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6 MORE REPUBLICANS SAY SLOW DOWN ON OBAMACARE REPEAL

Anxiety about repealing Obamacare without a replacement got a lot more visible in the U.S. Senate on Monday evening, as a half-dozen Republican senators called publicly for slowing down the process. It’s not clear how strongly these senators feel about it, or whether they are willing to defy party leadership over how and when efforts to repeal Obamacare proceed.

But at least three other GOP senators have now expressed reservations about eliminating the Affordable Care Act without first settling on an alternative. That brings the total to nine ― well more than the three defections it would take to deprive Republicans of the majority they would likely need to get repeal through Congress. And the restlessness isn’t confined to the Senate. Members of the House Freedom Caucus on Monday evening issued their own call for slowing down the repeal process.

At the very least, these developments suggest that taking President Barack Obama’s signature domestic policy off the books is unlikely to go as smoothly or as quickly as GOP leaders once hoped.

The change in the political environment has been perceptible, and relatively sudden. Following the election of Donald Trump in November, GOP leaders indicated they intended to move immediately on Obamacare repeal, using expedited procedures reserved for certain fiscal issues.

First, Congress would pass a budget resolution, instructing committees with jurisdiction over health care to write repeal legislation. Once that work was done, the House and Senate each would vote on the legislation, work out their differences, and send a bill to the White House, where Trump would presumably sign it. 

The budget resolution is supposed to pass this week, and, as written, it calls for the committees to finish their work by Jan. 27 ― just a little more than two weeks from now.

But as the prospect of repealing Obamacare has suddenly ceased to be hypothetical, Republicans have confronted all sorts of questions ― not least among them what will happen to the roughly 20 million people getting insurance through the program right now.

Initially, GOP leaders responded by promising to let elements of Obamacare remain in place for a short time, setting up a transition period during which people who have Obamacare coverage would theoretically get to keep it. But over the past few days, several GOP senators have said that this “repeal-and-delay” strategy still leaves too much uncertainty about what would follow Obamacare, and have called for settling on a replacement plan ― or at least the outlines of one ― before voting on repeal.

On Monday, five of them put their protests on paper ― by introducing an amendment to the budget resolution that would push back that Jan. 27 date until March 3.

“Repeal and replace should take place simultaneously, and this amendment will give the incoming administration more time to outline its priorities,” Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said. “By exercising due diligence we can create a stable transition to an open health care marketplace that provides far greater choice and more affordable plans for the American people.”

The four other GOP senators behind the amendment are Bill Cassidy (La.), Susan Collins (Maine), Rob Portman (Ohio), and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

As a legal matter, the amendment wouldn’t mean much. Neither the old nor the new deadline would be binding, Capitol Hill aides said, and it’s entirely possible that Monday’s statement will prove an empty gesture.

Nor is it likely that one extra month would give Republicans enough time to settle on an Obamacare replacement.

But the decision to propose the amendment ― and to attach strong quotes to it ― could also indicate something more, as Jim Manley, longtime aide to former Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and before that the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), told The Huffington Post.

“The senators on this letter are smart enough to realize that the train is about to leave to station when it comes to repealing Obamacare without any alternative,” Manley said. “And they want to slow down the process by offering this amendment before the legislative process starts spiraling out of control.

“This letter is yet the latest indication that at least some Republicans realize that just simply repealing Obamacare without any viable alternative in place is completely unworkable and unrealistic and maybe just a little bit crazy,” Manley said.

The other big development on Monday was a statement from Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). According to Talking Points Memo, Alexander said, “We have to take each part of it and consider what it would take to create a new and better alternative and then begin to create that alternative, and once it’s available to the American people, then we can finally repeal Obamacare.”

HELP chair Lamar Alexander sure sounds like he's ready to derail the McConnell/Ryan Obamacare repeal train http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/key-goper-we-ll-replace-ocare-once-replacement-is-available 

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It’s difficult to know how far Alexander or other Republican senators are willing to go on slowing Obamacare repeal, particularly if they face intense pressure from party leaders and conservative activists. 

Shortly after the election, for example, Alexander said that Republicans needed to put their replacement together before going forward with repeal. “What we need to focus on first is what we would replace it with and what are the steps we would take to do that,” he told reporters on Nov. 17. “I imagine [it] will take several years to completely make that sort of transition to make sure we do no harm, create a good health care system that everyone has access to and we repeal the parts of Obamacare that need to be repealed.”

But after Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) indicated that repeal would include a transition period, Alexander got in line. “The American people expect us to” repeal, he told reporters in the Capitol on Dec. 1, endorsing the repeal and delay strategy. “I think Senator McConnell wants to make it an early item. And the important thing to emphasize is it’s just a beginning. ... We want to start immediately, but it’ll take a matter of years to fully replace and rebuild the health care system that it has taken six years to damage.”

Alexander’s new statements would appear to suggest he’s still not comfortable with moving quickly. And that’s critical, given the role he would play in any Obamacare repeal effort, as a senior, widely respected member of the caucus ― and, more important, as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which has direct jurisdiction over health care legislation.

The reticence about junking Obamacare too hastily reflects certain realities that the GOP hasn’t really confronted until now. Different elements of the party have wildly different perspectives on what a new system should look like. And delivering the kind of financial protection most Americans want without dramatically reducing the number of people with insurance is going to be difficult, if not impossible, without the kind of federal spending most Republicans oppose.

Two senators proposing the budget amendment touched on those concerns. Cassidy, who is a physician, spoke specifically about the needs of people with serious medical problems ― the type of people who, in the years before Obamacare, could sometimes be denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions, or would run up against lifetime limits on benefits.

“As Obamacare is repealed and replaced, we must always keep in mind the mom with a breast lump who cannot afford Obamacare and wants something better but also needs to maintain her coverage,” Cassidy said. “This amendment will ensure adequate time is given to repeal Obamacare AND replace it with a substantive alternative that will work for her.”

Murkowski focused on importance making insurance widely available: “I remain committed to repealing the Affordable Care Act,” she said, “and I am equally committed to ensuring that all Alaskans and Americans, especially the most vulnerable among us and those in rural communities, have access to affordable, quality health care.”

Repealing Obamacare was a top priority for Trump during his campaign, and his call thrilled the millions of voters who say they are angry about the law. But Trump also vowed that “everybody has got to be covered,” which is not a promise that GOP leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) have endorsed.

Although polls have consistently shown pluralities of Americans disapprove of the law, those same polls have shown that most of its elements ― including not just protections for people with pre-existing conditions, but also tax credits for buying insurance ― to be highly popular.

Senate Republicans have seen those polls, just as they have heard from GOP governors in states that have expanded Medicaid eligibility using funding that Obamacare made available. Those governors, among them Gov. John Kasich (R-Ohio), have said that it’s important to make sure Republicans have an alternative ready to go before getting rid of Obamacare.

Meanwhile, three other GOP senators ― Tom Cotton (Ark.), John McCain (Ariz.), and Rand Paul (Ky.) ― have expressed reservations about repeal without a replacement, albeit for different reasons.

How Trump feels about all of this remains something of a mystery. On Monday evening, he and his advisers huddled with Capitol Hill Republicans over several matters. Afterwards, in response to a reporter’s question about the specifics of repealing and replacing Obamacare, Trump adviser Steve Bannon said they were “still thinking that through.”

 

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HUFFINGTONPOST.COM

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/gop-senators-obamacare-repeal_us_587445d4e4b02b5f858acad3?tlxcq6djbmc0afw29

Intelligence Report Concludes That Vladimir Putin Intervened In U.S. Election To Help Donald Trump Win

Intelligence officials concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin directed efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, with the goal of helping President-elect Donald Trump win.  In a highly anticipated report prepared by the CIA, the FBI and the National Security Agency, intelligence officials doubled-down on earlier assertions that Moscow was responsible for cyberattacks directed at the Democratic National Committee.

“Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations,” the intelligence community concluded in the declassified version of the report, which was released Friday afternoon.

The CIA and FBI have a high degree of confidence that Putin’s aim was to boost Trump’s chances of winning, while discrediting his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The NSA has a moderate degree of confidence in this assertion.

Megyn Kelly Leaving Fox News For NBC

Fox News host Megyn Kelly is leaving the cable news network for NBC News, the network announced Tuesday. Kelly will take on multiple roles at NBC. She’ll host a one-hour daytime talk show airing Monday through Friday and a Sunday evening news magazine show, and will contribute on breaking news stories and NBC’s coverage of major political and special events. 

“Megyn is an exceptional journalist and news anchor, who has had an extraordinary career,” Andrew Lack, chairman of the NBCUniversal News Group, said in a release. “She’s demonstrated tremendous skill and poise, and we’re lucky to have her.”

The departure is a major blow to Fox News, where Kelly hosted a top-rated 9 p.m. show and was considered a key part of the network’s future.

In a Facebook post, Kelly said she was “incredibly enriched for the experiences” she had in a dozen years at Fox News. She’ll wrap up her last episode of “The Kelly File” on Friday. 

A former litigator, Kelly joined Fox News as a Washington-based correspondent in 2004. She later moved to co-anchoring in the morning, and in 2010, hosted her own show from 1 to 3 p.m. Kelly’s coverage at the time often echoed the broader Fox News worldview, such as her obsessive focus on the fringe New Black Panther Party. She also came under fire in 2013 after asserting that Jesus and Santa Claus were white.

In recent years, Kelly repositioned herself as an independent voice among Fox News’ more partisan talkers and joined news anchors Bret Baier and Chris Wallace to moderate debates and steer election night coverage. She was the subject of a January 2015 New York Times Magazine cover story that highlighted her tendency to stray from Fox News orthodoxy and the reputation she has gained for aggressively challenging figures on both sides of the aisle. 

CARLOS BARRIA/REUTERS

Megyn Kelly moderated a GOP primary debate in January 2015 along with Chris Wallace (left) and Bret Baier.

Kelly’s national profile skyrocketed during the 2016 election after Donald Trump leveled personal attacks against her and feuded with the network over her coverage. At the first Republican debate, in August 2015, she drew Trump’s wrath for asking about his history of misogynistic and sexist remarks. The following day, Trump suggested Kelly was menstruating at the time. 

In July, Kelly was again in the spotlight after telling investigators that she, too, was sexually harassed by former Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes. He resigned in disgrace soon after.  

Kelly publicly described Ailes’ sexual advances in November during the rollout for her memoir, Settle for More. In the book and subsequent interviews after the election, Kelly revealed Trump threatened to turn his millions of Twitter followers against her. 

During the election cycle, Kelly’s more critical coverage of Trump distinguished her from Fox News’ two other primetime stars. Bill O’Reilly was generally sympathetic to Trump in the 8 p.m. slot, while Sean Hannity was the Republican candidate’s biggest media booster at 10 p.m. 

While Fox News remains the dominant cable news network, the network’s primetime line-up is in flux. O’Reilly, whose contract is up later this year, has hinted at retirement and Kelly was viewed as the future face of Fox News. 

The Murdoch family, which runs parent company 21st Century Fox, tried keeping Kelly in the fold. She is reportedly making $15 million for this final year of her Fox News contract, and Fox News was said to offer her at least $20 million annually to stay. 

In a Tuesday statement, 21st Century Fox Executive Chairman Rupert Murdoch thanked Kelly for her 12 years at Fox News. “We hope she enjoys tremendous success in her career and wish her and her family all the best,” he said. 

For Kelly, the move completes a yearslong trajectory from anchor on a conservative cable news network to a major TV news personality on a broadcast network. And in launching a daytime show, Kelly will presumably also get to broaden her focus, and potentially appeal, to audiences beyond cable news politics junkies. 

The New York Times, which first reported on Kelly’s move to NBC, noted she was also considering opportunities at ABC and CNN. Though the terms of the NBC deal weren’t announced, the network may not have matched Fox News’ offer. Indeed, Kelly’s representative said Tuesday that “money wasn’t the driving factor.”

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Obamacare Is First Item On Congress' Chopping Block

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Congress is back in session on Tuesday, and leaders of both houses say their first order of business will be to repeal Obamacare.

If they do that, it will be a slap in the face to President Barack Obama just three weeks before he leaves the White House. The Affordable Care is the outgoing president's signature achievement, marked by an elaborate signing ceremony in March 2010 at the White House, with lofty speeches from the vice president and Obama himself.

"Today, after almost a century of trying, today after over a year of debate, today, after all the votes have been tallied, health insurance reform becomes law in the United States of America," Obama said that day, to long applause from the assembled crowd.

And Joe Biden famously leaned over to remind the president that it was "a big ***ing deal."

But Republicans have been vowing to repeal the law since the day it passed, and they'll soon have a sympathetic president in the White House to sign whatever bill they send him.

 

"We will repeal the disaster known as Obamacare and create new health care, all sorts of reforms that work for you and your family," President-elect Donald Trump vowed last month in Orlando.

That new health care plan hasn't been fleshed out yet by Trump or his allies in Congress. So they say they'll vote to get rid of Obamacare, but delay its demise until they come up with a replacement that will cover the millions of people who have insurance thanks to the law.

But insurance companies and health care analysts are worried.

"I don't see how you talk to any [insurance] carrier and give them any desire to hang around to see what they replace it with," says Dr. Kavita Patel, an internist at Johns Hopkins University Hospital and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. "Why would you stick around for that?"

Patel worked in the White House and helped create the Affordable Care Act. But she's not alone in her concern.

Last month the health insurance trade group America's Health Insurance Plans sent a letter to lawmakers asking them to keep in place many of the financial incentives that are central to the law — including subsidies for patients to help them buy insurance and cover copayments, and a provision that eliminates some taxes on insurers.

The American Academy of Actuaries also warned in its own letter that a repeal of the ACA without replacing it would be dangerous to the long-term health of the insurance market.

Still, Republicans appear determined to move ahead with the vote as soon as this week.

Some history:

Democrats rammed the Affordable Care Act through Congress in 2010 with no Republican support.

It was a huge, complicated law and, like most legislation, it was flawed. Over the subsequent six years, Republicans, who were angry at the way the Affordable Care Act was passed, refused to cooperate in any actions that would be seen as helping it succeed. Instead, they promised in speeches and television interviews to repeal it entirely. In fact, the House has voted more than 60 times over the years to do just that.

 

Then-Speaker of the House John Boehner stands next to a printed version of the Affordable Care Act during a Capitol Hill news conference on May 16, 2013.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

"There's no getting around the fact that lots of Republicans campaigned hard against the ACA and a lot of them won, including the person at the top of the ticket," says James Capretta, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute.

But even with control of both chambers of Congress and with Trump in the White House, Republicans can't simply repeal Obamacare. They would need the help of at least a handful of Democrats to overcome a filibuster.

Democrats can't, however, filibuster budget bills. So Republican leaders have decided to defund Obamacare, eliminating the tax penalties for those who don't buy insurance and the subsidies to help people pay their premiums. Essentially, that guts the law's main elements.

The problem for Republicans is that today, an estimated 20 million people get their insurance through Obamacare. About 10 million buy policies through the exchanges set up by state and federal governments, and most of those patients get subsidies to help pay the premiums.

And millions more are covered because the law allows states to expand the number of people who are eligible for Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor.

So people who had pre-existing conditions that shut them out of the insurance market before the ACA passed, or people who had reached insurer-imposed lifetime benefit limits, generally like the law.

But, then there are people like Will Denecke, who is mad because his insurance costs have gone up since Obamacare passed. Before the law was enacted, he spent about $340 a month on health insurance.

"Incredibly, we got a notice from my health care company, Moda, which has been having financial problems, that my premium was going up to $930," he said last October.

He's a self-employed urban planning consultant in Portland, Ore., and, unlike most people in Obamacare, he makes too much money to qualify for government subsidies.

"I've had health insurance my whole life, but it's just offensive in principle to think of spending $1,000 a month on health care insurance when there is a good chance I won't need it," he said.

He was considering just letting his coverage lapse.

And, on the other side, you've got people like Leigh Kvetko of Dallas. She takes 10 medications every day because she's had two organ transplant procedures, and the drugs are part of her daily regimen to survive. After Obamacare passed, she was able quit her job at a big company and start a business with her husband, because she could finally get individual insurance.

"This particular plan, the fact that they cannot discriminate against me because of how I was born, was a lifesaver, literally," she says.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady told the Washington Times last month that consumers needn't worry. "We can assure the American public that the plan they're in right now, the Obamacare plans, will not end on Jan. 20, that we're going to be prepared and ready with new options tailored for them," he said.

 

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Trump praises Putin for holding back in U.S.-Russia spy dispute

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U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Friday praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for refraining from retaliation in a dispute over spying and cyber attacks, in another sign that the Republican plans to patch up badly frayed relations with Moscow.

Putin earlier on Friday said he would not hit back for the U.S. expulsion of 35 suspected Russian spies by President Barack Obama, at least until Trump takes office on Jan. 20.

"Great move on delay (by V. Putin) - I always knew he was very smart!" Trump wrote on Twitter from Florida, where he is on vacation.

Obama on Thursday ordered the expulsion of the Russians and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over their involvement in hacking political groups in the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election.

"We will not expel anyone," Putin said in a statement, adding that Russia reserved the right to retaliate.

"Further steps toward the restoration of Russian-American relations will be built on the basis of the policy which the administration of President D. Trump will carry out," he said.

Trump has repeatedly praised Putin and nominated people seen as friendly toward Moscow to senior administration posts, but it is unclear whether he would seek to roll back Obama's actions, which mark a post-Cold War low in U.S.-Russian ties.

Trump has brushed aside allegations from the CIA and other intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the cyber attacks. "It's time for our country to move on to bigger and better things," Trump said on Thursday, though he said he would meet with intelligence officials next week.

U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia was behind hacks into Democratic Party organizations and operatives before the presidential election. Moscow denies this. U.S. intelligence officials say the Russian cyber attacks aimed to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Russian officials have portrayed the sanctions as a last act of a lame-duck president and suggested Trump could reverse them when he takes over from Obama, a Democrat.

A senior U.S. official on Thursday said that Trump could reverse Obama's executive order, but doing so would be inadvisable.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the Obama administration "a group of embittered and dim witted foreign policy losers."

REPUBLICAN OPPOSITION

Should Trump seek to heal the rift with Russia, he might encounter opposition in Congress, including from fellow Republicans.

Republican John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Friday that Russia must face a penalty for the cyber attacks and that is was possible to impose many sanctions.

"When you attack a country, it's an act of war," McCain said in an interview with the Ukrainian TV channel "1+1" while on a visit to Kiev.

"And so we have to make sure that there is a price to pay, so that we can perhaps persuade the Russians to stop these kind of attacks on our very fundamentals of democracy." added McCain, who has scheduled a hearing for Thursday on foreign cyber threats.

Other senior Republicans, as well as Democrats, have urged a tough response to Moscow.

A total of 96 Russians are expected to leave the United States including expelled diplomats and their families.

Trump will find it very difficult to reverse the expulsions and lift the sanctions given that they were based on a unanimous conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies, said Eugene Rumer, who was the top U.S. intelligence analyst for Russia from 2010 until 2014.

But that might not prevent Trump from improving ties to Russia, said Rumer, now director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a policy institute. "If Mr. Trump wants to start the relationship anew, I don’t think he needs to walk these sanctions back. He can just say this was Obama’s decision,” said Rumer.

As part of the sanctions, Obama told Russia to close two compounds in the United States that the administration said were used by Russian personnel for "intelligence-related purposes."

Russia was given until noon on Friday to vacate both premises. Convoys of trucks, buses and black sedans with diplomatic license plates left the countryside vacation retreats outside Washington and New York City without fanfare.

 

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