US Senate health care bill guts Medicaid, slashes taxes for the wealthy

 

By Kate Randall
23 June 2017

US Senate Republicans unveiled on Thursday the Better Care Reconciliation Act, their version of a plan to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Obama administration’s signature domestic legislation. The US House passed its own version, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), early last month.

Like the House plan, the Senate version guts Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled jointly administered by the federal government and the states, slashing its funding by hundreds of billions of dollars. It would mark the effective end of the program, which currently covers 75 million Americans, as a guaranteed program based on need.

Better Care also repeals virtually all of the ACA’s taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations, effecting one of the largest redistributions of wealth from the poor to rich in US history. These tax cuts would be paid for by slashing health care coverage and raising costs for the vast majority of ordinary Americans, in particular targeting the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and those with preexisting conditions and disabilities.

The plan was drafted in secrecy by a “working group” of 13 senators, a process drawing criticism from both Republican and Democratic senators. As of Thursday evening, a group of four ultra-right Republican senators said they would not sign on to the bill, as it was not draconian enough, while other more moderate Senate Republicans said they needed to study the bill before making a decision.

However, it is likely that Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be able to garner the votes of 50 out of 52 Republican senators to pass the legislation with a simple majority, counting on the vote of Vice President Mike Pence to break a tie. The bill would then be sent to a conference with the House, where a final version would be agreed, before being sent to President Trump to sign. Senate leaders hope to receive a scoring on the bill from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) early next week and vote on it before the July 4 recess.

Medicaid

The Senate bill would convert Medicaid to a “per capita cap” funding system, in which states would get a lump sum from the federal government for each enrollee. States could also choose to receive a block grant instead, not tied to the number of Medicaid enrollees. This would effectively end Medicaid as an “entitlement” program, so-called because the funding is expanded automatically as people qualify on the basis of need.

The legislation would also change the way federal payments to Medicaid are calculated. The Senate bill would tether funding growth to the Medical Consumer Price Index plus 1 percentage point through 2025, then change over to the urban Consumer Price Index (CPI). This would amount to a funding cut to Medicaid, as the cost of health care typically goes up faster than the CPI.

The bill would also end the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare by 2021. This extended coverage to an estimated 14 million people, mainly low-income adults earning below 138 percent of the poverty line (about $15,000 for an individual), in the 31 states plus the District of Columbia that opted to participate in the expansion.

Better Care defunds Planned Parenthood for one year, meaning Medicaid patients could no longer seek treatment of any kind at the nonprofit organization’s clinics. This will result in forgone screenings, less access to contraceptive and abortion services, and more unintended pregnancies, as well as maternal and infant deaths.

CBO scoring of the House bill, which makes similar cuts, estimated it would slash overall funding to Medicaid by $880 billion over a decade. The cutbacks would force states to remove people from Medicaid, reduce the range of services covered, and cut reimbursements to doctors, hospitals and drug companies.

Tax cuts

The Senate bill cuts taxes on net investment income for wealthy people, repeals an ACA Medicare tax on wealthy people, and eliminates taxes on health insurers, medical device companies and tanning salons.

Better Care repeals a 3.8 percent tax on net investment income (capital gains, dividends, etc.) for individuals making more than $200,000 a year or for couples making more than $250,000. In one of the bill’s most brazen giveaways to the rich, this repeal is not only immediate, but retroactive to capital gains made earlier this year.

The Tax Policy Center estimates that around 90 percent of the tax cuts will go to households with more than $700,000 in annual income, the top 1 percent, who will be freed from the 3.8 percent tax, along with a 0.9 percent payroll surtax on their salaries.

Smaller subsidies, skimpier coverage

The bill would make much less generous subsidies available to low- and middle-income people to purchase health insurance (people earning less than 350 percent of the poverty line, compared to the ACA’s 400 percent cutoff). Individuals earning less than $41,580 and families of four making less than $85,050 would be covered. However, the size of the tax credits would be tied to what it takes to purchase insurance with poorer coverage.

Insurance companies would be able to charge older adults not yet eligible for Medicare five times more than younger people, compared to three times more under Obamacare. The bill would also change the definition of “affordable” insurance. For example, a 60-year-old who earns $35,640 a year would be required to spend 16.2 percent of annual income, or $5,773, before receiving any assistance from the government. Overall, working-class families would pay higher premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket costs for health insurance that covers much less.

Essential benefits and preexisting conditions

The Senate bill would allow states to seek a waiver from ACA requirements for insurers to cover essential benefits, such as maternity care, prescription drugs, substance abuse and mental health services, emergency care, and other vital services.

While Senate Republicans claim their legislation keeps in place protections for those with preexisting conditions, in practice insurers would be able to skirt these protections by simply offering plans that don’t cover a range of preconditions, such as diabetes, cancer, prenatal care, etc.

Such waivers could also affect those with employer-sponsored insurance. For example, large employers in a waiver state could restrict services, impose lifetime limits on health care costs and eliminate out-of-pocket caps from their plans.

Better Care eliminates the individual mandate, which requires those without coverage from their employer or from a government program to purchase insurance or pay a tax penalty. Due to the “reconciliation” process, the bill cannot eliminate the mandate, but it reduces the penalty to zero. Employers with 50 or more employers would also not be penalized if they fail to provide insurance to their workers.

While gutting the mandates, the Senate plan keeps the insurance marketplaces set up under the ACA intact, but insurance will be more expensive and cover less.

While Republicans in both the Senate and House, as well as the Trump administration, have set as their goal repealing and replacing Obamacare, both the AHCA and the Better Care Reconciliation Act keep the ACA’s basic structure in place—all while repealing taxes for the wealthy, gutting Medicaid and raising costs and cutting services for working and middle-class people.

This is in part the result of the procedure chosen for repeal. Lacking the 60 votes to overcome a Senate filibuster, the Republican leadership chose to employ “reconciliation,” which is limited to a single bill each year, and requires only a simple majority. The rules governing reconciliation are arcane, and prevent changes in policy that have no fiscal impact, such as a ban on insurance companies covering abortion, which was dropped from the Senate bill.

But in the final analysis, there was no need to repeal Obamacare outright, since it accomplishes many of the goals agreed on by both capitalist parties. As the WSWS has maintained from the start, Obamacare was aimed at cutting costs for the government and corporations while rationing health care for the vast majority. Whatever version of “Trumpcare” eventually emerges from Congress for the president to sign will take the tendencies already present in the Affordable Care Act, then strip off the limited concessions it offered in the way of Medicaid expansion, essential services and other inadequate protections.

Obamacare took as its starting point the entrenched for-profit system of health care delivery in America, which is based on enriching the insurance companies, the pharmaceutical companies and the giant hospital chains.

With this as its basis, the ACA had as its aim the development of an even more openly class-based health care system than what previously existed, in which workers and their families are left with rising costs, cut-rate care, or no coverage at all, and the super-rich and privileged upper-middle-class layer avail themselves of the best medical care that money can buy.

As we wrote last year, through its tax credit system and marketplace exchanges, “[T]he ACA essentially establishes a voucher system, whereby minimal government subsidies are given to individuals to purchase private health insurance. It thereby serves as a model for the future privatization of the key government programs, Medicare and Medicaid, wrenched from the ruling class through bitter working class struggles in the last century.”

The Democrats have predictably denounced the Senate plan as a boondoggle for the rich, with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer railing against the tax breaks for the rich and the millions who stand to lose coverage.

But they have little to offer in way of an alternative, except the maintenance of the Obamacare status quo, or “working with” the Republicans to fix it. That is because they believe in the underlying premise that health care in America must remain at the mercy of the for-profit health care industry, and that the provision of health care must conform to the interests of the capitalist market.

As the WSWS wrote in July 2009, more than six months before the ACA became law, the Obama administration’s “drive for an overhaul of the health care system, far from representing a reform designed to provide universal coverage and increased access to quality care, marks an unprecedented attack on health care for the working population. It is an effort to roll back social gains associated with the enactment of Medicare in 1965.”

The Republicans’ attack on Medicaid, embodied in both the AHCA and the Better Care bill, marks a further step in this direction.

The face of Republican evil: It’s not Donald Trump

Mitch McConnell’s gruesome health care scam reveals the corrupt, antidemocratic character of the entire GOP

In the hellish months since Donald Trump’s inauguration, a dark parlor game of sorts has cropped up in liberal circles that I like to call “Would an Impeachment Even Be Worth It?” With the full acknowledgment that it’s unlikely to happen as long as Republicans are in charge, participants still sip cocktails and ponder out loud the question of whether booting out Trump on his butt would be enough to save our democracy, considering the fact that the Republican slimeball taking his place would invariably sign a bunch of retrograde legislation setting back this country decades.

These discussions break down into two camps: those who think Trump presents a unique threat to our democracy and replacing him with someone in the succession line, like Vice President Mike Pence or House Speaker Paul Ryan, would at least preserve our democratic norms; and those who think the corruption started long before Trump and has spread throughout the Republican Party, rotting it from the inside out.

Consider me in the latter camp, which makes me kind of unpopular in these discussions. Unfortunately, my view that the Republican Party as a whole is irredeemably antidemocratic has been borne out, yet again, in the process that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has put into motion to destroy the Affordable Health Act, a process that will likely take out the U.S. health care system as we know it.

One could even argue that bog-standard Republicans, under the leadership of Ryan and McConnell, represent an bigger threat to our democracy than Trump, possessing as they do more competence and cunning than the TV-addled overgrown toddler in the White House.

As Heather Digby Parton, writing for Salon, recently detailed, McConnell has arranged to have the Senate version of the House’s American Health Care Act (which the Congressional Budget Office estimates would ultimately leave 23 million Americans uninsured) written in secret, with no hearings, no public discussion and no real debate. Republicans are barely even pretending the reason is anything other than the obvious: The bill is so terrible that it defies the will of people of all political stripes and sensibilities, whom legislators supposedly were elected to serve. When called out on this obvious fact, Republicans are just smirking or squawking “fake news” but not actually offering any contravening evidence.

McConnell’s contempt for the processes, much less the defining principles, of democracy couldn’t be more apparent. But he doesn’t really care. No doubt the election of Trump helped confirm the rising sense among Republicans that they can wipe their collective butts with the Constitution, flip the bird at their constituents and not really worry about losing many seats. Republican voters might not like it, but they like liberals, black people and feminists even less, so they will show up and dutifully vote against the Democrats every time. Losing health care access isn’t great, but for conservative voters, admitting that liberals might have a point is a hell from which there is no escape.

This Republican contempt for democracy was evident long before Trump started grasping for the presidential nomination with his stubby orange fingers. McConnell was so unwilling to accept the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s two substantial presidential election victories that the Republican leader refused to acknowledge Obama’s right to nominate a Supreme Court justice after Antonin Scalia’s death. Not only did that work out perfectly for McConnell — he got Neil Gorsuch onto the high court, instead of rightful nominee Merrick Garland — but it proved once and for all that bedrock conservative voters don’t care about niceties like the rule of law or government by the people. They just want to punish women for having sex and gripe about “Obama phones,” and don’t care if the price paid is the ultimate ruin of this country.

Trump didn’t make Republicans corrupt. They were already there. That’s why he hasn’t really needed to do any arm-twisting or commit blackmail, no matter how much he’d like to, in order to get a GOP-controlled Congress willing to look the other way when presented with a growing pile of evidence that something weird is going on with Trump and the Russians.

It’s easier to not care if Russian intelligence is actively seeking to subvert U.S. elections for those who aggressively try to deny voting rights to millions of Americans, especially people of color and younger voters who insist on voting for Democrats.

At this point, the Republican rejection of democracy is an established fact. The only question is how far the ruling party is willing to take it. The antidemocratic, secretive process surrounding the GOP’s health care bill suggests there may be no real limit.

 

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. She’s on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte

The Democrats’ fraudulent opposition to Trumpcare

By Kate Randall
21 June 2017

Senate Republicans are working feverishly to pass their version of a bill to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act (ACA), having set themselves an arbitrary deadline of securing its passage before the July 4 congressional recess. Early last month, House Republicans passed the American Health Care Act (AHCA), celebrating in the White House Rose Garden with President Trump, who said of the bill, “It’s a great plan, and I believe it’s going to get better.”

A group of 13 Republicans senators is working behind closed doors on the Senate version of the legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to push the legislation—which concerns one-sixth of the US economy, and which will affect the health and lives of tens of millions of Americans—with no committee hearings, no public mark-up (drafting and editing) of the bill, and only limited debate.

It is no secret that the clandestine nature of the Senate “working group’s” negotiations is due to the AHCA’s wide unpopularity, with a recent poll showing that only 20 percent of Americans approve of it while 57 percent disapprove. The broad opposition is due to its draconian features, particularly the gutting of Medicaid, the social insurance program for the poor jointly funded by the federal government and the states. The AHCA would effectively end Medicaid as a guaranteed benefit based on need by placing a per-capita cap on overall spending.

The AHCA would slash $824 billion from Medicaid and would end the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid to low-income adults, causing 14 million newly insured people to lose their benefits over a decade. All told, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 23 million people would become uninsured in 10 years under the AHCA. At the same time, the bill would slash taxes for corporations and wealthy individuals, while boosting the already multibillion-dollar profits of the health care industry.

McConnell has an additional reason for secrecy, since any divisions within the Republican caucus threaten passage of the bill, and concessions made to far-right senators like Ted Cruz and Rand Paul could provoke opposition from a group of “moderates” from states with large Medicaid populations, and vice versa.

Under the “reconciliation” process chosen for the health care legislation, the Republican leadership can push through the bill despite holding only a narrow 52-48 majority, providing they lose no more than two Republicans, with Vice President Mike Pence casting a tie-breaking vote.

Senate Democrats profess outrage over the closed-door nature of the Republicans’ deliberations. They staged a talk-a-thon on the Senate floor Monday night, stalling chamber proceedings through a series of parliamentary maneuvers. A few senators live-streamed their “search” for the elusive legislation, driving around the capital. All of these stunts amount to so much hot air. The Democrats are incapable of mounting a true opposition to the Republicans’ vicious assault on the health care of ordinary Americans because they share their class objectives.

Numerous media commentaries have pointed to the Democrats’ “powerless” position to oppose the Republicans’ plan, due to the Republicans’ 52-48 Senate majority. This is only valid in terms of parliamentary arithmetic: the vast majority of the American people oppose the House bill and will oppose the Senate bill once they learn its provisions. But the Democratic Party is unwilling and unable to mobilize this popular opposition.

Every Senate Democrat, including so-called independent and self-professed “democratic socialist” Bernie Sanders, portrays Obamacare as a progressive social reform, or at least a “step in the right direction,” concealing the reactionary and anti-working-class character of the Affordable Care Act.

Obamacare was aimed from the start at cutting costs for the government and corporations while rationing health care for the vast majority. In that sense, the Republicans have invented nothing new. Whatever version of “Trumpcare” eventually passes the Senate will only take the tendencies already present in Obamacare and make them worse: imposing more and more of the cost of health care on individual workers and their families.

The logic of this process, under both Democrats and Republicans, is the development of an openly two-class health care system: the best health care money can buy for the super-rich and a privileged upper-middle-class layer; and for the vast majority of the population, a cut-rate system, starved for funds and personnel, offering inadequate and overpriced care, if any at all.

In response to Trump and the Republicans’ howls that the ACA is “failing” and “imploding”—through rising premiums and deductibles and dwindling networks of insurers—the Democrats beg for a seat at the table to “fix” Obamacare. This is a euphemism for making further concessions to the demands of the insurance companies and other corporate interests by further restricting subsidies for low-income purchasers of insurance plans, cutting business taxes and implementing other regressive measures.

Any health care overhaul hatched in Washington will be based on the for-profit health care system, enriching the insurance companies, drug companies, hospital chains and medical device companies and the CEOs that run them.

Looking beyond the Democrats’ bluster, working people need to actually take stock of what is at stake in the Republicans’ plan. The most fundamental attack is the gutting of Medicaid, one of the last social reforms wrested from the ruling elite through working-class struggle. While limited in nature, Medicaid guaranteed the right to health insurance and medical services for the poor and for children and disabled people, and provided funding for nursing care for the elderly based on need. Medicaid emerged as part of the “Great Society” and “War on Poverty” under the Johnson administration, alongside landmark legislation such as the Civil Rights Act and the Food Stamp Act, both in 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The assault on health care exemplified by the Republicans’ reactionary legislation is of a piece with the ruling elite’s attack on all the social rights of the working class—the right to a job, education, decent housing, a secure retirement, access to the arts and culture, and a healthy and safe environment.

Congressional Democrats have chosen to oppose the Trump administration not over the destruction of social conditions, but over Trump’s alleged “softness” toward Russia. They are working in alliance with the dominant factions of the intelligence apparatus to whip up a war fever against Russia in an attempt to condition the public for an escalation of the wars in the Middle East as well as a military confrontation with Iran and nuclear-armed Russia. Incapable of opposing the most reactionary presidency in US history on anything resembling a progressive or democratic basis, they have positioned themselves to the right of Trump on issues of imperialist foreign policy.

Whatever form it takes, the health care legislation that the Republicans are able to pass through Congress and place on the president’s desk to sign will be one of the most reactionary pieces of legislation in modern history. The ruling elite sees the attack on Medicaid as the first shot in their war on Medicare and Social Security and wants to see all of these social programs privatized or ended outright. In the final analysis, both big-business parties agree that health care must be limited to what is compatible with the profit interests of corporate America.

The working class must fight for its own class interests. The crisis in health care requires a socialist solution, which takes as its point of departure the needs of working people and society as a whole, not the wealth and profits of a tiny minority.

The establishment of a system of universal, free health care for all requires placing the entire health care system—the private insurers, pharmaceuticals, giant health care chains—under public ownership, managed democratically to serve human needs, not profit. Such a fight requires the mobilization of the working class as a revolutionary force, independent of and opposed to both the Democratic and Republican parties.

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/21/medi-j21.html

New York Times Smears Bernie Sanders in Its Latest Lurch to the Right

Posted on Jun 19, 2017

By Paul Blest / AlterNet

Randy Bayne / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

After Donald Trump’s stunning victory last November, major media outlets have enjoyed a surge in donations from concerned citizens hoping to restore a Fourth Estate that buckled and finally collapsed under the weight of the 2016 election. “Trump is the best thing to ever happen to the Times’ subscription strategy,” executive editor Dean Baquet told CNN in February. “Every time he tweets it drives subscriptions wildly.”It’s not a little dispiriting, then, that the New York Times has used its new appointment as a leader of the #Resistance to run some of the most reactionary opinion writing this side of the Weekly Standard. With its new subscription dollars, it’s hired a known climate denier and racist in Bret Stephens, published a conspiracy theorist in Louise Mensch, and started an ill-fated column asking people to say something nice about Donald Trump, to offer just a few examples.

By and large, these takes have been confined to the paper’s op-ed page. But Wednesday’s shooting in Alexandria, which left Republican whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana critically injured, has produced one exceptionally irresponsible piece of reporting. In a piece titled “Attack Tests Movement Sanders Founded,” journalist Yamiche Alcindor suggests that Sanders’ supporters, if not the Vermont senator himself, have somehow invited this kind of violence. (The shooter, James Hodgkinson, had volunteered for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign in Iowa.)

Alcindor writes:

But long before the shooting on Wednesday, some of Mr. Sanders’s supporters had earned a belligerent reputation for their criticism of Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party and others who they believed disagreed with their ideas. Sanders fans, sometimes referred to derogatorily as “Bernie Bros” or “Bernie Bots,” at times harassed reporters covering Mr. Sanders and flooded social media with angry posts directed at the “corporate media,” a term often used by the senator.

The Times also quotes Harlan Hill, a Trump surrogate who has called Sanders’ attacks on the president a “passive justification” for the shooting, despite the fact that his preferred politician has casually urged “Second Amendment people” to take care of Hillary Clinton, encouraged audiences to beat up protesters at rallies, and so on. But in her piece, Alcindor devotes just a single sentence to the many instances Trump has encouraged acts of violence.

What Alcindor doesn’t note, interestingly, is that Hodgkinson alluded to Trump’s Russia problems in several posts on his now-deleted Facebook page, and called the president a “traitor.” There’s obviously considerable overlap between Sanders supporters and Democrats who are especially preoccupied with the Russia scandal, but Sanders himself has been critical of the focus many in the party have placed on the issue. If Hodgkinson’s heinous act is somehow representative of Democratic socialism, isn’t the same true of those who think (not without some merit) that Russia intervened on Trump’s behalf?

The ideological sibling to this argument is a curdled, right-wing definition of the “left” best expressed by the National Review’s Kevin D. Williamson, who wrote that the “only thing resembling a genuine totalitarian movement in American politics is the progressive camp from which emerged the man who shot Steve Scalise.” (In the immediate aftermath of the shooting of Gabby Giffords in 2011, Williams used his column to shill for gun manufacturers and lament that liberals like Keith Olbermann would dare to blame Sarah Palin.)

The same criticisms that have been lobbed at so-called “Bernie Bros” for a year were launched at Barack Obama supporters in 2008, Clinton backers during the same race and again last year, and at Howard Dean devotees before both of them. On the other side, mainstream Republicans have long been dismissive of Ron Paul supporters for similar reasons. These fierce intra-party battles go back generations—Taftbros physically fought Eisenhowerbots at the 1952 Republican National Convention.

When actor Wendell Pierce attacked a Sanders supporter last year, there were no thinkpieces about the ferociousness of Clintonistas. Nor should there have been; Pierce is just one man. Ascribing his actions to Clinton or the nearly 17 million people who voted for her in the primary would be spectacularly wrongheaded. Human life is politics, and as such, people sometimes let their emotions get the best of them; that doesn’t mean the politics they got swept up in is at fault.

A mass shooting is something else altogether; any attempts to tether it to a political movement are as myopic as they are disingenuous. It’s imperative for the press to cast a critical eye on politicians, and Sanders is no exception. But linking him, Clinton, or any politician to the violent actions of their supporters does a disservice to readers hoping to understand Hodgkinson’s crimes.

The real takeaway, as Katie McDonough argued at Fusion on the day of the shooting, should be that people who commit domestic violence should not be able to buy guns. As has been the case in so many other mass shootings, Hodgkinson had a history of abusing women, including partners and his own daughter.

“We live in a country that lets domestic abusers keep their guns,” she wrote. “We are a country that never learns its lesson, and we are letting them kill.”

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/new_york_times_shamefully_smears_bernie_sanders_20170619

Cuba’s Formal Response to Trump’s Speech on Policy Changes

Posted on Jun 18, 2017

Havana. (Andrew Wragg / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Below is the full statement released Friday by the Cuban government.

On June 16, 2017, US President Donald Trump delivered a speech full of hostile anti-Cuban rhetoric reminiscent of the times of open confrontation with our country in a Miami theater. He announced his government’s Cuba policy, which rolls back the progress achieved over the last two years since December 17, 2014, when Presidents Raúl Castro and Barack Obama announced the decision to re-establish diplomatic relations and engage in a process towards the normalization of bilateral relations.

In what constitutes a setback in the relations between both countries, President Trump, gave a speech and signed a policy directive titled “National Security Presidential Memorandum”, which provides the elimination of private educational “people-to-people” exchanges and greater control over all travelers to Cuba, as well as the prohibition of business, trade and financial transactions between US companies and certain Cuban companies linked to the Armed Revolutionary Forces and the intelligence and security services, under the alleged objective of depriving us from income. The US president justified this policy with alleged concerns over the human rights situation in Cuba and the need to rigorously enforce the US blockade laws, conditioning its lifting, as well as any improvements in US-Cuba bilateral relations to our country’s making changes inherent to its constitutional order.

Trump also abrogated Presidential Policy Directive “Normalization of Relations between the United States and Cuba”, issued by President Obama on October 14, 2016.  Although said Directive did not conceal the interventionist character of the US policy nor the fact that its main purpose was to advance US interests in order to bring about changes in the economic, political and social systems of our country, it did recognize Cuba’s independence, sovereignty and self-determination and the Cuban government as a legitimate and equal interlocutor, as well as the benefits that a civilized coexistence would have for both countries and peoples despite the great differences that exist between both governments.  The Directive also conceded that the blockade is an obsolete policy and that it should be lifted.

Once again, the US Government resorts to coercive methods of the past when it adopts measures aimed at stepping up the blockade, effective since February 1962, which not only causes harm and deprivations to the Cuban people and is the main obstacle to our economic development, but also affects the sovereignty and interests of other countries, which arouses international rejection.

The measures announced impose additional obstacles to the already very limited opportunities that the US business sector had in order to trade with and invest in Cuba.

Likewise, those measures restrict even more the right of US citizens to visit our country, which was already limited due to the obligation of using discriminatory licenses, at a moment when the US Congress, echoing the feelings of broad sectors of that society, calls not only for an end to the travel ban, but also for the elimination of the restrictions on the trade with Cuba.

The measures announced by President Trump run counter to the majority support of the US public opinion, including the Cuban emigration in that country, to the total lifting of the blockade and the establishment of normal relations between Cuba and the United States.

Instead, the US President, who has been once again ill-advised, is taking decisions that favor the political interests of an irrational minority of Cuban origin in the state of Florida which, out of petty motivations, does not give up its intent to punish Cuba and its people for exercising the legitimate and sovereign right of being free and having taken the reins of their own destiny.

Later on, we shall make a deeper analysis of the scope and implications of the announcement.

The Government of Cuba condemns the new measures to tighten the blockade, which are doomed to failure, as has been repeatedly evidenced in the past, for they will not succeed in their purpose to weaken the Revolution or bend the Cuban people, whose resistance against aggressions of all sorts and origins has been put to the test throughout almost six decades.

The Government of Cuba rejects political manipulation and double standards in human rights. The Cuban people enjoy fundamental rights and freedoms and can proudly show some achievements that are still a chimera for many countries of the world, including the United States, such as the right to health, education and social security; equal pay for equal work, children’s rights as well as the rights to food, peace and development. Cuba, with its modest resources, has also contributed to the improvement of the human rights situation in many countries of the world, despite the limitations inherent to its condition as a blockaded country.

The United States are not in the position to teach us lessons. We have serious concerns about the respect for and guarantees of human rights in that country, where there are numerous cases of murders, brutality and abuses by the police, particularly against the African-American population; the right to life is violated as a result of the deaths caused by fire arms; child labor is exploited and there are serious manifestations of racial discrimination; there is a threat to impose more restrictions on medical services, which will leave 23 million persons without health insurance; there is unequal pay between men and women; migrants and refugees, particularly those who come from Islamic countries, are marginalized; there is an attempt to put up walls that discriminate against and denigrate neighbor countries; and international commitments to preserve the environment and address climate change are abandoned.

Also a source of concern are the human rights violations by the United States in other countries, such as the arbitrary detention of tens of prisoners in the territory illegally occupied by the US Naval Base in Guantánamo, Cuba, where even torture has been applied;  extrajudicial executions and the death of civilians caused by drones; as well as the wars unleashed against countries like Iraq, under false pretenses like the possession of weapons of mass destruction, with disastrous consequences for the peace, security and stability in the Middle East.

It should be recalled that Cuba is a State Party to 44 international human rights instruments, while the US is only a State Party to 18.  Therefore, we have much to show, say and defend.

Upon confirming the decision to re-establish diplomatic relations, Cuba and the United States ratified their intention to develop respectful and cooperative relations between both peoples and governments, based on the principles and purposes enshrined in the UN Charter.  In its Declaration issued on July 1, 2015, the Revolutionary Government of Cuba reaffirmed that “these relations must be founded on absolute respect for our independence and sovereignty; the inalienable right of every State to choose its political, economic, social and cultural system, without interference in any form; and sovereign equality and reciprocity, which constitute inalienable principles of International Law”, as was established in the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, signed by the Heads of State and Government of the Community of Latin America and Caribbean States (CELAC), at its second summit held in Havana.  Cuba has not renounced these principles, nor will it ever do so.

The Government of Cuba reiterates its will to continue a respectful and cooperative dialogue on topics of mutual interest, as well as the negotiation of outstanding issues with the US Government.  During the last two years it has been evidenced that both countries, as was repeatedly expressed by the President of the Councils of State and of Ministers, Army General Raúl Castro Ruz, can cooperate and coexist in a civilized manner, respecting the differences and promoting everything that benefits both nations and peoples, but it should not be expected that, in order to achieve that, Cuba would make concessions inherent to its sovereignty and independence, or accept preconditions of any sort.

Any strategy aimed at changing the political, economic and social system in Cuba, either through pressures and impositions or by using more subtle methods, shall be doomed to failure.

The changes that need to be made in Cuba, as those that have been made since 1959 and the ones that we are introducing now as part of the process to update our economic and social system, will continue to be sovereignly determined by the Cuban people.

Just as we have been doing since the triumph of the Revolution on January 1st, 1959, we will take on every risk and shall continue to advance steadfastly and confidently in the construction of a sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous and sustainable nation.

Havana, June 16, 2017.

 

http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/statement_by_the_revolutionary_government_of_cuba_20170618

Emails show extent of EPA head Scott Pruitt’s ties to industries he’s supposed to regulate: report

A disturbing report indicates that Scott Pruitt’s fossil fuel connections are taking advantage of the EPA head

A new report sheds light on how the man who President Donald Trump appointed to be head of the Environmental Protection Agency — and who shares the president’s unscientific views on man-made climate change — has a lot of connections to industries that have a vested interest in denying global warming.

More than 4,000 pages of emails from Pruitt’s days as Oklahoma’s attorney general reveal that the EPA administrator and his staff had dozens of meetings with coal, oil and gas executives and lobbyists, according to a report by the Associated Press.

One email from Pete Regan, executive director of the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance, urges Pruitt to meet an oil and gas lobbyist who he describes as “a gem of a dude. He serves on DEPA executive Comm w Harold Hamm. AG Pruitt was on multiple exec calls on 2015 giving updates re ‘sue and settle’, endangered species cases, etc. . . . Greg worked closely with Sen. Bob Dole and has great stories.”

Many of the items on Pruitt’s schedule were blacked out, which makes it more difficult for watchdog groups to ascertain the extent of his connections with the coal, oil and gas industries.

The emails were withheld from the public by Pruitt until a lawsuit by the liberal advocacy group Center for Media and Democracy convinced a judge to order their release.

Pruitt’s proposed budget cuts to the EPA have been so drastic that even many of his fellow Republicans have criticized them. Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey told Pruitt during a congressional hearing on Thursday that “we are home to a historical background that shows us to have more Superfund sites than any other in the nation. I know there has been a proposal here to reduce substantial funding for this program.”

Similarly, Rep. David Joyce of Ohio asked, if Pruitt’s proposed cuts to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative go through, “How will these functions be maintained if the GLRI is eliminated?”

Rep. Michael Simpson of Idaho pointed out that, because farmers in his state are dealing with new pests due to global warming, cutting EPA funding “leads to less timely reviews. The president’s budget will cut well below the minimum. The potato industry will not have access to the proper crop production tools.”

Matthew Rozsa is a breaking news writer for Salon. He holds an MA in History from Rutgers University-Newark and his work has appeared in Mic, Quartz and MSNBC.

US Senate health bill drafted in secrecy: A conspiracy against the health care of millions

Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

By Kate Randall
16 June 2017

The US Senate is moving forward with its drafting of legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA) behind closed doors. Little information has been revealed about the contents of the bill being drawn up by the Senate’s 13-member “working group,” aside from several leaks to the media.

Senate Republicans plan to bring the legislation to a floor vote without a single committee hearing, and without a formal, open drafting session. They hope to pass the bill by an expedited reconciliation procedure, which requires only a simple majority and avoids the possibility of a filibuster by Senate Democrats.

Only a small group of senators know what is in the bill. Those being kept in the dark include not only Democrats, but Republicans who are not in the working group. An aide to one of those senators in the group told Axios that no draft would released because “we aren’t stupid,” an apparent allusion to the draconian features contained within it, including the gutting of Medicaid and its attack on the health care of millions of poor, older and sick Americans.

The apparent plan is to send the finalized Senate bill to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) for scoring before it is then released to the press and the public, with a goal of a vote on the Senate floor before July 4.

The House Republicans’ bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA), is deeply unpopular. Recent Public Policy Polling shows that only 24 percent of voters support the AHCA and 55 percent oppose it. Senate Republicans are well aware that a bill that bears any resemblance to the AHCA will face similar public opposition.

The secrecy surrounding the bill has been bolstered by a significant curtailing of on-camera interviews within the Capitol. According to the Washington Post, the prohibition of televised interviews was issued Tuesday at the point when senators were reportedly going to be informed about some of the features of the bill at a luncheon on Capitol Hill. The prohibition apparently came from the Senate Rules Committee.

At a closed-door White House lunch Tuesday with 15 Republican senators, President Trump reportedly referred to the House plan as “mean,” and according to sources said he wants the Senate version to be “more generous.” This seemingly bizarre statement by Trump—after praising the AHCA as “a great plan” at a White House Rose Garden celebration last month—is an indication of the perceived unpopularity of the Republicans’ planned “repeal and replace” of the bill popularly known as Obamacare.

The ACHA builds on the free-market foundations of the ACA, which gives the for-profit health care industry free rein to charge as they see fit for premiums and to pull out of markets that they find unprofitable. As a former Medicare administrator in the Obama administrator admitted recently about the ACA, “We elected to have a system that is completely market-based so companies get to make individual decisions.”

The Senate plan, like the Republican, takes its cue from the central features of Obamacare, which cuts costs for the government and corporations while rationing and degrading health care for the vast majority of Americans.

The gutting of Medicaid

The biggest change in the AHCA is the gutting of Medicaid, the health care program jointly administered by the federal government and the states. The CBO estimates that the AHCA would cause 23 million people to lose health insurance by 2026, mainly because the House bill would effectively end the ACA’s Medicaid expansion for low-income adults.

The Senate plan reportedly maintains the AHCA’s per capita cap or block granting of federal Medicaid funds, which would effectively end Medicaid as a guaranteed program based on need. It would also put an end to the expansion of Medicaid under the ACA, but would allow a longer phase-out of the expansion, possibly up to seven years, i.e., prescribing a slow death as opposed to the House plan’s quicker demise.

According to a new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), coverage losses under the AHCA would affect people of all ages and income levels, including families with children, seniors, and people with disabilities. It would also sharply cut government subsidies for individual market coverage, and allow insurers to charge sharply higher premiums to people with preexisting conditions.

About 3 million children would lose coverage, CBPP says, increasing the uninsured rate for children by about 50 percent. Another 6.4 million young adults (age 19-29) would lose coverage, or about one in eight people in this age group. This runs counter to claims that the House bill would favor younger, healthy people.

More than 8 million people, age 30-40, would lose coverage, increasing their uninsured rate by a staggering 84 percent. About one in five of this age group would be uninsured, compared to one in 10 under current law, according to CBPP.

The uninsured rate for older adults (age 50-64) would more than double under the AHCA, reflecting the fact that the bill would allow individual market insurers to charge older people premiums five times higher than for younger people. While the Senate plan reportedly will offer some additional premium assistance to this age group, it will be inadequate to make a significant difference.

The majority of those losing coverage under the AHCA would have low incomes. Some 14.7 million adults with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level (about $50,000 for a family of four) would become uninsured. But 5.1 million adults with incomes above 200 percent of the poverty level would also lose coverage.

Preexisting conditions

While Trump has claimed that people with preexisting conditions would be “taken care of” under any final Republican health care bill, this is not the case. The Senate bill, unlike the AHCA, would not allow states to obtain waivers to deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions. However, it would maintain the AHCA provision allowing states to waive coverage of essential health benefits.

Topher Spiro, vice president for health policy at the Center for American Progress, writes in the Washington Post that maintaining the waivers for essential benefits will have the effect of denying coverage for people with preexisting conditions.

Allowing states to ditch coverage of essential services such as hospitalization, and emergency care, maternity care, substance abuse treatment, mental health care and prescriptions drugs would also allow waivers of the ACA’s ban on lifetime and annual limits on coverage related to the essential health benefits.

Also, Spiro notes, if insurers cannot markup premiums for people with preexisting conditions, they could alter their benefits packages to screen out sick people by excluding the benefits they need. The list of possible benefits they could drop from coverage is vast, including treatments for cancer, diabetes and heart conditions. Simply being a woman puts a person at a disadvantage, as prenatal and maternity care, contraception and abortion services could be excluded.

According to the CBO, about 19 million people are enrolled in the individual market nationwide, and about half of them live in states that would seek essential benefits waivers. As about 55 percent of individual market enrollees have a preexisting condition, this means about 5.3 million people with preexisting conditions could see their coverage severely deteriorate and their premiums skyrocket.

While congressional Democrats have made some noise about the secrecy surrounding the Senate deliberations on the health care bill, there has been virtually no comment on the reactionary content of the legislation.

As their attention is focused on the Trump-Russia connection and investigation of the president on obstruction of justice, there is general disinterest by politicians of both big business parties in legislation that will eviscerate Medicaid and leave 23 million more people uninsured and at the mercy of the health care giants and their profits, leading to unnecessary suffering and increased deaths.

Jacob Leibenluft of CBPP commented in an interview in the Post on the lack of congressional hearings and coverage in the media on the Senate bill, “I hate to think that looking back on this period, we’ll realize that the most regressive piece of social legislation in modern American history was passed, and no one was paying attention.”

http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/06/16/sena-j16.html