Senate To Turn into Three-Ring Circus Over Health Care Legislation

More Capitol Hill drama as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pressing for a vote before the July 4 break on an Obamacare replacement, as fellow Republicans balk at the lack of any pubic process, hearings or debate and Democrats gird to shut down Senate business. Photo Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

More Capitol Hill drama as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is pressing for a vote before the July 4 break on an Obamacare replacement, as fellow Republicans balk at the lack of any pubic process, hearings or debate and Democrats gird to shut down Senate business.

Photo Credit: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

You can exhale because there shouldn't be any Capitol Hill activity this week on President Trump and possible collusion in Russia. But take a deep breath as the Senate moves toward a highly contentious and audacious pre-July 4 vote on a health care bill that still hasn’t seen the light of day.

Senate GOP leaders reaffirmed plans to bring forward an Obamacare replacement measure in the next two weeks as Senate Democrats promised to bring all legislative action to a screeching halt, starting with talk-a-thon Monday night to list the deplorable provisions anticipated in the still-secret Republican bill.

Reports circulating on the Hill indicate there isn’t a consensus among Senate Republicans on key issues such as the level of Medicaid spending, addressing the national epidemic of opioid addiction and lowering health insurance premiums under the new plan for patients with pre-existing conditions. Senate GOP leaders have implied the bill, being drafted by a small workgroup behind closed doors, will get a vote whether or note there are enough votes for it to pass.

A website carried an elaborate explanation of how Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell might even might manage to limit floor debate when the GOP health care bill emerges from the work group. According to the explanation, McConnell could put a placeholder bill on the Senate floor calendar and let it suck up most of the 20 hours of allowable debate time. The real plan would be introduced as an amendment with little time left for a drawn-out floor debate.

Whatever the procedural strategy is, criticism is building for addressing contentious and emotionally charged health care legislation without a public hearing. The House, before it narrowly passed its version of an Obamacare replacement, didn’t hold any public hearings. It did come to the floor our of House committees, however, which apparently won’t be the case in the Senate under the current legislative scenario.

The secretive bill-writing strategy probably relates to the unpopularity of what the House passed, as reflected in public opinion polls and in raucous town hall meetings held by GOP lawmakers who voted for the bill. Trump, who initially praised the House bill, has since called it “mean" and urged senators to be more “generous.”

It doesn’t appear all Senate Republicans, including Florida Senator Marco Rubio, is on board with rushing a health care bill through a floor vote without any hearings and little debate. However, Senate GOP leaders are telling fellow Republican caucus members, this may be the one and only chance to vote to repeal Obamacare – a promise seven years in the making – before moving on to other legislative priorities.

Unlike the House, Senate Republicans want to have their heath care bill scored by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office before a floor vote. Reportedly, pieces of the new legislation have already been shared with CBO, though no results have been disclosed.

Democrats are doubtful that whatever emerges will be generous enough. They are hatching their own procedural strategies, including objecting to all requests to proceed with business on the Senate floor that requires unanimous consent or 60 votes to continue. Another tactic will be an attempt to force the referral of the House-passed American Health Care Act to a Senate committee.

Both sides will be frequently in front of microphones at press conferences and active on social media. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren held a Facebook Live event to whip up opposition. Other Obamacare repeal opponents are urging a flood of emails and other constituent communications to sweep into Senate GOP offices.

Last week, Vox ran a story based on interviews with eight Senate GOP senators in which none of them seemed to have a glimmer of an idea what was in the Republican health care plan or the policy rationale for the provisions they couldn’t articulate. Those may be hard perceptions to shake if the Senate springs its health care bill for a vote with little notice and virtually no debate.

Restoring Cuban Restrictions Would Hurt Northwest Travel, Trade

Obama-era relaxation of travel restrictions to Cuba has been greeted with a flood of tourists to Havana, including on flights from the Northwest on Seattle-based Alaska Airlines. Restoring trade and travel restrictions could hurt tourism and maybe blunt emerging markets in Cuba for Northwest speciality agricultural products such as hazelnuts, wine and craft beer.

Obama-era relaxation of travel restrictions to Cuba has been greeted with a flood of tourists to Havana, including on flights from the Northwest on Seattle-based Alaska Airlines. Restoring trade and travel restrictions could hurt tourism and maybe blunt emerging markets in Cuba for Northwest speciality agricultural products such as hazelnuts, wine and craft beer.

President Trump heads to Miami later this week to announce he is restoring restrictions on travel and trade with Cuba. The move will please anti-Castro Cuban emigres who live in South Florida, but what does it mean for everybody else, including people who live in Washington and Oregon? Apparently a lot more than Cuban cigars and rum.

First off, reversing Obama-era relaxation of Cuban travel and trade restrictions doesn’t appear to be broadly popular throughout the country. Morning Consult, a DC-based non-partisan survey research firm, released fresh public opinion polling results this week showing 65 percent of American voters – and six in 10 Republican voters – favor continuing engagement with Cuba.

A group called Engage Cuba, which commissioned the poll, also released a report earlier this month that claims restoring some or all pre-Obama Cuban trade and travel restrictions could cost the US economy $6.6 billion and affect more than 12,000 American jobs. It also could make it harder for Cuban-Americans to visit relatives in Cuba

Last year, Miguel Fraga, first secretary of the Embassy of Cuba, visited Seattle and said loosened restrictions would make it easier for Americans to visit Cuba. In step with what has been a sharp rise in US tourism in Cuba, Seattle-based Alaska Airlines was among seven US air carriers to apply for rights to fly to Havana. The airline made its inaugural flight – the first from the West Coast – on January 5 starting in Seattle and flying to Havana from Los Angeles. Alaska also has a connecting flight out of Portland.

Earlier this year, Bruce Pokarney of the Oregon Department of Agriculture pointed to Cuba as a potential new market for Oregon specialty products such as hazelnuts, wine, craft beer, blueberries, apples pears, cherries and beef. The Salem Statesman Journal pointed out up to 80 percent of the food consumed by Cubans is imported. Before trade restrictions were relaxed by President Obama, the United States were already the leading agricultural products exporter to Cuba, with $300 million in exports in 2014 and $658 million in 2008.

The European Union and Canada are the largest exporters of wheat to Cuba. The United States has not shipped any wheat to Cuba since 2011, according to the Statesman-Journal.

“Obviously our top market is Asia,” Pokarney told the Statesman-Journal. “But we are always open to looking at new markets. It’s a situation where we want to maintain existing markets and find new ones.”

While foreign policy experts note Cuba has not pardoned political prisoners, permitted labor unions or condoned political activities, trade experts contend the 50-year-old US trade embargo of Cuba has proven ineffective in influencing Cuba’s human rights policies. Trade experts also say small American businesses are likely to be the biggest beneficiaries of more open trade with Cuba, which could boost exports in specialty products by more than $1 billion per year.

The rationale for maintaining or restoring a trade embargo and travel restrictions has more to do with politics, since Cuba long ago ceased to be a national security risk to the United States. A bipartisan majority of Americans seem to think it is a good idea to turn the page and re-engage with a nearby Caribbean neighbor. From the looks of Facebook posts of Washingtonians and Oregonians who have taken selfies while in Havana, it seems like the Northwest shares that view – and could share in some of the economic rewards of expanding engagement.
 

Senate to Tackle Health Care Amid Policy Chaos

Senate Republicans want to vote on their version of an Obamacare replacement by the end of July amid a chaotic legislative landscape with tax, infrastructure, budget and debt ceiling measures hanging in limbo in the shadow of investigations into Russian election meddling and possible charges of obstruction of justice.

Senate Republicans want to vote on their version of an Obamacare replacement by the end of July amid a chaotic legislative landscape with tax, infrastructure, budget and debt ceiling measures hanging in limbo in the shadow of investigations into Russian election meddling and possible charges of obstruction of justice.

The Trump administration plans to send a more detailed version of its infrastructure package to Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans want to vote on a health care bill by the August recess and a politically contentious vote looms on raising the debt ceiling.

In the background are ongoing efforts to craft tax legislation and assemble a Fiscal Year 2018 budget, while Congress awaits a Supreme Court decision on the modified Trump travel ban and manages around the shoes-keep-dropping Russian election meddling investigation. There also is continuing fallout from Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accords and his tweet fight with the Muslim mayor of London following a terrorist attack.

You can’t say nothing is going in the nation’s capital, but you can understand why little is getting done. Depending on your viewpoint, Capitol Hill is a target-rich opportunity or ground zero for policy chaos.

The first concrete sense of timing on GOP legislative priorities came this week when Senate Republicans said they would produce their version of an Obamacare replacement by the end of July and vote on it, regardless whether they had the votes to approve it, before the end of July. The announcement came as several senators expressed doubt a GOP consensus plan could be developed that quickly. There were news reports that some Senate Republicans wanted to get the issue off the table once and for all, even if they had to explain to constituents why it failed.

Senators face the same dilemma as their House counterparts in finding a way to prevent health insurance premiums from rising while not lopping off millions of Americans from health insurance. The work group developing the Senate GOP plan is reportedly working with the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office to avoid a politically devastating score like what the House-passed version earned. But they are focused on curbing the cost of premiums, which could mean fewer essential services, less protection for people with chronic diseases or higher subsidies, perhaps funded by reduced Medicaid spending. 

Trump’s team dubbed this as infrastructure week as an attempt to build momentum for Trump’s proposed $1 trillion investment package and give his political base some positive news in the lead-up to former FBI Director James Comey’s much-anticipated testimony later this week. However, that plan was undermined as stories continued to drip about what Comey might say about pressure from the President to put aside the investigation of National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.

The Russian election meddling story didn’t go away either. In her NBC debut, Megyn Kelly interviewed Russian President Vladimir Putin who dropped hints about election-related hacking. There also was a report based on US intelligence sources indicating Russian military cybersecurity tried to infiltrate American voting systems.

The White House made news by appealing to the US Supreme Court to uphold travel restrictions on six mostly Muslim countries, followed by a series of tweets by Trump who insisted on calling the restrictions a travel ban. Opponents of the travel ban will file their briefs by Monday, which means there could be a decision any time after that. Some of Trump’s own legal team worried his tweets could undercut their arguments before the high court.

The infrastructure plan to be released may face additional complications because of Trump’s proposal to separate and privatize the US air traffic control system, an idea that doesn’t appear to enjoy uniform support among congressional Republicans, especially ones representing rural communities who fear the loss of air traffic control for their small airports.

There is no apparent action on a tax plan, despite the President’s tweet that it is moving along ahead of schedule, because no tax legislation has been submitted by the Trump administration. That is more or less true on the FY 2018 budget, too.

Lost in the shuffle is the vote to raise the federal debt ceiling, which Trump’s Treasury officials say must occur before the August recess. House and Senate GOP leaders generally agree on the importance of raising the debt limit, which was breached in March, but they need Democratic votes to pass it. Delaying the debt ceiling vote has given Democrats more bargaining chips and more leverage, at least in the short term.

Summers in DC are always hot and muggy outside. They may not be much cooler inside.

GOP Gets Breathing Room to Pursue Priorities

The appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to lead the Russian meddling  investigation has given GOP congressional leaders breathing room to work on their stalled legislative priorities that reflect campaign promises.

The appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller to lead the Russian meddling  investigation has given GOP congressional leaders breathing room to work on their stalled legislative priorities that reflect campaign promises.

The appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller as special counsel in the ongoing Russian meddling probe may be bad news for President Trump and his associates, but good news for congressional Republicans. It could give them the political space to tackle their major legislative priorities before congressmen head home for an August recess.

And the agenda is daunting – replacing Obamacare, a major tax cut, progress on the Fiscal Year 2018 federal budget, an infrastructure package and passage of a debt ceiling increase.

The drip, drip of news revelations about the Trump’s team entanglements with Russians has distracted the White House and seemingly delayed any substantive tax proposal. The House narrowly passed an Obamacare replacement bill, with Trump’s support, but that legislation has bogged down in the Senate. The Trump FY 2018 budget proposal was pronounced dead on arrival on Capitol Hill, at least in part for what critics call a $2 trillion math error on how to pay for a major tax cut.

GOP congressional leaders felt under the gun to intensify committee probes into Trump’s Russian connections, until the Department of Justice appointed Mueller to lead the criminal investigation. Many Hill Republicans are hopeful that, with the investigative burden shifting from Congress to Mueller, they can focus less on the scandal and more on addressing their list of looming deadlines and campaign promises – a long list that Congress has made little headway on achieving.

However, the breathing space they now have still may not be enough time to pass their legislative agenda.

Senate leadership staff huddles this week to begin drafting from scratch a new alternative to the House-passed American Health Care Act (AHCA). The Senate has the benefit of the Congressional Budget Office score, which estimates 23 million people would lose health insurance over the next decade. New public opinion polls indicate Obamacare is more popular than the AHCA. Even if they are successful, it make take time to ensure all the details fit together.
 
On the other side of Capitol Hill, House appropriators are trying to figure out how to keep the government’s doors open when the new fiscal year begins October 1. Delayed action on fiscal 2017 spending, combined with the GOP’s decision to start with a health care overhaul, has put Congress months behind schedule on appropriations for FY 2018.

House appropriators are weighing an ambitious plan to pass a 12-bill omnibus appropriations package ahead of the August recess.  Given the very late start, appropriators would need to mark up their respective bills at a record pace to bring a full package to the floor before July 31. Even if they can pull off this monumental task, they will face an even bigger political hurdle garnering the necessary Democratic votes in the Senate.

Democrats retain some leverage in both the House and Senate in regard to passing a debt ceiling increase, which GOP conservatives won’t support, even though failure to raise the debt ceiling could result in US default on loans. How much leverage Democrats have and what they will use it for remains unknown.

Hope of passing tax and infrastructure legislation before August is dim, but getting a health care bill and an FY 2018 budget approved but the August recess would improve odds for addressing those issues by the end of the year.

While Mueller’s appointment gives breathing room to GOP lawmakers to work on their priorities, success is still tied to Trump and his ability to focus on advancing legislation without more self-inflicted controversy, such as his unsolicited comment about spending more on health care even though the AHCA, which he supported, would spend less.

Michael Skipper is CFM’s Federal Affairs Associate. Before joining the team in Washington, D.C., Michael worked on state affairs in Oregon, where he also studied political science and environmental policy at OSU. In his free time, Michael enjoys traveling, reading and spending time with friends and family. You can reach him at michaels@cfmpdx.com

 

 

Garrett, who will be CFM’s Manager, Federal Affairs, can be reached at his CFM email address: kirbyg@cfmdc.com.

Trump Budget Slashes into Social Safety Net

 Oregon could be one of the hardest hit states under the Trump administration budget proposal that cuts the food stamp program by $193 billion or 29 percent.

 Oregon could be one of the hardest hit states under the Trump administration budget proposal that cuts the food stamp program by $193 billion or 29 percent.

With the President across the ocean, the Trump Administration released its long-awaited FY 2018 budget blueprint, which seeks to bring the federal government back into the black by 2027, primarily by slashing domestic programs and relying on future economic growth generated from across-the-board tax cuts.

As with most presidential budget submissions, this one is mostly dead on arrival. Congressional leaders on both sides of the political aisle panned much of the proposal and are expected to push back against many of the more egregious spending cuts.

Here is a breakdown of the 1,288-page, $4.094 trillion budget, which has some good provisions, a lot bad ones and a fair amount of deception.

FY18 Budget - The Good

Infrastructure Proposal
Trump proposes a $1 trillion infrastructure plan with $200 billion of actual government spending over 10 years. Unfortunately, the proposal remains short on details, but we expect the funds to be available for a wide range of projects, including transportation, broadband, housing and veterans affairs. Here is what the Administration has to say about the Infrastructure Package:

“The President’s target of $1 trillion in infrastructure investment will be funded through a combination of new Federal funding, incentivized non-Federal funding and newly prioritized and expedited projects. While this Administration proposes additional funding for infrastructure, we will structure that funding to incentivize additional non-Federal funding, reduce the cost associated with accepting Federal dollars and ensure Federal funds are leveraged such that the end result is at least $1 trillion in total infrastructure spending. While we will continue to work with the Congress, states, tribes, localities, and other infrastructure stakeholders to finalize the suite of Federal programs that will support this effort, the 2018 Budget includes $200 billion in outlays related to the infrastructure initiative.”

FAST Act Levels… For the Most Part
The budget generally funds all highway and transit programs at FAST Act funding levels. This ensures full funding of a host of programs that directly benefit municipal governments and transit agencies. However, the New Starts Program was limited to projects already in the queue and thus the Administration is suggesting they do not want to fund any new commuter rail or bus rapid transit projects. Fortunately, Congress will likely restore these funds.

Clean Water Infrastructure Maintained
The budget seeks to fulfill Trump’s promise to promote clean water and build water infrastructure, including in communities like Flint, Michigan. The Administration resisted the impulse to cut this program and proposes $2.3 billion for the State Revolving Funds, a slight increase of $4 million from 2017. Trump also provides $20 million for the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act program.

COPS Hiring Bumped Up and AFG Maintained
Two popular public safety grant programs are protected in the budget. DOJ’s COPS Hiring Program would be increased to $207 million while Assistance to Firefighter and SAFER grants would be funded at roughly FY 17’s level. 

Senator Ron Wyden summed up his reaction to the Trump administration budget by tossing it into a wastebasket and posting a picture on his Twitter feed.

Senator Ron Wyden summed up his reaction to the Trump administration budget by tossing it into a wastebasket and posting a picture on his Twitter feed.

Tax Cuts for Everyone
For those of us that like ice cream with no calories, this one is for you. The Trump Administration includes approximately $3.6 trillion in tax cuts for individuals and corporations. This would be the largest tax cut in US history. 

FY18 Budget – The Bad

Military Spending
The Trump Administration stayed true to its campaign rhetoric and proposed increasing DOD’s budget by $54 billion in 2018. Unfortunately, this increase will be offset dollar-for-dollar by domestic program cuts, so it’s good or bad depending on your point of view.

Important Programs for Municipalities Eliminated
Staying true to the March budget outline, the full budget eliminates the TIGER program, CDBG, HOME, EDA, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and Institute of Museum and Library Services. It also zeroes out the $150 million Essential Air Service that subsidizes commercial flights to rural airports and New Starts grants that fund new transit programs.

Entitlement Cuts
Funding for Medicaid, the health-care program for low-income Americans, and Children’s Health Insurance (CHIP) would be cut even more than the $880 billion over 10 years contained in the House-passed American Health Care Act. Funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a modern version of food stamps that provided benefits to 44 million people in 2016, would be cut by 29 percent. The Administration also cuts $72 billion from the Social Security Disability Insurance program.

Sanctuary Cities Expanded
The budget includes a legislative change that would significantly broaden the definition of sanctuary cities, threatening more jurisdictions with prospect of noncompliance.

Unhealthy Decisions
Trump’s budget would slash the National Institutes of Health’s funding by nearly $6 billion, a nearly 20 percent reduction.  

School Choice Comes at a Price
In an effort to reduce the government’s role in public education, the Trump budget sends an extra $1.4 billion to the school choice program. However, the budget also places dozens of schools programs on the chopping block, including 21st Century Community Learning Centers, after-school and summer learning programs.

Rural Areas Cut
Trump eliminates the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, the water and wastewater direct loan and grant program and the single family housing direct loan program.

Selling Transmission Assets
While it’s short on details, the budget includes a proposal that would authorize the federal government to sell off publicly owned transmission assets operated by the Bonneville Power Administration.

EPA Targeted More than Most
The White House allocated just $5.7 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency, slashing its budget by $2.4 billion compared to FY 17. The move calls for the elimination of several EPA grant programs, including programs aimed at slowing climate change and cleaning up contaminated sites. On Page 164 of the EPA budget proposal, Trump’s team sliced into the budget to clean up Puget Sound. There didn’t seem to be any mention in the budget proposal of the Portland Harbor cleanup.

FY18 Budget – The Deceptive

The Trump Administration relies on some rosy forecasts to cut taxes and balance the budget in 10 years. According to the Committee for a Responsible Budget:

“In constructing its budget numbers, the President’s budget uses much more favorable economic growth assumptions than CBO, projecting average real growth of 2.9 percent over 10 years compared to 1.8 percent in CBO’s projection. Part of this is due to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) assuming higher baseline growth of 2.2 percent, while the rest comes from the budget’s effects on growth.

OMB often assumes faster growth than CBO, in part because its growth estimates are inclusive of the President’s presumably pro-growth policies. Yet in the past two decades, OMB’s growth estimates have averaged just 0.2 points above CBO’s, with the largest difference being 0.4 points. The 1.1 percentage point difference between this budget and CBO is an outlier. Higher growth rates lead the budget to show much lower debt levels than would otherwise be the case, mainly due to higher projected tax revenue. Higher growth also means a larger economy and therefore lower debt and deficits as a share of GDP. OMB estimates nominal GDP will be 11 percent higher by 2027 than what CBO estimates.

In large part due to this growth, OMB projects debt under the President’s budget to fall from 77 percent of GDP ($14.2 trillion) today to below 60 percent of GDP ($18.6 trillion) by 2027. By comparison, our rough estimates suggest debt would total 76 percent of GDP ($21.3 trillion) using CBO’s economic assumptions. In other words, debt would be 16 percent of GDP and $2.7 trillion higher using CBO’s economic projections than it would be under OMB’s.”

Michael Skipper, Federal Affairs Associate, brings valuable Pacific Northwest-focused policy and political experience to CFM’s Washington, D.C., office. 

Comments Express Discontent with Environmental Rollbacks

EPA request for comments on what environmental regulations should be repealed or replaced draw thousands of responses from average Americans who said regulations are vital to preserve clean air, clean water and valuable wetlands.

EPA request for comments on what environmental regulations should be repealed or replaced draw thousands of responses from average Americans who said regulations are vital to preserve clean air, clean water and valuable wetlands.

Amid the chaos and turmoil swirling around the Trump White House, one policy direction is clear and moving forward – environmental regulations dealing with carbon emissions are on the chopping block. While industry lobbyists may be smiling, a lot of everyday Americans aren’t.

The Washington Post reports the Environmental Protection Agency received more than 55,000 comments in response to its request to identify regulations, pursuant to a Trump executive order,  that should be repealed, replaced or modified to lessen their impact on jobs or job creation. A common theme in many comments was a plea not to undo environmental safeguards that have reduced pollution.

The Post highlighted comments from two responders who stressed the importance of learning from history:

“Know your history or you’ll be doomed to repeat it,” one person wrote. “Environmental regulations came about for a reason. There is scientific reasoning behind the need for it. It is not a conspiracy to harm corporations. It’s an attempt to make the people’s lives better.”

“Have we failed to learn from history, and forgotten the harm done to our air, water, and wetlands?” wrote Karen Sonnessa from New York. “If anything, regulations need to be more stringent. I remember the days of smog, pollution, and rivers spontaneously combusting. EPA is for the people.”

Others cited moral reasons to retain environmental regulations, some resorted to expressing their views in all caps and one man repeated the word “No” 1,165 times.

EPA got a similar earful, the Post reports, when it held a 3-hour listening session.

There was some measure of support for relaxing or altering regulations. A Washington paper mill operator said his plant may fail financially because of rules that lower the amount of chemicals he can discharge into a river. A municipal water plant manager asked EPA to accept electronic reports instead of insisting on faxes. Trade associations pitched ideas on how to modify rules that would work better for their constituent members.

However, according to the Post report, the vast majority of comments inveighed against weakening environmental protections. Comments by Jeff Baker, a Huntsville investment strategist, may have captured the majority’s viewpoint:

“I’m well aware that excessive regulation can impose an undue burden on businesses both small and large. However, what is less discussed these days are the economic and societal costs already avoided and prevented by current rules. I implore you, as defenders of our nation’s health and security, to avoid shortsighted steps that might create prosperity for a few in the short term, at the expense of the many in the long term. The importance of clean air and water supplies, and of sustainable sources of energy and industrial raw materials, cannot be overemphasized. These things are not, as many would claim, in conflict with mankind’s economic prosperity, quality of life and freedom; rather, they are critically important to them, nd integrally tied to them over a long enough timeline.”

The comments now will be handed over to a task force, assigned to give a progress report to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who has led the call for relaxing environmental regulations, often at the instigation of industry groups. Under Pruitt, and presumably at Trump’s direction, EPA website information about climate change has been removed and the agency has dismissed half of its scientific board advisers.

The Skinny on that Thick Omnibus Spending Bill

 President Trump signed a $1 trillion omnibus spending bill Congress passed to avert a federal government shutdown last Friday, even though he was upset it failed to include money for his long-promised border wall.

 President Trump signed a $1 trillion omnibus spending bill Congress passed to avert a federal government shutdown last Friday, even though he was upset it failed to include money for his long-promised border wall.

Congress averted a federal government shutdown last week by approving an omnibus $1.07 trillion appropriation for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2017, but many of its details were buried by news coverage of the high-profile House vote on its measure to replace Obamacare.

Perhaps the most notable detail is that the omnibus bill covered spending in 11 unfinished federal appropriation measures and provides fresh spending instructions for nearly every corner of the federal government.

What captured headlines was the absence of Trump administration priorities such as money to begin construction of his much ballyhooed border wall and deep cuts in the Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health and State Department. The price congressional Republicans paid to get Democratic votes for the omnibus spending bill was to ax Trump’s priorities.

Democratic leaders touted the agreement as a victory, claiming they blocked 160 “poison pill” Republican policy riders and stymied many of Trump’s priorities, especially the border wall. Republicans hailed the increases in defense spending and border security as highlights of the package. One DC cynic said happiest people with the omnibus bill were federal workers who were able to stay on the job.

The mammoth measure contains many significant spending decisions. Here are some highlights of the bill:

  • Appropriators flatly rejected $18 billion in cuts to domestic discretionary programs proposed by the Administration but does provide an extra $15 billion for defense spending – half of what Trump requested. 
  • The deal includes an extra $1.5 billion to enhance border security, but there is no money to begin construction of Trump's wall along the Mexican border.
  • Increased funding for the National Institutes of Health by $2 billion, a 6.2 percent increase from current levels.
  • A permanent fix for a depleted health fund needed by thousands of retired coal miners.
  • Puerto Rico’s troubled Medicaid program shored up with an extra $295 million.
  • $2 billion in disaster relief for California, West Virginia, Louisiana and North Carolina.
  • An extra $407 million to combat wildfires.
  • $100 million to combat opioid abuse.
  • Federal funding for Planned Parenthood was preserved.
  • $68 million to reimburse local law enforcement agencies for the costs of protecting Trump and his family, predominantly in Manhattan.

In his signing statement, Trump highlighted additional items of which he disapproved, such as restricting the transfer of prisoners from the Guantanamo Bay prison camp, preventing enforcement of federal marijuana laws and requiring advance notice to Congress before he can take certain military actions. 

The omnibus spending bill could easily be portrayed as a loss for Trump, which may have contributed to the decision of House GOP leaders to press forward on a vote on their health care legislation, despite a lack of hearings or scoring by the Congressional Budget Office. Trump and GOP House members took what the media called a “victory lap” at the White House immediately after the narrow vote to approve the measure, which now moves to the Senate and an uncertain fate.

Also looming on the horizon is a vote to raise the debt ceiling and decisions on the Fiscal Year 2018 budget. FY 2018 begins October 1, which gives lawmakers just 4 1/2  months to wrestle with many of the same issues that stalled approval on the FY 2017 spending bill.

Leaders of both parties have pledged to get the appropriations process back to order in FY18, but the prospects of that are unlikely at best. Trump has yet to submit a full FY18 budget request, and it will be difficult to begin drafting spending bills until Congress agrees on a top-line spending limit for both defense and nondefense spending.

A 2011 deficit-cutting law requires limiting spending to $1.065 trillion, or $5 billion less than this year’s authorized limit. Exceeding that amount would require another bipartisan budget deal to set a higher limit – as Congress has done twice over the last four years, but no such talks have begun.

To make matters more difficult, Congress will have to tackle three important programs set to expire at the end of September: FAA law, federal flood insurance and a children's health insurance initiative. Congress may have to adopt short-term fixes to keep all three running. A number of smaller provisions are set to expire, too, including Coast Guard laws and some Medicare and FDA programs.

And then there is out-of-left-field tweet by Trump about a “good shutdown” this fall, which was mostly likely aimed at Democrats, but may only serve to stiffen their resolve in blocking his spending wishes.

The bottom line: Look for another short-term continuing resolution to keep the government open past September and into the new fiscal year.

Government Shutdown Looms as Congress Returns from Break

Congress returns next week from its Easter break and will face an April 29 deadline to extend federal discretionary budget authority and avert a federal government shutdown, which could occur coincidentally on the 100th day of the Trump presidency. Photo Credit: AP

Congress returns next week from its Easter break and will face an April 29 deadline to extend federal discretionary budget authority and avert a federal government shutdown, which could occur coincidentally on the 100th day of the Trump presidency.

Photo Credit: AP

Discretionary federal budget authority expires at the end of April, and the GOP-controlled Congress will have just a few days to extend it when lawmakers return from their Easter recess to avoid a government shutdown. While daunting, what lies on the horizon is no less overwhelming. Congress and President Trump also need to start work on the FY18 budget and raise the debt ceiling. 

Complicating the situation, the White House says it wants the House to vote next week on a brokered version of Obamacare repeal-and-replace legislation. Released today, the compromise would allow states to waive portions of the essential health benefits included in Obamacare if the waiver reduced premiums and expanded health insurance participation.

The federal budget consumes volumes, but this diagram sums up the major spending pieces.

The federal budget consumes volumes, but this diagram sums up the major spending pieces.

It’s possible a week-long continuing resolution could buy more time, but bipartisan compromise will be required at some point to push through what will likely be an omnibus spending bill for the rest of FY17. Earning Democratic support in the Senate is paramount to success, but easier said than done.
 
Trump threatening to take executive action to withhold subsidies for Obamacare individual market enrollees “to bring Democrats to the table” exasperated the minority party members as they began to dig their feet in the sand for a fiscal fight. The White House’s recent request to slash $18 billion in spending for the remainder of FY17, while increasing spending on defense and a border wall, further alienated Democrats, and a few Republicans, too. Some Republican appropriators view President Trump’s FY17 requests as too late, given that FY17 efforts began last year and the fiscal year is almost half over.
 
So far, Trump budget-writers have only released top-line descriptions of the President’s proposed budget for FY18. The 53-page “skinny” budget proposal leaves out a lot of detail that congressional appropriators need to consider before approving agency budgets. Administration officials say more details won’t come until next month. Meanwhile, agency heads haven’t been allowed to testify on Capitol Hill in any greater detail than the skimpy summary descriptions.
 
Many of Trump's proposals that exact deep cuts or zero out some programs have been dismissed as unrealistic by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Republicans are already feeling heat back home over the failed attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare and Trump’s continued refusal to release his income tax returns. Special elections in Kansas and Georgia show potentially surging Democratic support in the face of waning voter confidence in Trump,
 
Further complicating FY18 talks will be raising the $19.9 trillion debt ceiling that was reached in mid-March. The Department of Treasury is expected to have enough tools at its disposal to maintain borrowing capacity until at least September, but Congress will need to act before then to prevent a default. Several lawmakers in the past, including the current Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, have used looming debt ceiling deadlines as bargaining chips for additional spending cuts. 
 
Both the FY18 budget and the debt ceiling, however, will be put on the backburner next week while Congress finds a way to keep the government’s doors open through September. This will require the support of at least eight Senate Democrats and may need to proceed without the full support of the House GOP caucus. Highly conservative Republicans in the House remain committed to seeing their budget-slashing priorities enacted. In the Senate, 60 votes will be required to advance spending bills. Republicans only hold 52 seats.
 
News about the shelling of a Syrian air base, a mammoth bombing in Afghanistan and a stare-down with North Korea have drowned out whatever discussion is occurring in Washington, DC about the budget resolution and debt ceiling. That should change when Congress gets back to town and faces a short deadline to act on a budget extension.
 
The current budget resolution expires April 29, which is coincidentally the 100th day of the Trump presidency – a milestone that would not be best marked with a federal government shutdown.
 

Infrastructure Plan on Faster Track, But Hurdles Persist

The Trump administration, still smarting over the failure of Obamacare repeal, wants to speed up congressional action on a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. It may be as complicated as heath care.

The Trump administration, still smarting over the failure of Obamacare repeal, wants to speed up congressional action on a $1 trillion infrastructure plan. It may be as complicated as heath care.

Still smarting from the failure of Obamacare repeal, the Trump administration is accelerating its effort to produce an infrastructure bill that could win congressional approval with bipartisan support. But like health care, funding improvements for roads, bridges and transit is complicated.
 
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the Trump infrastructure plan could be unveiled as early as May, much earlier than the original White House timeline of later this fall and some even predicted a package wouldn’t be acted upon until next year.
 
In his campaign, Trump touted a $1 trillion billion infrastructure plan, which critics panned for relying heavily on tax credits to private-sector developers instead of direct federal spending. Now Trump officials are suggesting the package could be larger and contain as much as $300 billion in direct spending. They also hint regulations could be loosened to stretch construction dollars and shorten the time it takes to turn dirt.
 
Public-Private Partnerships, referred to as P3s, work best with highways or bridges with lots of traffic and no realistic alternate routes that can turn profits from tolls. Trump has said the plan would favor road and bridge projects that could start within 90 days, which gives preference to projects already in the pipeline.
 
Tolling is rare in the Pacific Northwest, but not unknown as a way to pay for bridges. The Oregon Department of Transportation has already started to lay groundwork to allow toll facilities.
 
Generally, P3s aren’t realistic for public transportation projects because transit agencies aren’t big profit centers. To their credit, Trump officials are looking for creative financing and streamlining ideas to include in the Administration’s infrastructure package.These options could even benefit transit projects, but it’s too early to tell how creative the Trump administration will get.
 
The overriding complication is how to fund the program. One idea floated by Trump’s team is to lower the 35 percent corporate tax rate to encourage repatriation of an estimated $2.5 trillion in overseas profits. At a 10 percent tax rate, that inflow of cash could generate up to $250 billion in federal tax revenue, which Trump would dedicate to infrastructure funding.
 
That concept isn't popular in the House or Senate tax-writing committees, whose leaders see taxes on repatriated profits as a way to fund a broad overhaul of the federal tax system.
 
The most obvious way to raise money for roads and bridges is to raise the federal gas tax, but congressional Republicans tend to view that as a political third rail.
 
Another complication the Trump Administration is mulling what should be included in the infrastructure package in addition to roads and bridges. Last week, Housing Secretary Ben Carson said housing would be included. Other Cabinet members have indicated water and sewer infrastructure, broadband deployment, electricity grid modernization, Veterans Administration hospitals and airport improvements could be in the mix. Ironically, many of the same programs that could be awash with cash in an infrastructure plan are at the same time being zeroed out or significantly reduced in Trump’s proposed FY 2018 budget.

To earn Democratic votes, Trump and congressional Republicans may need to live with labor protections on projects included in the plan
 
Public works projects generate jobs and goose the construction industry and their supply chains. They also provide distributed economic benefits throughout the country. The appetite for an infrastructure plan is strong, broad and bipartisan, but getting to the end of the road requires negotiating a lot of sharp curves and deep political potholes. It will be complicated.

Big Decisions Pose Big Dilemmas for GOP Leaders

 Unless Congress approves a budget bill, the federal government’s non-essential functions will shut down April 28. Congress also needs to raise the national debt ceiling, which was reached in mid-March. Passing both may require GOP congressional leaders to spurn their own conservative members, rebuff President Trump’s budget requests, including for a border wall, and cut deals with Democrats.

 Unless Congress approves a budget bill, the federal government’s non-essential functions will shut down April 28. Congress also needs to raise the national debt ceiling, which was reached in mid-March. Passing both may require GOP congressional leaders to spurn their own conservative members, rebuff President Trump’s budget requests, including for a border wall, and cut deals with Democrats.

The federal government has never shut down over a budget battle while one party controlled the White House, House, and Senate. With funding for the government set to expire April 28, President Trump and GOP leaders in Congress face a looming deadline – and big political decisions – to avoid making the wrong kind of history.

Legislation to keep open the government’s doors follows on the heels of the failure in the House to repeal and replace Obamacare because of defections from the conservative House Freedom Caucus. There is no guarantee House conservatives won't balk at voting for a government spending bill, which would force GOP leaders to turn to Democrats for the votes to win passage.

The federal government also reached its $19.9 trillion debt ceiling March 16, which has forced US Treasury officials to engage in makeshift money maneuvers. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has urged Congress to raise the debt ceiling as soon as possible. Conservative political defections are even more likely on this legislation.

There is no way to hide the GOP political rift that hinders the party's ability to move major legislation despite controlling both houses. Trump may have aggravated the rift by politically threatening Freedom Caucus members who refused to vote for the American Health Care Act.

Relations between Democrats and Republicans aren’t exactly cozy, either. Trump has Democrats for a “witch hunt” on his and his team’s potential ties to Russian interests that sought to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. Democrats universally dislike Trump’s budget outline that calls for deep cuts in a wide range of discretionary federal spending while beefing up the Pentagon budget and paying for Trump’s border wall.

Senate Democrats are lining up to filibuster the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, with the backing of Trump, has threatened to change Senate rules to allow a simple majority up or down vote on Grouch’s nomination, which could sour any bipartisan negotiations on budget reconciliation or the debt ceiling. Left-leaning Democrats are spoiling for a showdown to demonstrate Republicans hold the levers of power, but have no consensus on how to use them.

Senate leaders are working on an omnibus spending bill to fund government through the end of September and could be voted on by April 24. But this is the kind of take-it-or-leave-it measure House conservatives hate and are unlikely to support.

Senate Republicans also have to juggle Trump’s last-minute request for supplemental funding, with $3 billion for additional border security, including $1.5 billion to start construction of the border wall. Trump also wants $30 billion for defense programs and proposed partially offsetting those increases with $18 billion in cuts to popular domestic programs. This would be toxic to gaining Democratic support for an omnibus spending bill.

That puts Republicans in the political bind of rebuffing their President and appealing to enough Democrats in the Senate and House to prevent a government shutdown or acceding to Trump’s request and letting the chips fall where they may. The latter strategy would allow Trump and GOP congressional leaders to blame Democrats for the shutdown, but that could seem lame for a party in control of government.

Congressional Republicans may choose to work with Democrats, ignore Trump’s budget requests and let Trump rail at Democrats, recognizing that a political dust-up over the budget could make approval of a debt ceiling increase even more politically challenging. Signs that GOP leaders will look to Democrats include House Speaker Paul Ryan’s statement that defunding of Planned Parenthood would not be part of a budget bill.

The debt ceiling bill raises other big-ticket policy questions, such as a major tax cut and a $1 trillion infrastructure package Trump has pushed. Democrats have political reasons to find middle ground on both tax and infrastructure measures, but they are unlikely to support what Trump wants, which means GOP leaders might be forced to choose between Trump and the Democratic support they need to raise the debt ceiling. 

All this is occurring while pressure is intensifying to get to the bottom of Trump’s Russian connections amid daily drips that raise more suspicions and contribute to declining favorability ratings for Trump himself.

On the political campaign stump, Trump bragged about his deal-making ability. The political dynamics converging on Capitol Hill on budget, debt ceiling, taxation, infrastructure spending and even a Supreme Court nominee could mean big decisions will be made in a room while Trump is left cooling his heels in the hallway.
 

After Health Plan Failure, Tax Reform Next Up

Expectations are high, especially in corporate board rooms and on Wall Street, for Trump-backed tax cuts, but it’s not clear where he gets the votes for his plan that promises to benefit the well off while ballooning the deficit.

Expectations are high, especially in corporate board rooms and on Wall Street, for Trump-backed tax cuts, but it’s not clear where he gets the votes for his plan that promises to benefit the well off while ballooning the deficit.

Tax reform appears to be next up in Congress following the failed repeal of Obamacare, but messing with taxation promises to be highly more complex and politically complicated.

Congressional Republicans appear to be in the middle of a civil war and corporate America seems restive after their expectations of a tax bonanza fueled a Wall Street run-up since the 2016 election of Donald Trump.

Some insiders in the President Trump camp wish Republicans had tackled tax reform before health care, but that’s easy to say before a tax reform bill is hatched. In health care, you can pretty much identify the teams. When it comes to tax reform, it’s pretty much every man for himself.

The GOP’s American Health Care Act languished because it threatened to cast millions of Americans into the uninsured pool, while dooming state budgets in red and blue states because of steep Medicaid cuts. The battle lines for tax reform are more nuanced and personal. Everybody expects a slice of the tax cut, and that’s hard to deliver.

Add to that the procedural hurdles Congress must navigate to cut taxes while not adding to the deficit, otherwise facing a tax reform-killing Senate filibuster. The Trump tax reform plan, as sketched during the presidential campaign, would reportedly add trillions of dollars to the federal deficit, something even more conservative GOP members of Congress may oppose. One idea to offset the deficit from tax cuts is imposed a border adjustment tax, which would essentially transfer a tax cut to consumers buying imported products.

If the AHCA could be scuttled by a thousand local news stories of people in distress losing their health insurance, imagine what can be written in local newspapers about the plight of average joes eking out a living while the 1 percent gets a huge tax break. It doesn’t conform to the populist narrative, or the American sense of fair play. Cutting the federal government down to size should benefit little guys, not just the big guys.

This storyline was a subplot of the Obamacare repeal story, though it never got the biggest media play. But $1.2 trillion in federal spending on health care minus $880 billion in tax cuts to wealthier Americans equals only a $339 billion deficit reduction over 10 years just didn’t light many fires. Put that same equation forward in tax reform and you just might get a political explosion.

Few disputed the need to make changes to the Affordable Care Act, just as there could be broad agreement on some tax changes. But the Trump administration and congressional Republicans haven’t teed up either topic as a bipartisan exercise. After the flameout on the AHCA, Democrats have less political incentive to team up with Republicans on any major legislation that could become a wedge issue in the 2018 mid-term elections.

Despite the obstacles, Republicans may be able to ram through a major tax cut on grounds it will stimulate economic growth. But the spending cuts that may coincide with a deficit-raising tax cut could put a damper on state and local spending, creating a drag on that economic growth. And the Federal Reserve, already convinced that the economy is running a near full bore, may try to put on the brakes by raising interest rates in the name of preventing inflation. All that could diminish whatever stimulative effect tax cuts might have.

The first 100 days of a presidency goes by a blink of the eye. April 29 will mark the 100th day of the Trump presidency, and it is now only a mere month away. There is little reason to expect in the next month the Russian interference in the US election investigation will conclude, Trump’s approval rating will suddenly surge or the AHCA fiasco will be forgotten. 

Tax reform may look like the next shining sea to conquer, but may instead only be yet another political mirage.

EPA Funding Cuts To Have Concrete Effects in Oregon

Deep EPA funding cuts proposed by the Trump administration could have concrete effects in Oregon, such as slowing progress on the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup, reducing already thin air monitoring and impacting Oregon State University research on climate change.

Deep EPA funding cuts proposed by the Trump administration could have concrete effects in Oregon, such as slowing progress on the Portland Harbor Superfund cleanup, reducing already thin air monitoring and impacting Oregon State University research on climate change.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality provided a very concrete look at the local effect of President Trump’s proposed 31 percent cut in spending for the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

In an internal report obtained by Oregon Public Broadcasting, DEQ analysts say the agency may be forced to let go of 14 employees who study and regulate water quality, 11 who monitor air quality and issue air discharge permits and three who oversee handling of hazardous waste.

EPA grants total about $30 million annually and make up 10 percent of DEQ’s budget. DEQ also borrows EPA equipment to monitor air quality.

Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general whom Trump nominated to head EPA, has accused the federal agency of overreach and blamed it for job losses in energy, industrial and agricultural sectors. Pruitt’s fingerprints are on the Trump budget ax for EPA.

If such a severe spending cut in EPA makes it through Congress, the impact may not be felt locally until next year. However, for states such as Oregon that pass 2-year budgets, lawmakers will need to consider whether and how to backfill the anticipated loss of EPA grant dollars. Lawmakers are likely to raise fees for air and water permits to cover at least part of the loss.

DEQ has been under assault for failing to monitor air toxic emissions from Portland glass makers and for lengthy delays in issuing air and water permits. Budget cuts could aggravate both problems. Cutbacks at EPA could complicate and slow down progress on the $1 billion cleanup of the Portland Harbor Superfund site, as well as other Superfund cleanup efforts such as the one near Klamath Falls. Even though cleanups are largely paid for by responsible parties, EPA oversees them.

Governor Brown raised the specter that DEQ staff cutbacks could ultimately hamper Oregon’s ability to meet federal air and water quality mandates.

The full-on assault by Trump’s team against funding for climate change science could harm research efforts at Oregon State University involving carbon sequestration strategies, ocean temperature monitoring and climate change impacts, such as more intensified storms. Apparently Pruitt has ordered that EPA’s website be scrubbed of climate change references and data. Reportedly, DEQ employees downloaded some of the data before it was scrubbed.

Oregon Senate Minority Leader Ted Ferrioli said reduced EPA and DEQ spending could result in relaxed regulations, which would save industry money. The Trump administration has promised to roll back many regulations, but some of his proposed rollbacks require legislative changes that may be difficult to get through the US Senate.

Oregon Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley is leading an effort to block the EPA budget cuts, which he says would “devastate America’s clean air and water.” In his statement, Merkley pointed to cuts that would eliminate the Energy Star program, defund the Clean Power Plan, hobble screening that detects chemical exposures posing harm to human health and drop funding to clean up the Columbia River Basin and Puget Sound.

The dilemma facing DEQ and Oregon budget writers is shared by environmental protection agencies in most other states. The only consolation may be misery likes company.

Medicaid Cuts Will Impact Women’s Reproductive Health

One in five American women of reproductive age are now covered by Medicaid. Increased coverage under the Affordable Care Act of reproductive-age woman has coincided with a drop in rates of abortions and teen pregnancies.

One in five American women of reproductive age are now covered by Medicaid. Increased coverage under the Affordable Care Act of reproductive-age woman has coincided with a drop in rates of abortions and teen pregnancies.

Oregon House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson may have connected the dots that could terminate the viability of the Republican plan in Congress to replace Obamacare for political conservatives who oppose abortion and abhor teen pregnancies.

Oregon House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson says the US House GOP replacement of the Affordable Care Act could knock 13 million American women of reproductive age off of Medicaid.

Oregon House Majority Leader Jennifer Williamson says the US House GOP replacement of the Affordable Care Act could knock 13 million American women of reproductive age off of Medicaid.

Citing statistics from the Guttmacher Institute, Williamson says the uninsured rate for American women of reproductive age dropped by a third from 2013 to 2015. At the same time, the US abortion rate fell to a historic low and teen pregnancy rates reached their lowest level in four decades. She claims there is a connection.

"The repeal of the Affordable Care Act,” Williamson says, "means more than 13 million women of reproductive age on Medicaid are in danger of losing access to family planning services and maternity care.’

"Medicaid is indispensable for ensuring that low-income people have coverage for family planning, pregnancy-related care, STI testing and treatment and other reproductive health services,” writes Adam Sonfield in the Guttmacher Policy Review.

Critics will point out the Guttmacher Institute’s former connection to Planned Parenthood, which is also on the GOP chopping block. According to the Institute’s website, Guttmacher hasn’t received funding from Planned Parenthood since 2010, when it received a contribution of $75,000, which accounted for less than 1 percent of the Institute’s total budget.

The Institute was founded in 1968 as the Center for Family Planning Program Development to address the issue of unplanned and unwanted childbearing in the United States and across the globe. The Center’s mission, which the Institute says it still follows, was to integrate nonpartisan social science research, policy analysis and public education to create “a factual basis for the development of sound governmental policies and for public consideration of the sensitive issues involved in the promotion of reproductive health and rights.”

Just about everything involving reproductive health and rights is sensitive – and politically explosive. Those sensitivities were in full display during the 2016 presidential election as many on the religious right looked the other way on Donald Trump’s moral failings because of his pro-life stances against abortion and promise to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices.

Some may dismiss the Guttmacher findings as merely a cover story to oppose the GOP health plan’s proposed funding cut for Planned Parenthood, but rising levels of health care coverage and declining numbers of abortions and teen pregnancies seem more than purely coincidental.

In its report about Medicaid, Guttmacher makes these points:

  • One out of five women of reproductive age are covered by Medicaid. Almost 50 percent of poor reproductive-age women are under Medicaid. In states such as Oregon and Washington that expanded Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act, the proportion of uninsured reproductive-age women dropped by 45 percent between 2013 and 2015.
  • The expansion of Medicaid has increased access to primary care, expanded use of prescriptions medications and increased rates of diagnosis of chronic conditions for new enrollees.
  • Medicaid accounts for 75 percent of all public dollars spent on family planning in the United States. It is estimated family planning efforts helped avoid nearly 2 million unintended pregnancies in 2014, which prevented thousands of abortions, unplanned births and miscarriages.
  • Under federal law, Medicaid must cover maternity care, including prenatal care, labor and delivery and 60 days of postpartum care. Copayments for pregnancy-related care are strictly limited.
  • Medicaid covered 51 percent of all births in the United States – and 68 percent of unplanned births.
  • Medicaid enables patients to address serious health conditions such as HIVs, STIs and breast and cervical cancer
  • Massive federal spending reductions on Medicaid would shift costs to states and, in all likelihood because of their budget distress, to patients and health care providers – and, ultimately, to private insurance premiums.

Washington, DC is Swirling Dervish of Controversies

Louise Mensch, a former member of the British Parliament who started an American digital outlet aimed at conservative audiences, appears to be the original source of the story that morphed into President Trump’s tweet storm about alleged wiretapping by his predecessor. Photo Credit: Olivia Harris/Reuters

Louise Mensch, a former member of the British Parliament who started an American digital outlet aimed at conservative audiences, appears to be the original source of the story that morphed into President Trump’s tweet storm about alleged wiretapping by his predecessor.

Photo Credit: Olivia Harris/Reuters

It is hard to know which bouncing ball to watch in the nation’s capital – the just released GOP replacement for Obamacare, a new and narrower immigration order signed by President Trump or the tweeter-in-chief’s charge that his predecessor illegally bugged Trump Tower.

And that doesn’t count continuing calls for an investigation – and maybe a special prosecutor – into potential ties between the Trump campaign team and Russian agents, and the recusal of the Attorney General from any role in an investigation because of his own contacts with the Russian ambassador to the United States.

Or rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula as North Korea dispatched five ballistic missiles, four of which landed in the Sea of Japan, to protest annual joint US-South Korean military training exercises. There were news reports that the United States has deployed its Thaad anti-missile defense system in South Korea in response to the missile launches.

Lost in the swirl of charges, counter-charges and conspiracy theories is that just a week ago Trump delivered what a huge swath of Americans viewed as a presidential address to a joint session of Congress. Some observers called it a reset for Trump after his tumultuous first month in office. That may have been a premature judgment.

The Republican Obamacare replacement surfaced from a locked cabinet in the Capitol and drew immediate, expected fire from Democrats – and even from liberal and conservative Republicans. There was even an argument over whether the GOP bill repeals Obamacare or just amends it.

The main features of the bill, which the Trump team says it supports, are eliminating the individual health insurance mandate, replacing subsidies with refundable tax credits, raising the annual contribution limits on health savings accounts and axing taxes on high-income taxpayers. Popular Obamacare provisions remain such as barring pre-existing conditions as a reason to deny insurance coverage and allowing children to stay on a parent’s health plan until they turn age 26.

The most likely Achilles heel of the GOP proposal is what it does – or doesn’t do – to Medicaid. The proposal allows the Medicaid expansion for people just over the poverty line to continue until 2020, then shifts more of the burden and decision-making onto states to pay for health care coverage for lower-income people, families and children. Protests and fiery rhetoric have already begun.

Protestors hit the streets to object to what some refer to as Trump immigration order light. Administration spokesmen say the new order, which Trump signed with little fanfare, was crafted to respond to successful court challenges that blocked implementation of the original executive order. However, the changes are unlikely to deter new legal challenges.

The Trump tweet storm over the weekend seemed to arise out of media commentary involving an allegation last October that a FISA warrant was granted to monitor select transactions between Trump Tower and entities linked to the Russian government. Trump interpreted that to mean former President Obama wiretapped his phones. Obama spokesmen denied the explosive charge. The person who originally reported the existence of a FISA warrant said she never said Trump was wiretapped.

Apparently caught off guard by the tweets, White House spokesmen said the White House would have nothing more to say about the claim, but demanded that Congress investigate it, apparently as part of the just starting congressional investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election and Trump campaign ties to the Russians.

Some observers speculated Trump’s tweet storm was sparked by his disapproval of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ decision to recuse himself from the investigation. Apparently Sessions made the decision without letting his boss know first.

This all played out as Trump faces the first international threat of his presidency in the form of North Korean belligerency. To put teeth behind his pledge to stand with South Korea and Japan, Trump ordered installation of an anti-missile defense system, despite severe warnings from the Chinese. Ordinarily, this kind of standoff would command top-of-page headlines, but the story has been buried under the banter over health care, immigration orders and presidential insults (including one aimed at Arnold Schwarzenegger, who quit after one year as the top terminator on Celebrity Apprentice.)

The political banter focused on Trump’s tweets also has obscured a wave of administration actions to roll back regulations, especially ones related to climate change, implemented by the Obama administration.

Walden in Crosshairs of Congressional Push to Repeal Obamacare

Representing a blue state with a track record of health care coverage and cost innovation, Oregon Congressman Greg Walden finds himself in the political crosshairs of repealing Obamacare and replacing it with something better.

Representing a blue state with a track record of health care coverage and cost innovation, Oregon Congressman Greg Walden finds himself in the political crosshairs of repealing Obamacare and replacing it with something better.

Oregon GOP Congressman Greg Walden, who represents a large red district in a very blue state, will be the point man on replacing the Affordable Care Act if it is repealed in whole or part. His main job will be to balance politics with policy, and that won’t be easy.

A case in point: Walden’s Republican colleagues, many of whom he helped win election to the U.S. House, want to move ahead quickly on repeal of the individual mandate to have health insurance coverage. However, a map, conveniently posted online by Governor Brown, shows that rural areas Walden represents receive the largest amount of federal subsidies to pay for that coverage.

As the Obamacare repeal efforts heats up on Capitol Hill, Governor Brown posted a website that shows the average federal subsidies to Oregonians enrolled in private health insurance through the Oregon Marketplace. The chart no-to-subtly shows rural policyholders get a substantially higher health insurance subsidy than their counterparts in Multnomah County.

Walden also represents rural Oregon counties with as many as a third of their residents who are on Medicaid. Walden’s GOP congressional allies want to curtail federal spending on Medicaid, which could put states such as Oregon that expanded its Medicaid coverage in an even greater financial bind. The website www.95percentoregon.com says 1.1 million Oregonians are covered by Medicaid or the Oregon Marketplace.

Serving in his 10th term, Walden’s challenging political predicament captured the attention of Robert Pear, long-time health care reporter for The New York Times.

"As a former chairman of the committee responsible for electing Republicans to the House, Mr. Walden knows the politics of health care as well as anyone,” Pear wrote. "But in his new role, he must reconcile the political goals of his party, which is committed to repealing the 2010 health law, and the interests of his state, where officials say the law has been a big success. In 2010, nearly one in five Oregonians lacked health coverage. Today, state officials say, 95 percent of Oregonians have coverage.”

Unlike some of his colleagues, Walden’s town hall meetings have been respectful, if forceful about the importance of retaining viable health insurance for individuals and families not covered by policies paid for by their employers. Walden has responded by telling constituents he will ensure pre-existing conditions cannot be used to deny coverage and complimenting the strides Oregon has made in terms of coverage and addressing the cost of health care through coordinated care organizations (CCOs).

“Our state of Oregon has had quite a bit of innovation over the years,” Mr. Walden told Pear. “We’ve got the coordinated care organizations in place that have actually brought better health care outcomes at lower cost. There are great ideas out there among the states, but right now, they have to come back and beg permission from a federal bureaucrat to be able to do much of anything innovative.”

Nevertheless, Walden has consistently called for and voted for repeal of Obamacare. Some of his constituents he is more discriminating in what replaces Obamacare.

Pear interviewed Dennis Burke, president of the Good Shepherd Health Care System in Germiston, who said, “Medicaid [expansion] did better than expected and subsidized commercial insurance did worse.” Even though people participating in the federally subsidized individual health insurance market “proudly present an insurance card,” Burke said premiums and deductibles have sharply increased, driving health people from the marketplace,

Burke’s advice to Walden: “I think [Obamacare] could be fixed. We need more of a retooling.” That may be advice Walden has a hard time convincing his Republican colleagues to accept.

A Timely Primer on Transporting Crude Oil

As North American oil production has increased, so has demand for more pipeline capacity and railcars to move crude to refineries or export facilities. While energy independence is a national goal, the specter of more pipelines and unit trains carrying crude oil has spooked a large part of the American public.

As North American oil production has increased, so has demand for more pipeline capacity and railcars to move crude to refineries or export facilities. While energy independence is a national goal, the specter of more pipelines and unit trains carrying crude oil has spooked a large part of the American public.

Crude oil pipelines and railcars are frequently in the headlines. The Trump administration has waved the green flag for the controversial Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. Members of Congress, including Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Washington, are pushing for tougher federal laws governing crude oil by rail to protect communities along major rail lines

Unless you believe that the demand for gasoline and other products derived from crude oil will disappear soon, a fair question to ask is what is the safest way to transport crude oil. Not surprisingly, there is no easy answer.

James Conca, who is an environmental scientist, energy consultant and long-time member of the Sierra Club, wrote an informative piece for Forbes in 2014 that remains relevant today. Tellingly, his article is titled: “Pick Your Poison for Crude – Pipeline, Rail, Truck or Boat.” Which transportation mode is safest, he says, depends on what you value the most.

If human death and property destruction have the highest value, then it is “truck worse than train worse than pipeline worse than boat.” For spills, it is “truck worse than pipeline worse than rail worse than boat.” If environmental impact is the primary concern, then it’s “boat worse than pipeline worse than truck worse than rail.”

How crude oil is shipped may depend on the logistics of where it originates. Crude oil moves out of the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota by rail in the absence of existing pipeline capacity. The Dakota Access pipeline will relieve some of the pressure to use rail, but not necessarily for crude oil intended for export to Asia Pacific markets, which still will need to make its way to West Coast trans-shipment facilities, such as the one proposed at the Port of Vancouver.

Conca said the vast majority of crude oil, natural gas and petroleum products in the United States and Canada are transported by pipelines. In 2014, crude-by-rail shipments accounted for less than 5 percent of all shipments. Undoubtedly that percentage has sharply increased, and so has the size of the trains.  For example, crude oil rail capacity in the Great Plains tripled in size in 2011, roughly equaling one third of the capacity of the Keystone pipeline.

Conca cites statistics showing From 1975 to 2012 there were shorter trains and fewer spills. Big spills were extremely rare. In 2013, he says, “more crude oil was spilled in U.S. rail incidents than was spilled in the previous 37 years.”

Because trains go through cities and towns – and their water sources, there has been growing concern and resistance to new facilities that refine, process or trans-ship crude oil. That resistance has spilled over to other fossil fuels as well.

Other factors influence whether crude oil is shipped by rail or pipeline. Because the number of U.S. refineries has shrunk in the wake of stricter environmental regulations, crude oil producers may have to choose the transportation mode that connects the source with the processor.

One of the main arguments for the Keystone pipeline was to connect the heavy tar sand crude oil from Canada to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries that were capable of handling it. But railroads are more flexible with 140,000 miles of track compared to 57,000 miles of crude oil pipelines.

Economics play a big role. The Congressional Research Service says pipelines are much cheaper than rail to transport crude oil, costing as much as a third less per barrel. At the same time, it may be less expensive and take less time to build a crude-by-rail trans-shipment facility than permitting and building a major interstate pipeline.

Conca’s conclusion, which may unsettle people on all sides of the fossil fuel debate, is that, “Crude oil is moving around the world, around our country, around pristine wilderness, around our cities and towns. It’s going to keep moving and will undoubtedly increase during our new energy boom.” Put another way, you can’t have energy independence, at least in the immediate foreseeable future, without more crude oil pipelines and railcars.

Crude oil can be a big mess when spilled. Spills and leaks are inevitable and statistically impossible to eliminate. Human impact, environmental degradation, property damage and public health effects will occur. The economic cost is significant, if incalculable. 

“In the end,” Conca says, “all of these transportation modes can be made safer if stricter regulatory controls and modern technologies are emplaced.”  It also means equipping local communities with the tools to deal quickly and effectively with crude oil spills and conflagrations. That will take increased public education, continuous citizen pressure and relentless political perseverance. It would be worth the effort.

 

Walden, Wyden Flex Their Congressional Muscles

Oregon Congressman Greg Walden and Senator Ron Wyden are playing major roles in high-profile federal issues. Walden is pushing to streamline Medicaid while Wyden pushes for financial disclosure by President Trump before his administration negotiates new or revised trade deals.

Oregon Congressman Greg Walden and Senator Ron Wyden are playing major roles in high-profile federal issues. Walden is pushing to streamline Medicaid while Wyden pushes for financial disclosure by President Trump before his administration negotiates new or revised trade deals.

Oregon Congressman Greg Walden is pushing federal agencies to disclose examples of waste and fraud, while Oregon Senator Ron Wyden is introducing legislation that would require President Trump to disclose his financial interests in foreign countries before negotiating new trade deals.

Walden’s request carries the weight of new his position as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Even though he is a member of the minority in the US Senate, Wyden’s bill can’t be dismissed because he is the ranking Democrat on Senate Finance that oversees trade relations.

Walden based his request on a previous Pentagon study that unearthed millions of dollars of wasteful spending. Walden believes similar findings in other federal agencies could be a way to trim federal spending without affecting government services in programs under the committee; jurisdiction.

Walden isn't waiting for a response as he pushes two bills through his committee to “modernize America’s health care laws by making what’s best for patients our top priority.” Walden says his bills “go after bad actors…who shield their income and deprive people  the services they need."

While few may argue with the premise that government should run more cost effectively, there is likely to be less partisan agreement with Wyden’s bill.

“Americans have a right to know if the President is looking out for the good of the country or just his own bottom line when he negotiates a trade deal, decides whether or not to enforce our trade laws or decides whether to cut tariffs on imports from a developing country,” Wyden said in a statement. “Trump has business interests around the world, but he continues to keep the full nature of those ties secret.”

Wyden’s GOP Senate colleagues may not be eager to open up another battle front with Trump, whom they are already battling over his administration’s and his own ties to Russia. The revelations involving private conversations with a senior Russian official that led to the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn poured gasoline on an already simmering fire.

However, conflict of interest questions keep bobbing up and exploding, too. Kellyanne Conway has been hit with an ethics allegation when she pitched Ivanka Trump’s clothing line. Trump’s two sons are attending the opening of a Trump-branded golf course in Dubai. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was hosted at Trump’s Florida resort.

USA Today’s story about Wyden’s legislation included other examples that highlight the awkward tangle of Trump’s businesses with his public duties as president – Trump’s tweets about his daughter’s apparel business; Melanie Trump’s libel lawsuit that claims false allegations about her could jeopardize her ability to strike profitable business relationships; and Eric Trump’s business trip to Uruguay that cost the government  $100,000 to pay for hotel expenses for his Secret Service and Embassy entourage.

Trump’s team has argued his business empire is too vast and branded for him to abandon totally. He said he has turned over the reins of his business to his two sons, with assistance from an internal compliance counsel and an outside ethics adviser. That hasn’t been enough to quell skeptics such as Wyden.

 An Oregon inmate is one many plaintiffs who has filed suit against President Trump.

 An Oregon inmate is one many plaintiffs who has filed suit against President Trump.

There is stirring outside Congress as well to force financial disclosures by Trump. A group of leading attorneys is exploring different ways to show Trump is violating the “emoluments” clause in the US Constitution, which prohibits a president from accepting gifts or money from foreign governments. A short-term goal is to force disclosure of Trump’s federal income tax returns, which Trump has declined to release, citing an ongoing IRS audit.

The Los Angeles Times reports that more than 60 legal actions have been filed against Trump since he took office. One, McNair vs. Trump et al, was filed by an Oregon inmate, alleging Trump was elected illegally and is violating the emoluments clause. Most of the lawsuits pertain to the now suspended Trump travel ban executive order.

The Uncharted, Choppy Waters of Obamacare Repeal

Repealing Obamacare sounded so easy, but replacing the health insurance measure has proven more complicated and politically challenging and may wind up morphing into a repair job on the health care plan that some hate and others have vowed to fight to protect. Photo Credit: Brennan Linsley/AP

Repealing Obamacare sounded so easy, but replacing the health insurance measure has proven more complicated and politically challenging and may wind up morphing into a repair job on the health care plan that some hate and others have vowed to fight to protect.

Photo Credit: Brennan Linsley/AP

Repeal of Obamacare has slipped from a task on Day One in the White House for President Trump to a repair job that may stretch into 2018. As Trump and congressional Republicans have disconcertingly discovered, replacing Obamacare may be more popular than repealing it. 

Over the weekend, Trump signaled the timetable for repealing and replacing Obamacare has slipped and is likely to morph into something closer to an extensive repair job on the highly politicized national health insurance program, which includes an individual health insurance market and expanded Medicaid coverage.

The lengthier timeline isn’t all that surprising. Since Republicans took up the chant to repeal Obamacare six years ago, they have been hard pressed to reach consensus on an alternative strategy, not to mention an actual replacement plan. Town hall meetings for congressmen have turned into angry forums about what will replace Obamacare if it is repealed. Some congressmen have canceled town halls as a result.

It is unclear whose playbook Republicans will follow. The move to repeal Obamacare and come up with a replacement later apparently has been stripped from the playbook. Trump, in his first press conference after his inauguration, predicted Obamacare would be repealed and replaced more or less simultaneously soon after Tom Price was confirmed as his secretary of Health and Human Services. Price has yet to be confirmed by the Senate and Trump told Bill O’Reilly in a Super Bowl halftime interview that repeal-and-replace may not happen until next year.

Congressional Republican leaders have signaled action is possible as soon as this spring, even though a firm set of actions hasn’t been publicly presented. Oregon Congressman Greg Walden told constituents in Southern Oregon any replacement plan would retain the ban on denying health insurance coverage to people based on pre-existing conditions. As chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Walden will play a leading role in shaping an Obamacare replacement. The major stumbling block for moving ahead, Walden acknowledges, is finding a way to pay for the Obamacare provisions that will be retained.

There are a lot of interrelated parts in Obamacare that complicate coming up with a replacement, let alone a replacement that is less costly and ensures the same level and quality of care. Congressional politics play a role, too. Republicans can use the budget reconciliation process to lop off financial aspects of Obamacare, but not to enact replacement features. The replacement ultimately will need 60 votes to pass in the Senate, where Democrats have promised to fight anything that eviscerates Obamacare in the name of replacing it.

This is where the idea of repairing Obamacare comes in. Two GOP senators have already introduced a bill that would let individual states the option of preserving Obamacare as an alternative to whatever Congress settles on as a replacement health insurance mechanism. Called the Patient Freedom Act of 2017, the measure, according to its principal sponsor, Senator Bill Cassidy, R-LA, would eliminate the individual and employer health insurance mandate, but leave the consumer protection provisions of Obamacare in place.

Cassidy’s bill would allow states such as Oregon to retain Obamacare individual health insurance exchanges and expanded Medicaid coverage, but federal support would be trimmed by 5 percent. That cut would be in addition to the phased-down subsidy to states that was part of the Obamacare legislation and goes into effect this budget biennium.

A related health care action by Trump also has taken a U-Turn. During his campaign, Trump said he would push pharmaceutical companies to drop prices on prescription drugs and after his election promised strong action, such as negotiating drug prices for Medicare and Medicaid. However, after meeting with drug industry officials and lobbyists, Trump suddenly changed course and expressed sympathy for the pharmaceutical industry, which says the uncertainty of clinical trials and the short time frames when drugs can be patented are the real drivers behind prices.

Many states, including Oregon, are trying to address the cost of drugs, which is a significant factor in rising health insurance premiums.

Trump Puts Final Nail in TPP Coffin

President Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership without identifying any new initiative to expand US trade in the Asia Pacific and as China stepped in to lead new rounds of talks on regional economic collaboration that don’t include the United States.

President Trump withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership without identifying any new initiative to expand US trade in the Asia Pacific and as China stepped in to lead new rounds of talks on regional economic collaboration that don’t include the United States.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership has been a corpse since both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton opposed it in the presidential campaign. In one of his first executive orders, President Trump kicked dirt on the TPP by withdrawing the United States from the deal the Obama administration negotiated.

While the fate of the trade deal hasn’t been in doubt, business interests in the Pacific Northwest that rely heavily on exports into Asia are wondering what impact its death will have. There also are questions about what, if anything, will take the place of what would have been the largest regional trade deal in history.

In his inaugural speech, Trump fired a warning round about trade pacts, saying US policy would be “America first,” which may not be the best opening line for regional or even bilateral trade talks. Trump is seeking meetings with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to broach renegotiation of the 22-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The first head of state Trump will meet in person is British Prime Minister Theresa May, who faces her own challenge of orchestrating an exit from the European Union.

The new Trump administration may not have the bandwidth or even interest in working on a different approach in the Asia Pacific region while focused on NAFTA and a bilateral deal with Britain. Veteran trade negotiators warn that trade deals don’t materialize overnight. For example, it could take two years for Britain to negotiate the terms for its exit from the EU., which would be necessary before the United States and Britain could entertain a detailed negotiation on a bilateral trade deal.

Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping has already seized the moment by touting the Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific negotiations, which some think could be the next big trade game and one of the first since World War II not piloted by the United States. China was not included in the TPP.

The prospect of the United States being on the outside looking in on an emerging Asian regional economic partnership concerns business leaders in the Pacific Northwest. Sandra McDonough of the Portland Business Alliance, which supported the TPP, told Oregon Public Broadcasting that 500,000 jobs in Oregon rely on international trade, much of it with Asia.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, the ranking Democrat on Senate Finance that oversees international trade, gave a blunter assessment in a prepared statement: “There is as much transparency into Trump’s trade policy as there is into his conflicts of interest with foreign governments.”

The demise of the TPP works a particular hardship on New Zealand and Vietnam, which lack any bilateral trade deal with the United States. Many exporting businesses had counted on the TPP to increase market access in Japan, lend greater protection to intellectual property and regulate cross-border data flows.

An irony of tossing TPP in the trash can is that state-owned enterprises in Asia will remain largely unregulated and a source of competition that hinds U.S. Job growth. It’s also possible that some of the TPP’s provisions could resurface on the agenda of the World Trade Organization.

There are business and union allies that support Trump’s TPP position and reopening NAFTA.  The Washington Post quoted Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, as saying tougher stands could create leverage to address currency manipulation and result in rules that dictate how much domestic production must occur to qualify for free trade status.

Trump to Inherit Partisan Foreign Policy Perspectives

Pew Research shows incoming President Donald Trump will inherit a sharply divided citizenry over threats posed by climate change and immigrants living in America.

Pew Research shows incoming President Donald Trump will inherit a sharply divided citizenry over threats posed by climate change and immigrants living in America.

As Donald Trump is inaugurated Friday, the new President will inherit a citizenry with polarized views on major threats to the United States. Democrats view climate change as a major threat, while Republicans believe immigrants living here represent a major threat.

According to Pew Research, there is more partisan agreement on threats posed by ISIS, North Korea and cyberattacks.

The new national survey conducted among 1,502 adults nationwide the first week of January noted an uptick from a year ago in concerns over Russian, as more than half of all Americans express concern about “Russia’s power and influence.” In the last year, Pew researchers said public concern over refugees from the Middle East has declined from 55 percent to 46 percent.

Perhaps the biggest partisan split centers on climate change, which 77 percent of Democrats see as a threat to US well-being contrasted with only 25 percent of Republicans.

On the flip side, 63 percent of Republicans believe Iraqi and Syrian refugees are a threat to the United States as opposed to 30 percent of Democrats.

Republicans and Democrats also vary on their views about Russia as a global threat. Sixty-seven percent of Democrats, but only 41 percent of Republicans call Russia a threat. However, “as recently as last April, the allegations that Russia hacked Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, Republicans were somewhat more likely than Democrats to view tensions with Russia as a major threat (46 percent to 37 percent). The flip-flop on partisan concerns over Russia extends to views of US sanctions imposed on Russia by President Obama.

Another trending divide involves Israel and Palestinians. Support for Israel has been a mainstay of Democratic politics since President Harry Truman played a role inc reading the modern state of Israel. Now, Democrats are more ambivalent, according to Pew research, with 33 percent sympathizing with Israel, 31 percent siding with the Palestinians and 35 percent favoring both or expressing no opinion.

Sharp partisan divisions exist over threats to US security, including climate change and immigrants and increasingly over sympathies in the Middle East.

Sharp partisan divisions exist over threats to US security, including climate change and immigrants and increasingly over sympathies in the Middle East.

Democrats are more optimistic (60 percent) about a so-called two-state solution will bring peace between Israel and its Palestinian neighbors. Republicans are more skeptical as just 44 percent agreeing a two-state solution would work. Pew notes that the partisan gap in Mideast sympathies is the widest since 1978.

There is much closer agreement over the threat posed by cyberattacks Democrats (75 percent; Republicans 67 percent). This reflects a minor shift in relative concerns. Previously, this was a larger fear for Republicans than Democrats.

The survey also found Americans still hold a favorable view of the United Nations and an unfavorable view of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

While there is little partisan disagreement over threats posed by North Korea’s nuclear program and ISIS terrorism, there are mixed feelings as to whether China is a threat. China’s power and influence is viewed by Republicans as a greater threat than by Democrats.