Monday, March 27, 2017

Cruising the Web

Well, this has been a depressing week for conservatives who have been looking for the end to Obamacare. While some in Washington and in the blogosphere, Rich Lowry is right that this defeat had many fathers.
Paul Ryan is going to take the most blame for the failure of repeal and replace, and rightly so. He had the ball, and it ended up being a debacle. He gambled this his close vote would be more like the close votes of Nancy Pelosi, who had a president of her own party standing with her, rather than those of John Boehner, who didn’t. Instead, this was Boehner redux. There was no getting around that the substance of the bill was poor and the process–premised on passing the bill through the House and the Senate in four weeks–was even worse. It was only going to get over the finish line based on pure muscle and there are limits to what that can achieve, even in the House where the leadership has such inherent power.

If the loss is a blow to Ryan, it’s a party-wide failure. It’s not as though the Speaker came up with the bill and the strategy on his own. President Trump and the Senate were on board. I assumed that Trump would end up being a good intra-party salesman, with a carrot (his knack for schmoozing) and a stick (attacks on Twitter). But he didn’t know enough to be effective and his seat-of-the-pants decision to give into the Freedom Caucus on “essential health benefits” lost more moderates than it gained conservatives, while Trump clearly had no idea of the policy implications. His insistence during most the day that the House hold a zombie vote, going through with the floor vote even when a defeat was assured, was bizarre and amateurish.

Taylor Millard wonders why the House GOP didn't just try to pass the health-care bill that they passed last year and that Obama vetoed.

There still are other approaches that Trump could take and the WSJ looks at some of those that Trump is contemplating.
With the collapse of Republicans’ health plan in the House on Friday, the Trump administration is set to ramp up its efforts to alter the Affordable Care Act in one of the few ways it has left—by making changes to the law through waivers and rule changes.

The initiative now rests with Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who has vowed to review every page of regulation and guidance related to the ACA. The steps he and the administration take next could have sweeping repercussions, accomplishing some of the same types of changes Republicans were unable to push through Congress.
So much of the law was implemented through regulations created by the Obama Secretaries of HHS, that it is fitting to remove those regulations through similar actions.
The Trump administration could change a requirement that most Americans pay a penalty for not having insurance. It could usher in work requirements for Medicaid recipients and ease a directive that insurers cover such services as contraception. And it could also allow an end to certain subsidies that insurers get, which could quickly cause the individual markets to crater.

Some of these steps, such as new likely requirements for Medicaid enrollees, are already under way. Republican leaders have long said administrative changes are a key part of their plan to change the health-care system. Now it may be largely the only one left.

Dr. Price and Seema Verma, the administrator of HHS’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, recently wrote a letter to states assuring them of support if they request waivers to impose work requirements on recipients of Medicaid, the federal-state health program for the poor and disabled.
But there are some limitations on what Price can do.
Dr. Price, a former orthopedic surgeon, is limited to some extent in what he can do. Any rewriting of ACA rules would require time and public comment, and opponents are likely to challenge many of the changes in court.

“Violating the statute to take coverage from people in need by legislating through executive action is obviously not a good idea, and would be contested in every court to protect the rights of the American people," said Andy Slavitt, who served as acting director of CMS under former President Barack Obama.
But Dr. Price has great latitude within certain limits. He has already vowed to water down an ACA requirement that most insurers provide a specific raft of benefits, such as maternity and mental-health care. That could lead to less generous benefit packages, a change that conservative Republicans have sought because they say it would lower premiums.

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The WSJ had supported the House bill and now they're worried that the failure of the health-care bill will damage hopes for a tax reform package.
The legislative failure is obvious, but less appreciated is that House Speaker Paul Ryan’s reform included a pro-growth tax cut and major improvements in work incentives. The 3.8-percentage-point cut in taxes on capital income would have been a substantial increase in after-tax return on investment, nearly half of the eight-point cut in the capital-gains tax rate that helped propel growth after 1997.

Now that’s dead, and so is the replacement for the especially high marginal-tax-rate cliff built into ObamaCare’s subsidies. These steep tax cliffs as subsidies phase out are a major hindrance to work, as University of Chicago economist Casey Mulligan has shown. The Ryan bill would have been a significant boost to economic growth and labor participation. The critique that it would not have helped “Trump voters” was willfully false coming from the left and uninformed on the right.

This lost opportunity now makes tax reform even more important as a growth driver, but the health-reform failure also hurt tax reform in another major way. The Ryan bill would have reduced the budget baseline for tax reform by some $1 trillion over 10 years. This means that suddenly Republicans will have to find $1 trillion more in loopholes to close or taxes to raise if they want their reduction in tax rates to be budget neutral....

The other big risk is that Republicans will now settle for a modest tax cut without a fundamental reform that clears out special-interest favors. That is better than nothing but would diminish the effect on economic growth and incomes. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is already saying that he wants only a token cut in the tax rate on individual wages and salaries, and some in the White House are tempted by Democratic income-redistribution schemes.

Mr. Trump lacks the political base of most Presidents, so he is hostage more than most to performance. Above all that means presiding over faster growth, which is the only real way to help Trump voters. If the GOP can’t deliver on tax reform, the Freedom Caucus will have done far more harm than saving ObamaCare.

Jonah Goldberg explains why he has contempt for the doctrine of a Living Constitution.
The doctrine of the Living Constitution is a perfect example of how behind every double standard is an unconfessed single standard.

[W]henever Republicans propose amending the Constitution, Democrats suddenly freak out about how wrong it would be to “tamper” with the Constitution. It’s a weird position to hold when you see nothing wrong with liberal judges reading new meaning into the Constitution.

Similarly, during the Bush years, when alleged NSA wiretapping of American citizens (not named Flynn) offended Democrats, they loved to declare themselves champions of the Constitution and the Founders, quoting at the drop of a tri-cornered hat Ben Franklin’s line that “those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.”

It apparently hadn’t occurred to them that the doctrine of a Living Constitution can sanction things they don’t like, too. This itself is ironic, given that the principal author of the Living Constitution idea — Woodrow Wilson — saw no problem in prosecuting thought-crimes, jailing political dissenters, and domestic spying.

But let’s get back to Feinstein. She was also horrified that Gorsuch is a critic of the Chevron Doctrine (which gives the benefit of the doubt to bureaucrats to interpret the law as they see fit). She insisted that it must not be revisited or amended in any way. Gorsuch correctly believes that the Chevron decision gave too much power to bureaucrats to invent laws, treating legislation as living, breathing documents too.

Feinstein insisted that experts must have the power to do what they think is best, even if Congress did not grant them that power. But the question is not whether the bureaucrats are right in the opinions. The question, as Michael Gillette famously put it, is whether unelected bureaucratic agencies should be able “to define the limits of their own power.” Historically, that is a job for the legislature and, when the law is vague, judges. But under Chevron, bureaucrats are given precisely the kind of arbitrary, prerogative power the Founders saw as inimical to liberty and the rule of law....

The unifying theme here is what has been the central premise of progressivism for the last 100 years: It’s about power (See: Progressives & Power). When the Living Constitution yields the desired ends of progressives, the Living Constitution is a vital means. When the Living Constitution is inconvenient to those ends, we must bow down to the immutable and unchanging authority of super, super-duper, and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious precedents.

You can be sure that if the mystagogues of the administrative state had a Pauline conversion to minarchist libertarianism and started interpreting statutes in the most minimalist way possible, Senator Feinstein would start pounding the table about lawless bureaucrats. If judges started invoking the Living Constitution — informed by, say, new scientific insights into fetal pain — how quickly would liberals decry the lawlessness of constitutional evolutionary theory?

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Joe Biden regrets
not being president. Let that be a lesson to people to reach for their dreams. And it probably means that more politicians will jump into the presidential races in future elections just so they won't regret not even trying.

Stefan Kanfer writes on the newest effort by liberals to block freedom of expression.
In New York, a bill designed to legalize the “right to be forgotten” was recently introduced by Assemblyman David I Weprin and State Senator Tony Avello. Essentially, the proposed law would require websites to remove “inaccurate, irrelevant, inadequate or excessive” statements about individuals who resent being so memorialized. These people would then be “forgotten” by readers. The courts would determine the extent to which statements are “inaccurate” or “excessive.” Failure to comply could make the writers, or the search engines that ran their prose, liable to statutory damages of $250 per day, plus attorney’s fees. Thus, as Eugene Volokh pointed out in the Washington Post, under such a bill, “newspapers, scholarly works, copies of books on Google Books and Amazon, online encyclopedias (Wikipedia and others)—all would have to be censored whenever a judge and jury found . . . that the writing was ‘no longer material to current public debate or discourse.”

The “right to be forgotten,” sometimes applicable in Europe, is not likely to catch on in the U.S.—not yet, anyway. But only a few years ago, such a blatant attempt to quash free speech would have been laughed out of court, if indeed anyone dared introduce it. Not anymore.
Volokh also writes,
But the deeper problem with the bill is simply that it aims to censor what people say, under a broad, vague test based on what the government thinks the public should or shouldn’t be discussing. It is clearly unconstitutional under current First Amendment law, and I hope First Amendment law will stay that way (no matter what rules other countries might have adopted).

Remember: There is no “right to be forgotten” in the abstract; no law can ensure that, and no law can be limited to that. Instead, the “right” this aims to protect is the power to suppress speech — the power to force people (on pain of financial ruin) to stop talking about other people, when some government body decides that they should stop.
How do people even come up with such an idea? Does the First Amendment resonate at all with them?

Salena Zito notes the geographical split in Trump's approval ratings. Those in the cities and suburbs don't like him, but those in the exurbs and rural areas still support him.
That’s a puzzling notion that has befuddled many journalists, members of the permanent establishment and pundits on both sides of the aisle since the day Trump was inaugurated.

And, in all likelihood, that effervescent support will continue for a very long time. Why? Because the people who live in those outer rings of cities aren’t just separated by geography; they’re separated by culture, traditions and aspirations that differ from those of their city cousins.

They also are so tired of being ridiculed by the political class over the notion they’re digging in for Trump, more so than they normally would. Especially when they read (yes, they do read) columns in New York Magazine by former theater critic Frank Rich who takes a deep swipe at Trump’s base, writing: “While you can’t blame our new president for loving ‘the poorly educated’ who gave him that blank check, the rest of us are entitled to abstain. If we are free to loathe Trump, we are free to loathe his most loyal voters, who have put the rest of us at risk.”

Such broad swipes at their lives, their beliefs and their intellects — which they imagine Rich and his ilk chuckling over while sipping chardonnay — are what pushed them away from an increasingly elitist Democratic Party in the first place.

Don Brick is one of those voters. He voted for Obama, but then Trump. And though he bristles at the president’s habit of getting himself in trouble, there’s no way he’s withdrawing his support.

“I understood who I was voting for. I understood that he is loose with the truth. I wanted someone who was not a politician, and I am very satisfied with how he has conducted business in Washington when it comes to getting things done,” says Brick.

The retired grocery executive, who went back to work part-time just because he loved his job, is especially happy with Trump’s dismantling of ObamaCare.

“My wife, who is much too young to retire, saw her health-care premiums jump 40 percent under ObamaCare,” he says. “Everyone forgets, this past summer, the announcement that the premiums were even going to go up more, and that health-care providers were pulling out of states at such an alarming rate that the health-care markets were on the brink of collapsing,” he said.

Brick is one of those voters who Democrats are going to have a very hard time ever winning back; he is the type who was reluctant to express himself freely about who he intended to vote for, because of the derision such voters faced from progressive activists and pundits.
With attitudes like Frank Rich's, is that any wonder? We really are becoming two nations and inhabitants of each don't like the other. Zito points out that such voters represent Democratic districts that flipped from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016. And Democrats may have a hard time winning back such voters.
Well, he was never going to do well in those heavily progressive areas anyway. Democrats won’t expand their universe by winning seats they already have.

Simply put, it’s misguided to focus on the big national numbers that don’t capture the voters’ anti-establishment sentiment where it counts — in working-class America, much of which is historically part of the Democratic base. It is a base so soured on its own party, for not listening to its concerns for nearly an entire generation, despite voting for the party time and time again, that it made a clean break and threw its weight behind Trump.

And despite all of the damage Trump is suffering in Washington — some of it self-inflicted — these voters have yet to give up on him.

Given all his troubles of the past 60 days, pundits may shake their heads at this notion. They only see Trump collapsing. But they need to take a drive out of their own regions and listen to what other kinds of voters are saying. So far, their support for Trump has not changed since Election Day — and that could bode poorly for Democrats next year.

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Dennis Saffran points out something rather amazing and alarming from the snow storm that hit the Northeast last week. The I-95 corridor got much less snow than anticipated and ended up with a mix of rain, sleet, and ice while inland areas got much more snow than anticipated. The surprise is, not that the weather forecasters got it wrong, but that they, apparently, knew the forecast had changed, but decided on their own not to inform the public of that.
For the incredible story that came out the day after the storm is that, in fact, the National Weather Service had actually gotten the forecast right internally—but then deliberately concealed the information from the public so as not to cause “confusion.” By Monday afternoon, the day before the storm, most of the computer models used by the Weather Service were projecting the inland turn and dramatically lessened snowfall in the coastal cities. But the weather bureaucrats decided to stick with the old forecast in which they no longer had confidence because, as the agency later said, “a dramatic change in the snowfall forecast could produce an unwelcome result of less readiness and vigilance.” It “might have given people the wrong message that the storm was no longer a threat,” the chief of forecast operations explained. “It still was, but the real danger was from ice and sleet.” And, as a meteorologist supporting the Weather Service decision said, “ice is a far greater hazard,” anyway.

So why not just say snow if that will scare people more? Snow, ice, hot lava, locusts, whatever—it’s just words.

It’s not clear if the weathermen considered the compromise alternative of letting people know the real forecast with an appropriate warning: “There will be seven inches of sleet and ice rather than 24 inches of snow, but that can be even more dangerous.” If they did it was apparently rejected as insufficiently protective of public safety. In any event, officials deliberately misled the public on the belief that people cannot be trusted to take care of themselves, even with accurate information. They undermined their own public-safety goals by making it less likely that anyone will listen to them when the next big blizzard comes calling. And they increased the danger to those in disfavored rural areas who were misled into expecting a smaller storm.
Isn't that just like all the bad stereotypes of bureaucrats - to assume that they know more than the stupid public which can't be trusted to hear that there will be less snow, but that the conditions will still be very dangerous?
Their action epitomizes the problems of the modern liberal administrative state: arrogation of policy decisions by unelected bureaucrats, counterproductiveness, regional and class snobbery, and a stultifying infantilization of the public. The Weather Service misled not just the citizenry but their elected leaders—governors, mayors, even the president they report to. There may be certain emergency situations that justify the government lying to the people “for their own good.” But the decision to do so should be made by officials who can then be voted out of office if the people who were lied to decide that the judgment wasn’t justified, not by unelected civil-service bureaucrats. There is no indication that the Weather Service cleared its decision to withhold information up the chain of command with the Secretary of the Interior or with the White House....

Another irony is that the weathercrats’ public-safety zeal only extended to the residents of coastal cities and suburbs, while many rural residents, told to expect a less powerful storm than the computer models projected, didn’t rate such importance.
Ed Morrissey points out that there will be repercussions if people start to think that they can't trust what the National Weather Service says about the weather and think that it's just paternalistic information put out there for our own good.

And, of course, the local and state leaders are upset about the money spent in closing businesses that didn't need to be closed and not having the snow equipment in the right place for where the storm was actually predicted to hit the hardest.