THE MORNING PLUM:
The story of the morning is that the GOP health plan may be in trouble, because even allies of President Trump are warning him to ditch it before he gets dragged down along with it. The alarm they are sounding is simple: By embracing Paul Ryan’s plan, which would dramatically slash taxes on the richest Americans while massively rolling back coverage for the poorest Americans, he is losing touch with the “populist” message and ideological heterodoxy that helped drive his appeal to working-class voters.
Here’s why this is important: It lays down a marker with which we can evaluate whether Trump is actually governing as the “populist” he telegraphed he would be. If Trump does not cut Ryan’s plan loose, we should theoretically be able to agree that in some key respects, the brand of populism he ran on during the campaign was pure fraudulence — by the lights of his own allies.
The Post reports that a “simmering rebellion of conservative populists loyal to President Trump is further endangering the GOP health-care push”:
Trump’s allies worry that he is jeopardizing his presidency by promoting the bill spearheaded by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.), arguing that it would fracture Trump’s coalition of working- and middle-class voters, many of them older and subsisting on federal aid….
Trump loyalists warned that the president was at risk of violating some of his biggest campaign promises — such as providing broad health coverage for all Americans and preserving Medicaid and other entitlement programs — in service to an ideological project championed for years by Ryan and other establishment Republicans.
“Trump figures things out pretty quickly, and I think he’s figuring out this situation, how the House Republicans did him a disservice,” said Christopher Ruddy, a longtime Trump friend. “President Trump is a big-picture, pragmatic Republican, and unfortunately the Ryan Republican plan doesn’t capture his worldview.”
It is true that Candidate Trump strongly telegraphed to working-class white voters that, in replacing Obamacare, he would support a robust government role in helping the poor and the sick. It seems reasonable to assume that this, combined with his rhetorical break from GOP orthodoxy on trade, immigration and cutting taxes for the rich (which is also turning out to be a sham), helped create the populist allure that his allies fear might be at risk. It is also true that the Ryan plan would leave a lot of those voters without health coverage, while deeply slashing taxes on the very rich. The Congressional Budget Office report makes this conclusion impossible to obfuscate away any longer.
Yet Trump continues to fully embrace the Ryan plan, anyway. How can this possibly be?
The most likely answer is that Trump simply doesn’t care about the details of health-care policy, and just wants a win — which means really nothing more than delivering on his vow to repeal the ACA and replace it with “something terrific.” It has long gone without saying for Trump that the replacement he champions will be far superior to Obamacare, whatever it is. Trump’s guiding articles of faith have been that Obamacare is an irredeemable disaster (Trump knew he had to say this, and came to believe it, even though the evidence strongly suggests he has no idea how it actually works) and that Trump is a winner who is a whiz at fixing things. So of course Trumpcare will deliver more and better health care for less money.
But we are now learning that to cover as many people as Obamacare does, you have to spend far more money than the priorities of congressional Republicans will permit. Indeed, as the CBO report showed, the GOP plan gets a big chunk of its savings by cutting Medicaid spending by over $800 billion, resulting in 14 million fewer people benefiting from it — thus allowing an enormous tax cut for the rich.
These are the priorities that Trump has now fully embraced, and his conservative populist allies understand the political danger of it. Putting aside the question of what these allies would like to see Trump champion instead, they are probably onto something. While it’s true that the ACA’s individual mandate is very unpopular, it’s also true that there is broad public support for key elements in the law that regulate and spend money to cover the poor and sick.
Indeed, a new Morning Consult poll finds that 46 percent of Americans support the new GOP health bill, which is roughly the popularity of the ACA. But crucially, the poll also finds far more support for the elements in the new plan that are holdovers from the ACA, such as the protections against discriminating against preexisting conditions. (The new poll shows opposition to the GOP plan’s means for making that possible, the penalty for discontinuous coverage that insurers could charge.) Meanwhile, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that large majorities favor keeping Medicaid the way it is under the ACA.
So Trump’s conservative populist allies are probably right that embracing Ryanism is politically perilous. But here’s the bottom line: We know that the new GOP plan betrays Trump’s promises, which were that under his replacement, no one would lose coverage. We have reason to suspect Trump’s populist appeal was rooted partly in his willingness to ideologically part ways from Ryan-ism, which is something he clearly signaled on the campaign trail. And so, if he continues to embrace the Ryan plan, this means that posture was mostly a sham.
If Trump is falling into Ryan’s trap, he’s doing so willingly — because the details don’t really matter to him; because all he wants is a win; and because he currently believes this is the only way to get one as quickly as possible.
* LAST-DITCH EFFORT TO BLOCK TRUMP’S TRAVEL BAN: Politico has a useful roundup of the three places where Trump’s travel ban, which is set to go into effect tomorrow, are being challenged in court: Hawaii, Maryland, and Washington State. The overview:
Any of the district court judges hearing challenges to the ban could potentially block the new order from taking effect with a nationwide injunction. It is also possible that any of the courts could issue a more limited ruling, blocking parts of the executive order or suspending it for certain regions of the country or airports. The courts could also decline to issue an injunction and allow the litigation to continue as the ban takes effect.
It’s not clear whether the White House’s revisions will get it past the courts this time, but they might. Working against it is the fact that there is no serious national security rationale for it.
* GOVERNORS WORRIED ABOUT GOP HEALTH PLAN: The Associated Press reports on what governors and state officials around the country anticipate the GOP plan will do to their states:
The Republican health care plan means less money for states and gives them a tough choice: Find a pot of cash to make up the difference or let coverage lapse for millions of lower-income Americans. Governors and state lawmakers analyzing the Republican plan … fear a return to the past, when those without health coverage used emergency rooms for their medical needs. That uncompensated care that was written off by hospitals or billed to the state.
This theoretically should put more pressure on GOP governors and senators (particularly from states that expanded Medicaid) to demand changes, making it tougher to pass it.
* ACA IS NOT ‘IMPLODING,’ CBO CONFIRMS: Republicans love to say Obamacare is “imploding,” meaning the markets are in a death spiral. But Reed Abelson and Margot Sanger-Katz note that the Congressional Budget Office assessment knocked that down:
According to the budget office, the Obamacare markets will remain stable over the long run, if there are no significant changes…. Growing evidence suggests that the markets, despite their problems, are far from collapse…. The C.B.O. concludes that the Republican bill would make the markets far shakier over the next two years.
So Republicans are lying when they say the ACA is imploding, and their plan is the one that would make the individual markets less tenable. Seems about right.
* AARP SAYS GOP HEALTH PLAN IS AN ‘AGE TAX’: This, from the powerful AARP, is a good one:
“The bill will dramatically increase health care costs for 50-to-64-year-olds who purchase health care through an exchange,” said Joyce A. Rogers, a senior vice president of AARP, who denounced the plan as an “age tax.”
An age tax! That’ll sting, particularly since older voters went for Trump.
* TRUMP AGENDA OFF TO VERY SLOW START: The Post tallies it up:
As a candidate for president, Trump promised that he would work with Congress to pass legislation that would dramatically cut taxes, spur $1 trillion in infrastructure investments, significantly expand school choice and make it easier to afford child care. And he promised he would get started on all that — and six other pieces of legislation — in his first 100 days…. Now past the 50-day mark, only one of those bills — the House GOP health-care plan — has been introduced.
And that health plan’s fate hangs in the balance. “Fine-tuned machine,” indeed.
* YES, THE TRUMP TAX RETURNS ARE TROUBLING: Rachel Maddow reported last night that two pages of 2005 Trump tax returns show he paid $38 million on reported income of $150 million. There’s a lot of snark about this, but the New York Times makes a key point:
They showed that the vast bulk of the federal income taxes he paid in 2005, $31 million, was paid under the alternative minimum tax, which Mr. Trump wants to abolish…. “Trump’s return shows that he’s pushing tax changes that benefit multimillionaire heirs like him, not the middle class,” said Lily Batchelder, a tax law professor at New York University and former majority chief tax counsel for the Senate Finance Committee.
So, yes, this is a story.
* TRUMP TWEET OF THE DAY, ALL-SCRUTINY-IS-FAKE-NEWS EDITION: Trump responds to the Maddow scoop:
Does anybody really believe that a reporter, who nobody ever heard of, "went to his mailbox" and found my tax returns? @NBCNews FAKE NEWS!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 15, 2017
It should be troubling that the President of the United States is dismissing the mere act of obtaining a glimpse into Trump’s returns — which had long been a routine ask of presidential candidates — as “fake news.” Shouldn’t it?