The night before the first day of this Congress, Republicans voted to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics. The office is the independent watchdog of actions taken by members Congress. The GOP recanted after backlash from House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Donald Trump tweet and angry calls from voters. The way Republicans treated the Office of Congressional Ethics mimics how they're now attacking another nonpartisan watchdog: the Congressional Budget Office.
The CBO is an arcane government office with a simple task: Provide nonpartisan analysis of bills under consideration by Congress. While the OGE deals with ethics, the CBO is a watchdog on finance. The office is not flawless; it predicted the Affordable Care Act would cover more people than it did and cost more than it did. Yet the "scoring" of legislation conducted by the CBO offers an independent appraisal of what a bill will cost and what it will do before it goes into effect. CBO reports are regularly cited by Democrats, Republicans and the media. Now-Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price chose (and praised) the current head of the CBO.
But now top Republicans are attacking the CBO, questioning the office's ability to independently evaluate the facts. "If you're looking at the CBO for accuracy, you're looking at the wrong place," press secretary Sean Spicer said. The No. 3 Republican in the House said "unelected bureaucrats in Washington" will not delay the health care bill. The attack comes ahead of the CBO's scoring of the American Health Care Act. That scoring, expected Monday, will offer the best prediction of how much the act will cost and whether it will lead to a loss in health insurance.
Ignoring the CBO could impact millions of people. By teeing up the press and voters for bad news on Monday, the White House and Republican leaders are preparing to move forward independent of the CBO score. One House committee, without full knowledge of the bill's impact, has already approved the bill. The parliamentary procedure Republicans are using will allow the AHCA to pass the Senate with 51 votes, but the bill cannot increase the federal deficit after 10 years. That means Republicans need the CBO to say the health care plan will not increase costs for the federal government.
Politically, the GOP fears the CBO will say the bill would reduce the number of people who receive health insurance. Meanwhile, health care experts across the political spectrum are sure the plan will cut coverage.
Attacking the CBO is not a unified Republican position. Especially in the Senate, where Republicans can only afford two defections to pass the act, GOP politicians are asking their House colleagues — and the White House — to pump the brakes. Longtime Trump supporter Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas said Thursday, "To my friends in the House: pause, start over. Get it right, don't get it fast." That came as Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine told Yahoo that the current bill will not be "well-received" in the Senate.
A vote on the health care plan is expected in the full House as early as next week, though GOP opposition in the Senate and among grassroots conservatives seems likely to slow or stall those efforts. A slowdown would give Republicans time to evaluate the CBO's prediction of the bill's impact before rushing the plan forward. The president often stretches or creates the truth. But ignoring the facts on health care reform would break a core Trump campaign promise — and possibly lead to millions of Americans losing health insurance.
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• Today: Republicans are signaling they may dismiss certain negative realities about their health care plan.
• More: The groups who represent seniors, hospitals and doctors are opposed to the AHCA. They're also among the biggest lobbies in Washington.
• Even more: International Women's Day drew crowds in New York City, but turnout elsewhere was relatively low.
• Yes, more: A new report says Trump has quietly installed people across the federal government with ties to far-right websites and big money lobbying.
• ICYMI: I spoke with rapper Talib Kweli about his opposition to Trump. Watch the video here.
• Trump's agenda today: Holding a National Economic Council meeting and a discussion of the federal budget over lunch. Meeting with the director of the CIA and secretary of homeland security. Speaking to the Senate Youth Program.
The powerful opposition to the American Health Care Act
AARP, the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association all oppose the GOP plan. This trifecta of groups representing older Americans, doctors and hospitals is among the largest lobbies in Washington.
The AHA spent a whopping nearly $21 million on reported lobbying in 2016, followed by the AMA at $19.4 million and AARP at $8.7 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The AMA and AHA rank in the top six in 2016 for money spent by groups on federal lobbying, far exceeding spending by companies like Exxon Mobil, Comcast and Dow Chemical. The AHA has spent more than $316 million on lobbying since 1998, the fifth-highest of any organization in Washington.
Don't get too attached to the current draft of the AHCA: The president is reportedly "agnostic" about the details. (Bloomberg) And even as the president campaigns for the bill, he has already suggested an alternative plan: Let Obamacare fail in two years, blame Democrats and then try this all again. (Politico)
A recap of International Women's Day
Thousands of women attended marches and rallies in New York City during International Women's Day, but the national call to action generated only a fraction of the turnout seen during the Women's March. Three school districts (including in the Washington, D.C., area, which voted overwhelmingly against Trump) shut down because of #ADayWithoutAWoman protests. Protesters attended an afternoon Women Workers Rising rally near the National Mall in Washington. Hundreds of people rallied in downtown Los Angeles, a fraction of the 750,000 who turned out for the Women's March there. Thirteen activists in New York were arrested during a rally.
Activists highlighted the wage gap women face, as well as the ways government policies uniquely target the needs of women. A defense of Planned Parenthood and reproductive rights was a common theme across demonstrations.
Trump loyalists installed across the federal government
ProPublica dropped a bombshell report on Wednesday saying Trump has installed people all over the government to be his eyes and ears in federal agencies. Many of these people have ties to Breitbart and far-right websites, while dozens are former lobbyists. From a summary by Mic's Tom McKay: "President Donald Trump has quietly positioned hundreds of his supporters to take jobs across the executive branch, essentially taking a backdoor approach to placing 'his eyes and ears at every major federal agency' even while senior jobs requiring congressional confirmation remain unfilled."
More Trump news: Jon Huntsman is the president's choice to be American ambassador to Russia. The ambassador to China under Obama, Huntsman is a well-regarded Republican moderate. Huntsman is not expected to be friendly with Russian President Vladimir Putin, making him an interesting pick for a president who has gone out of his way to praise the Russian leader. (Mic)
Sen. Ted Cruz and his wife, Heidi, dined with Trump and the first lady. The president has met regularly over the last couple days with Republican leaders to discuss how to pass the AHCA. The former rivals publicly reconciled long ago, and Cruz could become a key surrogate in marshaling the AHCA through Congress. (Dallas Morning News)
Trump and China
Apparently, the relationship is warmer here than you may have guessed. From Mic's Emily Singer: "The Chinese government gave preliminary approval to 38 Trump trademarks on everything from Trump-branded golf clubs to massage services and even a group of trademarks for 'social escort and concierge services.'" The Trump Organization clarified it is not planning to start an escort service in China. While Trump does not oversee day-to-day management of his company, his sons run the family business and Trump maintains close ties to his financial interests.
Speculation was rampant that the Chinese offered this approval to curry favor with Trump, a move made more interesting by the fact that China recently announced anger over the U.S. placing a missile defense system in South Korea. The president is not allowed to receive any money from foreign governments, something Trump has said he will avoid by launching no new international deals during his time in the White House.
News and insights you cannot miss:
• Which senators received the most money from Wall Street in 2016? Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz — followed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. (Mic)
• The FBI is investigating whether companies that contract with the federal government on intelligence work leaked classified information about CIA hacking programs to WikiLeaks. (Wall Street Journal)
• Republicans have been claiming rising premiums as a reason to change the Affordable Care Act. But the New York Times shows those increases actually affect a very small part of the market. (New York Times)
• First the EPA, now Housing and Urban Development: The Trump administration considers a 14% cut to the HUD budget. (Washington Post)