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.

Auto and light truck sales went from lackluster to downright bad in April:

The Wall Street Journal provides additional reasons to worry:

Another troubling sign: It is taking dealers far longer to sell off inventory, resulting in a glut of unsold cars and trucks. GM, the No. 1 U.S. auto maker, has nearly 1 million vehicles of unsold units on dealer lots....Fred Rentschler, a dealer in Slatington, Pa., said his family’s Chevrolet store has 120 models on the lot and another 50 being delivered, nearly 20% more than the same time last year. “They’re coming through with inventory,” he said. “We’re just not selling them as quickly.”

Also: discounts are high and interest rates are low. But that's still not enough to get customers onto the lot. This is a modest downturn at the moment, but it's yet another sign that something seems to be out of whack between what people say (consumer confidence is high) and what people are doing (retail sales are sluggish).

Good news, everyone! After a plunge in the stock market after it beat up a passenger, United Airlines' stock price has fully recovered. It only took three weeks, and now everything is forgiven.

Earlier this morning, Rep Fred Upton (R–Mich.) said he could not support the latest version of the Republican health care plan:

Upton told Michigan’s WHTC that the deal struck to bring on board Freedom Caucus conservatives went against his principles. The amended bill would allow states to waive ObamaCare protections preventing people with from being charged more based on their health, if certain conditions are met to provide coverage in high-risk pools.

“I’m not at all comfortable with removing that protection. I’ve supported the practice of not allowing pre-existing illnesses from being discriminated against from the very get-go,” Upton said in the interview. “This amendment torpedoes that. And I told leadership I cannot support this bill with this provision in it.”

This puts Republicans at a maximum of 216 votes for the bill. One more no vote and it fails1—and since Upton is a respected guy on the right, his no vote will make it a lot easier for other folks on the fence to vote against the bill too.

Unless Paul Ryan pulls some kind of miraculous rabbit out of his hat, this is the death knell. Once again, TrumpCare is dead. This time for good, I imagine.

1There are currently four vacancies in the House, so it has 431 members. The cutoff point for a majority is 216 votes.

Yesterday I asked for a simple jobs pitch that Democrats could make to win back all those disaffected working class voters who put Donald Trump in the White House. A bunch of people had ideas, and by the power invested in me as author of this blog, three struck me as real possibilities:

Rebuild America. This is a simple infrastructure pitch. Democrats should all get behind a gigantic infrastructure bill that would rebuild roads, bridges, airports, sewer lines, you name it. There would, of course, be no real mention of paying for this. Or, if there is, we'll tax the rich to do it.

Electrify America. This includes both infrastructure (solar panels, wind farms, etc.) and a huge program to push cars and trucks to mostly electric over the next ten years. For funding, see above.

Split Up America. This needs a better bumper sticker, but the idea is to make a big deal out of antitrust: new laws that would break up big companies on both Main Street and Wall Street and encourage the growth of smaller companies.

For what it's worth, the electrification idea has real appeal. It would promise lots of jobs. It would clean up the air. It would address climate change. It doesn't require a ton of retraining since the jobs mostly consist of standard construction and assembly-line work. Its impact would be spread across the entire country. And it hasn't already been co-opted by Republicans. It's an interesting idea.

Anyway, this is just a follow-up. I'm not seriously suggesting that any of these are the salvation of the Democratic Party or anything. But they couldn't hurt.

Here's the latest on TrumpCare:

Pre-existing Conditions. Matt Fiedler of the Brookings Institution notes that the MacArthur Amendment does more damage than it seems. At first glance, it eliminates community rating—the requirement that everyone pays the same premium even if they have a pre-existing condition—only for a limited time and only for people who have failed to maintain continuous coverage. But it's worse than that:

Implementing a waiver like the one permitted by the MacArthur amendment would have the effect of completely unraveling community rating. Under the waiver, insurers would set two premium schedules: (1) a community-rated premium schedule for people who demonstrate continuous coverage; and (2) a medically underwritten premium schedule for people who do not demonstrate continuous coverage.

Healthy people would always prefer to pay an underwritten premium since it would allow them to avoid being pooled together with sicker people who have higher health care costs. Indeed, a healthy person opting into the underwritten pool could realize savings of hundreds or thousands of dollars per year.

Basically, there would be a price for healthy people and a price for sicker people. If you have a pre-existing condition, you'll end up paying the higher price, and it might be very high indeed.

High-Risk Pools. TrumpCare imagines that people with pre-existing conditions could be segregated into high-risk pools run by the states. However, Emily Gee of CAP estimates that its funding for this is wildly inadequate:

Records from the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, the program that provided coverage to high-cost enrollees until the exchanges became available, show that average annual claims costs were $32,108 in 2012....For subsidies to cover 68 percent of enrollees’ premium costs, as ACA tax credits do now in the individual market exchanges, the government would have to put up $32.7 billion annually.

....The $13 billion per year that the AHCA provides for possible risk pool funding would leave a $20 billion shortfall annually. That gap is too big to be filled in by states, which would already be responsible for contributing to the stability fund.

Employer Plans. Obamacare eliminates annual and lifetime caps on coverage, even for employer plans. TrumpCare allows states to opt out of that:

Bottom line: As bad as TrumpCare was originally, and as much as you thought the MacArthur Amendment made it worse, it's even worse than that. Hard to believe, isn't it?

Republicans would like to pass a permanent tax cut. Sadly for them, Senate procedures prevent that. The only way to avoid a Democratic filibuster is to pass their tax plan via reconciliation, which requires only 51 votes in the Senate and can't be filibustered. But thanks to the Byrd Rule, any reconciliation bill that increases the deficit beyond a 10-year window is once again subject to a filibuster, and that would doom any tax measure. This limits Republicans to tax plans that sunset in 2028.

But wait. Maybe there's an alternative. The Wall Street Journal explains:

President Donald Trump has said he wants to cut taxes, big-league, and Republicans are having trouble squeezing his ambitions into congressional rules forbidding bigger deficits after a 10-year budget scoring window.

Some lawmakers are exploring a way around that problem: Make the window bigger. Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) suggested last week a “longer horizon” to overcome obstacles posed by the process known as reconciliation....A 15-year, 20-year or 30-year budget window could let Republicans pass a temporary tax cut that is long enough to give companies confidence to invest but short enough so its fiscal effects peter out by the 2030s or 2040s.

Surprised? That's because everyone always talks about the Byrd Rule forbidding deficit increases beyond a 10-year "budget window." But that's not what it says. Here's the actual relevant language:

A provision shall be considered to be extraneous if it [decreases] revenues during a fiscal year after the fiscal years covered by such reconciliation bill or reconciliation resolution.

In this context, "extraneous" means it can be filibustered, and there's nothing in there about ten years. That's just custom. If Republicans felt like it, they could pass a bill that "covers" the next millennium and sunsets in 3018. Here is Daniel Hemel, an assistant professor of law at the University of Chicago:

“I don’t think there’s anything magical about the number 10, other than 10 has been the maximum number for long enough that 11 would seem like a break from Senate norms.”

But who cares about Senate norms? Not Republicans. So there must be something more to this or they'd just go ahead and do it. One possibility is that there are still a handful of old-school deficit hawks left in the party, and they won't vote for a longer budget window. Or there might be some arcane technical issue involved. I would be fascinated to hear from a real budget expert on this.