak earlier this week when he said that "nobody knew health care could be so complicated" - and Republicans in Congress are finding that out as they try to navigate not only the issues, but the rules surrounding how the GOP can push a health bill through the Congress using the complex rules of budget reconciliation. While that allows Republicans to avoid any filibuster in the Senate, it also limits what can be part of that bill, and does not allow the GOP to repeal the entire Affordable Care Act. "I'm very concerned about that," said Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ), who argues Senate reconciliation rules are causing "legislative contortions."

6. When can we expect a vote? The best case scenario for Republicans is to push a bill through the House and Senate before Easter - but there could be a number of hurdles that get in the way. There was even one report on Wednesday that votes would take place before cost estimates are received from the Congressional Budget Office. That might not wash with some conservative Republicans, who are worried about spending. "I haven't seen a final bill," said Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), who said he is withholding judgment on what his leadership is developing on health care.

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The Latest Headlines You Need To Know

  • The House Oversight and Reform Committee has voted to subpoena White House counselor Kellyanne Conway after she did not voluntarily appear to testify at a hearing on a government watchdog's findings that she broke the law, media outlets reported. >> Read more trending news  The committee voted 25-16 to compel Conway's testimony. The Wednesday hearing was called to address a report from Special Counsel Henry Kerner saying Conway violated the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from engaging in politics during work, The Washington Post reported. On Monday, White House lawyers rejected the committee's request for Conway's testimony, citing 'long-standing precedent' of presidential advisers declining to testify before Congress. House Democrats, however, criticized the White House for blocking Conway's testimony. 'There are rarely issues that come before our committee that are so clear-cut, but this is one of them,' said committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). 'This is about right and wrong. This is about the core principle of our precious democracy, that nobody, not one person, nobody in this country is above the law.' Conway addressed the allegations during a Fox News appearance on Monday. “You know what they’re mad about?” Conway said. “They want to put a big roll of masking tape over my mouth because I helped as a campaign manager for the successful part of the campaign . . . So they want to chill free speech because they don’t know how to beat [Trump] at the ballot box.” This is a breaking news story. Check back for updates.
  • The pilot killed this month when he crashed a helicopter into the top of a Manhattan high-rise in rain and fog told officials shortly before the crash that he 'did not know where he was,' according to a preliminary report released Tuesday by the National Transportation Safety Board. >> Read more trending news  Authorities said the pilot, 58-year-old Tim McCormack, monitored the weather for two hours before telling the staff at a Manhattan heliport that he saw a '20-minute window to make it out,' according to the report. The Agusta A109E helicopter lifted off from the heliport around 1:30 p.m. June 10, bound for its homeport in Linden, New Jersey. Within minutes of takeoff, McCormack radioed for permission to return to the heliport, though he said he 'did not know where he was,' officials said. >> Read the preliminary report from the NTSB McCormack, 58, was not authorized to fly in limited visibility, according to Federal Aviation Administration records. The helicopter cut an erratic path over the East River and then Manhattan, changing course and altitude several times during the 10-minute flight, according to the NTSB. Citing preliminary flight tracking data, officials said McCormack flew within 500 feet of the Manhattan heliport before reversing course. Video provided to NTSB by a witness showed the helicopter diving and climbing in and out of the clouds. The helicopter slammed into the roof of the 54-story AXA Equitable building in midtown Manhattan around 1:40 p.m. The crash decimated the helicopter, sending small pieces of debris to the street below and sparking a fire. The preliminary report did not include any conclusions about the cause of the crash, but the details it contained pointed to the strong likelihood that foul weather played a role in the crash. It also raised the possibility that the helicopter was descending rapidly when it hit the roof. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Talk about a hero all around. Meet Deputy Jacob Sterns. Not only is he a U.S. Marine who served in Afghanistan but he also gave an incredible sacrifice there when he lost his leg. Now, he serves our community as an Orange County Deputy. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department recently highlighted how proud they are of Deputy Sterns in a video entitled “Deputy Jacob Stearns: The Lawman Without a Limb.” “Really the reason why I became a deputy was to try to do the best I can with all the skills I’ve gathered throughout my life and the different jobs I’ve done and actually bring that here tow hat I now call home,” Sterns begins in the video. Mobile users see tweet here. “You wouldn’t know he’s missing from the knee down. Because he wouldn’t tell you because it’s not about him. He’s about being a cop and being the best cop he can be,” Steve Kelley of Valencia College says of Stern. See the full video and the rest of Deputy Stern’s story below. Mobile users see video here.
  • A graphic photo showing the bodies of a migrant father and daughter who drowned while trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border circulated online Tuesday, prompting debate over President Donald Trump's immigration policy and illustrating the dangers that face some asylum seekers. >> Read more trending news  According to The Associated Press (WARNING: Linked story includes disturbing photo), journalist Julia Le Duc captured the image Monday after authorities found Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his 23-month-old daughter, Valeria, dead along the Rio Grande near Matamoros, Mexico. In an article that appeared in Mexican newspaper La Jornada, Le Duc reported that Martínez, who was from El Salvador, and his family decided to cross the river Sunday after facing difficulties while trying to request asylum in the U.S. The 25-year-old initially swam with his daughter to the U.S. side of the river, left her on the shore and went back into the water to get his wife, 21-year-old Tania Vanessa Ávalos, the AP reported. That's when Martínez's daughter tried to follow him into the water, the report said. Martínez retrieved the toddler, but they were caught in the current and drowned, according to the AP. Le Duc's photo shows Martínez floating in the water with his daughter by his side, wrapped in his shirt and holding his neck. >> See the photo here (WARNING: Graphic image. Viewer discretion advised.) “He put her in his shirt, and I imagine he told himself, 'I've come this far' and decided to go with her,' his mother Rosa Ramírez, who stayed in El Salvador, told the AP.  Last year, 283 migrants died along the U.S.-Mexico border, the AP reported.  Following the latest deaths, Alexandra Hill, El Salvador's minister of foreign affairs, urged residents of the Central American country to stay put, CNN reported (WARNING: Linked story includes disturbing photo). 'Our country is in mourning again,' she said, according to the news outlet. 'I beg you, to all the families, parents, don't risk it. Life is worth a lot more.' Some 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, including Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Kamala Harris and former U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, expressed outrage on social media after seeing the photo. 'We should not look away,' Booker tweeted Tuesday evening. 'These are the consequences of Donald Trump’s inhumane and immoral immigration policy. This is being done in our name.' 'These families seeking asylum after often fleeing extreme violence,' Harris wrote. 'And what happens when they arrive? Trump says, 'Go back to where you came from.' That is inhumane. Children are dying. This is a stain on our moral conscience.' O'Rourke tweeted that the president 'is responsible for these deaths.' 'As his administration refuses to follow our laws – preventing refugees from presenting themselves for asylum at our ports of entry – they cause families to cross between ports, ensuring greater suffering & death,' O'Rourke wrote. 'At the expense of our humanity, not to the benefit of our safety.' Although the White House has not commented on the photo, Trump took to Twitter early Wednesday to blast Democrats' position on immigration. 'Too bad the Dems in Congress won’t do anything at all about Border Security,' he wrote, later adding: 'Democrats want Open Borders, which equals violent crime, drugs and human trafficking. ' – The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • A Pensacola man is grateful to be alive after a mishap during a scuba diving trip Sunday.   Mike Ozburn tells the Pensacola News Journal he was scuba diving with friends Sunday about 16 miles offshore of Pensacola Pass when he became separated from his group. Within a few minutes, Ozburn was too far from the boat for anyone to see or hear him.  From there, the current took over. He told the newspaper he had problems with his buoyancy compensator which delayed his descent.  By the time he finally made it down to the proper depth, his diving buddy was no where to be found.  Not long after losing his group, Ozburn lost sight of the boat.  He drifted for several hours counting boats and aircraft as they passed near him. Ozburn spent about eight hours in the water before another diving charter finally found him.

Washington Insider

  • After months of town halls, meetings, speeches, party gatherings, and travel to key primary and caucus states, the 2020 Democratic Party race for President moves into a new phase on Wednesday night, as ten Democrats gather on stage in the first of two debate nights, beginning a process which is certain to winnow the field of nearly two dozen candidates in the weeks and months ahead. 'I want them to talk about what a Democratic leader can do,' said Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL), who represents the downtown Miami area where the first debates are being held. 'I really want them to tell what their vision is for this country,' Shalala said, especially to spell out, 'what's the difference between Democrats and Republicans.' It may not be that easy to get out a coherent campaign message tonight, with a crowded stage which will include ten candidates, five debate moderators, and commercial breaks that will limit most of the candidates to between seven and ten minutes of actual speaking time. 'I would suggest that they be as aggressive as possible without being obnoxious about it,' said Democratic strategist Jim Manley, who said he would advise candidates not to attack others on stage, and not to try to manufacture a viral moment during the debate. 'No matter what it is - don’t fall for it,' Manley argued. 'Your goal is to show everyone watching that you deserve to be in the stage for the long haul and not just some flash in the pan.' Taking the candidates in alphabetical order for Thursday night, a quick review shows that most of these Democrats are in need of some kind of a campaign boost: + Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) - Booker's own people say he will use this debate as a chance to 'introduce' himself to voters. Booker had some recent attention over a spat with front runner Joe Biden, but has not been a major presence. + Julian Castro - A former mayor of San Antonio, and member of the Obama Cabinet, Castro is often publicly confused with his brother, a member of Congress from Texas. + Bill de Blasio - A mayor of New York City should be a major factor in the broader race for President - just because of that position - but it has not turned out that way so far for de Blasio. + John Delaney - The former Congressman from Maryland has been in the race officially for the longest time of any current Democratic candidate, but has little to show for it at this point. + Tulsi Gabbard - The Congresswoman from Hawaii has been on the fringes of the race since announcing her bid for President. Like most of the others on stage tonight, Gabbard is struggling to get noticed nationally. + Jay Inslee - The former Congressman and current Governor of Washington State has been here in Miami for the last few days pushing his main issue, climate change. Inslee certainly has the policy chops to run for President, but it's not clear if he can make the jump into the top tier of candidates. + Amy Klobuchar - The Senator from Minnesota was on my flight down to Miami with a staffer, a low key arrival when you compare it to the events by O'Rourke and Warren at the same time in Miami. This might seem repetitive, but Klobuchar is also in need of a boost in this race. + Beto O'Rourke - The former Congressman from Texas may be the second best known of the Democrats on stage on this first night, but that hasn't guaranteed him a spot in the top tier of Democratic hopefuls.  Still, he is a known name, and that gives him a leg up on a number of others tonight. + Tim Ryan - the Ohio Congressman is well known on Capitol Hill, but has made little impact so far in the broader race for President. From an industrial area of Ohio, Ryan has a unique message from the Rust Belt for Democrats. He's another one who can use tonight to introduce himself to a broader audience. + Elizabeth Warren - the luck of the draw put Warren with this group on Thursday, as she is by far the biggest candidate, with Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and others in the debate scheduled for Thursday. At a town hall in west Miami on Tuesday, the strength of Warren's operation was on display, as she drew about 1300 interested voters. Yes, those aren't President Trump numbers, but she clearly has a message that is resonating with Democratic Party voters. Before tonight's debate Warren waded into the fight over illegal immigration, and how the federal government is dealing with an influx of children over the southern border, housing them in facilities all across the country. 'Locking people up for money is not what the United States of America should be about,' Warren told reporters outside a detention facility for immigrant children south of Miami, in Homestead, Florida. Protesters outside the facility chanted, 'Shut it down!' as Warren arrived with a number of reporters and cameras in tow, after promising at a Tuesday night town hall that she would make an impromptu visit to the shelter. Klobuchar was also making a visit to Homestead, as she joined Warren and six other Democratic Senators in sending a letter to federal officials demanding information on whether those companies in charge of such shelters are violating their contracts. 'Based on recent reports, there is significant evidence that some federal contractors and grantees have not provided adequate accommodations for children,' the group wrote in a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services. Thursday night's debate will feature Michael Bennet, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, John Hickenlooper, Bernie Sanders, Eric Swalwell, Marianne Williamson, and Andrew Yang. Several other Democrats in the race - including Montana Governor Steve Bullock - did not qualify for this first debate. Bullock won a notable endorsement in Iowa on Tuesday, and is spending the two debate days on the road in Iowa and New Hampshire.