What does the new Republican Healthcare Plan do Compared with the Affordable Care Act?

Rohin G.

March 14th, 2017

Paul_Ryan_official_Speaker_portrait      Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan is widely credited with writing the American Health Care Act, the Republican Party’s replacement for the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This week, house Republicans rolled out their plan to replace the Affordable Care Act.  The ACA, also known as Obamacare, has been considered a major piece of President Obama’s legacy.  Obamacare has also been one of the largest targets for Republicans who have been seeking the law’s repeal since it was passed.

So, what does the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) do?

  • Expands Medicaid (government sponsored healthcare for low-income people) to cover those with an income below 133% of the federal poverty line.  Under the ACA, the federal government paid a percentage of each state’s  Medicaid expenses.
  • Provides tax credits based on income for middle-income Americans in order to help them pay for insurance.
  • Requires that large companies provide their employees with health insurance.
  • The individual mandate, Requires individuals to purchase insurance if they can afford it or pay a fine.  This was put in place to drive down healthcare costs for older and sick people.
  • Prohibits insurance companies from charging older patients more than three times more than younger patients for health insurance.
  • Prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against people with pre-existing conditions.
  • Allows young patients to stay on their parents’ healthcare plan until age 26.
  • Requires insurance providers to cover basic preventative care.  This reduces long-term costs of treating emergency medical problems.
  • Prohibits lifetime limits on health insurance coverage.
  • Sets up the Prevention and Public Health Fund to increase preventative healthcare measures. This reduces the number of medical emergencies or serious illnesses which are expensive to treat.

So, what does the new Republican plan, the American Healthcare Act keep from Obamacare?

  • The protections for people with pre-existing conditions would remain in place if the bill passes.
  • Lifetime limits on health insurance coverage would still be illegal under the new bill.
  • Young people will still be able to on their parents’ healthcare plan until age 26.
  • Insurance will still have to cover preventative care.

What does the GOP plan get rid of or change from the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)?

  • Medicaid expansion:  The Republican plan will keep the Medicaid expansion to cover low and lower-middle income Americans until 2020.  After that, federal Medicaid will only apply to people below the poverty line and federal funding will be given to states through a block grant.  This means that each state will get the same amount in federal funding.   The GOP plan also includes a provision that would place a limit on the amount of money that the federal government can pay per-person through Medicaid.
  • Tax credits:  The ACHA, the Republican health care plan, changes the tax credits in Obamacare so that the credits are based on age, not income.  The tax credits would still apply to people who earn under $75,000.
  • Mandates:  Employers would no longer be required to provide health insurance to employees under the new GOP plan.  Individuals are also not required to buy health insurance under the Republican plan.
  • Age discrimination ban:  Under the Republican plan, providers will be able to charge 5 times as much for elderly patients as younger patients.
  • Preventative Care:  The Preventative Care and Public Health Fund would be eliminated in 2019 under the Republican plan.

In addition to what is listed above, the Republican health care plan removes all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides abortion services in addition to other women’s health services including breast cancer and STI screenings.

Tom Perez Elected to Lead DNC; Progressives, Please don’t Panic!

By Rohin G.  February 26, 2017

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Former Labor Secretary and new DNC chair, Tom Perez

Photo Credits-Wikimedia Commons

On Saturday, February 25, former labor secretary Tom Perez narrowly beat progressive congressman, Keith Ellison for the post of chair in the Democratic National Committee.  Many staunch progressives, including myself, who had supported Congressman Ellison for DNC chair were disappointed by the results of the day’s vote.  Not only had our favored candidate lost the race to become chair of the DNC, the delegates present also voted down a resolution which would ban corporate lobbyist donations to the party.  Tom Perez was the Secretary of Labor during President Obama’s second term and led the civil rights division of Justice Department during Obama’s first term.  Although Perez is considered by many to have been one of the most progressive members of the Obama administration,  many also consider him to be a member of the Democratic Party’s establishment wing.

Although the results of the DNC elections are disappointing to many progressive activists, there has been significant progress in the DNC.  Although the delegates voted not to ban lobbyist donations to the party, new chair, Tom Perez has expressed concern over the “corrosive influence of money in politics”.  Perez has also praised the small dollar fundraising practices used by Senator Bernie Sanders’ primary campaign, stating in an interview with the Huffington Post, that he wanted to look into implementing fundraising practices that draw upon small donations instead of donations by large corporations and super-PACs.  Chairman Perez has also been an advocate for empowering activists and protesters against President Trump’s agenda.  Perez has supported a strategy by the DNC that involves working in all states and not just during election years.  This strategy based on local parties will help reduce that harmful effects of President Trump’s policies and help the Democratic party stay relevant with voters across the country.

Probably the Best thing for progressive activists that the new chair, Tom Perez has done so far, is naming Congressman Keith Ellison as deputy chair.  Now, a staunch progressive is at the table to make decisions at the DNC.  This morning, Perez and deputy chair, Ellison held a joint press conference.  In showing a sign of party unity, they wore each other’s campaign pins.  In addition to this, Tom Perez stated that he supports healthy primary contests for incumbent democratic candidates, opening the door to more progressive candidates.  It is quite clear that chair Tom Perez is ready to work with progressive members of the Democratic Party.  Although progressive activists’ top candidate lost the race for DNC chair, this DNC is one of the most progressive we have seen.  So, fellow progressives, stay strong and keep fighting for a better America.

 

 

 

Why Congressman Keith Ellison is the Best Person to Lead the Democratic Party

 

 

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Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN)  Photo Credit, Wikimedia commons.

Dear Fellow Democrat,

As a fellow democrat and concerned citizen, I want what is best for our country and our party.  I am a student in the 8th grade in Palo Alto, CA and am concerned about the direction of our country yet I see some amazing grassroots energy everywhere.  In the era of President Trump, how do we enact a progressive agenda?  How do we protect the rights of the LGBTQ community or the Muslim community or those who are undocumented or seeking asylum the US?  How do we protect and restore our environment or ensure all have access to education and healthcare?  And how do we make the Democratic Party win elections and pass legislation again?  On Saturday, you will vote on who will lead our party.  The election for DNC chair is a question of who will lead us in standing up to the racist and bigoted agenda of President Trump and his team.

I believe that as a party we need to stop taking money from lobbyists and large corporations.  We need to stand up for the American people and represent them and not just for the wealthy.  While you have been excellent advocates for all Americans, many politicians, even in our own party have become far too connected with special interest lobbyist dollars which are essentially bribes.  Congressman Keith Ellison is the best candidate to lead our party back to victory and empower our activists and lawyers to stand up and fight back against the extreme and dangerous agenda of the Trump administration.  He has been a vocal proponent of progressive policies such as universal health care and campaign finance reform in congress for years.  Congressman Ellison helped organize efforts to successfully defeat harmful voter id. laws in Minnesota.  He has shown that he knows what it takes to connect with working class voters in midwest.  Keith Ellison can unite our party and has been endorsed by people from many different segments of the Democratic Party.  He has drawn endorsements from prominent civil rights leader, Congressman John Lewis.  Congressman Ellison has also been embraced for his steadfast progressive values by Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as well as many progressive activists.  Congressman Ellison is also supported by many more moderate democrats including senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer and former leader of senate democrats, Harry Reid.  It is because of his broad support, skill at winning elections and organizing, and staunch progressive values that Congressman Keith Ellison is the right candidate to become chair of the Democratic National Committee.  Keith Ellison deserves your vote to become chair of the DNC.

Sincerely,

Rohin Ghosh

This Letter was originally sent to Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Senators Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein.

The New American Stance on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

By Rohin G.                   February 16, 2017

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US President Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu during a joint press conference.  

Photo Credit: Time

On February 15, President Donald Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.  Many have seen an obvious shift in the rhetoric by the Trump administration, moving away from the Obama administration’s criticism of Israel and towards a more unconditional support of Israel regardless of Israeli actions.  Many advocates for a two-state solution and greater rights for Palestinians were and still are nervous about the new administration’s stances on Israeli-Palestinian issues.  One proposition from the administration was to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a city hotly contested by Israelis and Palestinians.

Another controversial topic is that of Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank.  For decades, the United States has attempted to pressure Israel to cease appropriation of Palestinian lands for the construction of Jewish communities.    Although the US has been against settlement activity, it has never supported measures against any Israeli action in the United Nations until the very end of the Obama administration.  Many Israeli actions have drawn harsher reactions from the international community.  Early this year, the United Nations passed a resolution banning all settlement activity by Israel in the West Bank with all members of the UN Security Council except the US voting yes. (see my previous article for more information: https://youthnewsjournal.com/2016/12/28/the-controversy-over-the-israeli-settlements-resolution-in-the-united-nations/  ).  The Obama administration chose not to veto the resolution, instead abstaining and allowing it to pass.  President Trump, as well as many American politicians from both parties, condemned the resolution stating that it was “anti-Israel” and adding that the only solutions to issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are those reached through direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Recent statements by the Trump administration present mixed signals about the new US stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Although President Trump has pledged to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Trump has not shown any signs of following through with that action thus far.  On the issue of settlements in the West Bank, President Trump has stuck to the US policy against Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank stating that settlements are “counterproductive for peace”.  President Trump, however, did break from longstanding US policy quite drastically when in a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, he stated that he was fine with either a one-state or a two-state solution.  President Trump said that he still believed that the two-state option was easier to achieve but that he would support any solution which was agreed upon by both Israel and the Palestinians.  This radical shift in American policy away from mandating a two-state solution begs the question; what will the American role in Middle East peace be under the Trump administration?

What Trump Administration Officials have said About the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

We can get a rough idea of the new administration’s stance based on what officials on the Trump team have said.

Most foreign policy conducted by the Trump administration as in any administration will likely be done by the secretary of state, who currently is Rex Tillerson.  Tillerson had not made many comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before being nominated for secretary of state.  During his confirmation hearing, he stated that the US should give more support to Israel and condemned the recent UN resolution on settlements.  Tillerson did say that he supports restarting peace talks and also supports a two-state solution.

Any work in the United Nations will be done by UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley.  Haley has promised greater support for Israeli actions and to veto actions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the UN stating that direct negotiations are the only way to reach a lasting solution.  She has spoken against Israeli settlement activity during her confirmation hearing.

The closest person to many issues in the region will be US ambassador to Israel, David Freidman if he is confirmed by the senate.  In the past, Freidman has made controversial comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict including his statement that a progressive Jewish organization called J Street was similar to Jews who collaborated with Nazis, and another statement where he openly endorsed Israeli settlements.  In his confirmation hearing, Freidman committed to facilitating direct negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians.

Although it is impossible to know what will happen with the ever-changing situation in the Middle East, the administration’s statements provide some basis for understanding.

If the Trump administration looks to people with more extreme viewpoints such as the nominee for ambassador to Israel, David Freidman, The US would likely take a stance of staunch support for Israeli actions regardless of what the actions are or the international opinion on them.  This could manifest itself as, for example, if Israel decides to engage in a massive expansion of settlements or a formal annexation of Palestinian lands, the US defends these actions and increases support for the Israeli state even though the Israeli actions would draw strong condemnation from the vast majority of the international community.  A less extreme example of this approach of staunch support for controversial Israeli policies is that of moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.  A key American ally in the region, Jordan, where many US forces are based, has called a possible move of the embassy to Jerusalem a “red line”.  Regardless of this statement, President Trump still says that he is considering moving the US embassy to Jerusalem.

A more likely approach by the new administration towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that of more support for Israeli actions but a continued support for the peace process.  This is the approach which most of the President’s closest officials including secretary Tillerson and UN ambassador pick Nikki Haley have advocated for.  This policy would likely mean more military aid to Israel, less condemnation of Israeli actions, and a resistance to efforts in international organizations such as the United Nations to pass resolutions regarding Middle East peace.  However, this moderate approach would include constant encouragement to both Israelis and Palestinians to continue peace talks and would also include soft statements against Israel settlement activity.  This approach is already being taken by the administration in statements by President Trump endorsing continued negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians and requesting Israel cease construction of settlements in the West Bank.  This approach is almost exactly the same as the Bush administration’s policy towards Israeli-Palestinian issues.

Both approaches that could be taken by the Trump administration are far more unconditional in their support for Israel regardless of provocative actions than the approach taken by the Obama or Clinton administrations.  Both Presidents Obama and Clinton were staunch supporters of Israel but also often condemned Israeli actions including settlement expansions and restrictions on Palestinian people’s personal freedoms.

 

 

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos; What Might Happen

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Photo Credit: NPR

On Tuesday of this week, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as secretary of education by the United States Senate.  The vote was extremely close with 50 senators, all republicans voting yes, and 50 senators, all democrats, and two republicans voting to block DeVos’ confirmation.  Vice President, Mike Pence broke the tie with an obvious vote for confirming DeVos as education secretary.  The two republicans who defected were Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).  Betsy DeVos is a billionaire who has made massive contributions to the Republican Party and has also been an ardent advocate for “school choice” policies.

DeVos has received criticism for her stances on issues and her lack of knowledge and experience on several education issues.  This lack of knowledge was evident when in her confirmation hearing, DeVos repeatedly admitted her not knowing about laws important to her position.  Betsy DeVos has never attended public school or university nor has she ever taken out a student loan.  In addition to this, none of the DeVos family has ever relied on government sponsored education.  DeVos infamously dodged a question on whether or not she would defund public schools.  In addition to that, DeVos seemed to make up statistics that were not true, at one time even stating that student debt has risen by “980%”, something that is not true.   When asked about how she would reduce student debt, DeVos refused to give detailed answers to several questions.  DeVos also took criticism when in response to a question from Senator Murphy (D-CT) regarding whether or not firearms should be permitted in schools, she stated that the issue should be left up to states, citing that a rural school in Wyoming needs guns to protect against “potential grizzlies” referring to the fact that the school actually needed a fence to protect from bears.  In fact, that school does not have any guns because there is no need for them.

Betsy DeVos is an ardent supporter of “school choice policies” including vouchers that can be used for school tuition fees. Voucher programs divert government funding away from public schools and into sending low-income children to private, for-profit schools.  DeVos also supports charter schools and voucher programs that include religious schools.  Proponents of vouchers state that they allow parents to make decisions about their children’s education.  They cite that having many private school options allows market forces to increase the number of students in the most preferred schools.  However, there are many ways that many Americans could by harmed by vouchers and other “school choice” programs.  The money given to families in order to help them afford private school tuition is money that is saved by cutting funding from public schools.  In addition, the voucher check that a low-income family receives is often less than the full cost of the private or charter school in their locality.  This leaves many families with a choice between an underfunded public school with few resources or a private school which they cannot afford (not a very good choice).  Most school voucher programs also subsidize religious schools, something that is constitutionally dubious.  In DeVos’ home state of Michigan where voucher programs were implemented, largely due to lobbying by the DeVos family, many issues brought up by “school choice” programs came to light.  Currently, many of the public schools in the Detroit, Michigan area are infamously underfunded, understaffed and in need of repair.  Many of the harshest opponents to Betsy DeVos’ confirmation were teachers.  In fact, most of the immense number of phone calls made to senators came from citizens mobilized by teachers’ unions.

Another concern that many people have about DeVos’ leadership in the department of education is that of protecting the rights of minority students, especially LGBTQ students and the teaching of religion in schools.  Although she has donated to religious organizations that oppose laws against discrimination against gay students, DeVos pledged to protect all students when asked about the issues in her hearing.  DeVos’ stance on religious curriculum is more complicated.  She has advocated for teaching creationism over evolution in public schools in the past.  When asked about her stance on the issue of teaching evolution, DeVos gave an answer which was extremely vague, stating that she “supported science”.  When pressed further about her opinions, DeVos refused to go into further detail.

Another tense issue is that of special education for students with mental disabilities.  When asked about whether or not she would support programs to help disabled students protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA by Senator Tim Kaine (D-VA), DeVos responded that the issue was best left up to states.  After being pressed by senators about her stance on the issue, DeVos doubled down, saying that she would enforce all laws passed by congress and supported special education and school choice for students with mental illnesses.  However, voucher programs have often resulted in special needs students losing access to programs that help them.

In addition to her vague but controversial stances on issues, Betsy DeVos may have conflicts of interest or ethics problems.  She allegedly has gained from investments in student debt and also allegedly plagiarized part of her written testimony to the Senate.

With all the controversy surrounding Betsy DeVos, many teachers, students, parents, and concerned citizens are wondering how much she can change the education department.  The main thing that she can do immediately is reducing enforcement of discrimination laws, something she has pledged not to do.  Instituting voucher programs would require congressional approval.  Although Republicans hold a majority, many rural areas depend on strong public schools.  Several Republicans from rural, midwestern states have constituents from these areas.  With many congresspeople and senators up for re-election in 2018, we can be hopeful that a federal voucher program is unlikely to happen.

President Trump’s Immigration Bans: Unlawful and Immoral

 

 

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On Friday, January 27, President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning all citizens from seven majority-Muslim nations, Syria, Iraq, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, and Yemen and suspending all admission of any refugees from entering the United States for six months and banning all asylum seekers from Syria entering the US until further notice.  The order was written hastily.  In fact, the Department of Homeland Security was never consulted nor was the Department of Justice.  Immediately after the ban was instituted, chaos and confusion ensued at airports where officials did not know whether or not the ban applied to US green-card holders and people with dual citizenship in one of the affected countries and a different country.

Citizens of countries affected by the executive order already must go through a rigorous vetting process in order to get a visa to allow them to enter the United States.  The visa process already takes between four and six months for the countries mentioned in the order, Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, and Libya.  The application process for people who attempt to enter as refugees is even longer, taking at least 18 months and possibly taking up to two years of rigorous questioning by multiple government agencies in a foreign refugee camp.  In addition to this, not a single person from any of the countries implicated in Trump’s executive order has killed a person on American soil in a terrorist attack.

Those affected by the executive order include countless legal residents of the US who are here on student and specialized skilled work (H1B) visas.  The ban also included people who were traveling to the US to visit family.  Notable cases of these include a Sudanese doctor, here on an H1B, who had gone back to her native Sudan to distribute polio vaccines to impoverished children.  Another case was that a Syrian family was detained and questioned for hours with the family’s five-year-old son being separated from his parents for that duration.

At airports all around the country, protesters had come by droves to voice their opposition to the executive order.  Hundreds of pro-Bono immigration lawyers gathered to provide their services to those trapped at airports.  Many senators and representatives from both parties condemned the Trump’s executive order including republicans, John McCain and Lindsey Graham. The American Civil Liberties Union, as well as several other groups, including several Silicon Valley tech companies who rely on workers from any of the affected countries, have strongly urged the order to be repealed.  The ACLU has launched lawsuits against the order.  The states of Washington and Minnesota have brought a lawsuit against the executive order. The Suit has resulted in the 9th circuit court blocking enforcement of the order.  After the court ruling, President Trump expressed that he was angry with the entire court system, stating that “Bad people are pouring in” and that if an attack happens, “blame the so-called judge and the court system.”  The administration has appealed the ruling and the 9th circuit court of appeals will hear the case later in the week.

President Trump’s Wall Executive is Opposed by Mexico and Many Who Work in Protecting the Border and May Cause a Trade War

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Photo Credit: RT

After President Donald Trump signed an executive order to begin construction on a wall along the US-Mexico border, former president of Mexico, Vicente Fox was adamant that Mexico would not compensate the US for this wall.  During an interview on CNN, Fox repeated his previous comments to CNN’s reporter, Anderson Cooper that “Mexico will not pay for that f**king wall, Americans should pay for it.”  Sean Spicer, Trump’s press secretary stated that the Trump team will make Mexico will pay for the wall through massive tariffs on Mexican goods being exported to the US.  Former-President Fox fired back stating that If the US were to put tariffs on Mexican goods, Mexico would respond by putting higher tariffs on American exports to Mexico.  American exports to Mexico total more than 240 billion dollars.  A trade war with the US’ fourth largest trade partner would do immense damage to the economies of both countries.

Many people involved in border security have said that a wall will be a waste of resources and time.  Many agents with US Customs and Border Patrol have stated that a wall will not do much to stop illicit traffic in narcotics or people.  The majority of undocumented migrants enter legally but overstay visas.  Those who do sneak into the border normally work as seasonal laborers in agriculture during planting or harvesting times for crops and then return home to Mexico.  Other agents simply state that a wall would be easy to cross with ladders or tunnels.   A fence already exists for much of the border and has helped in many areas but failed to make any difference in others.  Building a wall along the border would also require the seizure of hundreds of private properties in South Texas due to most of the land being privately owned and used for agriculture.  Much of the mountainous terrain in West Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona make building any sort of infrastructure impossible.  For President Trump to build his planned wall, all of these hurdles must be dealt with.