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 This has no effect on the federal budget, which means it can't be repealed in a reconciliation bill.1 Unless someone kidnaps the Senate parliamentarian's dog and threatens to kill poor Fido unless they get a favorable ruling, any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.

Lunchtime Photo

Today's photo might not seem like much. But sometimes what's important isn't what's there, but what's not there:

It's nothing special, just a small orange grove on the corner of Helena and Santa Ana St. in Anaheim, about a mile from Disneyland, and it's the last orange grove in the city. Here's what's missing:

You've all heard of the Haymarket bombing and the Ludlow massacre and the Harlan County War. We don't have any labor history quite like that here in Orange County, but we do have the all-but-forgotten Citrus War. On June 11, 1936, orange pickers in Anaheim, Fullerton, Tustin, and elsewhere went on strike, demanding better wages and the end of a corrupt bonus system. OC Weekly editor-in-chief Gustavo Arellano has almost single-handedly worked to revive the memory of this strike, so I'll let him pick up the story from there:

On June 15, 1936, at the break of dawn, about 200 Mexican women gathered in Anaheim to preach the gospel of huelga—strike....The women spread across the groves of Anaheim, the heart of citrus country, urging workers to let the fruit hang. Twenty Anaheim police officers confronted the women; they refused to disperse. At some point there was an altercation, and 29-year-old Placentia resident Virginia Torres bit the arm of Anaheim police officer Roger Sherman. Police arrested Torres, along with 30-year-old Epifania Marquez, who tried to yank a strikebreaker—a scab—from a truck by grabbing onto his suspenders....Torres and Marquez received jail sentences of 60 and 30 days, respectively. But Orange County responded with an organized wrath years in the planning.

....Wonder why Orange County trembles whenever its Mexicans protest? Welcome to the Citrus War of 1936, the most important event in Orange County history you’ve never heard of.

Orange County leaders kept up a brave public face, but as the strike continued they began to panic. Sheriff Logan Jackson deputized hundreds of men and arrested dozens of strikers and sympathizers on flimsy charges. They were all tossed in jail with no jury trial. In early July, with violence breaking out on both sides, Jackson deputized more guards and armed them with taxpayer-supplied shotguns:

Orange County now had 400 emergency deputies. Police departments across the county asked merchants not to sell ammunition to Mexicans anymore. It was time to end the strike.

....Strikers fought with “iron bars, clubs and their fists,” according to the Register. Guards responded with guns....The Sheriff’s Department and politicians quickly responded. Officers pulled over anyone who looked Mexican and was close to the fields; by the end of July 7, deputies crammed over 200 Mexicans into Orange County Jail, charging them with rioting even though most were far from the scenes of fighting.

With that, the war was really and truly on:

Progressive journalist Carey McWilliams, who chronicled "the rise of farm fascism" in California during the 30s, wrote that the Orange County strike was "one of the toughest exhibitions of ‘vigilantism’ that California has witnessed in many a day....Under the direction of Sheriff Logan Jackson, who should long be remembered for his brutality in this strike, over 400 special guards, armed to the hilt, are conducting a terroristic campaign of unparalleled ugliness." But it worked. As the terror campaign against the pickers escalated, union solidarity began to unravel. On July 27, pickers and growers reached an agreement that raised wages modestly but didn't allow the pickers to unionize. After six weeks, the Citrus War was over.

There's still not so much as a plaque to tell you where the Citrus War started. However, two years ago a memorial called the "Table of Dignity" was commissioned at the Orange County Fairgrounds. Unsurprisingly, it suffered through endless problems, was closed, then renovated, and finally, after going wildly over budget, is now set to be reopened during the summer fair this year.

The Citrus War and its predecessors are the foundation of Orange County's famous conservatism. For decades Orange County was an agricultural county, and California's agricultural counties are almost all harshly conservative, anti-union places. This is why, compared to the California everyone is familiar with, inland California is like a whole different state—and as conservative in its way as anyplace in the Deep South. The only thing that makes Orange County unusual is that it's on the coast and eventually became too expensive for agriculture. But the conservatism lingers on. For now.

Ladies and gentlemen, your liberal media at work:

Can you spot the smarmy white guy saying that liberals just like playing the race card over the Civil War? Can you spot the actual historian with the furrowed brow? Can you spot the black guy who's so disgusted he can't even? And of course, the chipper CNN host who thanks everyone for a fascinating debate at the end.

I'm going to lunch now. I can't promise that I'll be back.