The Trump administration is facing searing criticism over a trio of significant decisions this week, all of which are eminently defensible, if not entirely correct. (1) On Obamacare's cost sharing subsidies, an issue we touched on a number of weeks ago, the president has decided to cease making payments of dollars that were never appropriated by Congress -- a task for which they are solely responsible under the constitution. When the legislative branch failed to approve bailout-style "cost sharing" dollars to be paid to insurers to mitigate their financial losses associated with covering consumers with costly pre-existing conditions (which weren't sufficiently offset by an influx of young, healthy people willing to overpay for coverage), President Obama started paying out those funds unilaterally. The House of Representatives, then led by Speaker John Boehner, sued in federal court -- and won. Obama's payouts were illegal, the court ruled, agreeing with House Republicans' legal argument. With the Trump administration announcement that they are ceasing those payments, all three branches of the federal government have now affirmed that the previous White House's actions were unlawful. This is really all you need to know:
2. Critics of Trump’s decision to end CSR payments seem to forget a federal judge called them unconstitutional and ordered that they stop.— Michael F. Cannon (@mfcannon) October 13, 2017
It is undeniable that this move will severely disrupt the individual healthcare market in America, and that providers will move en masse toward even larger premium increases to compensate for the additional red ink they're now highly likely to incur. This is a profoundly negative policy outcome that will exacerbate already-serious financial stresses and dysfunction caused by Obamacare's failing structure. These fundamental flaws and spiraling dynamics predate Donald Trump, and cannot be accurately pinned on Republican "saboteurs." If left unaddressed, the cessation of CSR's will make things worse. Meanwhile, Republicans have failed to 'repeal and replace' the law in its entirety, as they promised to do for seven years. The president's executive order on healthcare regulations unveiled this week (about which I have some constitutional doubts) may tinker around the edges to help some people currently priced out of Obamacare, but it's hardly a sweeping solution. With the unconstitutionally-allocated CSR's getting the axe, the GOP-held Congress now faces a dilemma: Properly appropriate those funds, which were authorized in Obamacare (which Obamacare opponents will decry as propping up a harmful law that's hurting people), or let costs spike much higher than they already have (which Obamacare proponents will cast as undermining the law and hurting people).
Thanks to their repeal face-plants, Congressional Republicans' least bad remaining option appears to be shepherding through a "fix" for the broken law that restores these stabilizing pay-offs to insurers in exchange for some modest reforms. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray have been working on the contours of such a bill for some time now. Just as with DACA, Congress must act to prevent unjust and harmful outcomes from taking effect after illegal Obama power-grabs disappear. But also just as with DACA, this is the job of Congress, not the executive branch. As you hear table-pounding over the adverse effects of Trump's move here, including anger over the people it will hurt, and how unpopular it is (ridiculous poll questions aside), re-read the tweets above. Obama's policy was against the law. We are a nation of laws. Thus, the Trump administration is absolutely right to respect the rule of law. Republicans and Democrats are now -- rightly -- in charge of cleaning up the mess that Democrats made with their shoddy law, which they built and sold on lies. They should do their job.
(2) Speaking of lies, next up is the Iran deal. The Trump administration has elected not to pull out of Obama's unilateral Iran nuclear deal, which was opposed by substantial bipartisan majorities in Congress. Rather than exiting the agreement entirely, the White House declined to certify that it's in the United States' interests and rolled out a new policy posture toward Iran on a number of fronts:
Core elements of new WH Iran strategy—> a very welcome, total 180 from the Obama years. pic.twitter.com/KuEniZNADy— David Reaboi (@davereaboi) October 13, 2017
The US government will also pursue a tougher line against the world's top state sponsor of international terrorism, including significant strengthening of Western-imposed restrictions on Iran's once-rogue nuclear program (which Obama legitimized). One of the most egregious flaws of the Iran deal was that its limits against Iranian nuclearization automatically sunset over a time horizon of 10-15 years, meaning that even if Tehran doesn't cheat (various intel reports suggest that they have been cheating, as they always do), they could just wait out the clock until key restrictions expire. Even Obama has effectively conceded that Iran could become a threshold nuclear-armed state once those provisions go away. Team Trump and Congressional Republicans are now weighing plans that would nix those indefensible and reckless expiration dates:
BREAKING: Tillerson: Trump will not withdraw from Iran nuclear deal but will say pact is not in US national security interests.— The Associated Press (@AP) October 13, 2017
But Tillerson concedes that if Congress doesn't beef up legislation on Iran, the US may end up out of the nuclear agreement.— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) October 13, 2017
Corker acknowledges his bill wld permanently freeze Iran limits that sunset under nuke deal— Michael Mathes (@MichaelMathes) October 13, 2017
But: "We do not believe this violates the JCPOA"
If the United States is going to remain a party to this lopsided accord, it must become less lopsided. If the Iranians are telling the truth (heh) that their nuclear program is purely peaceful and not intended to develop weapons (heh heh), they should have no objection to the extension of restrictions to which they've already agreed. The new policy is less accommodating of the anti-American regime, it seeks to expand the duration of crucial restrictions, it emphasizes vigilant enforcement, and takes additional concrete steps against some of Iran's worst actors. It strikes an acceptable balance between the forces within the administration who wanted the president to decertify Obama's bad deal altogether, and those -- including Gen. Mattis -- who wanted to keep the framework intact. Lawmakers should not accept the Obama-crafted status quo as US policy. It was never stable US policy, which Obama guaranteed by bypassing Congress, knowing he lacked support on Capitol Hill.
(3) Some internationalists aren't pleased with the Trump administration's withdrawal from participation in UNESCO, the United Nations' "Environmental, Scientific and Cultural Organization." The US pulled out, along with Israel, citing the group's cartoonish and unending affronts against the Jewish State:
State Department officials said they hope the withdrawal will help push UNESCO to make changes that would satisfy Washington so the U.S. can resume full membership...“It sends a strong message that we need to see fundamental reform in the organization, and it raises everyone’s awareness about continued anti-Israel bias,” said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity under department ground rules...Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., said the last straw was when UNESCO this summer designated the old city of Hebron in the West Bank, with its Tomb of the Patriarchs, a Palestinian World Heritage site...Calling UNESCO’s politicization a “chronic embarrassment,” Haley added, “Just as we said in 1984 when President Reagan withdrew from UNESCO, U.S. taxpayers should no longer be on the hook to pay for policies that are hostile to our values and make a mockery of justice and common sense.”
A "chronic embarrassment" is right:
Cuba's delegation objecting to a moment of silence for Holocaust victims, to rousing applause. Disgusting. The US' departure from this disgraceful clown show was long overdue. May the $600 million we "owe" UNESCO never be repaid, until and unless the organization's anti-Israel histrionics are put to an end. This statement is a refreshing change from the groveling Obama era of "Smart Power."