Among the U.S. political developments I never would have predicted: the Republican-controlled Congress was unable to repeal the Affordable Care Act under a president ready to sign the bill into law. After canceling a planned floor vote today on the American Health Care Act, House Speaker Paul Ryan acknowledged, “Obamacare is the law of the land. … We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”Continue Reading...
A little more than two weeks after House Republicans released their alternative to the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Representative Rod Blum (IA-01) announced on Twitter that he will not support the American Health Care Act. According to Blum, the bill “doesn’t do enough to lower premiums for hardworking Americans. I’m a ‘no’ on current version – need to drive down actual costs!” Speaking to The Hill the same day, he added, “We need real competition driving prices down. We don’t need the government telling us what should be in an insurance policy. The government has a role to play. We need to help people who need the help.” Blum had previously said directly and through staff that he was studying the bill.
Like all other House Republicans, Blum has voted multiple times for “Obamacare” repeal bills that would have done nothing “to lower premiums for hardworking Americans,” let alone “drive down actual costs.” However, the stakes are higher now that a GOP-controlled Senate and Republican president might enact new health care legislation. I don’t know what kind of plan Blum is envisioning, but there is no magic wand Congress can wave to “help people who need the help” without the government setting minimum standards for health coverage and regulating the market in other ways.
Blum belongs to the House Freedom Caucus. Although that group has not taken an official stand against the AHCA, some of its prominent members are on various “whip counts” of Republicans opposing the bill. Since no Democrats are backing a plan that would leave millions uninsured and drive up costs for millions more, House leaders can’t spare more than 21 GOP members in any floor vote on their health care bill. Some Congress-watchers have already counted more defectors than that.
Representative Steve King (IA-04) was among the first House Republicans to come out against the AHCA. He supports “rip it out by the roots” repeal of “Obamacare” instead. I doubt the amendments unveiled this week to satisfy House conservatives will change his mind. UPDATE: A staffer told the Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble on March 22 that King is “undecided–leaning no” on the bill. SECOND UPDATE: White House spokesperson Sean Spicer announced that King will support the bill. Seeking confirmation. A member of the House whip team told Jonathan Martin of the New York Times that King “went from no to yes in the WH [White House] today after assurances about Senate tweaks.” UPDATE: King released a video statement explaining his decision to support the AHCA. He’s still committed to repealing Obamacare. He hopes Republicans will strip “essential health benefits” out of the bill, paving the way for other measures he wants, like health savings accounts and selling insurance across state lines. He said he told President Donald Trump in a White House meeting today that he worked very hard for total repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but that legislation won’t be brought up this year, because leaders don’t think they can get the votes. He said he had a “firm commitment” from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for a manger’s amendment to strip out “mandates” and “essential health benefits” from the House bill. King views this bill as the “best chance” for the “closest thing” to total repeal of Obamacare in the current political environment. He later tweeted that he and Trump had negotiated “the best possible improvement on ObamaCare Repeal.”
Representative David Young (IA-03) has repeatedly said he is studying the bill and the Congressional Budget Office analysis of its impact. Young’s staff have told constituents this week that he is still undecided. I consider him likely to vote yes if the bill comes to the floor–which may never happen, if leaders conclude they don’t have the votes. For what it’s worth, The Hill’s whip count put Young in the “leaning/likely no” camp because he said on March 15, “I want to make sure it is something that works in the end for all Americans, and that it would pass if it gets over to the Senate.” Several GOP senators have said the AHCA will not pass the upper chamber. UPDATE: Young announced in a March 22 statement, “While the American Health Care Act, legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare, is a very good start, it does not yet get it right and therefore I cannot support it in its’ [sic] present form.” I’ve added his whole press release below.
Neither of Iowa’s U.S. senators have clarified how they would vote on the Republican bill. Senator Chuck Grassley has made conflicting statements, telling House members the bill must be changed so that insurance premiums don’t skyrocket for older people not yet eligible for Medicare. On the other hand, Grassley has said Republicans can’t afford to miss what could be their only opportunity to keep six years of promises. Senator Joni Ernst said at town-hall meetings in Cedar Rapids and Des Moines on March 17 that she is studying the AHCA’s potential impact on Iowans and insurance premiums. I hate to break it to her: no alternative plan will magically make cheap insurance widely available while maintaining guaranteed coverage for people for pre-existing conditions and letting children stay on their parents insurance through age 26.
UPDATE: Forgot to mention that the Iowa Hospital Association estimates between 200,000 and 250,000 Iowans would lose their insurance coverage under the Republican plan. More on that story below.
Susan, a 52-year-old mother of two from Indianola, thought she had landed the perfect job. She would be sitting behind a desk in Des Moines after years of working on her feet in retail and even got new benefits like the day off on Christmas Eve. But her excitement ended when her life insurance application was denied because she had Hepatitis C.
Susan is one of 3.5 million Americans living with chronic Hepatitis C, nearly 80 percent of whom are “baby boomers” (born between 1945 and 1965). Susan, like most other baby boomers, was likely infected during a blood transfusion before hospitals screened blood for the virus. The infection can last a lifetime and lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer. Many other baby boomers in Iowa only recently discovered that they were infected, either through a routine physical or when they started showing symptoms. A new report by the state Department of Public Health found that reported cases in Iowa have increased by nearly 200 percent since 2000.
Thanks to Stefanie Running for talking with Iowans who had hoped to question Senator Joni Ernst yesterday. -promoted by desmoinesdem
It was unusually warm for St. Patrick’s Day in Des Moines. Despite being spring break week for Drake University, the campus where Senator Joni Ernst chose to hold her town hall had remarkably little available parking. I arrived about 4:45 p.m., fifteen minutes prior to the start of the event, but was unable to join the throng inside; Sheslow Auditorium had reached capacity.
There were about 200 of us still outside, unsurprised but still disappointed. We were given the opportunity to fill out the question cards, the same as our comrades who made it inside. It was a consolation prize of sorts, knowing the questions wouldn’t be asked. A few people wrote their names and their questions, the rest either left or milled about. A few groups crowded around those who were playing live-streams the discussion on their phones.
I was able to speak to a handful of folks who had come to hear Ernst address their concerns, ask their own questions, or see if she actually engaged honestly.
U.S. Representative Steve King confirmed this morning that he opposes the House Republican health care replacement bill released on Monday. Like several influential conservative groups that condemned the American Health Care Act earlier this week, King believes the legislation does not go far enough. He told CNN’s Chris Cuomo, “We campaigned on the full, 100 percent, I say ‘rip it out by the roots’ repeal of Obamacare, and we don’t get that with this bill.”Continue Reading...
The next few years won’t be a good time to be a public school student in the U.S. generally or in Iowa specifically. Betsy DeVos is likely to be confirmed as secretary of education, despite bombing in her confirmation hearing, where she dodged some important questions and revealed shocking ignorance about basic education policy matters. Only two GOP senators say they will vote against the billionaire, who has given generously to Republican candidates and causes and worked to undermine public schools for decades.
Iowa’s Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst have yet not published statements about DeVos, but I enclose below comments confirming they will support her nomination.
Meanwhile, in a party-line vote on February 2, Iowa Senate Republicans approved a bill to increase state funding for K-12 school districts by just 1.11 percent for the year beginning on July 1. Under state law, the Iowa House and Senate should have set school funding for fiscal year 2018 more than a year ago. However, statehouse Republicans have refused to follow that law for the past several years. Last year was no exception: despite action by Iowa Senate Democrats, House Republicans did not vote on fiscal year 2018 “allowable growth” (now officially known as “supplemental state aid”) during the 2016 legislative session.
If Senate File 166 is approved by the Iowa House and signed into law by Governor Terry Branstad, next year’s 1.11 percent growth in K-12 funding would be the third-smallest increase in more than 40 years. I enclose below a chart showing allowable growth levels approved by the state legislature since 1973. Branstad requested 2 percent more funding for K-12 schools in his draft budget. To my knowledge, the governor has not said whether he would sign Senate File 166 in its current form.
Recruiting and retaining educators to work in Iowa may become a lot more difficult after Republicans destroy collective bargaining rights for public employees, including thousands of teachers. House and Senate leaders have indicated that they will make the first significant changes in Iowa Code Chapter 20 since 1974. Details about the plan have been hidden from public view up to now, but a bill on collective bargaining is expected to appear on the state legislature’s website on February 6.
This is an open thread: all topics welcome.