So why are health insurance premiums skyrocketing?

Matt Chapman has been a committed citizen lobbyist on many issues this year, including health care reform. -promoted by desmoinesdem

I have always been laser-focused on Medicaid and health care access for the poor. And when Iowa Dems twisted Terry Branstad’s arm until he cried “Medicaid Expansion!” I was elated. So in my bubble, the worst thing going on seemed to be the privatization of Medicaid or “Branstad’s Revenge.”

With the private insurance companies all pulling out of Iowa, now that I am aware of the astronomical raises in premiums, I feel a little shame at my blissful ignorance. All I can tell you is at 51 years old the Affordable Care Act gave me dental insurance for the first time in my life. And I’ve had the same doctor for five years. Before the ACA, the folks around the poverty line would have to drive sometimes 200 miles just to see a doctor. And rarely the same one twice. For dental they line up at Broadlawns (the Polk County public hospital) at six in the morning and hope they’re in bad enough shape to get in.

But what really made me aware was after the Drake forum with Senator Joni Ernst in March.

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Senate confirms Branstad as U.S. ambassador to China

Minutes ago the U.S. Senate confirmed Governor Terry Branstad as ambassador to China, clearing the way for Branstad to resign on Wednesday, allowing Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds to be sworn in as governor. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee had unanimously approved Branstad’s nomination earlier this month, but twelve senators voted against advancing his nomination last week, and thirteen senators voted against him on the floor today. The opponents included Democrats Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, and independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont–all considered potential presidential candidates in 2020. In a list-building e-mail earlier this afternoon, Brown wrote,

Branstad is notorious for busting collective bargaining rights in his state. Legislation he signed into law will force Planned Parenthood clinics to close this summer.

How can we make an anti-labor, anti-women’s rights politician in charge of U.S. relations with a country that has large human rights problems, especially in the areas of women’s and workers’ rights.

Given how unpopular Branstad is with highly-engaged Democratic activists, a vote against confirming the governor certainly wouldn’t hurt any of these senators in the next Iowa caucus campaign.

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, also a possible Democratic presidential contender, supported Branstad’s confirmation. I’ll update this post later with full details on the Senate vote once the roll call has closed and some political reaction.

UPDATE: The thirteen senators who voted against Branstad were Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Booker, Brown, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Gary Peters of Michigan, Sanders, Chuck Schumer of New York, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Warren. All are Democrats except Sanders, who caucuses with Democrats. All represent states where organized labor is relatively strong.

SECOND UPDATE: Added below Branstad’s statement and other comments on his confirmation, as well as Senator Chuck Grassley’s speech on the Senate floor before today’s vote.

I had to laugh hearing Grassley “express my disappointment and frustration with the seemingly endless obstruction on the part of the minority.” He is bent out of shape because Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had to file cloture on Branstad’s nomination:

We could have approved this nomination with just a few minutes of debate time, yet, the minority required that we use 30 hours – not because they wanted to debate the merits of the nominee, but simply to delay the business of this body.

It’s unfortunate that their delay has kept an eminently qualified individual from getting into the job to promote American interests in China sooner.

Grassley and his fellow Republicans didn’t give the eminently qualified Judge Merrick Garland even a hearing, let alone a floor vote for his nomination to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Grassley's excuse-making for Trump is beyond embarrassing

Yesterday’s revelation that President Donald Trump disclosed “highly classified information” to senior Russian officials in the Oval Office last week, jeopardizing “a critical source of intelligence on the Islamic State,” sent the White House into crisis mode. Reporters “could hear yelling emanating from the presidential residence” as senior officials tried to contain the fallout. Amy Zegart estimated the possible damage to U.S. intelligence-gathering at “about a billion” on a scale of 1 to 10.

After sending his national security adviser out yesterday to make a “non-denial denial,” Trump asserted this morning he had “the absolute right” to share pertinent information in an “openly scheduled” meeting with Russia, claiming he did so for “Humanitarian reasons, plus I want Russia to greatly step up their fight against ISIS & terrorism.” By the way, that meeting was closed to American journalists, as Trump gave exclusive access to a photographer for the Russian state-run news agency ITAR-TASS.

All of the above would be disturbing, even if Trump hadn’t just fired FBI Director James Comey and improperly asked Comey whether he was under investigation.

The reaction from self-styled watchdog Senator Chuck Grassley was a classic example of normalizing some of the most abnormal behavior we’ve seen yet from Trump–which is saying something.

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Grassley facing one of the most important decisions of his career

When President Donald Trump fired James Comey yesterday, not even halfway through the FBI director’s ten-year term, the Nixonian parallels were immediately obvious to almost everyone, except for Iowa’s senior Senator Chuck Grassley.

While others saw the White House citing “pretexts” in a “blatant effort to derail” the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia, Grassley issued a statement accepting every lame excuse from the administration.

“Over the course of the last several months, Director Comey’s decisions on controversial matters have prompted concern from across the political spectrum and from career law enforcement experts.

“The handling of the Clinton email investigation is a clear example of how Comey’s decisions have called into question the trust and political independence of the FBI. In my efforts to get answers, the FBI, under Comey’s leadership, has been slow or failed to provide information that Comey himself pledged to provide.

“The effectiveness of the FBI depends upon the public trust and confidence. Unfortunately, this has clearly been lost.

“The FBI Director serves at the pleasure of the president. Under these circumstances, President Trump accepted the recommendation of the Justice Department that the Director lacked the confidence needed to carry out his important duties.”

Within hours of Comey’s dismissal, multiple journalists confirmed that the president “had talked about the firing for over a week.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote up their recommendations “to give him rationale.” Sessions formally recused himself from the Russian investigation after failing to disclose his contacts with that country’s ambassador last year.

Grassley is among very few people to take Trump’s goodbye letter to Comey at face value, rather than as a smokescreen for a president who just “decisively crippled the F.B.I.’s ability to carry out an investigation of him and his associates.” CNN reported last night, “Federal prosecutors have issued grand jury subpoenas to associates of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn seeking business records […].” This morning, the New York Times revealed that last week Comey “asked the Justice Department for a significant increase in money and personnel for the bureau’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the presidential election.”

Some other Republicans were not so gullible. More than 100 members of Congress, joined by some conservative commentators, are now calling for an independent commission on Russia. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants no part of that, telling reporters this morning that a new investigation would “impede” current work on Russia’s involvement.

Grassley is uniquely positioned to demand an independent inquiry. As Senate Judiciary Committee chair, he controls the process for confirming Comey’s successor. He could use that power to delay any confirmation hearings on a new FBI director until a special prosecutor has been named to investigate ties between Trumpworld and Russia, just as he exercised his prerogative to deny President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee any consideration during 2016.

Regrettably, Iowa’s longest-serving senator has signaled he will run interference for the White House. Asked this morning what he would say to those who have called the president’s action “Nixonian,” Grassley told the hosts of “Fox and Friends,” “My message is suck it up and move on.”

Grassley’s instinct to protect the president from came through during a May 8 Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing as well. While questioning former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., he revealed remarkably little interest in the bombshell revelation that Trump kept Flynn on his staff for eighteen days after Yates warned White House officials the president’s national security advisor had been compromised by Russia. Instead, the self-styled champion of whistle-blowers pushed Yates and Clapper hard about government leaks and “unmasking” of Trump administration officials. (The Washington Post published a full transcript of that hearing). Longtime GOP strategist Rick Wilson commented, “Grassley is running the WH talking points. It’s painful to see him so diminished.”

Historians will record who stood up for the rule of law, and who gave cover to a president’s cover-up. It’s not too late for Grassley to do the right thing.

P.S.- At this writing, Iowa’s junior Senator Joni Ernst has released no statement on the biggest political news of the last 24 hours. Her Twitter and Facebook feeds are full of photos and mundane comments about her visits to businesses yesterday and this morning. Three months ago, Ernst made a big show of urging Trump to “pursue a principled and tough-minded Russia policy.”

UPDATE: The Des Moines Register’s Jason Noble received this statement from Ernst’s office by e-mail: “We didn’t send out a release. However, Senator Ernst has said the Director of the FBI serves at the pleasure of the President; therefore, this decision was up to President Trump to make.”

SECOND UPDATE: Grassley expressed concerns this morning about Andy McCabe serving as acting FBI director, given his wife’s connections to Democrats.

THIRD UPDATE: Added below Grassley’s stated reasons for opposing a special prosecutor on Russia’s attempts to influence our elections and connections to Trump associates.

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John Norris: Why he may run for governor and what he would bring to the table

With the exhausting battles of the 2017 legislative session behind us, Iowa Democrats can turn their attention to the most pressing task ahead. Next year’s gubernatorial election will likely determine whether Republicans retain unchecked power to impose their will on Iowans, or whether some balance returns to the statehouse.

A record number of Democrats may run for governor in 2018. Today Bleeding Heartland begins a series of in-depth looks at the possible contenders.

John Norris moved back to Iowa with his wife Jackie Norris and their three sons last year, after nearly six years in Washington and two in Rome, Italy. He has been touching base with potential supporters for several weeks and expects to decide sometime in May whether to become a candidate for governor. His “concern about the direction the state’s going” is not in question. Rather, Norris is gauging the response he gets from activists and community leaders he has known for many years, and whether he can raise the resources “to make this a go.”

In a lengthy interview earlier this month, Norris discussed the changes he sees in Iowa, the issues he’s most passionate about, and why he has “something significantly different to offer” from others in the field, who largely agree on public policy. The native of Red Oak in Montgomery County (which happens to be Senator Joni Ernst’s home town too) also shared his perspective on why Democrats have lost ground among Iowa’s rural and small-town voters, and what they can do to reverse that trend.

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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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