Republicans will be voting to take health care away from 24 million people in an hour or so, but while we wait for this vicious act of wanton cruelty to become official, let's talk about President Trump's tax plan. Will it pay for itself via supercharged economic growth? The IGM Forum asked a panel of economists:

Well, that's pretty unani—wait. What's that 5 percent of economists who strongly agree? Who the hell are these people?

The answer is Bengt Holmström of MIT and Kenneth Judd of Stanford. Seriously? Ha ha. No, just kidding. We think. The moderator adds this in comments: "Panelist meant to Strongly Disagree (question misread)....This is my best guess."

So it was really 100 percent of economists who think the "plan" has zero chance of paying for itself. But maybe some enterprising reporter should ring up Holmström and Judd just to make sure.

It looks like Republicans are planning to vote on their health care bill on Thursday. Will it pass? Leadership is saying so, but they might just be lying. Who knows? One way or another, it's going to be close.

With that in mind, let's do a quick wrap-up of the bill:

  • There have been no public hearings.
  • There's no final text.
  • There's no updated CBO score.
  • It is opposed by virtually every patient advocacy group and everyone in the health care industry.
  • Congress is still exempted from the new rules that allow states to waive essential benefits.
  • It raises premiums dramatically for older people.
  • It removes Obamacare's protection against being turned down for a pre-existing condition.
  • It would steadily gut Medicaid spending for the very poorest.
  • It removes coverage from at least 24 million people, probably more.
  • It slashes taxes on the rich by about a trillion dollars over ten years.

This is a depraved piece of legislation. It's a windfall for the rich and promises nothing but misery for the poor. How is it possible that 90 percent of House Republicans are happily voting in favor of this moral abomination?

It's been literally hours since I last updated you on the Republican health care bill, so let's catch up. Twitter is our friend:

What's the rush?

Roger that. TrumpCare 1.0 arguably failed because of that hideous CBO score saying that 24 million people would lose coverage—a truly remarkable achievement since Obamacare only covers 20 million people in the first place. TrumpCare 3.0 is even worse, so God only knows what the CBO would say about it. Anyway, how bad can it be? I mean really?

Urk. Pretty bad. Even the AMA gets it:

Good for them. What's remarkable, though, is how lonely their position is:

I don't really get this either. Maybe they've given up? Maybe they figure that as part of the hated establishment, their opposition is just more likely to make Republicans vote yes? Beats me.

Apparently a lot of Democratic politicos are sort of hoping the bill passes and then gets killed in the Senate. That way they have an unpopular vote to wrap around the necks of vulnerable Republicans in the 2018 midterms. But is that worth the risk that, somehow, it might actually pass if it gets through the House? It seems like better strategy to make it crystal clear that there's simply no needle Republicans can thread on this subject.

Then we get to wait and see if President Trump kills Obamacare anyway in a fit of pique by cutting off the CSR subsidies. This is really shaping up to be a great year.

Lunchtime Photo

A couple of weeks ago I trekked out to Silverado Canyon to look for one of Orange County's famous watering holes. Maybe I'll tell you more about that someday. In any case, the place where I parked my car turned out to have a lovely little ravine with some pink flowers that made a wonderful backdrop for all the butterflies and other critters flying around. So I stopped to take some pictures.

As I was doing this, I heard a hummingbird zip by. I reset my shutter speed and then followed it with my camera and—it wasn't a hummingbird at all. It was a white-lined sphinx moth, also known as a "hummingbird moth" because it beats its wings at a ferocious speed and sounds just like a hummingbird.

I got several nice shots of this creature. Check out the proboscis action!

Here is Gary Cohn—supposedly one of the "smart ones" in the Trump administration—explaining the president's tax plan:

The median income in the United States today is … about $56,000. You take the $24,000 away from the $56,000, you’ve got taxable income of $32,000. At a 10% rate that’s $3,000 of tax. If you have one or two or three children and we give you $1,000 tax credit, you could end up with a—you know, very marginal, single-digit tax rate to no taxes whatsoever. That, to me, is a middle-income tax cut because you’re going to owe no taxes potentially.

"Potentially" is doing a lot of work here, as David Kamin explains:

Cohn forgot to mention the fact that our tax system, as it is currently written, provides what are called “personal exemptions” to families....The plan Trump presented on the campaign trail would eliminate these personal exemptions....So when you take into account the elimination of personal exemptions, families aren’t actually getting much tax relief after all. In fact, if that family has two or more kids, they’d actually face a tax increase under the Trump plan described by Cohn.

Here this is in chart form:

This should come as no surprise. The problem is that the average family pays most of its taxes at the state and local level, and via payroll taxes. Their federal income tax rate is already "very marginal, single-digit tax rate to no taxes whatsoever," so it's all but impossible to cut it. This is from the Tax Policy Center:

The bottom 40 percent pays no federal income tax at all and the average middle-class person pays 6.4 percent of their earnings in federal income taxes. If you focus solely on the federal income tax—as Republicans always do—you can't help the middle class much. Even in theory, the only people who really benefit are high earners.

Of course, you can still do a little to help middle-class workers—but only if you're careful. Cohn wasn't careful, so he ended up increasing middle class taxes. It's an easy mistake to make.

ESPN has been losing viewers for a while now, and there are various theories to account for it. Maybe millennials just aren't into sports that much. Or maybe cord cutting of all types is the culprit. Or maybe ESPN has gotten too liberal.

That last one is a favorite among conservatives, and I don't really get it. I'm not a heavy ESPN viewer, but I watch enough to have some sense of its political leanings. And I haven't really discerned much. Mostly they seem to call games and then argue about whether Tom Brady can play football into his fifties. You know, sports stuff.

But today, Paul Hiebert at the polling firm YouGov presents this chart:

First off, I'm impressed that YouGov has been polling this question since 2013. I wonder why?

In any case, this chart suggests that the problem isn't liberalism in general, but the fact that ESPN fired Curt Schilling. The Caitlyn Jenner thing hurt for a few months, but by April of 2016 all was forgiven and Republican support of ESPN was back to normal. It was the Curt Schilling affair that killed them. Just to refresh your memory, here's the Facebook meme he shared that was the final straw:

This was after Schilling "shared a meme that compared extremism in today’s Muslim world to Nazi Germany in 1940 [and] told a radio station that Hillary Clinton 'should be buried under a jail somewhere,' in apparent violation of an ESPN policy on commentary relating to the presidential election."

So politics is part of the answer after all. But not a slide into liberal politics. Conservatives were mad because Schilling engaged in venomous conservative politics, and eventually ESPN fired him before he did something that could get them sued. Conservatives are always the victims, aren't they?

Sorry, but apparently things have changed in the past 10 minutes:

Two prominent Republican opponents of the House GOP's Obamacare repeal bill reversed course and backed the measure Wednesday morning, after negotiating a last-minute amendment with President Donald Trump at the White House. Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Billy Long (R-Mo.) emerged from their session with the president and said that an amendment to add $8 billion to help cover people with preexisting conditions would return them to the "yes" column on the bill.

Seriously? These guys think that $1.6 billion per year actually makes a difference?

Anyway, who knows what's going to happen now. The basic problem is still the same, namely that this is a very dangerous vote for folks in swing districts. That might be worth it for a higher cause, but not for a bill that can't come close to passing in the Senate.

Plus there's the fact that 24 million people would lose coverage if the bill passes. I suppose that might be a factor for a few Republicans. Maybe.

The Republican health care bill can't pass but won't die:

With two days left before an 11-day recess and no vote scheduled, House Republican leaders considered last-minute changes to their latest bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act on Wednesday, including at least $8 billion in extra spending to answer the concerns of an influential Republican who had come out against the measure.

....The extra spending could anger the most conservative members of the House, who had recently come around to supporting the bill. Last-minute spending increases and special provisions in 2010 to win over Senate Democrats to the Affordable Care Act had stoked outrage among conservatives who fumed at “the Cornhusker kickback” and the “Louisiana Purchase.”

Hmmm. Is that $8 billion per year, or $8 billion over ten years?1 Not that it matters very much. This is a minuscule amount either way, and it doesn't change much of anything. In any case, the basic problem is still around:

Centrists said it didn’t make sense for them to take a potentially career-ending vote on a bill that might not be passed by the Senate, which has 52 Republicans. If the Senate does pass the measure, it is likely to amend it significantly to address the concerns of centrists in that body—and that version, in turn, could be rejected by conservatives back in the House.

And this:

GOP Reps. Ken Calvert of Corona and Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa are among those who supported the original version of the bill but have backed away from the amended version. Another, Rep. Doug LaMalfa of Richvale, remained undecided. “That’s part of my own internal struggle — if we do something and it’s still harmful to a lot of folks,” La Malfa said.

Yeah, that's a struggle all right. But President Trump is blissfully unaware of any of this:

“How’s health care coming, folks? How’s it doing? All right. We’re moving along? All right. I think it’s time now, right? Right?” he said after name-checking some lawmakers in attendance as he presented the U.S. Air Force Academy football team with the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy at the White House.

It must be nice to be so invincibly ignorant. Nice for Trump, anyway.

1Oh hell. It's neither one. It's $8 billion over five years. Where did that come from? Anyway, that's $1.6 billion per year, which is so tiny I don't understand why anyone would even consider hinging their vote on this.

Hello. Good evening.

Retweets are not endorsements. Neither are faves. Having said that, someone on Melania Trump's social team just did a whoopsie daisy.

Alex Litel spotted that @melaniatrump, a verified account, faved this tweet:

Maybe she was reading it and faved it. Maybe she was reading it and faved it accidentally. Maybe someone with access to her account was reading it and faved it accidentally. This last option seems far and away the most likely.

Social media managers make mistakes and they should not be fired for them and this is a truth I have written many times. The internet has an unquenchable thirst for outrage but that thirst often ends up taking us to crazy places. A few years ago a Houston Rockets social person was fired for emoji violence.

Anyway, someone in the Trump organization (or the general Trump universe, or a random person on the street who found Melania Trump's lost phone —or the phone of someone with access to her account) apparently thought this was funny, which is pretty funny to people not in the Trump organization.

So, hahahahahah.

Have a great night.

 

The topic of the day is pre-existing conditions: namely the fact that the latest version of the Republican health care bill guts Obamacare's guarantee that insurers have to insure all customers at the same price. It's what everyone is talking about.

Wait. Did I say "gut"? National Review editor Rich Lowry disagrees:

The Phrase ‘Pre-Existing Conditions’ Leads to the Suspension of All Thought

The moderates are abandoning the health-care bill largely because it makes it possible for states to get a waiver from the pre-existing condition regulation in Obamacare. This is being distorted as an abolition of that regulation, with the moderates either contributing to the misunderstanding or being carried along by it. Ramesh ably explained the other day why this isn’t true. But apparently all you have to do to win the debate over Obamacare repeal is say “pre-existing condition,” regardless of whether you have any idea what you are talking about. I don’t think anyone wants to go back to the pre-Obamacare status quo on this issue, but....

The Ramesh Ponnuru post that Lowry links to is worth a read, though I think Ponnuru downplays the real effect of the waiver clause. I'm also pretty sure that, actually, lots of people would like to go back to the pre-Obamacare status quo. That's especially true of people who really understand how health insurance works. After all, once you accept that people with pre-existing conditions should be allowed to buy health coverage at the same price as everyone else, you pretty much have to accept both the individual mandate and the federal subsidies in Obamacare. You can call them "continuous coverage" and "tax credits" if you want, but they're the same thing.

But for a moment let's put that all aside, because there's a more fundamental question here. Like it or not, Obamacare does protect people with pre-existing conditions. Insurers have to accept anyone who applies and they have to charge them the same premiums as anyone else. This has no effect on the federal budget, which means it can't be repealed in a reconciliation bill.1 Unless someone kidnaps the Senate parliamentarian's dog and threatens to kill poor Fido unless they get a favorable ruling, any attempt to repeal Obamacare's pre-existing conditions ban will be tossed out of the bill. And keep in mind that Obamacare's ban is absolute. As long as it's around, insurers have to take all comers at the same price no matter what any other legislation says.

So all the limitations regarding pre-existing conditions in the Republican bill are just kabuki. What's the point?

1Oh sure, you can gin up a case where it has some small effect. But that doesn't work. Reconciliation bills are limited to things that directly affect the budget. Incidental effects don't count.