Judge dismisses Trump lawsuit against Pa. ballot procedures

By: Marc Levy

HARRISBURG — A federal judge in Pennsylvania on Saturday threw out a lawsuit filed by President Donald Trump’s campaign, dismissing its challenges to the battleground state’s poll-watching law and its efforts to limit how mail-in ballots can be collected and which of them can be counted.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan — who was appointed by Mr. Trump — in Pittsburgh also poured cold water on Mr. Trump’s claims that Pennsylvania is fertile ground for election fraud.

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In optimistic State of the Union, Trump pitches deals to Dems

President Donald Trump on Tuesday delivered his first State of the Union address, using the occasion to make a sober appeal to unity and challenged his Democratic antagonists to cooperate in overhauling the nation’s immigration system and rebuilding its dated infrastructure.

The hour and twenty-minute-long speech pointedly lacked the partisan barbs that have become to define Mr. Trump’s presidency. Instead, Trump-the-optimistic-deal-maker was on display Tuesday, inviting bipartisan cooperation on his new year’s agenda of rebuilding the nation both economically and culturally.

“Tonight, I call upon all of us to set aside our differences, to seek common ground and to summon the unity we need to delivery for the people,” he said.

Beyond the pomp and showmanship, here’s what the speech means:

  • The president wants an immigration deal, with caveats. Trump has said both publically and privately he wants to protect undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children, popularly known as Dreamers, but he appropriated the movement’s language for his own purposes in last night’s speech. “My duty,” he said, “and the sacred duty of every elected official in this chamber, is to defend Americans–to protect their safety, their families, their communities, and their right to the American Dream. Because Americans are dreamers, too.” He offered what he called a compromise: trading a pathway to citizenship for some 1.8 million Dreamers in exchange for border wall funding along the US-Mexico border, new caps on family-based migration, and a shuttering of the diversity visa lottery program. While he extended “an open hand to work with members of both parties,” glimmers of the old Trump was still on display. Seated in First Lady Melania Trump’s viewing box, Trump pointed to four parents grieving the loss of children who were murdered by members of the MS-13 gang.
  • The president wants to build things again, but doesn’t know what, where, or how. “America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just 1 year,” Trump said. “Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?” The president talked up his plan for infrastructure reform in broad terms, saying he would marry federal, state, and local government revenue to cobble together a $1.5 trillion package but didn’t say how the money would be spent or where.
  • The president wants to police reciprocal trade and IP. Mr. Trump, who often rails against the North American Free Trade Agreement and the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership as markers of bad trade negotiations, said he would work in the new year to “fix bad trade deals and negotiation new ones.” Enforcement actions will remain a chief concern of the administration in the new year, and the president directly pledged to protect American intellectual property–widely regarded as a shot across the bow of China, who the president regularly chides for trade and IP abuses.
  • Gitmo is staying open. The White House released during the president’s speech a new executive order keep open the controversial military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. The order, which reverses parts of a 2009 directive signed by President Barack Obama, allows for the possibility of new enemy combatants being sent to the prison “when lawful and necessary.”
  • The president has his eye on “Little Rocket Man.” President Trump was more measured when he discussed North Korea, avoiding the Twitter taunts and big button braggadocio, and instead spoke about the brutality of the “depraved” regime who’s “reckless pursuit of nuclear missiles could very soon threaten our homeland.” Ever the showman, Mr. Trump invited a North Korean defector to attend, receiving a standing ovation as he held over his head the crutches he needed to walk after enduring brutal torture. He also singled out the case of Otto Warmbier, a student at the University of Virginia who was traveling in North Korea while arrested and charged with crimes against the state. Brutally injured while detained, he was released recently to the United States and died shortly thereafter.


Promises made, questions left unanswered by GOP tax plan

The Trump administration and Congressional Republican leaderships this week released their “Unified Framework for Fixing our Broken Tax Cod,” a nine-page manifesto birthed from months of closed-door meetings on tax reform by the so-called Big Six: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, and Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch.

The goal of the framework is to move the tax reform process forward, in particular to build support for a budget resolution that will permit the House and Senate to pass tax reform legislation by a simple majority vote.

With that goal in mind, the framework answers several important questions regarding tax reform, but it leaves far more either unanswered or with too brief or too vague of a description to evaluate.  Because it is an advocacy piece, the framework is light on details.  And, when it has details, they generally focus on the good news (i.e., taxpayer-favorable provisions that are being added or expanded) rather than the bad news (i.e., provisions being eliminated or reduced).   Further, in many cases, the framework uses guarded language or caveats when discussing politically sensitive areas.  For example, the framework “aims” to consolidate the tax rates for individuals, “envisions” changing inflation adjustments and repealing provisions to make the tax code simpler, and “contemplates” preventing wealthy individuals from avoiding the top personal tax rate.  Areas that are still unsettled or where further work is required are left to the Ways and Means Committee and Finance Committee (the “committees”) to work through and resolve.

What the Framework Says



The framework “aims” to consolidate the current seven tax brackets into three brackets of 12%, 25% and 35%, although it warns ominously that “an additional top rate may apply to the highest-income taxpayers to ensure that the reformed tax code is at least as progressive as the existing tax code and does not shift the tax burden from high-income to lower- and middle-income taxpayers.” The framework also calls for use of a more accurate (i.e., less taxpayer-favorable) measure of inflation for purposes of indexing the tax brackets and other tax parameters.


For corporations, the framework would reduce the top tax rate to 20%. It notes that “the committees also may consider methods to reduce the double taxation of corporate earnings,” leaving open the possibility of a corporate integration proposal.

For pass-through entities, the framework would “limit the maximum tax rate applied to the business income of small and family-owned businesses conducted as sole proprietorships, partnerships and S corporations to 25%.” Nonetheless, the framework “contemplates that the committees will adopt measures to prevent the recharacterization of personal income into business income to prevent wealthy individuals from avoiding the top personal tax rate. ”

Deductions, Exclusions and Exemptions


The framework would:

  • combine the existing standard deduction and the personal exemptions for taxpayer and spouse and increase it to $24,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly and $12,000 for single filers;
  • convert existing personal exemptions for dependents into an enhanced child tax credit or a non-refundable $500 credit for non-child dependents;
  • eliminate “most” itemized deductions, but “retain tax incentives for home mortgage interest and charitable contributions, and
  • retain “tax benefits that encourage work, higher education and retirement security,” although the committees are encouraged to simplify them “to improve their efficiency and effectiveness.”

Punted to the committees:

  • “work on additional measures to meaningfully reduce the tax burden on the middle-class;”
  • repeal of many of the “numerous” exemptions, deductions and credits for individuals that “riddle the tax code” in order to “make the system simpler and fairer;” and
  • the appropriate treatment of interest paid by non-corporate taxpayers.


The framework:

  • would provide immediate expensing, for at least a five-year period, for all depreciable assets– other than structures–acquired after September 27, 2017.
  • states that the deduction for net interest expense incurred by C corporations will be partially limited.
  • specifically calls for the repeal of the section 199 manufacturing deduction, and states that “numerous other special exclusions and deductions will be repealed or restricted.” There are two explicit exceptions–the R&D tax credit and the low-income housing tax credit–although “the committees may decide to retain some other business credits to the extent budgetary limitations allow.”
  • would “modernize” the tax rules affecting specific industries “to ensure that the tax code better reflects economic reality and that such rules provide little opportunity for tax avoidance.”


The framework would repeal:

  • The individual alternative minimum tax (“AMT”);
  • the corporate AMT (or at least “aim to”); and
  • the estate tax and generation-skipping transfer tax.

International Tax Reform

The framework:

  • Calls for adoption of a new “territorial” tax system with a 100% exemption for dividends from foreign companies in which the US parent owns 10% or more of the shares. However, this dividend exemption comes at price: “to prevent companies from shifting profits to tax havens, the framework includes rules to protect the U.S. tax base by taxing at a reduced rate and on a global basis the foreign profits of U.S. multinational corporations.”
  • Would impose a “deemed repatriation” tax on US multinationals with offshore earnings. Different rates would apply to earnings held in liquid and illiquid form, although neither the rates nor the period over which the payments must be made is specified.
  • States that the committees will incorporate rules to level the playing field between U.S.-headquartered parent companies and foreign-headquartered parent companies.

What the Framework Doesn’t Address

  • Effective dates (other than for expensing)
  • Phase-ins and transition rules
  • How the international tax rules would apply to individuals
  • How it plans to comply with the budget rules

Next Steps

The House and Senate have to agree on a budget resolution that provides for a tax reform package in line with the framework. Once that is agreed to, the Ways and Means Committee and Finance Committee can proceed to marking up tax reform legislation and filling in the blanks.

Washington’s week ahead: July 17

In the latest of a string of setbacks, ObamaCare reconciliation vote delayed in the Senate as Arizona Senator John McCain is treated for a blood clot… Don Jr., and others, met with Russian promising “very high level and sensitive information”… Approps Omnibus package gains steam – pre whip count – in House… POTUS celebrates Bastille Day in Paris with French President Macron… Federal Judge in Hawaii loosens Trump temporary travel ban… CBO says Trump ’18 budget will not balance in a decade, contrary to WH estimates… FBI nominee Wray testifies before Senate Judiciary Committee… House Appropriations Committee releases spending bill with $1.6 bill for border wall… Former FBI Director Comey signs book deal… POTUS approval rating after six months in office is the lowest of any president in the past 70 years, according to a new poll… And K Street scrambles to rebook flights out of town as Leader McConnell takes back 2 weeks of recess…

THE WEEK AHEAD:   The White House dubs this “Make in America Week”… CBO score due for repeal 2.0..House Budget Committee to mark up… House whips Approps Omni package…

POTUS:   POTUS  announced the appointment of Ty Cobb–no not that one: a veteran Washington lawyer with experience as a federal prosecutor and defense attorney–as special counsel at the White House

CONGRESS:  The House Dress Code gets an update. The conservative firebrand credited with pressuring then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to resign in 2015 issued a warning Thursday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his establishment allies.. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) formally introduced an article of impeachment against President Trump on Wednesday.

THE COURT:   Partisan map makers beware, the Supreme Court is set to take a serious look at partisan gerrymandering with a case that could jeopardize voter maps across the country and help Democrats regain control of Congress

APPROPRIATIONS:  House GOP leaders will return to Washington this week with hopes of passing a budget resolution and a 12-bill omnibus before leaving town for the August recess.

CYBER:  Major technology companies and tech advocacy organizations are banding together in a last-ditch effort to save the Federal Communication Commission’s net neutrality rules.

ENERGY:  House appropriators diverged from President Donald Trump’s budget proposal by minimizing cuts to the Interior Department and the EPA’s budget as part of the energy and water appropriations bill.

ENVIRONMENT:  The Environmental Protection Agency asked for a 52-day delay from having to enforce the Obama-era regulation for the venting and flaring of methane, a critical greenhouse gas, after a court ruled against the agency. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit granted a 14-day stay while the EPA considers further legal action.. A bipartisan group on the House side protected the need to study climate change as part of national security as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, striking down an amendment that opposed it.

HEALTH:  It’s unclear whether Senate Republicans have the votes to win on a key procedural motion that would allow them to debate the new healthcare bill they released on Thursday.  Here is what has changed in the new version and a look at who got what. 

RUSSIA INVESTIGATION: Trumpland lawyers up… Calls for Kushner to loser his security clearance have mounted, as congressional investigators probe whether the Trump campaign’s digital operation — run by the president’s son-in-law — coordinated efforts with Russian bots spreading fake news about Hillary Clinton.  The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is sharply divided over how the election watchdog agency should respond to Russian interference in the U.S. election as more revelations come to light about foreign meddling during 2016.

RUSSIAN SANCTIONS:  Lawmakers are growing increasingly frustrated with a series of procedural spats that are stalling new Russia sanctions in the House amid mounting concerns about Moscow’s election meddling.

TRADE:  Energy Department Secretary Rick Perry visited his counterpart in the Mexican government to discuss trade relations and cross-border electricity transmission as part of a broader discussion on North American energy strategy.

TRAVEL BAN: The Trump administration asked the Supreme Court on Friday to block a federal judge’s ruling that grandparents of U.S. citizens and refugees already being processed for resettlement are exempt from President Trump’s travel ban. 

CONFIRMATION UPDATE: Office for Regulatory Affairs  PREVIOUSLY CONFIRMED- FEMA Administrator  Deputy Secretary of State, Associate Attorney General, Deputy Secretary of Transportation,  Sec. of Air Force, FDA Commissioner, US Trade Representative Chairman of the SEC,  Sec of Agriculture, Sec of Labor   Associate Justice of the Supreme Court , Amb. To Israel  Admin of CMS, Director of National Intelligence, Sec. of HUD, Sec. of Energy, Sec of Interior,  Sec. of Treasury, OMB Director,  Attorney General, Sec. of Education, Sec of Veteran’s Affairs , EPA Administrator, Small Business Admin, Sec. of HHS, Sec. of State, Sec of Transportation, Director of CIA, Sec. of Defense, Amb. to the UN, Sec. of Homeland,  Sec. of Commerce  

PRESIDENTIAL MEMORANDUM & EXECUTIVE ORDER TRACKER:   Presidential Memoranda Cuba  Jerusalem Embassy Act  Stabilization of Iraq  Aluminum Imports    Offshore Drilling, VA Accountability, Local Control of Education, Review of Antiquities Act, Rural American Prosperity : Orderly Liquidation Authority, Financial Stability Oversight Council, Steel Imports and Threats to National Security  Executive Branch Re-Org    Travel Ban 2.0 Memo for USSS, USAG, USSHS     Fiduciary Duty RuleNational Security Council,  Defeat ISIL,   Pipeline Construction, American Pipe,  Domestic Manufacturing,  TPP, Hiring Freeze, Mexico City (Abortion), Memo to Executive Departments and Agencies  Executive Orders: North Korea   Western Balkans Cyber security    Election Integrity   Promoting Free Speech & Religious Liberty Identifying Tax Burdens, Buy American and Hire American  Principles for Reforming the Military selective Service Process  Climate,   Addiction & Opioid Crisis , Report on Trade Deficits,  Trade Enforcement Travel Ban 2.0  Regulatory Reform Task Forces,  Crime Reduction, Drug Cartels, Law Enforcement protection, DOJ Succession,  Dodd Frank,  2 for 1 Reg,    Border and Immigration Enforcement, ObamaCare, Public Safety, Expediting Environmental Review Process, Visa Restrictions


Washington on one page: June 26

THE LEDE:  Leader McConnell drops 142 page discussion draft, while 7 GOP Senators express “real concerns.” The Washington Post writes that Obama tried to retaliate against Russian intrusion into 2016 election. Trump doesn’t have tapes of Oval conversation with Comey. POTUS continues North Korean and Western Balkans “national emergency” designation. President Trump meets with President Petro Poroshenko of Ukraine and President Varela of Panama. POTUS tightens US policy towards Cuba. Ping Pong Pizza shooter gets 4 years. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s condition has been upgraded from “serious” to “fair.”

THE WEEK AHEAD:   Better Care Reform Act CBO score due. Secs Pruitt & Acosta, Chairman Clayton and Ambassador Haley make the appropriating and authorizing swing. Chairman Chaffetz resignation effective 6/30. Sanctauary cities bill to move in judiciary and to the floor. NDAA in House Armed Services


PREVIOUSLY CONFIRMED- Deputy Secretary of State, Associate Attorney General, Deputy Secretary of Transportation,  Sec. of Air Force, FDA Commissioner, US Trade Representative Chairman of the SEC,  Sec of Agriculture, Sec of Labor   Associate Justice of the Supreme Court , Amb. To Israel  Admin of CMS, Director of National Intelligence, Sec. of HUD, Sec. of Energy, Sec of Interior,  Sec. of Treasury, OMB Director,  Attorney General, Sec. of Education, Sec of Veteran’s Affairs , EPA Administrator, Small Business Admin, Sec. of HHS, Sec. of State, Sec of Transportation, Director of CIA, Sec. of Defense, Amb. to the UN, Sec. of Homeland,  Sec. of Commerce

PRESIDENTIAL MEMORANDUM & EXECUTIVE ORDER TRACKER:   Presidential Memoranda Cuba  Jerusalem Embassy Act  Stabilization of Iraq  Aluminum Imports    Offshore Drilling, VA Accountability, Local Control of Education, Review of Antiquities Act, Rural American Prosperity : Orderly Liquidation Authority, Financial Stability Oversight Council, Steel Imports and Threats to National Security  Executive Branch Re-Org    Travel Ban 2.0 Memo for USSS, USAG, USSHS     Fiduciary Duty RuleNational Security Council,  Defeat ISIL,   Pipeline Construction, American Pipe,  Domestic Manufacturing,  TPP, Hiring Freeze, Mexico City (Abortion), Memo to Executive Departments and Agencies  Executive Orders: North Korea   Western Balkans Cyber security    Election Integrity   Promoting Free Speech & Religious Liberty Identifying Tax Burdens, Buy American and Hire American  Principles for Reforming the Military selective Service Process  Climate,   Addiction & Opioid Crisis , Report on Trade Deficits,  Trade Enforcement Travel Ban 2.0  Regulatory Reform Task Forces,  Crime Reduction, Drug Cartels, Law Enforcement protection, DOJ Succession,  Dodd Frank,  2 for 1 Reg,    Border and Immigration Enforcement, ObamaCare, Public Safety, Expediting Environmental Review Process, Visa Restrictions

POTUS: Trump said he does not have tapes of his conversations with now-former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey. He also said he has “no idea” whether such tapes exist.. President Trump signs the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017

CONGRESS: House Republicans are not yet in agreement on a spending plan for fiscal year 2018, a step that needs to be completed before they can move onto tax reform. Even without a budget in place, House Republicans advanced the second of 12 annual spending bills needed to fund the government — with more on the way.

ENERGY: The White House announced preparations for an energy focus for its upcoming policy-themed week, as President Donald Trump is expected to promote “energy dominance.”

HEALTH: NYT Whip List Tracker. The Affordable Care Act gave health insurance to millions of Americans by shifting resources from the wealthy to the poor and by moving oversight from states to the federal government. The Senate bill introduced Thursday pushes back forcefully on both dimensions.

RUSSIA:  Near the end of his term, former President Barack Obama authorized the planting of cyber weapons in Russian infrastructure, part of his response to the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that Russian President Vladimir Putin was directly involved with meddling in the 2016 presidential election.. During his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said Russia organized cyberattacks against the United States to influence the presidential election.

SPECIAL ELECTION: This may sound harsh but, in a reliable GOP district, the GOP candidate, who holds state wide office, beat an under 30 year old first time candidate who didn’t live in the district.  The circular firing squad was assembled with Leader Pelosi seemingly in their sights.  Leader Pelosi responds that she is “worth the trouble.”

TRADE: Ag Sec Predue held trilateral meeting with Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay and Mexican Secretary of Agriculture José Calzada Rovirosa in Savannah, Georgia

TRAVEL BAN: A federal judge in Hawaii narrowed his injunction against Trump’s travel ban, allowing the administration to move forward with studies and policy reviews his executive order also called for.

TRANSPORTATION: Asset Recycling. You’ll be hearing a lot about this in the coming transportation debate.  Learn about it here.

Have questions, comments, want some follow up?  You can reach us here, here or here.

Howard Dean on Trump’s first 100 days: Inconsistency, uncertainty abound

The first 100 days of the Trump administration has been trying, to say the least, for many Americans. Inconsistency in foreign policy and the abrogation of the proposed TransPacific Partnership has disappointed those of us who believe trade creates jobs both at home and abroad. This inconsistency has also made relationships with some of our most staunch allies more tenuous, particularly in Europe and South Korea. Mexico is reportedly looking to redefine itself, with the help of Chinese investment, as the capital of carmaking in the Western hemisphere. None of these developments bode well for American businesses.

The domestic side is also difficult. Uncertainty is always the enemy of new investment. The White House is in disarray. Nearly 500 political appointments in key agencies have not been sent to the Senate to begin the confirmation process. This includes critical positions in Treasury needed to get the tax package ready for consideration. It now appears that the long-awaited corporate tax cut will be paid for simply by adding to the deficit. What some will view as a positive development— the vigorous response to undocumented immigration—is also reducing foreign tourism and making legal skilled labor from other countries more difficult to obtain.

I remain an optimist because the United States is a strong decentralized country and the rule of law has so far proved resilient. And the revenues for cable TV, which thrives on sensationalism and chaos, have soared!

Newt Gingrich on Trump’s first 100 days: The world knows US is strong again

There is no question that the most dramatic result of President Trump’s first 100 days in office is America’s reclaiming of its leadership role in the world.

In less than three months, President Trump has sent a clear and decisive message to Bashar al-Assad that use of chemical weapons carries serious consequences—which also put Vladmir Putin on notice that his support for Assad would only lead to isolating Russia. The president has shown ISIS that the days of the US fighting on the terrorists’ terms were over, and may also have started to effect real and positive change regarding China’s policy toward North Korea.

When you have long-time security hawk (and frequent Trump critic) Senator Lindsey Graham telling Fox & Friends that “in 80 days [President Trump’s] done more to correct the world … than Obama did in eight years,” that is significant.

President Trump has also set the US on a path toward deregulation. He immediately put in place an executive order requiring that two federal regulations be abolished for every one that is added. And as of this week, he has signed more than a dozen bills under the Congressional Review Act scrapping needless federal regulations; cutting the red tape that’s been draped across Wall Street and the securities market, the energy and environmental sectors, small business and health care.

President Trump’s efforts to cut bureaucracy and regulation have laid a foundation for economic growth and job creation that will be one of the defining achievements of his presidency.

We measure presidents by their first 100 days in office, because in 1933 President Franklin D. Roosevelt was able to usher 15 legislative packages through Congress, during a time when the stock market was still in the tank and unemployment stood at 25 percent. It was a massive legislative accomplishment for FDR. It also ushered in an era of big government that continues to stifle our economy and invade the private lives of our citizens.

But remember: President Trump represents the third great effort to break the country out of the big government FDR model. The first was the election of Ronald Reagan in 1981, and the second was our Contract with America in 1994.

You should also remember that Trump is a builder and an entrepreneur. These first 100 days represent a foundation he is constructing on which America can be made great again.

Obamacare repair, not replacement: more than a change in messaging

Last week Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee held a hearing on four Obamacare replacement bills. The move is consistent with recent Republican leadership comments that  they plan to replace the Affordable Care Act with a series of small measures instead of one major replacement bill.

But at the same time President Donald Trump in a Fox interview said that an Obamacare replacement may take until 2018. And now House Speaker Paul Ryan leading committee chairs are saying they want to “repair” the ACA, not “repeal and replace” the law.

Legislating is hard

What’s going on here? The President is acknowledging what many policy makers already knew. Despite the campaign rhetoric that Obamacare would immediately be repealed and replaced, the process could have serious political repercussions if not done right.

There appears to be general agreement about moving away from the ACA’s insurance benefit mandates.  Also, the aforementioned House subcommittee explored popular issues like how to deal with people with pre-existing health conditions, how to spur people to keep continuous coverage throughout their lives, and loosening age-rating bands. Alongside Democratic taunts that Republicans don’t know what to do after the “dog has caught the car,” or in some versions is actually trying to drive the car, the simple fact is finding a consensus on how to replace the ACA will take longer than expected.

 Individual mandate is instructive

The repeal of the individual insurance mandate provides a perfect example of the dilemma Republicans face. The mandate that individuals purchase health insurance or face a penalty is a core feature of Obamacare. Republicans hate mandates and see the provision of as symbolic of Obamacare overreach in attempting to correct deficiencies in the individual insurance market.

There is broad agreement that the law should bar insurers from discriminating against people with medical problems as long as they remained enrolled in an insurance plan. But if you eliminate the mandate that people buy insurance, you’re left with a worsening and dysfunctional market that attracts high risk enrollees and leaves insurers with a pool customers who are older and less well.

To cover those with existing health conditions, Republicans have floated the idea of continuous coverage–requiring everyone to maintain health coverage throughout their lives–although that sounds like a mandate to many and the GOP is still figuring out how to do it. Other ideas like levying a surcharge on those who fail to sign up for insurance or to automatically enroll individuals eligible for subsidized coverage who don’t signup don’t sit well with the conservative wing of the GOP.

Crowded Congressional Calendar

The Congressional calendar looms large in the analysis of how to repair or replace Obamacare. During the Republican retreat in Philadelphia Speaker Ryan said he planned to bring the a budget reconciliation package–that requires only 50 votes to pass rather than the usual 60–to the House floor by the end of March. This measure is expected to contain repeal and some replacement elements.  But a leaked recording from the same GOP retreat last month shows a party that remains divided and uncertain about how to move forward.

The delay on ACA “repair” pushes back legislative activity on almost every other priority. In addition to action on Obamacare, Republicans want to address an overhaul of the tax code and a massive infrastructure bill.  On top of that, Republicans hope to pass all 12 fiscal year 2018 appropriation bills before Oct. 1 —including funding for a wall on the Mexican border. Congress hasn’t passed its appropriations bills in two decades. In addition, there are several must-pass deadlines. Congress needs to fund the government before money runs out on April 28 and raise the debt ceiling by this summer. There is widespread concern that Trump and GOP leadership have simply identified too many big-ticket, politically thorny items to tackle in year one.

On Obamacare, expect a drawn out fight, not just between Republicans and Democrats but within the GOP. The Obamacare alternatives being considered may not prove any more popular.

Denver’s Gorsuch in spotlight as Trump nears SCOTUS pick

President Donald Trump will announce his nomination for the United States Supreme Court Tuesday evening, filling a months-long vacancy made by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia last year.

Denver native, Judge Neil M. Gorsuch of the Tenth Circuit of Appeals (which has jurisdiction over the District of Colorado), is reportedly on the president’s short list for the bench. A graduate of Columbia University, Harvard Law School, and Oxford University, Gorsuch, 49, has a unique combination of Western roots and East Coast experience. After law school, Judge Gorsuch served as Law Clerk to Judge David Sentelle of the U.S. Court of Appeals, for the D.C. Circuit, and later as Law Clerk to Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy.

In 2006, President George W. Bush appointed Judge Gorsuch, then age 39, to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Before Judge Gorsuch’s appointment to the Tenth Circuit, he was in private practice for ten years at a Washington D.C. law firm and a Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General at the Department of Justice.

Eric Citron of SCOTUSblog has described Judge Gorsuch as “the most natural successor to Justice Antonin Scalia on Trump’s shortlist, both in terms of his judicial style and his substantive approach.”  Judicial commentators note that Judge Gorsuch has a brilliant legal mind and a reputation for being an active questioner during oral argument.  Further, Judge Gorsuch’s written opinions have been known for their clarity, thorough reasoning, and commitment to a textual analysis of the law.

Since his appointment to the Tenth Circuit, Judge Gorsuch has authored numerous opinions, and received attention for his concurrence in Hobby Lobby Stores v. Sebelius and his majority opinion and concurrence in Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch.  In Hobby Lobby, Judge Gorsuch sided with the company owners and held that the parties’ understanding regarding the tenets of their faith should prevail over the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers provide contraception insurance coverage to employees.  As a result of this opinion, Judge Gorsuch became known as a defender of religious liberties.  In Gutierrez-Brizuela, Judge Gorsuch advocated for ending the Chevron doctrine to executive branch agencies’ interpretation of the statutes they implement.  The Judge’s a position departs significantly from Supreme Court precedent dating to the 1980s.

Given Judge Gorsuch’s reputation and history on the Tenth Circuit, it is likely that if appointed and confirmed for a seat on the Supreme Court, he would uphold a conservative judicial theory in accord with principles of limited government and state’s rights—a philosophy that is strikingly similar to Justice Scalia.

Until President Trump’s nomination to the Supreme Court becomes public on Tuesday, January 31, Judge Gorsuch—and the country—patiently await to learn the future of the Court.

Trump taps Price to lead HHS

On Tuesday, November 29, President-elect Trump announced the nomination of Republican Representative Tom Price of Georgia to be Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). Price is an orthopedic surgeon who has represented the northern suburbs of Atlanta since 2005. Before coming to Washington, he was a state senator in Georgia for four terms and, in 2002, was the majority leader of the state Senate. Price worked for almost two decades in private practice as an orthopedic surgeon, including as an Assistant Professor and Medical Director of the Orthopedic Clinic at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta.

Price has often said the reason he entered politics was because, as a doctor, he saw that the politicians who were making the decisions and laws that impacted on patient care didn’t have medical backgrounds. Therefore it is no surprise that since coming to Congress in 2005, he has put his medical expertise to good use, spending considerable time and energy mastering the intricacies of health policy. As a member of the Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over the Medicare program, and as chairman of the Budget Committee, Price has put forward bill after bill which, viewed collective, give us a good understanding of his perspective on health policy and what HHS might look like under his leadership.

In analyzing the healthcare legislation to which Price has signed his name during his time in Congress, common themes emerge: increase patient choice, reduce federal interference in the practice of medicine, empower states and individuals in their health decisions, and increase market forces in government health programs. The legislation he has introduced has spanned a range of health policy issues, including: repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act (ACA), modifying the durable medical equipment (DME) competitive bidding process, reforming the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), establishing performance-based quality measures for use in medical malpractice litigation, allowing patients and physicians to privately contract for healthcare services, returning the regulation of health insurance back to the states, and delaying the negative impact of meaningful use standards for health information technology (HIT).

Earlier this year, Price led two letters to CMS regarding the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI). One asked CMS to “stop [CMMI from] experimenting with Americans’ health and cease all mandatory demos and to ensure that future models comply with current law.” The second asked CMS to withdraw the Part B Drug Payment Model proposed rule.

The last bill that Price introduced was in September of this year. It would delay the current CMS demonstration project that established a prior authorization review process for home health services.

While Price is a conservative member of the House, he has, throughout his political career, continuously worked across the aisle to put forward innovative policy proposals and solutions. One example is a 2006 health bill he co-authored with then-Rep. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin’s 2nd congressional district, entitled “Health Care Partnership Through Creative Federalism Act.” This bill set up a federal commission to which states or groups of states could submit innovative plans to reduce the number of uninsured in their state or group of states. The commission would then select a number of the proposals to submit to Congress, where they would be given expedited consideration and could not be amended. When promoting this legislation, Price often said that its goal was to allow states to be incubators of innovation; to give them the freedom to choose the plan that is best for their residents. Whether states would choose free market reforms or single-payer policies would be up to them.

Price served on the Ways and Means Committee with Speaker Ryan and succeeded him as chairman of the Budget Committee after Ryan was elected Speaker of the House in late 2015. Their association led Price to embrace many of the entitlement reforms first introduced by Ryan, including allowing Medicare Advantage plans to vary their benefit designs, creating a “Medicare exchange” where seniors could choose between private insurance plans competing alongside traditional Medicare, publicly reporting performance metrics for traditional fee-for-service Medicare and Medicare Advantage, and reforming Medicaid to allow states to choose either a per capita allotment or block grants.

Since the announcement, critics have focused on the fact that Price doesn’t have any experience running anything near the size and scope of HHS, which has 11 agencies, nearly 80,000 employees and a budget of over $1 trillion. However, there are few members of Congress who have more passion for health policy and have spent more time on the details of the ACA and Medicare policy. And if confirmed, Price will be the first physician to run the department since 1993.