News Sips 3/9: First Step for Obamacare Repeal, Border Crossings Slow, Comey’s Warning, and Marines in Syria
Here are the four things you need to know before your coffee gets cold, the March 9, 2017 edition:
First Step for Obamacare Repeal
After pulling what amounted to an all-nighter, the House Ways and Means Committee took the first step on the long road to repealing and replacing the failing Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Democrats tried to throw procedural hurdles in the way of the markup sessions in both the Ways and Means Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee. However, despite Democrats’ tantrums, the bill was advanced out of Ways and Means after 18 hours.
Democrats got a boost in their opposition to the Republican plan when several medical interest groups came out against the Republican plan. However, after a quick search, it was noted that the same groups had endorsed President Obama and lobbied for the passage of the original, disastrous, Obamacare legislation. So, despite Democrats claiming a win, there really wasn’t anything of substance in the coup.
Democrats, despite their yelling, aren’t really the issue in the first stage of the Republican plan to repeal and replace Obamacare. Frankly, the GOP can pass much of the repeal legislation without a single Democrat in either the House or the Senate. Democrats only become necessary in later phases of the legislative process where new pieces are added to the law that will require a 60-vote threshold in the Senate. The big problem at the outset is the infighting among Republicans. Some of it, sure, may be a little petty, but the majority of the fight really does break down between ideology and pragmatism.
As we’ve talked about a lot here (and probably will again in the future), GOP leadership and the President want a bill. They don’t want to be hammered in the midterm elections in 2018 and they know that they need something to get passed. They are well-aware that doing nothing, or failing to get any legislation through will result in Obamacare failing, as predicted, and having them left holding the bag. However, they are also keenly aware that a full repeal and replacement would be beset with growing pains and implementation issues that Democrats could seize-on and try to take back the House and Senate. So, the pragmatic Republican leadership wants to change Obamacare enough to show progress, but not enough to totally revamp the system (at least nor right away).
The opposition to the pragmatists are the “conservatives,” or, less-kindly, the “ideologues” who, rightly, claim that the Republican mantra for voters over the last eight years has been “elect us and we’ll scrap Obamacare.” Thus, they see the pragmatics’ solution as a betrayal of the trust the voters placed in them to make real changes to the way Americans get health care.
There is no quick resolution on the horizon. It’s likely that the pragmatists, backed by the President, will, ultimately, win-out. This won’t be because of a collapse by the ideologues, but rather, there will probably be a few rewrites and concessions that can at least hold the full debate until after the midterm elections. The President has been pushing the plan (really, he just wants something to get through). He is even going to be campaigning in the districts of fence-sitting Republicans in order to get their support on the current bill. This will, of course, be a story for the months to come.
Border Crossings Slow
The number of people entering the United States illegally across the Mexican border has dropped about 40% during President Trump’s first full month in office. The figure, released from US Customs and Border Patrol show a drop from 31,578 to 18,762. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly noted that this is a change from the usual uptick in illegal entries that occur between January and February.
Secretary Kelly noted that “since the administration’s implementation of executive orders to enforce immigration laws, apprehensions and inadmissible activity is trending toward the lowest monthly total in at least the last five years.” This is a big win for the President, who campaigned on increasing border security while making it easier for law-abiding people to come to the country legally. This, like everything else Donald Trump has done, has been attacked from the left. However, given the clear statistical decrease in illegal entry, whether it’s rhetoric or actions, the President is keeping true to his promise to bring down the number of people who are entering the United States illegally.
In the wake of a major leak from Wikileaks detailing the CIA’s clandestine hacking operations that could target Americans’ use of common technology, the Director of the FBI offered a sobering analysis while speaking at a cybersecurity conference in Boston. Director Comey, who has come under intense scrutiny in the past months for routinely injecting himself and his agency into political fights, said that there was no longer “absolute privacy” in the United States. “Even our memories aren’t private,” he said. “Any of us can be compelled to say what we saw. In appropriate circumstances, a judge can compel any of us to testify in court on those private communications. There is no place in America outside of judicial reach.”
Of course, the reaction to this could be one of shocked pearl-clutching, but his statement is, unfortunately, an accurate depiction of the current American jurisprudential and law enforcement landscape. Sure, it’s not up to the FBI Director to declare the death of privacy rights, but the reflection isn’t necessarily a misstatement of the reduction in Americans’ freedoms in the modern national security state. Senators like John McCain, who routinely use the looming specter of terrorism to keep security provisions at maximum levels, would argue that they are doing so to keep Americans safe. Likewise, “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” is the mantra of many on the right who favor the empowerment of the national security apparatus. The left is divided on these issues, with some joining civil libertarians while others went along with big government overreach and expansion during the Obama presidency.
Regardless of political affinity, however, Comey’s assessment should be troubling given that it marks an acknowledgement of a paradigm shift that was never anticipated by the Founders of the country. Perhaps more to the point, rather than not being anticipated, it was not intended that federal authority would ever reach such a capacity given the restraints built into the Constitution. Nevertheless, here we are with the Director of the FBI stating privacy in the country has been curtailed.
Marines in Syria
During the campaign and continuing into his Presidency, Donald Trump has called for a revision to the United States’ plan to defeat the Islamic State. While the President has made it a policy position to be taciturn about foreign policy decisions and negotiations, it appears that at least part of the strategy change has been to put “boots on the ground” in Syria. While the United States already has, operationally, operators throughout Syria, there are now a few hundred marines backing up anti-ISIS fighters.
The move makes sense. The United States isn’t deploying thousands of troops, but rather a force that is tasked with maintaining advanced artillery positions as anti-ISIS fighters move to engage with the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa. These artillery positions are in addition to army Rangers and Special Forces that have been providing additional support to plans to beat ISIS.
The clandestine nature of the deployments, and the lack of political fanfare in the United States, seems to be directly in-line with the President’s desire to make sure troop movements and operational plans are not publicly disclosed. Mr. Trump was highly critical of President Obama and Hillary Clinton for talking in the open about their strategies and ideas. Trump was criticized by his opponents for “not having a plan” and therefore keeping quiet. However, it does appear that there has been a shift in tactics made by the President in consultation with his generals.
Of course, there are more things going on in the world, but these should be enough to get your day started.