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Heard on the Hill

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President Donald Trump on Friday tweeted he believed Facebook’s intent to turn Kremlin-linked ads over to congressional committees investigating influence over the 2016 presidential election to be part of what he considered the “Russia hoax.”

The social media site’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said Thursday it would turn over 3,000 Russia-linked ads after two weeks on the defensive amid growing pressure from Congress for it to expose Russian propaganda in which fictional people posed as American activists, The New York Times reported.

“The Russia hoax continues, now it’s ads on Facebook,” Trump tweeted before turning his attention to his Democratic rival. “What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?”

The president went on to lambaste what he often calls the “Fake News Media,” which he believed had “the greatest influence over our election.”

The greatest influence over our election was the Fake News Media "screaming" for Crooked Hillary Clinton. Next, she was a bad candidate!

Trump also spent the morning taking swipes at other rivals — namely North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who the president called “a madman” the same week he referred to Kim as “Rocket Man” during an address to the United Nations.

Trump and Kim have repeatedly exchanged heated threats in recent months but Trump’s tweet came after Kim, in a rare statement, called the president a “deranged” individual who was “a rogue and a gangster fond of playing with fire,” The Associated Press reported.

The president also had words Friday morning for Sen. Rand Paul, who has indicated he could cast a “no” vote on the latest iteration of a bill that would repeal and replace the 2010 health care law.

Trump said any GOP member who did not support the bill would be known on the campaign trail as “the Republican who saved ObamaCare.”

Rand Paul, or whoever votes against Hcare Bill, will forever (future political campaigns) be known as "the Republican who saved ObamaCare."

About an hour later, Paul, a Kentucky Republican, took to his own Twitter account to defend his stance.

“No one is more opposed to Obamacare than I am, and I’ve voted multiple times for repeal,” Paul said. “The current bill isn’t repeal.”

I won't vote for Obamacare Lite that keeps 90% of the taxes & spending just so some people can claim credit for something that didn't happen

The Senate intends to bring to the floor next week another iteration of a health care bill, this time sponsored by Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.

The measure would provide block grant funding to states and repeal parts of the law, but keep in place most of the taxes that were created with it.

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Maybe we have finally established a lasting legislative principle for both parties: Don’t ever again try to pass major health care legislation using parliamentary gimmicks to avoid a filibuster.

The Democrats, under Barack Obama, followed this route in 2010 after they lost their filibuster-proof Senate majority when Republican Scott Brown unexpectedly won the special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat. As a result, final tinkering and technical improvements could not be made in the Obamacare legislation using a House-Senate conference.

What the Senate Republicans have been attempting is far worse. Faced with the expiration of the budget resolution at the end of the month, they have been trying to ram through the Senate a ramshackle bill (named after Lindsey Graham and Bill Cassidy) that would upend the health care system without hearings or a full analysis from the Congressional Budget Office.

According to the Republicans, Graham-Cassidy would return health care decisions to the states and spawn experimentation.

According to virtually everyone else (including policy experts, insurance companies and state Medicaid officials), the legislation would slash Medicaid spending, jeopardize the protections for those with pre-existing conditions, trim benefits and force each state to concoct a new health care system on an unworkable two-year timetable.

Graham-Cassidy is so ungainly that Iowa’s Charles E. Grassley was forced to admit in a telephone press conference with home state reporters, “I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn’t be considered. But Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That’s pretty much as much of a reason as the substance of the bill.”

That was on par with the argument that Nebraska Republican Sen. Roman Hruska once used to defend a dubious Nixon-era Supreme Court nominee named G. Harrold Carswell: “Even if he was mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren’t they, and a little chance?”

Graham-Cassidy is Carswell in legislative guise.

And now the bill is likely to fade away as fast as Carswell’s Supreme Court career, thanks to John McCain. In a repeat demonstration that there are still a handful of senators who can utter the phrase “the world’s greatest deliberative body” without giggling, McCain Friday afternoon all but assured the defeat of Graham-Cassidy by announcing his opposition.

McCain killed an earlier “repeal and not replace” GOP health care bill in July with a dramatic late night “no” vote. This time he more routinely issued a statement stating that he could not support any health care bill without knowing “how much it will cost, how it will affect insurance premiums, and how many people will be helped or hurt by it.”

Privately, most members of the dwindling rational wing of the Republican Party are grateful to McCain for saving them from Mitch McConnell’s folly. Not only does it protect the GOP from the consequences of hastily drafted and ill-considered legislation, but it also frees the Republicans to concentrate on their unstinting enthusiasm for bigger and better tax cuts.

In the only politically astute move that Senate Republicans have pulled off since they embarked on their crusade to repeal Obamacare, GOP leaders are moving toward a budget resolution with room for a $1.5 trillion tax cut.

This effort to claim that economic growth will turn a deficit into a surplus will enrage the balanced-budget brigades. But such fiscal sleight of hand is probably the only way that congressional Republicans can deliver a middle-class tax cut.

The billionaires who fill the Trump administration and control major GOP super PACs may be obsessed with corporate tax rates and trickle-down stimulus for the wealthy. But the only thing that a Republican Congress has the potential to deliver before the 2018 elections that a family earning, say, $90,000 yearly might notice is a four-digit reduction in the household tax bill.

Democrats, relieved by what looks like another Perils-of-Pauline rescue of Obamacare, are entering the first autumn of the Trump years with jaunty expressions on their faces. First the president cut a three-month budget-and-debt-ceiling deal with Charles E. Schumer and Nancy Pelosi — and now McConnell has once again played Charlie Brown with the football on Obamacare.

But the Democrats should not feel too smug about their own health care sense of superiority.

Before McCain torpedoed Graham-Cassidy, CNN’s planned Monday night tag-team health care debate seemed likely to garner surprisingly high ratings for a prime-time policy discussion. The 90-minute town hall is slated to pit Graham and Cassidy against independent socialist Bernie Sanders and Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar.

The Republican strategy has been to portray Sanders’ Medicare-for-all proposal as the official position of the Democratic Party. Even though Klobuchar — who is running for re-election in 2018 — has not endorsed the plan, Sanders is apt to grab the TV spotlight as he talks about the benefits of universal health care while skirting all discussions of the high taxes needed to pay for it.

Senate Democrats mulling the 2020 presidential race like Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamala Harris have endorsed Sanders’ legislation. But ambitious Democrats on the ballot in 2018 — including Sherrod Brown in Ohio and Christopher S. Murphy in Connecticut — have proven far more cautious about embracing legislation that would effectively end employer-paid health insurance.

Of course, overshadowing the CNN debate is McCain’s political courage as the indomitable “no” man. But McCain aside, the question remains: Why do congressional Republicans always need to be saved from themselves?

Roll Call columnist Walter Shapiro is a veteran of Politics Daily, USA Today, Time, Newsweek and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @MrWalterShapiro.

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Heard on the Hill

Word on the Hill: Busy Week

By Alex Gangitano

Republican senators face the prospect of retreating from their previous public stances in order to support fast-moving legislation that would significantly overhaul the U.S. health care system.

Concerns about the impact on people suffering from opioid addiction, drastic cuts to Medicaid and the lack of robust analysis from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office appear to have vanished as the GOP hopes to advance a bill to repeal the 2010 health law before the fast-track budget reconciliation mechanism they are using expires on Sept. 30.

Lawmakers say any concerns are addressed by the state flexibility included in the proposal from Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Dean Heller of Nevada.

“We have a real problem with [opioid abuse] in our state, obviously, which is why I’ve talked a lot about it,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said. “What our state would find in a Graham-Cassidy situation would be the flexibility to put an emphasis on that and the dollars behind it as well.”

Capito is one of several lawmakers who expressed serious concerns about prior GOP repeal proposals that would have gutted federal Medicaid funding. Under the Graham-Cassidy model, federal money for the entitlement program would drop by billions of dollars over the next 10 years, according to an analysis by consulting firm Avalere Health.

Capito also worked alongside Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and others to add billions more in funding for opioid treatment into previous versions of the repeal legislation. No similar measure is currently included in the Graham-Cassidy bill.

Portman, whose state has been one of the hardest hit by the opioid problem, struck a tone similar to Capito’s.

“Giving the states more flexibility is something I generally have been supportive of,” he told USA Today.

Ohio’s governor appears to disagree.

Graham/Cassidy/Heller/Johnson eliminates the guardrails that protect some of the most vulnerable among us. 2/

While the bill would give states significant leeway to spend federal health care money, many would have to grapple with notable funding cuts over the next 10 years, according to several outside analyses.

By the same token, other states — namely Republican-run states that did not expand Medicaid under the 2010 health care law — would see a partial influx in money from the government. But experts have questioned whether some would be able to effectively manage the increased funding.

Democrats argue that Republicans are asking most states to do more with less, and say the legislation would lead to a significant loss of insurance coverage and increased health care costs for the most vulnerable.

That claim will not be verified or refuted by the CBO before a vote. The office said earlier this week that a full analysis of the proposal would not be available for several weeks.

Voting without that report is something the bill’s sponsor previously criticized.

A bill -- finalized yesterday, has not been scored, amendments not allowed, and 3 hours final debate -- should be viewed with caution.

Niels Lesniewski contributed to this article.

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Republican hopes for moving an ambitious tax package in a closely divided Senate may hinge on a number of incumbents on the ballot, including Luther Strange of Alabama, who faces a tough primary runoff on Sept. 26.

The vulnerability of Republican incumbents like Strange underscores the challenges facing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as he tries to hold together at least 50 votes in his 52-member conference to pass a partisan tax plan under a filibuster-proof reconciliation bill.

Senior Republicans praise Strange, appointed in February to the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions when he became attorney general, as a team player. They voice doubts about his primary rival Roy Moore, a former state Supreme Court chief justice, in potentially crucial floor showdowns on taxes and other issues.

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn pointed to Moore’s record of being twice removed by a judicial ethics panel in Alabama for defying federal court orders: once in 2003 for refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument from a state building and again last year for urging probate judges to deny marriage licenses to gay couples.

“Getting thrown off the Supreme Court of your state twice I don’t think is a credential that commends you for membership in the United States Senate,” said Cornyn, a former Texas Supreme Court justice.

Of the prospect for more GOP primary challengers like Moore during the 2018 midterm elections, Cornyn said, “We’ve seen that sort of thing happen before. And it’s not a pretty picture.”

Ross Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers University, said a tough political environment would ensure an uphill slog for a GOP tax package.

“I would put the probability of their completing a tax bill at about 30 percent. It is arguably the most complex public policy area, and touches the largest number of interest groups of any issue,” Baker said.

President Donald Trump plans to campaign for Strange in Alabama on Friday, and has recorded a robocall telling voters that Strange is “going to get the tax cuts for us.” On the other side, Moore has criticized McConnell as a creature of the “Washington swamp” and accused the top Republican of running a “slime machine” that fails to reach conservative goals.

The stalled push to uproot the 2010 health care law has angered Republican conservatives and energized primary challengers such as Moore, who are urging GOP voters to hold incumbents like Strange accountable for not delivering legislative victories.

Since Alabama is a GOP stronghold, the winner of the runoff will be the favorite in the special general election against Democrat Doug Jones on Dec. 12 and will serve the remainder of Sessions’ term. The Alabama Senate seat would be up again in 2020.

Steven L. Taylor, a political scientist at Troy University, said Moore or Strange would be likely to weigh home-state concerns first in deciding on components of a GOP tax package.

“The reality is that any tax vote is going to affect different constituencies in different ways. If you have a revenue-neutral bill, that by definition will make the vote difficult. For example, if there’s a reduction in the mortgage interest deduction to pay for a lower corporate rate, that would be difficult,” Taylor said.

Baker believes the GOP base will play a role in the tax debate.

“I would be very astonished if they came up with something heavily in favor of the top 1 percent,” he said about Republicans crafting a tax package. “The party base is really riled up by populists. I don’t think that would be acceptable.”

The Alabama runoff could provide a preview of what lies ahead next year for the eight Senate Republicans up for re-election. Some Trump allies, including former White House strategist Steve Bannon, are considering whether to recruit or assist GOP candidates to the right of incumbents such as Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Dean Heller of Nevada and Roger Wicker of Mississippi next year.

Corker, who has questioned Trump’s competence for the presidency, has said he is undecided about running for another term.

Earlier this summer, Corker helped lead an effort to remove a proposal that would have repealed the 3.8 percent net investment tax for wealthy taxpayers from the Republican bill to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law. Now, the Budget Committee member is making the case for a revenue-neutral tax package, instead of pursuing one that would add to the deficit.

“I’m willing to give them some headroom here on the way things are scored and some of the things that we go through here. But, at the end, I want to make sure myself that it’s going to generate growth, we have broadened the base and, importantly to me, we are not going to do something that is going to increase our deficit,” Corker said Tuesday about a tax bill.

Heller, a Finance Committee member, has voiced support for exploring a bipartisan tax accord, but made clear he would work with party leaders if they opt to move a GOP-only tax plan.

“I’m going to guess that at the end of the day, it’s going to be a partisan exercise,” the Nevada Republican said.

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McConnell Opens Door to Health Care Vote Next Week

By Mary Ellen McIntire












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