Weekend open thread: Stolen Supreme Court seat edition

Confession: I didn’t watch the confirmation hearings of Judge Neil Gorsuch*. The outcome was foreordained, down to Republicans invoking the “nuclear option” of changing Senate rules to allow confirmation of U.S. Supreme Court nominees with a simple majority of votes. The late-breaking news of flagrant plagiarism by Gorsuch* was never going to change any Republican minds.

Democrats could make various political arguments for fighting this nomination through extraordinary means. Even though I knew the filibuster wouldn’t keep Gorsuch* off the high court, I supported the tactic for one reason alone: “business as usual” cannot go on after the theft of a Supreme Court seat.

No matter how qualified Gorsuch* is on paper, he should never have been able to receive this lifetime appointment. Denying the equally qualified Judge Merrick Garland a Judiciary Committee hearing was unprecedented and will be a permanent stain on Senator Chuck Grassley’s legacy. Republican excuses for refusing to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee have no more merit now than they did a year ago. Gorsuch* will never be a legitimate Supreme Court justice in my eyes, and Bleeding Heartland will put an asterisk by his name in perpetuity.

This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

Another tragic story caught my attention this past week: Rekha Basu’s feature for the Des Moines Register on former Mason City council member Alex Kuhn. Well-liked and seen by many as a rising star, Kuhn took his own life last summer. Basu told the story through the frame of the intensely negative feedback–by some accounts bullying–Kuhn received after opposing an incentives package for a huge Prestage pork processing plant. When John Skipper told the story of Kuhn’s final months in the Mason City Globe-Gazette last December, he focused on the young man’s battle with depression. According to Basu, Kuhn’s parents believe Skipper built “a narrative around depression, enabling those who had hurt Alex to turn his suffering back on him.”

The Globe-Gazette’s editor David Mayberry wasn’t a fan of the way Basu built her narrative, on grounds he laid out in this Twitter thread. He observed that “pinning a suicide to one cause is a well-documented no-no in journalism” and linked to this guide for reporters to support his case.

No one can precisely reconstruct why Kuhn’s suffering became too much to bear. Clearly the Prestage controversy profoundly affected him. I can’t imagine what a devastating blow his death was to his loved ones. It’s a huge loss for Iowa as well. Whatever you may think about local giveaways to profitable corporations, elected officials with Kuhn’s political courage are few and far between.

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Seven years of false promises finally caught up with Republicans

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.”

In the depths of my despair after the November election, I felt sure that the Affordable Care Act would be history by now, and Congress would be well on the way to privatizing Medicare.

Among the many reasons Republicans failed to draft a coherent health care alternative and could not coalesce around the half-baked American Health Care Act, the most important is this:

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Rod Blum comes out against Republican health care plan Updated: So does David Young

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.

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The human cost of Big Pharma's greed: Overcharging the Hepatitis C cure

Did you know drug companies exploit charities to increase their profits? Neither did I before reading this piece by Austin Frerick. -promoted by desmoinesdem

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.

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Joni Ernst town hall: The overflow edition

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.

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