Just as I thought that Hilbert and Hopper had given up on sleeping with each other, suddenly they've decided to occupy the pod together. This mostly happens when Hopper gets in the pod and then Hilbert asserts his ownership rights1 by jumping on top of her. In the past, Hopper would usually just vacate. It wasn't worth the trouble of staying. But lately she's been holding her ground. For at least a little while each day, the pod is just an adorable mound o' cats.

1In fairness, it is his pod, by right of tenancy. Hopper never really liked the pods that much, but Hilbert has been a faithful pod companion on my desk ever since we brought him home.

I got curious about NATO spending today. We know that most NATO countries don't come close to meeting their goal of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense, and we know that past presidents have all urged them to spend more. Have they at least done that? Nope:

By my reckoning, only six of the 22 countries that are below the 2 percent goal spend more on defense today than they did in 2009: Luxembourg, Norway, Romania, Turkey, Latvia, and Lithuania. I guess we'll see how President Trump does at fixing this.

Donald Trump, three days ago on national TV:

We have cleared the way for the construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines, thereby creating tens of thousands of jobs. And I’ve issued a new directive that new American pipelines be made with American steel.

Donald Trump, in a quiet update delivered today via a spokeswoman:

The Keystone XL Pipeline is currently in the process of being constructed, so it does not count as a new, retrofitted, repaired or expanded pipeline.

Impressive use of weasel wording, Mr. President! I'm glad we got that cleared up. I guess American steel mills will benefit from Trump's executive orders as much as coal workers will.

A reader emails with a question:

The repeal-Obamacare mania has been on for years, but I have NEVER read anything about what the insurance industry is thinking or doing about it.

Neither have I! And it's damn mysterious. Obviously the insurance industry was heavily involved in lobbying for Obamacare back in 2009, and just as obviously there are parts of Obamacare they don't like. The patient pools have turned out to be sicker than they projected and insurance companies have struggled to make money on Obamacare policies. This year, however, they're finally there—or close to it. The market has shaken out, premiums have risen to CBO-projected levels, and Obamacare is probably a break-even or better prospect for the insurers who have gutted through the first three years.

What's more, like it or not, they've spent years adapting the way they do business. Everything from computer systems to physician compensation now follows Obamacare's rules. This has cost tens of millions of dollars, but now it's done. The last thing they need is to rip it all out and start from scratch.

And yet insurance companies have been surprisingly silent about the Republican plan to kill Obamacare. Do they prefer getting rid of it even if there's an upfront cost? Have they given up, and assume that repeal is a foregone conclusion that's not worth fighting? Is all their lobbying behind the scenes? It's not clear. Insurers are pretty unanimous about wanting some certainty in the rules, but aside from that, this eight-week-old story from the New York Times still describes things pretty well:

Far from reflecting the magnitude of the moment, the most prominent message from lobbyists that lawmakers saw in their first week back at work was a narrowly focused advertisement from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce....Health care professionals are not totally silent, but industries that were integral to the creation of the Affordable Care Act in 2010 are keeping their voices down as Republicans rush to dismantle it.

....Some lobbyists have tacitly accepted the likelihood that major provisions of the health law will be repealed, setting their sights instead on shaping its replacement. They fear that if they come out strongly in opposition to repealing the law, they will lose their seats at the table as congressional Republicans and the Trump administration negotiate a replacement.

Insurers spent $150 million lobbying in support of Obamacare in 2009. So far they've spent virtually nothing in 2017. I continue to be mystified by this.

Buy American?

Apologies for the late start this morning. My alarm cat went off at 6:30 and I hit the snooze button. But instead of a ten-minute delay, it didn't go off again until 7:55. Very unreliable, these American cats. I'm thinking maybe next time I should get something made overseas, even if there's a tariff on it. Maybe something from Turkey or Siberia.

Reuters tells us what to expect from President Trump's budget:

Under the proposal, which was sent to the EPA this week, grants to states for lead cleanup would be cut 30 percent to $9.8 million, according to the source, who read the document to Reuters.

What an idiot. This is hardly the biggest issue in his budget, and I'll grant that the current allocation for lead cleanup is so pitiful that a 30 percent cut hardly matters. On principle, though, it's obvious that Mick Mulvaney's crew just saw a line item in their spreadsheet and slashed it without knowing anything about it. Nice work, folks. You get a gold star.

By coincidence, the Washington Post ran a piece yesterday that's all about lead—though the reporter didn't realize it:

In dozens of one-on-one meetings every week, a lawyer retained by the city of Philadelphia summons parents whose children have just been jailed, pulls out his calculator and hands them more bad news: a bill for their kids' incarceration….[He] is one agent of a deeply entrenched social policy that took root across the country in the 1970s and '80s. The guiding principle was simple: States, counties and cities believed that parents were shedding responsibility for their delinquent children and expecting the government to pick up the tab.

.…"It was a very different time, when too many parents frequently wanted to essentially 'dump' their adolescent children on juvenile courts when they found them unruly, ungovernable, uncontrollable,” Linda O'Neal, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, said of the era decades ago when the laws were implemented.

Regardless of what you think about this policy, there's a reason it "took root" in the '70s and '80s: Kids of that era spent their early childhoods surrounded by lead fumes from automobiles, so they contracted lead poisoning in massive numbers. By the time they were teenagers they really were "unruly, ungovernable, uncontrollable," and parents didn't know what to do.

As it turns out, there was nothing they could do. The damage was done. But nobody knew that, so we put in place pointless laws based on the premise that if only they worked harder, parents could keep their kids under control. In reality, the only policy that ended up working came from Trump's hated Environmental Protection Agency, which banned leaded gasoline and put an end to our national epidemic of lead poisoning.

But the old laws are still around, even though they don't work, while the EPA's lead cleanup program is being slashed, even though it does work. Welcome to America.

Okay, I'm back from lunch. Have any more shoes dropped in the Jeff Sess—

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Thursday he will recuse himself from any investigations related to the 2016 presidential campaign, which would include any Russian interference in the electoral process…The announcement comes a day after The Washington Post revealed that Sessions twice met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and did not disclose that fact to Congress during his confirmation hearing.

Okey doke. I guess we all saw that coming. Anything el—

Michael T. Flynn, then Donald J. Trump’s incoming national security adviser, had a previously undisclosed meeting with the Russian ambassador in December to "establish a line of communication" between the new administration and the Russian government, the White House said on Thursday. Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law and now a senior adviser, also participated in the meeting at Trump Tower with Mr. Flynn and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador.

Huh. Well, Kushner is supposedly going to be dealing with foreign policy issues, so I suppose that makes sense. It's all above board and—

Look, can I finish a question, please? Obviously we don't know what Sessions and Kislyak talked about, but is there any evidence at all linking their meeting to Russian hacking? Even something circumstantial?

Well, I'm sure there's an innocent explanation for all this. Probably lots of senators chat with Kislyak now and again just to size up Russia's intentions, don't you think? Especially those with direct concerns about Russia, like Sessions' fellow members of the Armed Services Committee.

Come on. All this happened while I was at lunch?

Yes.

I can hardly wait for dinner.

I'm playing around with GeoFRED again while we all wait for the next three or four shoes to drop on the Jeff Sessions show. Here's an interesting map: the rate of preventable hospital admissions. This is based on the number of hospital admissions for "ambulatory care sensitive conditions," such as diabetes, asthma, and hypertension, which normally doesn't require hospitalization if patients are being treated by good primary care doctors. Essentially, then, this map shows the places where good primary care isn't widely available or isn't doing its job.

What makes it interesting is that it doesn't map all that closely to poverty. From Kentucky down to Louisiana, you have lots of counties with high poverty and a poor access to good primary care. But north of that you have the same thing even though poverty is relatively low. Out west, you have the opposite: a fair amount of poverty, but pretty good access to primary care. So what's going on?

The chaos around Jeff Sessions continues today, with just about everyone now calling for Sessions to recuse himself in the investigation of ties between Trump and Russia. But not quite everyone:

Um, say what? You might want to rein it in a little, Devin. Let's move on to one of your colleagues, shall we?

And this from Jake Tapper:

This sounds just like the Flynn affair. We have some chats with the Russian ambassador. We have denials of those chats. We have the discovery of those chats. And we have the White House saying that they were unaware of the chats.

I'm really not sure that President Trump can afford to fire a second top aide for lying to him about talking with the Russian ambassador, but the alternative is to let this thing continue to drag out. Jeff Sessions is now officially toxic.

Stop me if you've heard this story before:

Kathy Watson was anxious about her health coverage even before she woke up gasping for breath last month and drove herself to the emergency room with a flare-up in her heart condition. After struggling for years without insurance, the 55-year-old former small-business owner — who has battled diabetes, high blood pressure and two cancers — credits Obamacare with saving her life.

Watson also voted for Donald Trump, believing the businessman would bring change. She dismissed his campaign pledges to scrap the Affordable Care Act as bluster. Now, as she watches the new president push to kill the law that provided her with a critical lifeline, Watson finds herself among many Trump supporters who must reconcile their votes with worries about the future of their healthcare.

Watson, a proud, salty woman who was uninsurable a few years ago, isn’t ready to renounce Trump. But she’s increasingly frustrated by his vague promises to replace Obamacare with something better. “I’ve been through enough,” Watson said recently, sitting on the patio outside her mobile home, down a sandy road in a rural corner of northern Florida. “I don’t want to go back.”

"She dismissed his campaign pledges to scrap the Affordable Care Act as bluster." A lot of people seem to have done that. But this isn't just because Trump was such a ridiculous, blustery candidate. It's also because it's what we've come to expect from Republicans, and everyone tends to give them a pass for it. They say absurd things routinely, but the general reaction is a shrug: Oh, they have to say that stuff for the base. They're just checking boxes.

But now a lot of moderate conservatives are learning that it wasn't just affinity politics after all. They're actually going to try to do all those things they've been talking about for years. At this point, our best hope is that they're too fractious and too incompetent to pull it off.