The folks at EBRI have published the results of the 27th annual Retirement Confidence Survey, and once again it shows a puzzling disconnect between workers—who are relatively pessimistic about retirement—and actual retirees. Here's an example:

Generally speaking, workers are a lot more nervous about retirement than actual retirees. What's even more interesting, the disconnect began in the early aughts, when the economy was still booming. Since then, the gap has continued to grow. The 2017 results are only one data point, but they show a gap of 19 percentage points. What's going on? Why are workers so nervous, while actual retirees are reporting increased confidence?

Here's another chart:

Workers are apparently convinced that they'll never retire young and will most likely have to work forever. Actual retirees tell a much different story: 39 percent retired before age 60 and only 4 percent kept working after age 70.

I know it's fashionable to talk about how screwed Xers and millennials are, and how 401(k)s have wrecked retirement. But the data just flatly doesn't back this up. Millennials earn incomes that are pretty similar to boomers, and 401(k)s have turned out to be comparable to old-style pensions. It's true that the Social Security retirement age has increased, which might account for some of the difference in expected retirement age, but only in the 65-69 age band.

Actual retirees have a message for us: things aren't so bad. In reality, the vast majority of them retired by age 65 and the vast majority say they're financially comfortable. It's likely to be pretty much the same for today's workers.

Is bipartisanship coming back into style? With Republicans hopelessly divided, Reince Priebus suggested this morning that maybe it was time to work with Democrats on health care reform:

“I think it’s time for our folks to come together,” Mr. Priebus said, adding that it is time to “potentially get a few moderate Democrats on board, as well” as they try to bring down premiums and stabilize insurance markets.

That appeal was echoed by Senator Susan Collins of Maine, a moderate Republican who opposed the House Republicans’ health bill and has also worked with Democrats to explore changes to the Affordable Care Act without repealing it.

I don't know if this is just wishful thinking, but there might be a deal to be made here. Obamacare has a number of smallish problems but only one big one: Its insurance pool is unbalanced, with too many older-sicker (OS) customers and too few younger-healthier (YH) customers. Insurers expected differently back in 2013, which is why they priced their policies too low at first, eventually leading to big premium increases last year. It's also why several insurers have pulled out of the Obamacare market entirely. Fix the pool, and you fix a bunch of other problems at the same time.

So how do we get more YH folks to buy insurance? There are carrots and sticks, and the biggest stick is to strengthen the individual mandate by increasing the tax penalty for not buying insurance (and tightening up enforcement). However, the individual mandate is the single most hated part of Obamacare among Republicans, so there's not much chance of doing anything there. At the same time, we also can't replace the mandate with Trumpcare's continuous coverage provision, since the CBO seems pretty convinced that this would decimate the market. Basically, this has to be left alone.

But what about carrots? The best way of attracting more YH customers is to make policies cheaper for them. There are several ways of doing this, but one way would be to combine the income-based subsidies of Obamacare with the age-based subsidies of Trumpcare. Something like this:

  • Reduce the income-based subsidies by about a third.
  • Add a flat-rate version of Trumpcare's age-based subsidies: $500 per person across the board.
  • Change the age band to 4:1, a compromise between Obamacare and Trumpcare.
  • Ensure continued funding of Cost Sharing Reductions.

This would probably be more popular than Obamacare's current subsidies, since middle-class workers would at least get something to help them out with insurance even if they made too much money to qualify for today's income-based subsidies. Nobody would be left out completely. Here's a rough guess at how this would look for a single individual:

Obviously there would be winners and losers here. Somebody with a detailed model would need to analyze this, but my horseback guess is that the overall changes would be fairly modest. Still, if the middle class gets a bigger share, the poor will get a smaller share. Likewise, if the young get a bigger share thanks to the widened age band, the old will get less. There's no way around that arithmetic unless Republicans are willing to increase the total subsidy level. But these are concessions that might be worth making.

What else? We have to leave the taxes in place, but Republicans seem to have a real issue with the medical devices tax. Democrats could agree to get rid of it. Maybe the employer mandate could also be repealed, since it doesn't seem to be all that necessary.

The devil, as always, is in the details, and there are other issues with Obamacare that could be shored up too. But balancing the pool is really the biggest one, and adopting a compromise between Obamacare and Trumpcare might do a workable job of fixing that.

Could this happen? Republicans, as we know, are averse to compromise of any sort because it brings instant charges of selling out from the true believers. But the true believers aren't very popular right now, so maybe Republicans would be willing—even eager!—to use this as a chance to take them down a peg. Among Democrats, the biggest opposition to a deal is going to come from people who don't want to give Donald Trump a victory of any kind. But for a chance to stabilize a program they've spent decades trying to get passed, they might be willing to talk.

Bipartisanship is in poor odor these days, so maybe this is all just pie in the sky. But it's at least worth investigating. After all, we don't need everybody on board, just 60 percent of each caucus. That might be doable.

Oh goody:

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has asked the White House to lift Obama-era restrictions on U.S. military support for Persian Gulf states engaged in a protracted civil war against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, according to senior Trump administration officials.

....Approval of the request would mark a significant policy shift. U.S. military activity in Yemen until now has been confined mainly to counterterrorism operations against al-Qaeda’s affiliate there....It would also be a clear signal of the administration’s intention to move more aggressively against Iran. The Trump White House, in far stronger terms than its predecessor, has echoed Saudi and Emirati charges that Iran is training, arming and directing the Shiite Houthis in a proxy war to increase its regional clout against the Gulf’s Sunni monarchies.

The Yemen civil war is one of the dirtiest little wars around. It's yet another proxy Sunni-Shia conflict, and it's not helped by the fact that the Saudi Arabians are fairly incompetent at prosecuting it. We're not going to be willing to endlessly fund an incompetent war, so if we get more heavily involved there's no telling where it ends. I hope somebody is asking James Mattis exactly what he thinks the long-term game plan is here.

Dinnertime Photo

I'm sure you're all waiting eagerly for the results of the Irvine Reaching for the Cure Half Marathon today. Sadly, MoJo's stringer, who happens to live right on the course, fell down on the job. The first-place man ran by him while he was dicking around doing something else, and the first place woman was hopelessly out of focus.

The good news is that we got a fine photo of the second-place woman. Here is Arizona Cardinals fan Natasha Gunaratne, who took second place—and first in the 25-29 age category—with a time of 1:31:00:

The sad thing about this tweet is that it really would be news if Donald Trump was at the White House working this weekend:

But no: Trump played golf at his club in Virginia this weekend, so it's not clear what Fox was up to here. Perhaps they meant to say that by 5:26 pm on Sunday, Trump was back in the White House.

Normally, I'd suggest that everyone cool it with the golf snark. We've now had four consecutive presidents who have taken endless grief every time they hit the links, and it's pretty stupid. Let 'em golf if they want to. But there are two differences with Trump. First, the guy really does play a ton of golf. You'd think the first few months of a new presidency would be a busy time, but Trump has played 12 rounds of golf, mostly at Mar-a-Lago, in only ten weekends. That's more than he played before he was president. Second, like an embarrassed drunk, he's now trying to hide his golf addiction. This weekend marked the second in a row in which his press office tried to pretend that Trump was "meeting with people" at the club, only to have Trump's golfing exposed, as they must have known it would be, by someone with a cell phone tweeting out pictures. Why do they bother with such flimsy and easily exposed lies?

And while we're on the subject of Trump, I'd like to note that he's hit the quadfecta I predicted on Thursday. He has now blamed all four of the following for the failure of Trumpcare:

  • Paul Ryan, for insisting on doing health care before tax reform and then being unable to shepherd the bill through the House.
  • The Freedom Caucus, for voting against his bill.
  • Democrats, for...being the opposition party, I guess.
  • Obama, for deliberately designing Obamacare to fail in 2017.

Apparently Reince Priebus is also taking some heat from within the White House, because he's pals with Ryan and was supposed to know about all this congressional hoo ha. But it's not clear if Trump himself blames Priebus for anything.

This story from the Sunday Times leaves me in a quandary:

Donald Trump handed the German chancellor Angela Merkel a bill — thought to be for more than £300bn — for money her country “owed” NATO for defending it when they met last weekend, German government sources have revealed.

The bill — handed over during private talks in Washington — was described as “outrageous” by one German minister. “The concept behind putting out such demands is to intimidate the other side, but the chancellor took it calmly and will not respond to such provocations,” the minister said.

What to think? On the one hand, reporting on items like this from the British press is notoriously unreliable. On the other hand, it's moronic beyond belief, which makes it perfectly plausible that Trump might have done this. Hmmm.

On Friday—that's 24 hours ago for those of you with short memories—President Trump insisted that he had no hard feelings toward Paul Ryan. Ryan had worked hard on the health care bill, and it was just bad luck that it failed. In fact, it was really the fault of the Democrats, who hadn't provided a single vote. Not one!

However, experienced Trump watchers noticed a brief aside: he mentioned that there were a few things he would have done differently—but he wasn't going to talk about that. This is Trump code for "I'm not to blame and I won't be able to bottle up my whining for long. I definitely will talk about these things eventually."

So how long would Trump be able to hold his tongue? A few days? A whole week? Nope. About 18 hours, it turned out:

And here's what Jeanine Pirro said a few hours after that on her Fox News program:

What a guy. Within 24 hours Trump is sticking a shiv in Paul Ryan's back without even a pretense of keeping it private. He doesn't have the guts to tell Ryan to his face, so instead he uses a TV show to pass along the message.

The real message, of course, is that no one should ever work with Trump. He'll throw you under the bus at the first hint that he needs someone to take the blame for something that went awry. And maybe Ryan should take him up on this. When John Boehner retired and Kevin McCarthy flamed out, Republicans were literally left with no plausible candidates for Speaker who were acceptable to all factions of the party. Ryan was the only one who came close, so if he quits the GOP is in for some real chaos. That's just what they need as they try to get a budget in place and start work on a hugely complex tax cut for the rich.

A US airstrike in Mosul last week appears to have killed upwards of 200 civilians. The New York Times reports:

American military officials insisted on Friday that the rules of engagement had not changed. They acknowledged, however, that American airstrikes in Syria and Iraq had been heavier in an effort to press the Islamic State on multiple fronts.

....Col. John J. Thomas, a spokesman for the United States Central Command, said that the military was seeking to determine whether the explosion in Mosul might have been prompted by an American or coalition airstrike, or was a bomb or booby trap placed by the Islamic State....Iraqi officers, though, say they know exactly what happened: Maj. Gen. Maan al-Saadi, a commander of the Iraqi special forces, said that the civilian deaths were a result of a coalition airstrike that his men had called in, to take out snipers on the roofs of three houses in a neighborhood called Mosul Jidideh. General Saadi said the special forces were unaware that the houses’ basements were filled with civilians.

....Before, Iraqi officers were highly critical of the Obama administration’s rules, saying that many requests for airstrikes were denied because of the risk that civilians would be hurt. Now, the officer said, it has become much easier to call in airstrikes. Some American military officials had also chafed at what they viewed as long and onerous White House procedures for approving strikes under the Obama administration.

This may simply be an appalling incident not related to any change in policy. Even with the best preparation, sometimes horrible things happen when you're at war. Still, in the past two months we've had a botched raid in Yemen; two attacks in Syria with heavy civilian casualties; and now an airstrike in Mosul that left hundreds of civilians dead. It's fair to wonder if a guy whose idea of military strategy is to "bomb the shit out of ISIS" has also decided that he doesn't much care about civilian casualties while he's doing it.

Here's a fascinating chart from the Wall Street Journal:

Even the Journal's own description says "holdouts from two wings of the party" sank the Republican health care bill. But that's not what their own chart shows. Ideologically, there was neither a "coverage caucus" nor a "conservative" caucus. The holdouts spanned the entire spectrum of the party in a pretty even way.

I can't think of any insightful point to make about this, but it's worth mentioning anyway. The conventional narrative of the bill being caught between two extreme ends of the party looks like it's not really correct.

By the way, here's how the Journal's article begins:

With the collapse of Republicans’ health plan in the House on Friday, the Trump administration is set to ramp up its efforts to weaken the Affordable Care Act in one of the few ways it has left—by making changes to the law through waivers and rule changes.

Obamacare won't implode on its own, but it might after Trump does everything he can to sabotage it.

Here is the last paragraph of David Brooks' blow-by-blow evisceration of every single thing related to the Republican health care debacle:

The core Republican problem is this: The Republicans can’t run policy-making from the White House because they have a marketing guy in charge of the factory. But they can’t run policy from Capitol Hill because it’s visionless and internally divided. So the Republicans have the politics driving the substance, not the other way around. The new elite is worse than the old elite — and certainly more vapid.

Remember the Mayberry Machiavellis? In the Bush White House they were "staff, senior and junior, who consistently talked and acted as if the height of political sophistication consisted in reducing every issue to its simplest, black-and-white terms for public consumption." This is now the entire Republican Party leadership. Keep in mind that they never wanted to propose an Obamacare replacement in the first place. They figured they could just promise one for later. So deliciously Machiavellian! But it turned out that even the rubes who usually take their cues from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity saw through their repeal-and-delay ploy. So they had to come up with a plan. Any plan.

And they did. Within a few days they whipped up a health care bill. No one cared very much what was in it. Sean Spicer's initial selling point—seriously—was the fact that it was much shorter than Obamacare. A few days later the CBO gave it possibly the most devastating score of any bill in history: 24 million people would lose coverage. But that was just substance, not important stuff like politics, so Republicans shrugged. When Tucker Carlson told Donald Trump about the millions who would be kicked off their plans, Trump muttered "I know" and swiftly moved on.

Then the horsetrading began. Not over details here and there, but over the very foundations of the bill. Old people would see their premiums treble or quadruple, which nobody considered a problem until AARP pointed out that old people vote. So Paul Ryan tossed in $75 billion and told the Senate to figure out what to do with the money. Cutting nearly a trillion dollars in Medicaid funding wasn't enough for some? Fine, let states add work requirements. The ultras don't like essential health benefits? Out they go.

By the time they were finished, a Rube Goldberg bill that was as brutal as anything we've ever seen had almost literally become tatters. Nobody cared what was in it. Nobody cared if it would work. Nobody cared if it would actually cover anyone.

And even at that, something like 90 percent of the Republican House caucus was apparently willing to shrug and vote for it. Promise made, promise kept. Who cares what's in it?

The silver lining here is that apparently there really is a limit to the power of Mayberry Machiavellianism. Merely repeating that the bill was "great" over and over wasn't enough. The hustle was just too raw. Even the white working class, the famous demographic that delivered the White House to Donald Trump, disapproved of the bill 48-22 percent.

So now we move on to tax cuts for the rich. Will the hustle work this time? Or has health care finally made even the Fox News crowd skeptical that Republicans have the best interests of the working class at heart?