A bunch of little things happened this afternoon. They’re not really big enough for a full post each, so here’s a brief roundup. First up, President Trump signed an order freezing the federal workforce. This is part of the standard conservative playbook, and I doubt it means much in the long run. However, press secretary Sean Spicer—who moments earlier had said he would never lie to us—explained that Trump’s order “counters the dramatic expansion of the federal workforce in recent years.” Just for the record, here’s that dramatic expansion:
If you look closely, you can see the dramatic expansion at the far right of the beige line. Do you see it? No? Look harder. Use your browser to zoom in. See? There it is! The federal workforce increased from 2.09 million in 2014 to 2.12 million in 2015. And it probably went up to 2.14 million or so in 2016. That’s less than it was at the end of the Reagan administration.
In other news, the Weekly Standard has this:
Republican leadership is rethinking its relationship with Democratic minority leader Chuck Schumer after Schumer betrayed a promise to allow a vote last Friday on President Donald Trump’s pick for CIA director….Schumer agreed to a Friday Senate vote for the confirmation of Kansas representative Mike Pompeo in exchange for a Republican concession to delay Pompeo’s hearing by one day, TWS reported Monday. The deal went awry when Oregon senator Ron Wyden and other Democrats objected to the Friday vote, pushing it to Monday, sources said.
Anybody who’s been alive and sentient for the past eight years will just giggle at the supposed Republican outrage over a one-day delay. Democrats counted themselves lucky if they managed to get only a one-month delay for most of President Obama’s appointees. Delays of a year were hardly uncommon, and some delays were explicitly forever.
But beyond partisan point scoring, there’s an actual serious point to make about this. Although Republicans have said they don’t plan to eliminate the filibuster, there’s always been an unspoken caveat: if Democrats behave. But it’s been obvious all along that it won’t be long before they decide that Democrats have done something so outrageous that they’re left with no choice but to blow things up. The Pompeo thing is the first shot in this war, and it’s an indication of just how delicate Republicans will pretend to be over every tiny slight.
And speaking of Pompeo, check this out:
.@RonWyden spoke at length, said Pompeo dodged every key question his office submitted in writing, including classified questions.
— Corey Pein (@coreypein) January 23, 2017
.@RonWyden says Pompeo wants “the most sweeping new surveillance program I have ever heard of”—phone, email, social media in one database.
— Corey Pein (@coreypein) January 23, 2017
This sounds an awful lot like “Total Information Awareness,” the Bush-era program that was canceled by Congress in 2003. Even two years after 9/11, it was too much for us to swallow. But I guess Pompeo wants to bring it back. After all, with a guy like Trump in the White House there’s no real possibility that it will be misused. Right?
Finally, on a different subject entirely, do you remember that Aetna announced plans last year to pull back from the Obamacare exchanges? This was supposedly a purely business decision: they were losing too much money and couldn’t sustain further losses. But then the Huffington Post unearthed a letter from Aetna’s CEO to the Department of Justice that sounded an awful lot like a shakedown: if DOJ rejected Aetna’s proposed merger with Humana, he said, “we will immediately take action to reduce our 2017 exchange footprint….instead of expanding to 20 states next year, we would reduce our presence to no more than 10 states.”
Well, Aetna was losing money in a lot of places, but it also pulled back from 17 counties in Florida, Georgia, and Missouri, where it was profitable. Why? Because the Department of Justice specifically named those counties as places that would be harmed by a merger. Given all of this, a federal judge ruled today that Aetna’s pullback wasn’t entirely a business decision after all. Here’s BuzzFeed:
“Aetna was willing to offer to expand its participation in the exchanges if DOJ did not block the merger, or conversely, was willing to threaten to limit its participation in the exchanges if DOJ did,” Judge [John] Bates said Monday.
….Monday’s ruling cited internal documents showing Aetna was planning to withdraw from many health insurance exchanges for business reasons. But it said that on the day the Justice Department sued to block the merger, “Aetna employees were instructed to gather information regarding the 17 complaint counties.”…The emails specifically show Aetna executives confirming that Humana was present in those 17 counties, which, an executive said, “makes it easy we need to withdraw from those.”
….When Aetna said it was leaving the Florida counties, its own Florida exchange head said in an email, “I just can’t make sense out of the Florida decision….Never thought we would pull the plug all together. Based on the latest run rate data … we are making money from the on-exchange business.” An Aetna executive responded by saying they should discuss it on the phone. The executive later testified in the trial, “these requests for phone calls were an attempt to avoid leaving a paper trail.”
Luckily, I’m sure Aetna has nothing to worry about. President Trump will negotiate a great deal with Aetna for whatever tremendously great health care plan he comes up with, and DOJ will then withdraw its complaint. Bygones, you know.