Jeff Stein reports on Democratic plans to fight any attempt to repeal Obamacare:

“We are united in our opposition to these Republican attempts to Make America Sick Again,” Schumer said, cracking a slight smile at the inversion of Donald Trump’s campaign slogan. The line suggests that Schumer wants to reframe the fight over Obamacare into one about the broader GOP health care agenda, which includes proposals to change Medicaid andMedicare.

Since the health care law passed in 2009, Schumer and other Democrats in Congress have learned that defending it can be a political loser. Republicans stayed unified in their opposition, and public opinion stayed on their side. But in their final push to save it, Democrats are moving the battle to new turf, fighting over Americans’ shared frustration with the inadequacies of the country’s health care system, not the law itself.

This is sadly true. Democrats have never been willing to defend Obamacare, and they still aren't. It's crazy. Obamacare isn't perfect. Nothing this side of the pearly gates is. But if politicians limited themselves to defending programs with no problems, we'd never hear from them again.1

But considering where we started—with a Rube Goldberg medical system dominated by well-heeled special interests and all but indifferent to the near-poor—Obamacare is almost miraculously close to perfect. I know that Republicans have convinced everyone otherwise, but take a look at the results of this Kaiser tracking poll from November. Virtually every single aspect of Obamacare is not just popular, but very popular:

Even Republicans like practically everything about Obamacare, including the taxes to pay for it. People like the subsidies; they like the exchanges; they like the out-of-pocket caps; they like the Medicaid expansion; they like the pre-existing conditions ban; and they like taxing the rich to fund it all. The only unpopular part of the whole law is the individual mandate.

What's more, Obamacare has been a huge success. It's provided health coverage to 20 million people. It's massively reduced the cost of health coverage for low-income families. It's slashed the number of uninsured by half among blacks and whites and by a quarter among Hispanics. It's allowed people with expensive chronic illnesses to get treatment. It will help keep overall health costs down in the future. It's had no negative impact on the employer health care system. And it's done all this without raising the deficit. In fact, it's cut the deficit.

And yet, Democrats are still afraid to defend it loudly and proudly. This just boggles me. Sure, Obamacare has some problems. Certain regions don't have enough competition. Deductibles are high if you buy a bronze plan. And a small part of the population has been hit with large premium increases.

But this is something like 10 percent of Obamacare. The other 90 percent is purely positive. Why are so many liberals unwilling to say so? Why aren't they willing to defend Obamacare with the same fervor they defend other imperfect programs, like Medicare or the ADA or the Clean Air Act or Social Security? Obamacare is at least as good as any of them. But no one will ever believe it if Republicans are attacking it relentlessly while Democrats mutter resentfully that there's no public option and politicians hide in their offices in the hope that nobody will blame them if their premiums have gone up.

If Democrats aren't willing to defend Obamacare, it's hardly a surprise that Republicans feel free to go after it without consequence. Maybe they should start.

1Yes, I know, that might not be a bad thing.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said today that the intelligence community believed "more resolutely" than it did three months ago that Russia was behind a campaign of cyberattacks during the presidential election. The LA Times reports on his testimony before Congress:

Three U.S. spy chiefs testified publicly for the first time Thursday that the Kremlin’s most senior leaders approved a Russian intelligence operation aimed at interfering in the U.S. presidential race, a conclusion that President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly challenged.

....“We assess that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized the recent election-focused data thefts and disclosures, based on the scope and sensitivity of the targets,” they wrote in joint remarks submitted for the hearing.

....U.S. intelligence analysts have concluded that the Russian cyber operation sought to damage Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and to help Trump’s bid for the White House. Clapper did not confirm that judgment Thursday, although he indicated it would be included in the classified report. “Yes, we will ascribe a motivation,” he said. “I’d rather not preempt the report.”

The full House and the full Senate will be briefed on a classified version of the review next week, Clapper said. After those briefings, a declassified version will be made public, he said....“I intend to push the envelope as much as we can in the unclassified version because I think the public should know as much about this as possible,” Clapper said. “There are some fragile sources and methods.”

I don't have anything to say about this since, obviously, I don't know any more than what Clapper told us. We'll just have to wait for the unclassified report and see what it says.

But I will comment on one thing: aren't liberals supposed to be the ones who are skeptical of the intelligence community? Are we suddenly defending them just because it's politically convenient?

There's some of that going on, I'm sure. But the real reason is a lot simpler: the intelligence community doesn't really have any motivation to make this stuff up aside from a generalized dislike of Russia. They are interested in keeping everyone on edge about cyberattacks, but that doesn't require Russia to be involved in what happened. In fact, doubling down on the Russia story even after Trump won is nothing but bad for the CIA. All they're doing is pissing off the incoming president, something they could easily avoid by keeping the cyberattack story but downplaying the Russia angle.

So this is sort of an admission against interest. The CIA's interest is in getting more money for cyber security and cultivating a strong relationship with a new president. The fact that they're doing just the opposite suggests pretty strongly that they believe in no uncertain terms that Russia really is behind this.

Bear with me here for a moment. I have a theory to share with you that might answer a long-debated question: how much is Donald Trump worth?

Here's the theory: Trump likes rich people, but he doesn't like people who are richer than him. This suggests that his cabinet picks might tell us just what it takes to be richer than Donald Trump. Here's a revised version of my usual Swamp Watch chart:

The list tops out at $2.5 billion. This suggests that Trump is worth $3-4 billion, right in line with the Forbes estimate of $3.7 billion. Donald Trump has apparently been very careful to make sure that he's the richest guy in his administration.

It is now Day 2 of the new Congress:

House Republicans this week reinstated an arcane procedural rule that enables lawmakers to reach deep into the budget and slash the pay of an individual federal worker — down to a $1 — a move that threatens to upend the 130-year-old civil service....A majority of the House and the Senate would still have to approve any such amendment, but opponents and supporters agree that it puts agencies and the public on notice that their work is now vulnerable to the whims of elected officials.

This is aimed at—what? NASA scientists who insist that climate change is real? DOJ attorneys who pursue voter suppression cases? IRS auditors who audit the wrong person?

Apparently I've been wrong about the filibuster all along. It really is a bulwark against mob rule.

James Fallows listens to talk radio so you don't have to:

This is scary. Not because these folks are defending Putin and Assange—plenty of people do that—but because these are precisely the people who were the most outraged by Putin and Assange as recently as last year. Now they've turned on a dime, and for one reason: because Donald Trump told them to.

Twenty years ago, a Washington Post reporter wrote that followers of television evangelists were "largely poor, uneducated and easy to command." The blowback was huge and immediate and the Post apologized the next day. To this day, conservatives quote these words as evidence that the mainstream press has it in for conservatives.

But what else explains what's happening now? Donald Trump has essentially commanded his followers to defend Putin and Assange, and with barely a whimper they've complied. And when the press starts to point out what's going on, we get this:

"It is for the people." Everything is "for the people."

Just to keep everyone up to date, here's the latest on Donald Trump's claim that he knows "things that other people don’t know" regarding Russia's hacking during the election. As you recall, he promised to fill us in on Tuesday (or Wednesday), but you will be unsurprised to learn that this didn't happen. Why? Trump claims it's because the CIA failed to come through with the goods:

Very strange indeed! Needless to say, Trump is lying. The CIA briefing was scheduled for Friday all along. The New York Times reports that Trump's tweet was posted "as senior national security officials — including the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, and the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr. — were completing plans to travel to New York on Friday to brief him about their findings."

Of course, if this briefing is what Trump was waiting for, then he doesn't know anything more than the rest of us about the Russian hacking. He's just waiting until he gets briefed, at which point he will presumably announce that the last-minute dossier the CIA cobbled together is crap and he doesn't believe it.

In related news, Trump is apparently planning to reorganize and cut back the CIA. This would be very convenient, since Trump could then say anything he wants. If the CIA leaks conflicting information, Trump can just say it's coming from bitter executives who are angry about his budget cutbacks.

Only 16 days until this guy is president. Tick tick tick.

There's always a certain level of hypocrisy in politics. When you're in the majority, the filibuster is an obstructive, anti-democratic abomination. When you're in the minority, it's an important bulwark against mob rule.

But have we ever seen anything like the recent lovefest among conservatives for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange? "Julian, I apologize," cooed Sarah Palin. Sean Hannity poses the question of the day: "Who do you believe? Julian Assange or President Obama and Hillary Clinton." Donald Trump approvingly passed along Assange's contention that "a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta"1 and then asked, "why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!"

So far, this sudden outpouring of affection for Assange hasn't gone beyond the inner circle of Trump sycophants. But it might not be long before it does. If a third of Republicans can decide they think Vladimir Putin is a great guy as long as he's anti-Clinton, why not Julian Assange too?

1Just for the record: yes, a 14-year-old could have hacked Podesta. But in fact, a 14-year-old didn't hack Podesta. Here's the story.

Ben Stevens/i-Images via ZUMA

Aside from whatever Donald Trump happens to be tweeting about, the biggest topic in DC right now is this:

Republicans finally have the power to repeal Obamacare, but they're still not sure how

That's Noam Levey at the Los Angeles Times:

In Washington, Republicans are also struggling to figure out what to do with Obamacare insurance marketplaces that Republicans worked for years to dismantle. In a reversal, GOP leaders now are trying to figure out how to prevent their collapse, which would jeopardize coverage for millions more Americans.

Insurance experts, including leading industry officials, have repeatedly warned Republicans over the past several months that repealing the health law without a replacement risks destabilizing insurance markets and will push many insurers to simply stop selling health plans.

J.B. Silvers, a former health insurance CEO, explains the danger of "repeal and delay" in more detail:

Some in Congress seem to think that passing the “repeal” part immediately but delaying its implementation for two or three years will somehow leave everything as it is now. But this naive notion misses the fact that the riskiness of the Obamacare individual insurance exchange markets will have been ramped up to such a level that continuing makes no sense.

Even if a company reaches break-even in the “delay” years, it will lose when the repeal is effective. If the premium subsidies now available to lower-income enrollees go away immediately and the mandate to sign up for an insurance plan disappears, then the number of people purchasing individual policies on the exchanges will drop like a rock. In fact, it is clear that even debating this scenario is likely to be self-fulfilling, since insurers must decide on their participation for 2018 by the late spring of 2017. Look for many to leave then.

Insurers are participating in the exchanges because they hope to make steady profits once the early problems are worked out. But if there's no future for the exchanges, why bother? They're taking losses for nothing. They might as well jump ship now.

Donald Trump is obviously worried about this, tweeting that Republicans need to make sure they don't get any of the blame if Obamacare collapses. "Be careful!" he tweets. Newt Gingrich said much the same, and Greg Sargent decodes what this means:

Note that Gingrich’s primary concern is that Republicans will be put in the optical position of taking the blame for millions losing coverage — which, of course, would actually happen if Republicans do repeal the law without replacing it. So Republicans must create a way to make those who would lose coverage believe they won’t lose it later, with some sort of “bridge” that will keep them covered until that long-promised GOP replacement finally materializes.

The truth is that the Obamacare exchanges are in pretty good shape. There are problems here and there, and some people really have gotten hit with big premium increases. Overall, though, more than 10 million people are getting affordable health coverage from the exchanges and millions more are getting it from the Medicaid expansion. Premiums are now about where they should have been all along, and will probably increase at normal rates in the future. Obamacare isn't perfect, but it's in pretty good shape.

If it collapses, it will be due solely to appalling recklessness from the Republican caucus, which is afraid to put forward a plan of its own. That fear is well founded: It would take no more than a few days for everyone to figure out just how stingy it is and how many people would lose coverage under it.

If Republicans insist on hiding their plan from the American public, there's only one possible reason for that: it's terrible and they know it. Right now we have a working program that helps millions of low-income afford health insurance. If it collapses, that's on Republicans. And they know it.

I had no idea this happened, but apparently there was a last-minute scandal that made the rounds of right-wing circles at the end of the election:

The only U.S. newspaper that reported the story was the New York Post, which ran this print-edition headline: “Bridal $weet for Chelsea; Foundation cash for nups.”...The story also was picked up by British tabloids, Fox News, Russian news agencies and various right-leaning websites....But otherwise the story did not get mentioned on other networks or newspapers, except for reference to it by conservative columnist Hugh Hewitt on MSNBC.

For the record, the scandal was that the Clinton Foundation paid for Chelsea Clinton's wedding. There's no evidence for this, of course, though there is an email chain that confirms the fact that Doug Band is a moron. I wonder how much more of this crap was making the rounds completely invisible to the rest of us?

Housekeeping Note

Blogging will be a little slow today.