Open thread for night owls: Social Security safe? Here’s the double-talking regime’s plan to gut it

Heather Digby Parton at Salon writes—Donald Trump is coming for your Social Security: How the GOP plans a bait and switch to cut taxes — and pensions:

It seems like a lifetime ago that Republican National Committee chief Reince Priebus brokered a meeting between the unexpected presidential nominee Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan to try iron out their differences. But it was just a little less than a year ago in a world that seems more and more distant by the minute. They spoke of many things, with Ryan desperately trying to convince Trump that he needed to adopt the GOP agenda and Trump telling him he didn’t know what he was talking about. Bloomberg reported one particular exchange in the meeting that stuck in my mind:

According to a source in the room, Trump criticized Ryan’s proposed entitlement cuts as unfair and politically foolish. “From a moral standpoint, I believe in it,” Trump told Ryan. “But you also have to get elected. And there’s no way a Republican is going to beat a Democrat when the Republican is saying, ‘We’re going to cut your Social Security’ and the Democrat is saying, ‘We’re going to keep it and give you more.’”

Trump may not have realized it, but Republicans have never won the presidency by explicitly saying they were going to make cuts to Social Security. They have always used euphemisms, saying they were going to “privatize it” or promising to “save it” from itself. The reason Democrats continually win the day (if not the office they are vying for) is because people don’t trust Republican double-talk on the subject and for good reason. They have been trying to destroy Social Security since it was enacted.

Historian Arthur Schlesinger wrote in “The Coming of the New Deal” that President Franklin Roosevelt knew that creating a dedicated funding stream gave workers the “legal, moral, and political right to collect their pensions.” He said, “With those taxes in there, no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.” Schlesinger also noted that Republicans and business leaders at the time were appalled, with one warning that the program would “undermine our national life by destroying initiative, discouraging thrift, and stifling individual responsibility.”

Donald Trump’s comment in that meeting last year that he agreed with Ryan on a “moral basis” indicated that he was on the same page as those earlier plutocrats even if he sings a different tune in public. […]

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TWEET OF THE DAY

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It’s fascinating to me how many people who probably couldn’t find Wichita on a map are now suddenly experts on Kansas politics #KS04

— Erika Heidewald 🗽 (@erikaheidewald) April 12, 2017

BLAST FROM THE PAST

At Daily Kos on this date in 2011—Boehner’s prebuttal: Raising taxes ‘unacceptable and a nonstarter’: 

Boehner’s statement (which I guess technically was just an announcement he plans to issue another statement) is a complete reversal of his position from last week, when he said that despite opposing tax increases, he was willing to leave them “on the table” to facilitate a discussion about long-term deficits.

His statement comes even though it’s not clear what President Obama will actually propose tomorrow. Despite The Washington Post’s report that Obama would endorse the Simpson-Bowles plan, both Greg Sargent and Ezra Klein are hearing otherwise. The White House is staying mum, at least publicly, saying only that Obama’s plan will “be his own.”

On today’s Kagro in the Morning show, with Greg Dworkin and Joan McCarter: Results from KS-04. The latest Russian Connection allegations. Donnie gets yummy cake for doing a good bombing! Zombie Trumpcare rides again, along with another terrible tax plan. Will O’Reilly ever do it live again?

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The Pacers finally found an identity just in time for the NBA playoffs

It’s time for Playoff Paul George!

The Pacers clinched the No. 7 seed in the NBA playoffs on Wednesday night after defeating the Hawks, 104-86. The Pacers won their final five games of the season, which allowed them into sneak in ahead of the No. 8 Bulls. It came down to the final game of the season to determine if the Pacers would have a playoff spot, but they got the job done.

The Pacers looked all but dead and out of the playoffs near the end of March, with many thinking the season was already over. They were in desperation mode, so Larry Bird went and did something quite desperate. He brought Indiana cult hero Lance Stephenson back home to Indiana.

After the Pacers had to let Rodney Stuckey go due to injury, it opened up a roster spot for Stephenson. It was a gamble, but it appears to have worked. Since bringing back Stephenson, the Pacers are 5-1 with their only loss coming in a double-overtime game in Cleveland. A game where Paul George and LeBron James battled like it was 2014 again while Stephenson fueled the fire.

It hasn’t been Lance’s spectacular play that has made the Pacers suddenly play well — it has been his energy. He has brought a fire and identity to a Pacers team that has been looking for it all season. It’s only been six games but he appears to be the missing link that has finally brought this mismatched roster together.

NBA: Toronto Raptors at Indiana PacersTrevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

It also helps that Paul George has been unstoppable during March and April. George has been shooting 50.1 percent from the field and 41.8 percent from the three-point line. He also brought home Eastern Conference Player of the Week during the Pacers’ most important stretch of the season, leading the East in scoring with 31.7 points per game over that span. The Pacers went 3-0 during the week as well, allowing them to sneak into seventh place.

It was a rough season at times for the Pacers. They started with virtually an entirely new team. Indiana had a new coach in Nate McMillan, traded away George Hill for Jeff Teague, and added Thaddeus Young, Aaron Brooks, Kevin Seraphin, and Al Jefferson. For most of the season, they hovered around the .500 mark, never really finding their identity.

It got even worse when Young went down with a wrist injury at the beginning of February. He missed eight games and the Pacers struggled, going 2-6 during that time. It was then that the Pacers really lost their way and started to drift out of the playoff picture. It wasn’t until April 2 that Young was able to play without tape on his wrist, but his return has also been huge for the team.

And now, with George cooking, Stephenson leading the bench, and the rest of the team finding their roles, the Pacers have found their groove at just the right time.

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Trump Threatens Coverage Of Millions If Democrats Won’t Negotiate On ACA Repeal

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President Donald Trump is contemplating a new strategy to get repeal of the Affordable Care Act through Congress: threatening to torpedo insurance for millions of Americans unless Democrats agree to negotiate with him.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal that appeared on Wednesday, Trump made a warning. If Democrats won’t talk repeal, the president said, Republicans might decide to cut off some subsidies now flowing to health insurers offering coverage through Obamacare’s exchanges.

“I don’t want people to get hurt,” Trump said, sounding a bit like a mobster describing a protection racket. “What I think should happen — and will happen — is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating.”

Those subsidies are a really big deal. Without them, insurers would have to jack up premiums ― by an average of 19 percent for typical policies, according to a Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation study. That increase would be above and beyond any other increases in the works. Many insurers would probably exit the markets altogether.

The payments are called cost-sharing reductions, or CSRs. They reimburse insurers for the expense of providing special insurance plans, with lower out-of-pocket costs, to customers with incomes below 250 percent of the poverty line, or $61,500 for a family of four.

The health care law calls on the federal government to pay insurers the CSRs but it does not actually appropriate money for that purpose. The Obama administration had disbursed the money anyway, and devised a legal argument to justify the move. House Republicans sued, claiming the spending was unconstitutional, and last year a U.S. district court judge agreed with them.

The judge stayed the decision, allowing the Obama administration to file an appeal, and in the interim the federal government has continued to disburse the CSRs. But with the Obama administration gone, it’s up to the Trump administration and its allies to keep the money flowing.

The Trump administration could do so, at least temporarily, by pressing ahead with the appeal or simply seeking a delay in the case. Or it could work with Congress on a more permanent solution ― namely, passing legislation that would appropriate the money for a limited time or indefinitely.

Trump is spooking insurers ― and they were spooked already

Until Wednesday, the administration hadn’t said much, except that it would continue funding CSRs as long as it was required to do so by law. Several Republicans in Congress went a bit further, and said they thought the federal government should keep disbursing the funds as long as the law was in place ― although they stopped short of saying exactly how they intended to make that happen.

In the Journal interview, Trump for the first time shed light on his own thinking:

You know that if we follow that lawsuit, we’re not supposed to pay money toward Obamacare — you know, Obama just paid the money because he couldn’t get approved — the approval from Congress.

Well, Congress hasn’t approved it, so if Congress doesn’t approve it, or if I don’t approve it, that would mean that Obamacare doesn’t have enough money so it dies immediately as opposed to over a period of time.

So, Congress is going to have to approve it [the insurance payments]. Will they approve it? I don’t know, I’m not sure, 50-50. If they approve it, then I will have to approve it. Otherwise, those payments don’t get made and Obamacare is gone, just gone.

Politico subsequently quoted a senior official confirming that “POTUS wants to use [the subsidies] as leverage. When Obamacare fails on its own, the Dems will want to come to the table.”

That prediction may be a bit fanciful. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called Trump’s statement “appalling” and accused him of trying to “manufacture a crisis.” 

Her Senate counterpart, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), said, “Our position remains unchanged: drop repeal, stop undermining our health care system, and we will certainly sit down and talk about ways to improve the Affordable Care Act.”

Nor is it clear whether Trump is prepared to carry out his threat. He ended up backing down from the last Obamacare-related ultimatum he made ― a demand, in March, that House Republicans vote on repeal legislation.

But simply making the threat is sure to unnerve the nation’s insurers, at a time when they are figuring out what premiums to charge for the coverage they sell through the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges ― and, in some cases, whether to withdraw from those exchanges altogether.

The law’s private insurance exchanges have been a fragile enterprise from the get-go, with insurers struggling to make money and premiums rising quickly in some states ― in part because many people have found the coverage too expensive to afford, and in part because Republicans at the state and federal level have done their best to undermine the program.

In 2014, for example, conservatives attacked the law’s “risk corridors,” a standard feature of public-private insurance programs designed to insulate carriers from huge losses. The conservatives prevailed, which meant the program paid out only a fraction of the money it owed ― saddling insurers with huge losses.

The difficulty of making money on Obamacare led some insurers, particularly the big national carriers, to pull back from the market, and today roughly one in five people buying through the exchanges can choose from just one carrier. Critics of the law, like Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), have for years cited stories like these as proof the law was “exploding” and in need of repeal.

But the state of the program varies a lot from state to state, and in California, Florida and Maryland, just to name a few, the program is working well ― with multiple insurers and prices that are actually cheap relative to the cost of comparable employer plans. There is also strong evidence that last year’s price hikes ― the ones that Trump kept talking about during his presidential campaign ― were mostly a one-time correction of the premiums insurers initially set too low.

Just last week, a report from S&P Global Market Intelligence found that nonprofit Blue Cross plans, a staple of the exchanges, were seeing improved margins ― and on track for profitability within a few years.

But that report also made a warning that analysts and insurance officials had been making for months: Future success depended on steady management and nurturing. And that’s not what the Affordable Care Act has gotten since January, when the Trump administration took over.

Trump has already undermined the law in other ways 

At various times, it looked like the Trump administration might be taking its stewardship of the law seriously ― and trying to keep insurance markets stable even as it sought to repeal the law. The Department of Health and Human Services issued new regulations, tweaking enrollment procedures in ways insurers had long recommended, and gave a green light to states trying to use special waivers from the law’s requirements in order to help struggling insurers.

But Trump’s very first act as president was to sign an executive order instructing agencies to ease the law’s regulatory burden ― an order that seemed to signal, among other things, that his administration would not aggressively enforce the law’s individual mandate penalty, which encourages healthy people to buy coverage before they get sick. Sure enough, within a few weeks the Internal Revenue Service announced it was canceling plans to tighten up mandate enforcement.

More ominously still, the Trump administration in January abruptly canceled some advertising that was supposed to run at the end of open enrollment. The advertising, which the Obama administration had planned, was supposed to nudge people waiting until the last minute to sign up for a plan. But without the ads ― and amid all the talk of repeal ― signups in the last two weeks fell well below last year’s levels, even though enrollment had been running slightly ahead of the 2016 pace through January.

The possibility that Trump might not implement the law aggressively ― to say nothing of the possibility that the law might be repealed altogether ― has been on the minds of insurers for weeks, as they try to figure out their plans for 2018 and beyond.

And they have made clear that one issue, in particular, would weigh heavily on their minds: the future of those reimbursements for offering plans with low out-of-pocket costs.

“You cannot understate how big a deal they are” to insurers, Sean Mullin, a senior director at the health care consulting firm Leavitt Partners, told The Huffington Post earlier this week.

On Wednesday, just hours before the Journal interview appeared, a group of eight influential trade groups ― including not just America’s Health Insurance Plans and the American Medical Association, but also the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ― wrote a letter to Trump saying “The most critical action to help stabilize the individual market for 2017 and 2018 is to remove uncertainty about continued funding for cost sharing reductions (CSRs).”

Following the publication of Trump’s comments, Kristine Grow, AHIP spokesperson, told HuffPost that “We must remember that when we talk about CSRs, we are talking about a subsidy that 7 million people rely on ― to get coverage, and to be able to see their doctor.”

In the Journal interview, Trump said he thought his threat would bring Democrats to the table because “they own Obamacare” ― but acknowledged that “the longer I’m behind this desk and you have Obamacare, the more I would own it.”

Recent polls suggest that transformation has already taken place. In a new Kaiser Foundation poll that appeared last week, 61 percent said they would blame Trump and the Republicans for problems with the health care law, while just 31 percent said they’d blame Obama and the Democrats.

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