A unified caucus


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Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., responds to reporters after officially postponing President Donald Trump's State of the Union address until the government is fully reopened, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. The California Democrat told Trump in a letter Wednesday the Democratic-controlled House won't pass the required measure for him to give the nationally televised speech from the House floor. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., responds to reporters after officially postponing President Donald Trump's State of the Union address until the government is fully reopened, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. The California Democrat told Trump in a letter Wednesday the Democratic-controlled House won't pass the required measure for him to give the nationally televised speech from the House floor. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)


In this Jan. 23, 2019, photo House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responds to reporters after officially postponing President Donald Trump's State of the Union address until the government is fully reopened, at the Capitol in Washington. President Donald Trump has done something remarkable in the government shutdown: He’s unified the diverse new House Democratic majority firmly behind Pelosi. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)


Trump’s shutdown gift to Pelosi: A unified Democratic caucus

By LISA MASCARO

AP Congressional Correspondent

Thursday, January 24

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has done something remarkable in the government shutdown: He’s unified the diverse new House Democratic majority firmly behind Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

It’s not even about the wall at this point. Democrats are sticking together with an unusual amount of unity as a way to strengthen Pelosi’s hand and set a tone in the new Congress that Trump can’t simply demand $5.7 billion — using federal workers as leverage — to get his long-promised border wall with Mexico, or anything else on his wish list.

“People do understand that this is no longer just about the wall, it’s about how Donald Trump operates with the Democratic majority in the House,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.

“If we give into him on this, what happens if he wants to cut Social Security or Medicare or end legal migration or cut food stamps?” she asked. “Do we allow him to take us hostage for anything he wants?”

Pelosi, she said, is already proving herself to be a “strong” speaker, unlike her recent Republican predecessors. “She’s also not afraid of him.”

As the shutdown crisis begins a second month, the White House believes it’s Democrats who will feel pressure to cave. Services are being disrupted and 800,000 federal workers are likely to miss another paycheck Friday. Republicans doubt all Democrats back Pelosi’s view of the wall as immoral.

Trump told state and local officials on a conference call Wednesday, “Democrats are lousy politicians in many ways, they’re lousy politicians and they have lousy policy, the only thing they do well is stick together.”

The White House is eagerly watching Thursday’s Senate votes on two bills to end the shutdown. Officials think it will be harder for Democrats to keep sticking together amid Trump’s offers, according a person familiar with White House thinking who was not authorized to speak publicly. They are hopeful for defections by Democrats who may cross party lines to vote with the president. Trump is asking for $5.7 billion for the wall in exchange for some temporary protections for immigrants facing deportations.

Back in the House, Democratic unity was never a given. In fact, Pelosi won the speaker’s race only after a brutal campaign that overcame dissent from her members. When the new Congress convened in the new year, 13 days into the partial shutdown, lawmakers meeting behind closed doors openly worried.

They asked Pelosi: What was the strategy? The message? How were they going to end this? One prominent freshman, Rep. Abigail Spangberger, D-Va., stood up at one early meeting to voice concerns.

Leadership swooped in, churning out talking points to help lawmakers explain the Democratic position: Open up the government and then negotiations can begin on border security.

They provided outlines of border policies that Democrats support — improved fencing and technology, more personnel. It’s what they refer to as a “21st century” border security system, unlike the old-fashioned wall. They are holding votes to re-open government and preparing their own border security plan with more than $1 billion in new border security funding.

Part of the problem from the start of the shutdown was many new members didn’t even have staff hired or district offices, creating logistical challenges to even be able to communicate with them, aides said.

Leaders sent lawmakers home last weekend with action plans. One suggestion was to meet with furloughed federal workers or Transportation Security Administration airport screeners being forced to work without pay and share their stories. Another was to visit food pantries to show the reach of the shutdown on ordinary Americans. Many Democrats did just that.

This week, as Democrats met behind closed doors, with polling showing Trump taking most of the blame for the shutdown, the caucus stood largely as one.

“Understand the impact of the unity of our caucus,” Pelosi told them, according to an aide in the room unauthorized to discuss the private meeting by name.

Pelosi recounted her own experience, from more than decade ago, during the fight she and then-Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid waged against George W. Bush’s plan to privatize Social Security.

“Week-in and week-out, we had to say to our group, ‘Stick with the plan,’” she told them, which was to remain united as Democrats to preserve Social Security, as is. It was a lesson for today.

“And so, what we are saying is, open up government. And then we can discuss,” she told them. “Everything is on the table.”

While the caucus is on board with Pelosi’s strategy, some Democrats remain wary of holding out against Trump’s border wall. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said he’d “give Trump the money” but wanted to make sure it was well spent.

“Why are we fighting over this?” he said on KFGO Radio.

Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Va., a newly elected member, drafted a letter to House leaders seeking a quick reopening of government while talks continue. It sent a message to leadership that patience isn’t infinite.

Rep. Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, another freshman Democrat, signed Luria’s letter, saying, “We need to work together we need to open the government and then those kinds of conversations that need to be happening about national security border protection can happen.”

Still fresh in many lawmakers’ minds is the dysfunction in the House during the Republican majority under Speaker Paul Ryan, and before that under John Boehner. Repeatedly, conservatives from the Freedom Caucus broke ranks during key legislative fights, leaving GOP leadership weakened without the strength of the full caucus behind them.

Democrats say they don’t want to undermine Pelosi and want to bolster her power to go toe to toe with Trump.

“While people don’t agree with everything Nancy says … they see what the guy on Pennsylvania Avenue, how divisive he is. He’s not necessarily a guy that’s trying to unify the country,” said Rep. John Larson, D-Conn. He said the “anger” and “absurdity” of Trump trying to leverage the shutdown — “that’s the unifying element that has kept everybody together.”

It doesn’t hurt that polling is on Democrats’ side. A strong majority of Americans blame Trump for the record-long government shutdown and reject his primary rationale for a border wall, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

Sixty percent of Americans say Trump bears a great deal of responsibility for the shutdown. About a third place the same amount of blame on congressional Democrats (31 percent) or Republicans (36 percent), according to the survey.

“By any reasonable-person standard we’re trying our best to do the mature thing,” said Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, who earlier joined a group challenging Pelosi for speaker but now turns his criticism toward Trump. “This is the great deal maker, right? He stinks at making deals.”

Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the Democratic whip in charge of rounding up votes, said holding Democrats together hasn’t been so great a challenge.

“People know that this president that we currently have is not on the up and up,” he said. “It’s easy when you got that.”

Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey, Jill Colvin and Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.

The Conversation

There’s a wider scandal suggested by the Trump investigations

January 24, 2019

Author: Ofer Raban, Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Oregon

Disclosure statement: Ofer Raban does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Partners: University of Oregon provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.

The scope of financial crimes unearthed so far by state and federal authorities investigating President Trump and his associates is remarkable.

  • Paul Manafort was found guilty of bank and tax fraud, and faces another trial involving charges of money laundering.
  • Former campaign adviser Rick Gates pleaded guilty to financial fraud.
  • Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to tax evasion and illegal campaign donations. The Trump Foundation was just dissolved over what the New York attorney general described as “a shocking pattern of illegality.”

And authorities opened new investigations following a recent New York Times exposé describing hundreds of millions of dollars of potential financial fraud by the Trump family.

Even more remarkable is what these investigations tell us about the levels of criminality among America’s business and political elite.

Tax evasion, money laundering, financial fraud and campaign finance violations: Every turned stone reveals thick webs of financial misdeeds. These white collar crimes, which often implicate the powerful and the wealthy, notoriously thrive in the loose regulatory environments created when big money exerts undue influence on politics.

Mounting indications

The Trump investigations join a growing body of evidence pointing to lax enforcement of high-level financial crimes.

We know, for example, that massive fraud involved in the 2008 financial collapse – from mortgage lenders who deceived customers to banks that deceived investors – went essentially unpunished.

We know that under-enforcement is common with certain big-ticket tax evasion practices – like misstating the value of assets under the gift tax. Gift tax fraud, which may save millions of dollars to a taxpayer, is a major component of the alleged tax evasion scheme of the Trump family.

Lax enforcement and minor punishments are notoriously common with violations of campaign finance laws – the point where private and public corruption often meet.

And as for money-laundering: According to congressional testimony, regulations against it are so ineffective that “the bottom-line metrics suggest that money-laundering enforcement fails 99.9 percent of the time.”

Executive, legislative and judicial failures

The blame for this loose regulatory environment is not limited to lax executive enforcement. Legislative and judicial actions play a substantial part in the swirling financial illegalities.

Congress, for example, is responsible for the many easily abused tax deductions for the rich that populate our tax code. And legislators have long refused to fund the IRS at levels allowing effective tax enforcement.

It is also Congress that has structured the Federal Election Commission as a weak and conflict-ridden enforcer of campaign finance regulations.

The courts have similarly contributed to the lax regulatory environment. As a professor of constitutional law (and ex-prosecutor), I have watched with concern as recent Supreme Court cases extended ever-increasing constitutional protections to the alliance between big money and politics.

In recent years, the Supreme Court invalidated numerous campaign finance restrictions by declaring them unconstitutional. In doing so, the court stated that “a substantial and legitimate reason” for making a political campaign contribution is that “the candidate will respond by producing those political outcomes the supporter favors.”

What many regard as political corruption is constitutionally protected as a staple of democracy by our highest court.

Six months before Trump’s election, the Supreme Court reversed the criminal conviction of a former Virginia governor on federal corruption charges. Gov. Robert McDonnell received personal gifts and loans worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Virginia businessman.

In exchange, McDonnell sought to influence the University of Virginia to conduct free research on the man’s commercial product.

A jury convicted the governor on federal corruption charges, and a federal court of appeals affirmed. But the Supreme Court reversed the conviction after narrowing the definition of what counts as criminal corruption under federal law.

The conviction, said the court, raised serious constitutional concerns because it could chill interactions between politicians and their supporters.

As in McDonnell’s own case, the decision’s significance extends beyond matters of campaign finance. The case was recently cited as a cause for the acquittal, on federal bribery charges, of a high-ranking New York City police official who for years received lavish gifts from wealthy businessmen.

Business and political elite

The rich rewards of the Trump investigations suggest that big-money illegalities are rife in America. And while Trump may be in a league of his own, the problem is not limited to Trump.

Indeed, some of the people embroiled in the Trump scandals have long been situated at the heart of America’s business and political elite.

Paul Manafort, for one, also worked on the campaigns of Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole. And the Trumps themselves were always highly politically connected – contributing millions to leading state and federal politicians, both Democrats and Republicans.

“As a business person,” explained Trump in a 2015 interview, “you wanna get along with all sides because you’re gonna need things from everybody.”

Consider the recently disclosed episode involving Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. – son of the late former secretary of state under President Carter.

In 2012, Vance ordered prosecutors to drop a promising fraud case against Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. for lying to investors in a Trump project in Manhattan. The order was made after their father’s attorney paid Vance a visit.

Weeks later, the attorney became one of Vance’s largest donors for his re-election campaign.

That is the wider scandal suggested by the investigations of Trump and his cronies: The high levels of brazen big-money illegalities that ordinarily go unaddressed and unpunished. Indeed many of the alleged crimes are no longer chargeable due to the statute of limitations.

“Zero tolerance” and “broken windows” policies are terms frequently used by law enforcement in discussing low-level crime. But American law enforcement appears to avoid the penthouses.

There is deep irony in the fact that Trump and his cronies are being pursued for the sort of crimes whose chronic under-enforcement generated the inequality and resentment that helped catapult Trump to the presidency.

Opinion: New Medicare Proposal Puts Patients in Jeopardy

By Kenneth E. Thorpe

InsideSources.com

About 40 million Medicare beneficiaries suffer from at least two chronic diseases. A new proposal from the Trump administration could result in worse outcomes for their conditions.

In an effort to reduce drug spending, the Department of Health and Human Services wants to alter Medicare “Part B,” the federal health insurance program that covers potent medicines administered by physicians. The changes could restrict patients’ access to dozens of advanced therapies for cancer, rheumatoid arthritis and other debilitating conditions.

One major change would affect how these medications are distributed. Right now, doctors purchase medicines, store them in their offices, administer them to patients, and then seek reimbursement from Medicare. Under HHS’s proposal, private-sector middlemen hired and paid by Medicare would be responsible for purchasing drugs in bulk and distributing the medicines. Physicians would need to request the specific drugs they need from middlemen ahead of patients’ visits.

In other words, middlemen — not doctors with years of medical expertise and valuable face-to-face patient interaction — would be responsible for ensuring patients have timely access to critical medications.

Patients would almost certainly face treatment delays. That’s what happened when HHS established a similar pilot program from 2006 to 2008 that relied on such middlemen. Doctors sometimes didn’t receive medicines on time, which was one reason the program was ultimately shut down.

The middlemen could also restrict patients’ access to certain medications in an effort to steer people toward other, cheaper drugs. Such restrictions would make Medicare coverage significantly less generous. Right now, patients have unfettered access based on their condition and response to the medication to virtually all FDA-approved drugs that must be administered by physicians.

Another major change would affect how Medicare pays physicians for participating in Part B. Right now, doctors receive a markup equal to 4.3 percent of a drug’s average sales price. This markup helps cover storage and overhead costs.

Under the new proposal, doctors would receive a flat fee for administering Part B medicines. This flat fee would be lower than the markup many doctors currently receive. By effectively cutting reimbursements, the HHS proposal could make participating in Part B a money-losing proposition for physicians.

Many physicians already struggle to keep their doors open. In one survey, 80 percent of oncologists claimed that past reimbursement cuts affected their ability to practice. When the government cut reimbursements by just 2 percentage points in 2013, half of oncologists had to turn away patients and direct them to different facilities for treatment.

More than 400 community oncology clinics across the nation have closed in the past decade. An additional 350 are struggling financially, according to a Community Oncology Alliance report. The patients who rely on such clinics can’t afford any more barriers to care.

Cutting off patients’ access to lifesaving treatment could actually increase future health spending. This year, the United States will spend $3.5 trillion on health care — 90 percent of that sum will be spent treating chronic disease.

The chronic disease epidemic is poised to worsen in the coming years. By 2050, the nation could spend up to $6 trillion each year battling chronic conditions.

To sustainably shrink this spending, we must prevent people from developing chronic conditions or treat those conditions before patients fall gravely ill. Clinic closures and distribution delays would cause patients’ health to deteriorate.

Making it easier for patients to receive the care they need would reduce overall health care spending. Medicare beneficiaries who receive consistent treatments and visit the doctor regularly have lower rates of hospital utilization, emergency room visits, fewer complications, and overall lower costs of care per episode, according to a study from researchers at Johns Hopkins, Harvard and the RAND Corporation.

Tens of millions of Americans currently suffer from chronic diseases. And they’ll suffer for years to come if HHS proceeds to restrict access to medicines.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Kenneth E. Thorpe is a professor of health policy at Emory University and chairman of the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.

Balderson Announces Additional Committee Assignments

WASHINGTON – Congressman Troy Balderson (OH-12) today (Jan. 25) announced his re-assignment to both the House Committee on Small Business and the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology for the 116th Congress.

This comes after Balderson was named to the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure last week.

“Between these three key committee assignments, I’ll have the opportunity to represent a wide array of Ohio’s priorities in Congress,” said Congressman Balderson. “These committees play crucial oversight and developmental roles in our nation’s economy and infrastructure, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to bring my community’s voice to the table. No one said it would be easy, but I’m happy to put in the work for Central Ohio.”

Balderson previously served on both the Small Business and Science, Space, and Technology committees during the 115th Congress.

In response to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik 1, the catalyst for the ‘Space Race,’ the U.S. House of Representatives established what would ultimately become the present-day House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. The committee has jurisdiction over much of the non-defense Federal research and development (R&D) portfolio, including:

Exclusive jurisdiction over the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Science Foundation (NSF), National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP).

Authority over R&D activities at the Department of Energy (DOE), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Transportation (DOT), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Weather Service (NWS), and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The House Committee on Small Business was created in 1941 to provide direct oversight and consideration of matters affecting small firms. Today, this jurisdiction includes:

  • Assistance to and protection of small business, including financial aid, regulatory flexibility, and paperwork reduction.
  • Participation of small-business enterprises in Federal procurement and Government contracts.
  • Oversight to study and investigate on a continuing basis the problems of all types of small business.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., responds to reporters after officially postponing President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address until the government is fully reopened, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. The California Democrat told Trump in a letter Wednesday the Democratic-controlled House won’t pass the required measure for him to give the nationally televised speech from the House floor. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122190215-1eeba858eb8a4bcd8a52e862b8d18e63.jpgSpeaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., responds to reporters after officially postponing President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address until the government is fully reopened, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. The California Democrat told Trump in a letter Wednesday the Democratic-controlled House won’t pass the required measure for him to give the nationally televised speech from the House floor. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

In this Jan. 23, 2019, photo House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responds to reporters after officially postponing President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address until the government is fully reopened, at the Capitol in Washington. President Donald Trump has done something remarkable in the government shutdown: He’s unified the diverse new House Democratic majority firmly behind Pelosi. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2019/02/web1_122190215-241062d54f75442f9e9d5a0d82a08690.jpgIn this Jan. 23, 2019, photo House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responds to reporters after officially postponing President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address until the government is fully reopened, at the Capitol in Washington. President Donald Trump has done something remarkable in the government shutdown: He’s unified the diverse new House Democratic majority firmly behind Pelosi. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
News & Views

Staff & Wire Reports