The Hill reports that Republicans are gradually backing off their promise to repeal Obamacare:

Key Republican lawmakers are shifting their goal on ObamaCare from repealing and replacing the law to the more modest goal of repairing it.

....“I think it is more accurate to say repair ObamaCare because, for example, in the reconciliation procedure that we have in the Senate, we can't repeal all of ObamaCare,” [Sen. Lamar] Alexander said. “ObamaCare wasn't passed by reconciliation, it can't be repealed by reconciliation. So we can repair the individual market, which is a good place to start."

....Lawmakers have already started to face crowds of constituents concerned about what repeal might do to their own healthcare....Other lawmakers are worried repeal could cause chaos in the insurance market that would be politically damaging to Republicans, or simply that their constituents could lose coverage under repeal.

Hmmm. We'll see. In any case, it turns out that Republicans are already busily trying to repair things. Indiana Rep. Larry Buschon has just introduced the State Age Rating Flexibility Act of 2017, which accomplishes one thing: it changes the age band in Obamacare from 3:1 to 5:1. This means that insurers would be able to charge older customers five times as much as they charge young people, rather than three times as much. The end result would be to lower premiums for young people and increase them for older people.

I'm not quite sure why this is such a hobbyhorse among Republicans, but it is. And it's a weird one. Even if it's a good idea, which is debatable, older people will obviously hate it. AARP is already calling out the dogs. And since older people tend to be Republicans, why would Republicans want to piss them off? It's all very mysterious.

But whatever they decide to do, Republicans need to make up their minds. With everything up in the air, Aetna is now pulling out of the exchanges entirely and Molina Healthcare is pondering its options. I'll bet every other insurer is doing the same. They need to know what Republicans plan to do before they commit to anything for 2018. And if they don't commit, there are going to be millions of registered voters who will lose their insurance and then descend on their members of Congress like a plague of angry locusts. The clock is ticking.

The AP reports on President Trump's recent phone call with Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto:

"You have a bunch of bad hombres down there," Trump told Pena Nieto, according to the excerpt given to AP. "You aren't doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn't, so I just might send them down to take care of it."

Oh please. We're supposed to believe that Trump threatened to invade Mexico? We all know that Trump is a bit of a hothead, but even he wouldn't lose his shit like this with the leader of a close ally during a—

Wait. What's this about Trump's call on Saturday with the Australian prime minister?

President Trump blasted Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull over a refu­gee agreement and boasted about the magnitude of his electoral college win, according to senior U.S. officials briefed on the Saturday exchange. Then, 25 minutes into what was expected to be an hour-long call, Trump abruptly ended it.

....“This is the worst deal ever,” Trump fumed as Turnbull attempted to confirm that the United States would honor its pledge to take in 1,250 refugees from an Australian detention center. Trump, who one day earlier had signed an executive order temporarily barring the admissions of refugees, complained that he was “going to get killed” politically and accused Australia of seeking to export the “next Boston bombers.”

U.S. officials said that Trump has behaved similarly in conversations with leaders of other countries, including Mexico.

Trump hung up on the prime minister of Australia, one of our oldest, closest, and most reliable allies? I don't have the words. In any case, that's the leaders of Mexico, Australia, and "other countries" that Trump has apparently insulted on phone calls. I wonder what the body count really is. How many foreign leaders has Trump yelled at so far?

How about Vladimir Putin? Apparently not. In fact, Republicans in Congress are rushing to do a big favor for oil companies that do business in Russia. It all has to do with Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, which requires drilling and mining companies to disclose any payments they make to foreign governments. Back in 2010, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson—now our Secretary of State—opposed this provision. Here is Michael Grunwald in Politico:

Tillerson argued that forcing U.S. oil firms to reveal corporate secrets—such as paying foreign governments—would put them at a competitive disadvantage. He also explained that the provision would make it especially difficult for Exxon to do business in Russia, where, as he did not need to explain, the government takes a rather active interest in the oil industry.

Today, seven years later, Republicans confirmed Tillerson as President Trump’s Secretary of State, despite allegations that he’s too cozy with Russia. At the same time, the GOP is preparing to try to kill the disclosure rule created under Section 1504, despite warnings from international aid groups that the move would provide a wink-and-nod blessing to hidden corporate payments to petro-thugs.

This is likely to be the very first bill that Congress sends to Trump's desk: a big wet kiss to oil companies and Vladimir Putin. It's nice to know that we have our priorities straight.

Rep. Phil Roe (R–Tenn.) is a member of the Republican Study Committee, the uber-conservative wing of House Republicans. A while back he got the assignment of coming up with a replacement plan for Obamacare, which he cheerfully admits was a difficult task: "I was asked to put together a plan that increased access [and] lowered costs but didn’t increase entitlements, so my hands were a bit tied," he told Sarah Kliff in an interview yesterday. But she says the most surprising part of the interview was this:

What I thought was going to be easy was I thought Medicaid, we’d just block-grant it to the states. That one actually is going to be a little harder than I thought. The reason is there are states like New York, states that expanded [Medicaid]. How do you cover that 10 or so million people on Medicaid?

As Kliff notes, every Republican is on board with block-granting Medicaid. The reason is that, in practice, it pretty much guarantees a steady reduction in Medicaid spending, which opens up budget room for more tax cuts on the rich. What's not to like?

So what is Roe's problem? Allow me to translate. If you block-grant Medicaid, you have to decide how big a grant each state gets. This would be based on how many Medicaid recipients each state has.

And that presents a difficulty. You see, blue states have all taken advantage of Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, while red states haven't. This means that blue states now have an outsize share of Medicaid recipients, and therefore would get outsize grants. Here's a picture to demonstrate the problem using everyone's favorite red and blue states:

These are rough numbers, but they're in the ballpark of what Medicaid looked like before and after Obamacare. Assuming a total block grant budget of roughly $350 billion, California's grant increases from $55 billion to $58 billion thanks to Obamacare's Medicaid expansion. Meanwhile, the share allocated to Texas declines from $25 billion to $22 billion.

I think you can see why Republicans would consider this a problem. Should they permanently lock in higher grants for blue states thanks to the odious Medicaid expansion? Or should they go back to the pre-Obamacare shares? But if they do that, the red states that accepted the expansion would suffer too. It's quite a dilemma, isn't it?

The House Oversight Committee has gotten hold of an email confirming a Washington Post story about Donald Trump's plan to fire and replace all the Inspectors General of every government agency. Luckily, the committee leadership has dug deep into this and confirmed that it's nothing to worry about:

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said that the White House had told him the phone calls to inspectors general were a “mistake” and the work of a “junior person.” The inspectors general were later told to disregard the initial calls.

“I want to let you know that I’ve spoken with the general counsel at the White House on this topic,” Chaffetz said. “I think it’s safe to say that was a mistake, they wish it hadn’t happened, it’s not their approach, it’s not their intention.

If only Hillary Clinton had done this! It turns out that all you have to do if Congress is investigating you for some kind of misdeed is admit you made a mistake and say that it wasn't your intention to do anything wrong. Just think how much trouble we could have saved ourselves if only Hillary had known this.

So who was the "junior person" who ordered this purge? In a display of generosity, Chaffetz blacked out the name. No need to publicly humiliate whatever poor intern made this mistake, I suppose. Right?

A person familiar with the email said that the other person is Justin Clark, a Republican lawyer from West Hartford, Conn., who was deputy national political director of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and who has been named deputy assistant to the president and the White House director of intergovernmental affairs.

Welcome to life in the Democratic People's Republic of America.

House Democrats have asked Secretary of Defense James Mattis to investigate potentially illegal payments from Russia's government to retired General Mike Flynn, currently serving as President Trump's National Security Advisor:

Defense Department rules make it clear that this restriction also applies to payments from entities owned by foreign governments, including state-owned press operations like RT. Nonetheless, Jason Chaffetz and other House Republicans have no interest in pursuing this. IOKIYAR.

Russ Choma has more here.

As part of his touching remarks about Black History Month this morning, President Trump boasted that he "ended up getting substantially more" of the African-American vote than past Republican candidates. Glenn Kessler briefly picks this apart here, but everything is better with a chart. So here's a chart. It shows the share of the black vote since 1972 for Republicans running against white Democrats:

Trump really kicked ass, didn't he?

February is Black History Month and Donald Trump is all over it:

 

Question: Is Trump really as ignorant and contemptible as he seems? Or is this deliberate on this part, a wink to his white base that he doesn't take this stuff seriously and is only reciting his lines because he has to?

In Israel, it's a new era:

Israel approved 3,000 more housing units in the occupied West Bank late Tuesday, the largest number in a wave of new construction plans that defy the international community and that open a forceful phase in the country’s expansion into land the Palestinians claim for a future state.

Emboldened by the new Trump administration and internal battles at home, Israel announced plans for the new units in about a dozen settlements a week after approving 2,500 homes in the West Bank and 566 in East Jerusalem.

....Mr. Trump seems not to share former President Barack Obama’s opposition to the settlements....[Husam Zomlot, strategic affairs adviser to Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority] said that Mr. Netanyahu was using this time of political transition in the United States to test how the new administration’s stance might differ from that of Mr. Obama. The Israeli prime minister is to meet with Mr. Trump in Washington on Feb. 15.

In return for Trump's support, perhaps Netanyahu will loan him a few experts in wall building.

Lots of Democrats want to take a scorched-earth approach toward the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's nominee for the Supreme Court. I'm totally on board with this. The Republican blockade of Merrick Garland was flat-out theft, and no party with any self-respect can let that go without a fight.

Still, I'm curious: how is this supposed to play out? If Democrats filibuster Gorsuch, then either Mitch McConnell kills the filibuster or he doesn't. If he allows the filibuster to stand and Gorsuch is defeated, Trump will nominate another conservative. And no matter how much McConnell is dedicated to Senate institutions, the second time around he'd kill the filibuster for sure. He's not going to allow Dems to filibuster Supreme Court nominees for four years, after all.

Substantively, then, it doesn't matter much. We're getting a conservative Supreme Court justice one way or another. But Jonathan Chait says a filibuster is important because Dems have to make McConnell own the brave new world he's created. Richard Yeselson agrees:

I'm fine with this. But why is forcing McConnell to kill the filibuster a win for Democrats? Personally, I think they should block Gorsuch just to show they have a spine. I just don't understand why anyone cares whether McConnell is forced to get rid of the filibuster.

POSTSCRIPT: When I first heard that Gorsuch was on Trump's short list a couple of days ago, I thought: I know it's just a coincidence, but I'd sure want to avoid anyone named Gorsuch. But no. It turns out it wasn't a coincidence at all: Gorsuch is indeed the son of infamous Reagan EPA director Anne Gorsuch Burford. Enough with the dynasties!

ANOTHER POSTSCRIPT: Anne Gorsuch Burford did her best to tear down the EPA, and perhaps her biggest blunder was her determination to scrap the rules for phasing out lead in gasoline. Thank God she failed.

Kadee Russ, formerly a senior economist for the CEA and now a professor of economics at UC Davis, has taken a rough cut at the distributional effects of a border adjustment tax, the front-runner among "sort of a tariff" tax plans currently making the rounds in Congress. A BAT would supposedly raise about $200 billion per year, but raise it from whom? Here's her estimate:

Isn't that a shocker? It's a regressive tax that hits the working class harder than it does the rich. What's more, the whole point of imposing a BAT is to raise money so that personal income taxes can be slashed on the rich top marginal rates on job creators can be reduced. This whole Trump presidency thing is working out really well for the working class, isn't it?

TECHNICAL NOTE: Russ calculated the cost of the tax by income decile. I merged her first eight deciles into four quintiles. Click the link to see her original estimates.