Category Archives: Heller

Whatever Happened to HR 3364? The Amazing Disappearance of the Russian Sanctions Law

On July 25, 2017 members of the House of Representatives voted 419-3 to pass the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act; and on July 27, 2017 the Senate voted to pass it 98-2.  [HR 3364]  This is about as close to “veto proof” as any bill is likely to get.  The President* signed it on August 2, 2017.  [Hill]  Thus, HR 3364 became PL 115-44.

“Per the legislation, the administration was required to issue guidance by October 1 on how it was implementing the sanctions against Russia. That process includes publishing a list of the people and organizations who will be targeted by the sanctions, which are primarily aimed at Russia’s defense and intelligence sectors.” [TDB]

Yes, it’s now October 25, 2017 and what have we heard about those published lists of people and organizations targeted for (among other things) cyber attacks on our election systems and democratic institutions?

About all that’s come from the Oval Office is “we’re working on it,” at the Treasury Department, State Department, and Director of National Intelligence…but that October 1 deadline is in the rear view mirror and members of Congress aren’t getting any answers.  Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) did the ‘aw shucks’ reaction last Sunday:

“The Trump administration is slow when it comes to Russia. They have a blind spot on Russia I still can’t figure out,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Sunday on NBC’s Meet the Press. When asked what Congress could do to force the administration to act, Graham was vague, saying only: “The Congress will have a way to hold the president accountable.”  [TDB]

Perhaps the South Carolina Senator can’t figure it out, but it’s getting ever more obvious the President* is singularly unwilling to address anything even remotely critical of Russia and its klepto-dictator Putin. [see also VF]  A person might even think PL 115-44 has been sent to Siberia? That “blind spot” doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon. [MSNBC]

However, there is some evidence the administration is aware of the requirements of the sanctions bill, there simply isn’t a sensation of alacrity or urgency?

“Several recent actions suggest that the Trump administration is aware of the bill’s sectoral sanctions requirements. For example, on September 29, President Trump issued a presidential memorandum delegating “to the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of the Treasury, the functions and authorities vested in the President by” Section 231. Additionally, the administration has complied with other 60 day sectoral sanctions-related deadlines. For example, Sections 222 and 223 effectively codified and intensified pre-existing sectoral sanctions that had been imposed under Executive Order 13662. The government made the modifications that Section 223 required be done within 60 days on September 29. Moreover, although President Trump’s signing statement included a number of constitutional objections to specific provisions of the bill (including Section 222), Section 231 is not among them.”  [Lawfare]

There’s no great urgency demonstrated when a bill is signed on August 2, 2017 and the initial instructions don’t go out to the departments until September 29, 2017.  Section 231 (Russia) isn’t all that complicated, and more could certainly have been done to implement the provisions.

It isn’t often that every member of the Nevada congressional delegation votes in unity on any major piece of legislation, and it seems a shame that the President* hasn’t seen fit to move on this topic of important national interest.  Unlike the South Carolina Senator, I think we can guess why little action is taking place concerning Section 231.

Advertisements

Comments Off on Whatever Happened to HR 3364? The Amazing Disappearance of the Russian Sanctions Law

Filed under Foreign Policy, Heller, Lindsey Graham, Nevada politics, Politics

New Bull, Same Old Product: The Latest Incarnation of GOP Tax Cuts

For some reason, probably known but to the major donors of the Republican Party, “we” need a tax cut.  The rationale for this exercise echos the ubiquitous adolescent argument for automobile ownership — I need the car to go to work, I need to work to pay for the car.   In this instance, it’s argued that we need the tax cut to promote growth, and the growth to pay for the tax cut.  It’s the same old southbound product of a northbound male bovine we’ve heard so many times before.

Even the GOP assertions connect to this circuitous argument.  A tax cut, we are told, will promote economic growth — and Everyone will win.  Unfortunately, there’s no unanimous jury decision on this question.  First, there are some common methodological problems with altogether too many academic studies purporting to answer the question definitively.  Secondly, there are further issues intrinsic to discussion about how the tax cuts are to be offset.  Not all tax cut/reform proposals are created equal.

“The results suggest that not all tax changes will have the same impact on growth. Reforms that improve incentives, reduce existing subsidies, avoid windfall gains, and avoid deficit financing will have more auspicious effects on the long-term size of the economy, but may also create trade-offs between equity and efficiency.” [Gale, Brookings]

Therefore, if we step back and adopt the centrist conclusions of the Gale-Samwick Study quoted above, there appear to be some boxes to be checked off if the goal is to encourage long term economic growth, and one of those boxes calls for the avoidance of deficit financed tax cuts.

We are cautioned by Republican advocates that there are only two ways to reduce a federal deficit, either raise taxes or reduce spending.  The last iteration of a Republican tax cut, was not only deficit financed but the deficit was enhanced by the spending associated with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Since raising revenue by increasing taxation is anathema to Republican orthodoxy then there must be a reduction in spending.  Enter the proposals from the current Republicans to reduce Medicare spending by $472.9 billion over the next decade, and a further reduction of $1 to $1.5 trillion in cuts to the Medicaid program.

The current FY 2018 budget makes some assumptions which may be quickly frustrated. For example, the budget assumes no further military conflicts — the military expenditures assume readiness costs, not military operations; and, cuts to domestic expenditures  to a level not seen since the Hoover Administration.

If this sounds like the same old prescriptions from GOP decades past, there’s a reason for it which becomes obvious when the framework is examined.  What we have herein is NOT a new proposal for tax reform, but a recycling of ideas included in every recent Republican tax plan.

Cut the corporate tax rate from 35% to 20%.  As noted previously in this site,  there are several options available to corporations, none of which have anything to do with increasing employment or raising wages — share buybacks, dividend payments, mergers and acquisitions, corporate bonuses, management compensation, etc.  The GOP argument rests on the fluid assumption that corporations will reward the nation with more plant expansion, research and development, and rising wages — without a scintilla of proof this will actually happen.

The 25% (15%) pass through rate.  This purports to be a bonus for small businesses.  In the real world most small businesses are already paying this rate or rates even lower.  Consider the following evaluation of the Pass Through business:

“Finally, the top statutory rates and average effective rates mask substantial differences in what individual business owners pay in taxes. Most businesses are small, earn relatively modest income, and thus face relatively low bracket rates. As a result, more than 85 percent of pass-through businesses in 2014 faced a top rate of 25 percent or less; only 3 percent faced a marginal rate greater than 30 percent (Figure 6).[10] However, a much larger share of pass-through income does face high marginal income tax rates. Almost half of pass-through income in 2014 came from businesses with a top rate of at least 35 percent.  In other words, a small number of large pass-throughs are responsible for the vast majority of the sector’s tax burden.”  (emphasis added)

Consumer Warning: Beware of muddled conflation of pass through taxation with income from pass through businesses.  85% of small businesses are already paying low pass through rates, and the income is coming from a small number of very wealthy pass through businesses.  It doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out these are lobby shops, law firms, and other wealthy operations which bear little resemblance to small law offices and other independent businesses.

The Death Tax is Coming, The Death Tax is Coming.  I have no reason to believe that there won’t be one more “small business owner,” or one more family farmer, hauled into camera range at a GOP function who will have some tale of woe about inheritance taxation — or as I prefer to call it: The Paris Hilton Legacy Protection Act.   99.8% of all Americans don’t have to pay the estate tax, and such taxes as are paid are 40% of the excess above $5.45 million.   One other point might be made at this point, it’s not the heirs who pay the estate taxation if any is due — it’s the estate, via the executors.  But the major number here is 99.8%, the 99.8% of Americans who will see absolutely no benefit from this “tax cut” at all.

Eliminating the Alternative Minimum Tax, “which is intended to ensure that higher-income people who take large amounts of deductions and other tax breaks pay at least a minimum level of tax.”   Now, gee, if I could just see a certain President’s tax returns I could tell if he were liable for the AMT?  If I could be reassured that high profile NYC real estate developers, who take a spectacular range of deductions, might have to pay the Alternative Minimum Tax so they aren’t dodging their contributions almost entirely?  However, it’s been since May 20, 2014 since a certain presidential candidate said that if he decided to run for high office he’d release his tax returns — some 1,313 days ago…

In short, there’s nothing new here. It’s the same old south bound produce of a north bound bull.  Repackaged, with a new face in the Oval Office, and I remain convinced that two of our Congressional representatives, Senator Dean Heller and Representative Mark Amodei, will happily twist themselves into rhetorical knots trying to explain how cutting Medicare and Medicaid will benefit middle income Nevadans by pleasing the millionaires and billionaires among us.

1 Comment

Filed under Amodei, Federal budget, Heller, income tax, Nevada politics, Politics, tax revenue, Taxation

Senator Heller’s Second Shot at Slashing Medicare and Medicaid

“This morning, the Senate Budget Committee will consider a resolution that instructs lawmakers to find ways to reduce Medicaid spending by $1 trillion (and Medicare spending by $473 billion) over the next decade, according to supporting documentation that Democrats are publicizing.” [WaPo]

Here’s the strategy: “A fast-track “reconciliation” process that would allow for tax cuts costing $1.5 trillion over ten years that require only a simple majority to pass.  The $1.5 trillion cost would not have to be offset by closing tax loopholes or ending unproductive tax breaks, and thus would add to the nation’s deficits, which are already growing as the baby boomers retire.  In addition, the resolution would allow the Senate Finance Committee to cut critical programs under its jurisdiction, including Medicaid, Medicare, and basic assistance for poor seniors and people with disabilities, and then use those savings to make the tax cuts even larger (so that the net cost of the tax cuts and the budget cuts combined equaled $1.5 trillion).  The reconciliation process is the same process that Congress tried to use to repeal the ACA and requires only a simple majority to enact law.”  [CBPP] (emphasis added)

And, there we have it: (1) If it’s a Republican budget, then adding to the federal deficit doesn’t matter; (2) in order to provide for tax cuts to the top 1% of income earners in the United States, the Committee can slash funding for Medicaid, Medicare, basic assistance for senior citizens, and people with disabilities.

The trick is that the Senate Republicans have to pass a “budget” slashing spending for those aforementioned Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, elderly people in poverty, and disabled people, in order to create ‘space’ for the “reforms” in their tax legislation.  The buck slashing needs to stop here.

Please contact Senator Dean Heller, and let him know that these are not Nevada priorities.

202-224-6244

702-388-6605

775-686-5770

Comments Off on Senator Heller’s Second Shot at Slashing Medicare and Medicaid

Filed under Health Care, Heller, Medicaid, Medicare, Nevada politics, Politics

Thank You Senator Corker

Hmm, never thought I’d begin a post on a liberal blog with “Thank you, Senator Corker.” But, here it is.  The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee issued his now famous Tweet about properly staffing the Pennsylvania Adult Day Care Center, and followed up with a serious conversation including:

“The senator, who is close to Mr. Tillerson, invoked comments that the president made on Twitter last weekend in which he appeared to undercut Mr. Tillerson’s negotiations with North Korea.

“A lot of people think that there is some kind of ‘good cop, bad cop’ act underway, but that’s just not true,” Mr. Corker said.

Without offering specifics, he said Mr. Trump had repeatedly undermined diplomacy with his Twitter fingers. “I know he has hurt, in several instances, he’s hurt us as it relates to negotiations that were underway by tweeting things out,” Mr. Corker said.”

Simply airing these views is an act of civic responsibility, and if the Senator’s comments are accurate then there are more Republican Senators who hold these views; it would behoove them to chime in, even if only on the last few lines of the chorus.  We can imagine why we’ve not heard more voices.

The Republicans may now be victims of their own gerrymandered monster.  Those who break with the President may feel at risk of facing primary challengers.  However, a president with a 32% approval rating is not necessarily a creature to be feared.   That said, there are states in which the local politics could require senatorial and congressional candidates to pose close to the president, or at least could encourage it. Senators should recall that a Trump endorsement doesn’t insure election — ask Luther Strange in Alabama.

Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) has drawn a challenger who is (thus far) playing unabashed sycophant in the Trump parade, perpetual candidate for almost anything Danny Tarkanian.  (See also: Nevada Independent)

“I have so many people that are contacting me over the past couple months saying ‘you gotta run against Dean Heller,’ ” Tarkanian said. “They understand, as I do, that we’re never going to make America great again unless we have senators in office that fully support President Trump and his America first agenda.”

There are a few problems with that agenda.  If America first means America alone, then the President’s doing a fine job of that.  Right off the bat members of NATO got the message that Trump didn’t think all that much of Article 5, at least not enough to even mention it during a meeting concerning that important mutual defense clause.  Paris Accords — not even a treaty, but a mutual decision to follow voluntary self imposed guidance on climate change mitigation — and the US backs out.  When the President said he wouldn’t mind renegotiating the agreement the rest of the world’s nations said, thank you but NO we’re not interested.

We’re now in Round 4 of talks to renegotiate the NAFTA and the US Chamber of Commerce isn’t pleased with the administration’s demands, which border on protectionism (if they don’t ramble right into it).  As of two days ago the administration appeared poised to insert “deal breaking demands” into the bargaining process, some of which would seriously upset supply chains for the auto industry.  While there are certainly NAFTA provisions which might be improved, the current administration has proposed items which sound very much like the TPP provisions Trump opposed when he pulled the US out of those talks. [WaPo]

And then there’s North Korea.  While the remnants of the State Department (there are still a massive number of unfilled positions, many of which have NO nominees) try to tackle this problem, the President issues saber rattling tweets and undercuts his own Secretary of State.  [NPR]  It isn’t the least bit reassuring to hear informed comments like this when discussing the delicate and significant relations with the North Koreans:

“Without political appointments in place, governments in Asia and around the world are canvassing the Trump administration, trying to open lines to various advisors in the White House. And they’re getting mixed messages that are often hard to sort out.”

Oh, but wait there’s even more.  In addition to leaving our allies scrambling around at least since last August trying to find definitive answers to a chaotic foreign policy, they may also question whether our word means much of anything.  We need to recall that whatever Trump says, there are 6 nations involved in the Iran nuclear development containment deal and two of them aren’t happy: the Iranians and the Russians.  The Chinese government went on record in late September in support of the containment plan treaty, and three days ago the United Kingdom made its position clear in a medium Trump would understand (Twitter) “The Iran Deal is Working.”  The French foreign minister made a longer, but similar comment:

“It’s essential to maintain it to prevent a spiral of proliferation that would encourage hardliners in Iran to pursue nuclear weapons,” the minister told journalists in New York on the sidelines of this week’s UN general assembly.

French President Macron has also made his support for the agreement clear.  The German government has stated its support for a continuation of the agreement.   The P5+1 that signed the treaty could end up being the Chinese, French, Germans, Russians, and British vs. the US.  America “first” literally becoming America alone.

Senator Corker has a reputation for speaking carefully — all the more reason to listen to his warning.

Comments Off on Thank You Senator Corker

Filed under Economy, Foreign Policy, Heller, Iran, NAFTA, Nevada politics, Politics, Tarkanian

GOP assault on health care in rural Nevada

There’s a tendency to see social needs as an element of urban living in major cities like New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago, and rural poverty as something that happens in Appalachia.  This perspective obfuscates two features of life in Nevada.  For all intents and purposes Nevada is an urban state.  Not only is Nevada “urban” it is getting more so.  In 1970 about 80.9% of Nevada residents lived in urban areas, in 1990 the percentage was 88.3, and as of 2010 the percentage was 94.2% [ISU.edu]

By contrast, New York state as of 2010 was 87.9% urban, and Illinois 88.5% urban, while Nevada is closer to California’s 95% urban population. [ISU.edu]  However, to perceive rural Nevada as a wonderland of “freedom” and rugged individualism is to miss some crucial figures describing life in the “cow counties.”

For example, Pershing County has an 18.3% poverty rate; the US poverty rate is 12.7% [census] but the county does support a critical care hospital with a skilled nursing facility  with a maximum capacity of 25 residents.  The county’s population also includes 11.1% disabled people under the age of 65.   Given these figures, perhaps some politicians would like to explain why slashing Medicaid now and all but eliminating the national program by 2027 would be a good idea for Pershing County, Nevada.

Neighboring Humboldt County has a lower poverty rate, at 9.4% and a lower rate of disabled individuals under the age of 65 at 8.3%, but reducing the Medicaid program would have a deleterious effect on its 53 bed hospital, with an ICU, Obstetric services, and skilled nursing facility for 30 residents.  What effect of cutting Medicaid might be seen in the county’s ability to care for its aging population, including its hospital’s plans to incorporate a “memory care services unit” in its offerings?  [hgh] Recall that some 60% of all skilled nursing home residents get their health insurance coverage from Medicaid.

More populous Elko County has a poverty rate of 9.9% and an 8.4% rate of individuals with disabilities under the age of 65.  The county is home to a short term acute care hospital with 59 beds, and a resident center for 110 people needing skilled nursing care.   Again, if 60% of those SNF residents rely on Medicaid for their insurance coverage then cutting funds in 2027 then 66 families will be under increased pressure to find suitable and appropriate care for elderly family members.

Now, consider that Nevada is an urban state, and that should the Republicans get their wish for a capped Medicaid system of block grants then the state would be tasked with allocating increasingly spare resources to maintain nursing home and hospital facilities statewide.  Given the 2.115 million people in Clark County contrasted with the 52,168 population of Elko County, the 6,650 in Pershing County, and the 16,842 in Humboldt County — where are the monetary resources likely to go?

If Congressman Mark Amodei (R-NV2) and Senator Dean Heller are truly representing the needs of rural Nevada, then offering platitudes about “freedom,” “free enterprise,” and “individual initiative” are a poor substitute for enacting legislation to maintain and improve the health care facilities and the insurance availability to those facilities for northern Nevada rural citizens.

Comments Off on GOP assault on health care in rural Nevada

Filed under Amodei, Health Care, health insurance, Heller, Medicaid, Nevada politics, Politics

It’s not over until the fat lady sings adios to the current Congress

This is your Monday morning reminder that Republican attempts to kill the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid aren’t history.  The Graham-Cassidy Bill, which would mean a net loss of coverage for 243,000 Nevadans, still lives, and at long as it does so we have to keep those phone lines busy.

Please let Senator Heller know that his latest attempt to foist off a “Repeal and Replace” effort onto Nevadans is actually worse than his last performance on behalf of the Senate’s “skinny bill.”

“Graham-Cassidy’s impact on coverage in 2027 would be similar to that of the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act (ORRA), the so-called “repeal and delay” bill that the Senate failed to pass in July. Under both the ORRA and Graham-Cassidy, these three major policies would be in effect a decade from now:

  • Repeal of the mandates for individuals to obtain health insurance coverage and large employers to offer insurance

  • Elimination of subsidies for nongroup health insurance

  • Elimination federal funding for the ACA’s Medicaid expansion” [CAP]

No individual or employer mandates to stabilize the insurance market, no assistance for those trying to find insurance in the private market, and the loss of Medicaid assistance for working Americans.  And, why all of this effort?

The Republican plan to lower taxes for those in the top 1% of American income earners won’t “add up” without cutting help for average Americans under the ACA and without pulling the rug out from under those (including retirement center residents and children) who are insured by Medicaid.

Senator Heller can be contacted at:  202-224-6244; 702-388-6605; and 775-686-5770

You may also want to thank Senator Catherine Cortez Masto for her support of Nevada families who rely on the ACA and Medicaid for their health care insurance needs.  202-224-3542; 702-388-5020, and 775-686-5750.

Comments Off on It’s not over until the fat lady sings adios to the current Congress

Filed under Health Care, health insurance, Heller, Medicaid, Politics

GOP: Poor Excuses and Paucity of Empathy

By all accounts the Graham-Cassidy+Heller version of health care destruction would yield a net coverage reduction for 243,000 Nevadans. Overall it would mean a 31% cut in Medicaid for children — that’s right — children.  There’s another 15% cut for services for people with disabilities.  And what’s the rationale for this atrocity?

(1) Because we promised!  This is probably the silliest reason to do anything ever.  I may have promised to offer someone a ride to go shopping, but if there’s a blizzard on the way then it’s downright stupid to “keep the promise.”

(2) Because Obamacare is failing!  And why would that be? Because Republicans refused to make some simple fixes (risk corridors, risk sharing, and reinsurance) and the individual health insurance is unstable.  It’s a classic case of tossing the baby out with the bathwater.  Or, of finding some perfectly “fixable” problems with a law and using those to rationalize pitching the entire thing.  Head UP: They’ll try this same approach with the financial sector reforms in the Dodd Frank Act.

And then there’s the part the Republicans aren’t talking about.

(3) Because they’ve wanted to get rid of Medicaid, Medicare, and to privatize Social Security from time out of mind.

This comment sums up the situation:

“The two keys to the Republican attitude are money and ideology. If you view the modern G.O.P. as basically a mechanism to protect the wealthy, Medicaid is an obvious target for the Party. The program caters to low- and middle-income people, and its recent expansion was financed partly by an increase in taxes on the richest households in the country.”

The concept can’t be articulated more simply or directly.

Then there are the sputtered talking points, common among Republican politicians and supporters to hike around the obvious but unspoken issues they have with the Affordable Care Act.

If we don’t pass this we’ll have socialized medicine.  Please.  Even Single Payer (or Medicare for all) isn’t socialized medicine.  Medicare insurance is used to pay PRIVATE providers for medical treatment.  This obviously isn’t a nationalized medical service plan.  Only by artificially conflating medical insurance with medical services can anyone assert that this is “socialism.”

There are no guarantees in life.  So if a family in Minnesota who has a child with muscular dystrophy may be required to pay higher premiums that’s the way the markets work.  It doesn’t get more morally bankrupt than this — especially since the current system does guarantee coverage for families with chronically ill children.

This issue is long past being a public policy issue, it has devolved into pure politics in which ‘points’ are scored by a party desperately hoping to cut taxes for its most generous donors at the cost of Americans’ health care.

So, every few weeks we’ll have to call our Senators to beg them not to destroy the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid for ourselves, our families, our friends, our neighbors, and our fellow citizens.

Call Senator Heller at his Las Vegas Office 702-388-6605; his Reno Office 775-686-5770; or his DC Office 202-224-6244. 

You may also want to call Senator Cortez-Masto to thank her for her support of health care access for Nevadans. 202-224-3542; 702-388-5020; 775-686-5750.

Comments Off on GOP: Poor Excuses and Paucity of Empathy

Filed under Health Care, health insurance, Heller, nevada health, Nevada politics, Politics