At the LA Times, David Lazarus writes about the latest in robocall scamology:

It’s the most cunning robocall scam I’ve encountered — and the fact that I’ve fallen for it more than once tells you how successful it can be. The phone rings. You pick it up and say “hello.” There’s a brief silence and then a woman’s voice says, “Oh, hi there!” She offers an embarrassed laugh. “I’m sorry, I was having a little trouble with my headset!”

....This is a new and highly sophisticated racket known as the “can you hear me” scam, which involves tricking people into saying yes and using that affirmation to sign people up for stuff they didn’t order.

Take my advice: never interact in any way with telemarketers, silicon or otherwise. Don't say "I'm not interested." Don't say anything. Just hang up. Period.

It looks like we have a final health care bill. As expected, it eliminates all of Obamacare's essential health benefits. Say hello to health care insurance that doesn't cover hospitalization! The repeal is set for 2018, so states that want to set up their own lists of essential benefits had better get cracking.

In a vain attempt to avoid headlines about how Republicans are being mean to women, the final version of the bill also adds $15 billion to the "stability" fund for maternity care and a few other things. It pays for all these changes by delaying the repeal of the Medicare surcharge on the rich. Oddly, though, this $15 billion appears to be only for the year 2020. Is this a typo? Or what?

Why is Paul Ryan having such a hard time selling his Obamacare repeal to the ultra-conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus? One chart tells the story:

According to DW-NOMINATE, when Ryan first entered Congress in 1999 he was the 18th most conservative member of the House. Almost no one was more conservative than Ryan. He was a member in good standing of the ultras.

But every year he got a little more moderate. By 2014, he ranked only 51st. The tea partiers who have been elected in the past decade look at Ryan as a guy who sold out. He's no longer even in the top 50, let alone the top 30 or 40 that it takes to be a solid ultra.

To you and me, 51st out of 435 seems pretty damn conservative. But to the folks who rank from 1st to 40th, Ryan looks like a guy who's steadily compromised with the swamp until he's become just another get-along-go-along guy. They don't trust him, and that's why he can't convince them to vote for his health care bill.

From Politico:

President Donald Trump is demanding a vote Friday in the House on the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney said. If the bill fails, Trump is prepared to move on and leave Obamacare in place, Mulvaney said.

This makes sense on a whole bunch of levels:

As a threat against conservatives: Vote for the bill or else Obamacare stays around forever and it's your fault.

As a boredom minimizer: I doubt very much Trump himself cares one way or the other about health care, and he's probably tired of all boring technical talk that surrounds it (EHBs, continuous coverage, age bands, etc. etc.). He also instinctively understands that the whole thing is a shit show that's making him more and more unpopular.

As politics: The current debacle has shown that there's just no sweet spot acceptable to both moderate and conservative Republicans. Why keep beating yourself up over it?

As revenge against liberals: Trump has said that 2017 is the year Obamacare unravels. He will now do everything he can to make that come true, and there's a fair amount he can do.

As substance: It frees up time for taxes and trade, things Trump is more interested in.

Besides, I don't think Trump wants to stay in Washington over the weekend. The Mar-a-Lago golf course beckons. So let's just put this baby to bed one way or the other, OK?

Jonathan Chait has a question:

No, no, no, no, no! Remember when we thought it might be better if Donald Trump won the Republican primary because Hillary Clinton would be sure to beat him? Then James Comey came along.

Shit happens, people, and there's no predicting it. I doubt that the Republican bill can pass the Senate, but it might. The only thing we should care about is taking every possible opportunity to stop it, whenever and wherever we have a chance. Period.

(Besides, I doubt that voting for this bill will do much harm to Republicans when the midterms roll around. That's still 20 months away, and besides, at least the yes voters can say they did everything they could to repeal Obamacare but leadership screwed it up.)

And speaking of the Republican bill, apparently the whip count really is falling short. So now the vote has been postponed to Friday. Maybe. It all depends on whether Paul Ryan and Donald Trump can figure out something else to capitulate on in order to win the votes of the crackpots in the Freedom Caucus.

Oh, and one more thing: CBO has rescored the bill. The original version reduced the deficit by $337 billion. The new one reduces it by only $150 billion. But that's already out of date. They'll have to score it again after Ryan and Trump finish negotiating with the conservatives. But it's worth noting that Ryan doesn't have a lot of headroom left if he also needs to negotiate with moderates who want a slightly less brutal program. Another $150 billion and the bill won't reduce the deficit anymore. And if it doesn't reduce the deficit, it can't be passed under reconciliation.

But wait! One final thing: earlier I noted that the Republican bill is allowed to repeal only the elements of Obamacare that directly affect the budget. So if Republicans try to add provisions that repeal, say, essential benefits or pre-existing conditions, the Senate parliamentarian is likely to rule that they have to be jettisoned. However, as the presiding officer of the Senate, VP Mike Pence has the final word on this. He could just declare the parliamentarian wrong and allow the vote to go forward.

But what justification would he offer? As it happens, Republicans already have one handy. Last year, a number of them made the argument that the "direct effect" rule should be applied to the whole bill, not to its individual parts. In other words, Obamacare can be repealed completely because Obamacare as a whole directly affects the budget. If Republicans go down this road, that's what you're likely to hear.

However, my guess is that if Pence does this, he'll lose a whole bunch of votes from moderate senators who won't be a party to something that effectively kills the filibuster. So it probably can't pass the Senate either way.

Lunchtime Photo

Beware the tree of death. It awaits multitudes if Republicans pass Trumpcare.

I guess I was wrong last night. The New York Times says President Trump has caved in to demands to repeal the minimum set of required benefits for health care insurance:

President Trump agreed to the demands of conservative House Republicans to remove federal requirements that health insurance plans provide a basic set of benefits like maternity care, emergency services, mental health and wellness visits as he struggles to round up enough votes to pass a broad health care overhaul.

But the Washington Post reports that this still wasn't enough:

Conservative House Republicans rebuffed an offer by President Trump on Thursday to strip a key set of mandates from the nation’s current health-care law, raising doubts about whether House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has the votes to pass the bill.

....Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), asked whether the White House had made its final negotiating offer, said that if that’s the case, “They’re not going to pass the bill.”...As of mid-afternoon Thursday, 37 House Republicans — mainly Freedom Caucus members — had announced their opposition to the bill, known as the American Health Care Act.

So what do conservatives want? Here's the Post again:

Conservative lawmakers have asked to eliminate much of [Obamacare’s] Title I, which....bars companies from setting insurance rates based on a person’s sex, medical condition, genetic condition or other factors.

In other words, insurers could charge you more if you have a pre-existing condition. That would effectively kill off the Obamacare provision that requires insurers to cover everyone who applies. They'd simply price policies out of reach for people with expensive pre-existing conditions and that would be that.

Would this pass muster with the Senate parliamentarian, who has to agree that repealing Title 1 "directly affects" the budget? I doubt it. Would Mike Pence go ahead and overrule her? Maybe. Is this whole thing a debacle beyond imagining? Oh yes.

POSTSCRIPT: It's worth pointing out that if Republicans go down this road, they've essentially killed the filibuster completely. Basically, they would have set a precedent that anything can be added to a reconciliation bill—which can't be filibustered—and the vice president will overrule the parliamentarian and declare that it's OK. At that point, the Senate can include reconciliation instructions for just about anything in its annual budget resolution. As long as the president and vice president are from the same party, they can then pass anything they want with 51 votes.

Quinnipiac reports today that public approval for the Republican health care bill is a dismal 17 percent. Allow me to put this into perspective with a bar chart:

Sad.

As a public service, here are all the things Donald Trump has been right about:

  1. Sweden
  2. Anthony Weiner
  3. NATO not focusing on terrorism
  4. Brexit
  5. Election being rigged against Bernie Sanders
  6. Obama "wiretapping" him
  7. Three million illegal votes
  8. Thousands of Muslims celebrating on 9/11
  9. Beating Hillary Clinton
  10. Donna Brazile
  11. Ted Cruz's father1
  12. British spying1
  13. NATO not paying its bills
  14. Jobs statistics

Not bad, Mr. President! Maybe you could whisper in my ear who the next Super Bowl champ is going to be. I promise not to tell anyone.

1Special Trump exemption: It doesn't matter if he was right because he was just quoting other people.

Donald Trump Is Always Right

Right: The cover of this week's TIME Magazine. Left: The iconic cover from April 8, 1966 which inspired it.

Time's Michael Scherer interviewed President Donald Trump on Wednesday for an upcoming cover story. Scherer's thesis is that Trump deliberately makes unproven charges because "the fact that they are disputed makes them a more effective message, that you are able to spread the message further, that more people get excited about it, that it gets on TV."

Sure. It's as good a theory as any. As usual, I could spend the whole day just pulling out excerpts and—oh hell, let's pull out some excerpts. There's this:

You say that Ted Cruz's father was with Lee Harvey Oswald.

Well that was in a newspaper. No, no, I like Ted Cruz, he's a friend of mine. But that was in the newspaper. I wasn't, I didn't say that. I was referring to a newspaper. A Ted Cruz article referred to a newspaper story with, had a picture of Ted Cruz, his father, and Lee Harvey Oswald, having breakfast.

And this:

You don't feel like Comey's testimony in any way takes away from the credibility of the tweets you put out, even with the quotes?

No, I have, look. I have articles saying it happened. But you have to take a look at what they, they just went out at a news conference. Devin Nunes had a news conference. I mean I don't know, I was unable to see it, because I am at meetings, but they just had a news conference talking about surveillance. Now again, it is in quotes. That means surveillance and various other things. And the New York Times had a front-page story, which they actually reduced, they took it, they took it the word wiretapping out of the title, but its first story in the front page of the paper was wiretapping. And a lot of information has just been learned, and a lot of information may be learned over the next coming period of time. We will see what happens. Look. I predicted a lot of things that took a little of bit of time. Here, headline, for the front page of the New York Times, "Wiretapped data used in inquiry of Trump aides." That's a headline. Now they then dropped that headline, I never saw this until this morning. They then dropped that headline, and they used another headline without the word wiretap, but they did mean wiretap. Wiretapped data used in inquiry. Then changed after that, they probably didn't like it. And they changed the title. They took the wiretap word out.

And finally this:

But you are saying to me now, that you don't believe the intelligence community when they say your tweet was wrong.

I'm not blaming. First of all, I put Mike Pompeo in. I put Senator Dan Coats in. These are great people. I think they are great people and they are going to, I have a lot of confidence in them. So hopefully things will straighten out. But I inherited a mess, I inherited a mess in so many ways. I inherited a mess in the Middle East, and a mess with North Korea, I inherited a mess with jobs, despite the statistics, you know, my statistics are even better, but they are not the real statistics because you have millions of people that can't get a job, ok. And I inherited a mess on trade. I mean we have many, you can go up and down the ladder. But that's the story. Hey look, in the mean time, I guess, I can't be doing so badly, because I'm president, and you're not. You know. Say hello to everybody OK?

Trump obviously prepared for this interview, and his theme was: I am always right. Seriously. Over and over he went down a list of all the things he's predicted that turned out to be true. Donald Trump is always right. Got it? Okay then.