Sunday, August 19, 2018
Politics

Republicans push hard for health care bill, though divided

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan labored to rally divided Republicans behind a high-stakes drive to overhaul the nation's health care system Wednesday, praising his party's legislation as "what good, conservative health care reform looks like" as lawmakers cast Congress' first votes.

Republicans who control two crucial House committees — Ways and Means, and Energy and Commerce — but hit a torrent of resistance from Democrats who oppose the seven-year GOP effort to unravel former President Barack Obama's health care law.

The outnumbered Democrats used the panels' sessions for political messaging, saying Republicans would cut taxes on the rich while slicing the Medicaid program for the poor. The Democrats even tried, unsuccessfully, to insert language pressuring President Donald Trump to release his income tax returns.

The pivotal challenge for Republican leaders was coming not from the Democrats but from a rebellion in their own ranks and from potent outside groups. If that upheaval should snowball and crush the legislation, it would be a shattering defeat for Trump and the GOP, so leaders were hoping passage by both House committees this week would provide them with momentum.

Just as ominous as GOP unrest was hostility from three organizations instrumental in the 2010 enactment of Obama's overhaul: The American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association and AARP, the nation's largest advocacy group for older people.

In words aimed at his own recalcitrant colleagues, Ryan, R-Wis., declared the legislation "is bold and it is long overdue. And it is us fulfilling our promises." The last was a nod to campaign pledges by Trump and many GOP congressional candidates.

There were signs of growing White House engagement.

A day after Trump pledged his backing to House GOP vote counters, conservatives who'd met late Tuesday with White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney flashed optimism that the bill could be reworked. Rep. Trent Franks, R-Ariz., told reporters that Mulvaney said that "essentially whatever the Congress could do to improve the bill, that the White House was open."

Underscoring Trump's potential impact, Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden, R-Ore., said of GOP holdouts, "A lot of them, they maybe haven't felt the inertia that comes with Air Force One landing in their district."

The legislation would defang Obama's requirement that everyone buy insurance — a provision deeply disliked by Republicans — by repealing the tax fines imposed on those who don't. That's a stick aimed at pressing healthy people to purchase policies. The bill would replace income-based subsidies Obama provided with tax credits based more on age, and insurers would charge 30 percent higher premiums for customers who drop coverage for over two months

The extra billions Washington has sent states to expand the federal-state Medicaid program would begin ending in 2020, and spending on the entire program would be capped at per-patient limits. Around $600 billion in the 10-year tax boosts that Obama's statute imposed on wealthy Americans and others to finance his overhaul would be repealed. Insurers could charge older customers five times more than younger ones instead of the current 3-1 limit, but would still be required to include children up to age 26 in family policies, and they would be barred from imposing annual or lifetime benefit caps.

Democrats say the Republicans would yank health coverage from many of the 20 million Americans who gained it under Obama's statute, and drive up costs for others because the GOP tax breaks would be skimpier than existing subsidies. And they accused Republicans of hiding bad news by moving ahead without official estimates from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office on the bill's cost to taxpayers and anticipated coverage.

"The bill sabotages the marketplaces where close to 10 million Americans today get coverage and starts a death spiral from which we will never recover," said Ways and Means' top Democrat, Richard Neal of Massachusetts.

On the Republican side, conservatives in particular were up in arms, saying the tax credits would be too expensive and the phase-out of Obama's Medicaid expansion too slow. One conservative group, FreedomWorks, was launching digital and social media ads opposing the legislation, while others like Americans for Prosperity, backed by the wealthy Koch brothers, were working against the legislation.

"It's way more cost and we're already bankrupt," Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., said of the GOP measure.

Numerous GOP centrists and governors were also antagonistic, worried their states could lose Medicaid payments and face higher costs for hospitals having to treat growing numbers of uninsured people.

Buttressing Republicans, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was backing the bill. The American Action Network, a political group tied to House GOP leaders, has spent nearly $8 million this year on TV and digital ads supporting the legislation in 75 House districts, mostly held by Republicans.

Comments
Romano: A fresh start for Florida to protect abused children

Romano: A fresh start for Florida to protect abused children

The worst job in Florida is available, once again.Mike Carroll has announced his pending resignation as secretary of the Department of Children and Families, giving someone else the privilege to be an underfunded, second-guessed punching bag. For no ...
Published: 08/18/18
Pinellas commission candidate faced stalking, abuse claims

Pinellas commission candidate faced stalking, abuse claims

ST. PETERSBURG — A political newcomer seeking a Pinellas County Commission seat has faced accusations of physical abuse and stalking from her former fiance, who twice sought court-ordered protection from her.Both allegations came after Democrat Amy K...
Published: 08/17/18

Two Seminole council members face challengers

SEMINOLE — Six candidates have filed to run for two open seats on the City Council.Incumbents Chris Burke, first elected in 2012, and Trish Springer, elected in 2015, face challenges from former council member Dan Hester, who served from 2005 to 2010...
Published: 08/16/18
In Republican race for Pinellas County Commission seat, Rep. Kathleen Peters outpacing field

In Republican race for Pinellas County Commission seat, Rep. Kathleen Peters outpacing field

As the Aug. 28 primary election approaches, three Republicans are battling to represent a Pinellas County Commission district that hasn’t witnessed a competitive contest for more than 15 years.State Reps. Larry Ahern of Seminole and Kathleen Peters o...
Published: 08/16/18
Romano: Con artist or Florida politician? You decide

Romano: Con artist or Florida politician? You decide

Decorum matters, and so the attorney’s language was appropriately measured.In seeking to have a constitutional amendment thrown off the ballot, a motion filed in Leon County used words such as "misleading’’ and "ambiguity’’ and "wordsmithing.’’That’s...
Published: 08/16/18
Veteran Hernando politicians take oversized contributions, run afoul of campaign finance laws

Veteran Hernando politicians take oversized contributions, run afoul of campaign finance laws

BROOKSVILLE — With primary Election Day at the doorstep, two Republican candidates vying for seats on the Hernando County Commission found themselves in uncomfortable spots over potential filings with the Florida Commission on Ethics.And a third Repu...
Published: 08/15/18
Q&A: A Watergate trickster talks dirty politics, then and now

Q&A: A Watergate trickster talks dirty politics, then and now

CLEARWATERNearly half a century ago, Martin Kelly made the mistake of his life.He was a senior at the University of Miami when he decided to take part in what would become one of the most infamous political scandals in U.S. history: Watergate. He was...
Published: 08/15/18

Pasco Political Notebook for Aug. 17

Republican Club hosts candidate forum at meetingThe West Pasco Republican Club will host an "Election Extravaganza" candidate forum at its meeting Aug. 21 at Heritage Springs Country Club, 11345 Robert Trent Jones Parkway, Trinity. A social time will...
Published: 08/13/18
Updated: 08/15/18
Early voting in Pasco: Here’s what to remember when you head to the polls

Early voting in Pasco: Here’s what to remember when you head to the polls

Early voting Pasco County begins Saturday and runs through Aug. 25, with 11 locations across the county for voters.Polls are open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 20-24, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Aug...
Published: 08/13/18
Largo election cancelled as incumbents stay with no opposition

Largo election cancelled as incumbents stay with no opposition

LARGO — There will be no suspense in the city when elections arrive Nov. 6. In fact, there will be no election at all, because all four city commissioners whose seats were up were re-elected by default when no one came forward by the end of the candi...
Published: 08/13/18