Email #289: “working towards a solution”?

The latest version of an ACA repeal, the Senate’s Graham-Cassidy bill, would eliminate the individual mandate, eliminate essential health benefits, convert ACA market and Medicaid funds into state block grants, cap and reduce those funds over ten years, and eliminate those funds completely by 2027.

A group of eleven governors–five Republicans, five Democrats, and one Independent—condemned the bill. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the American Medical Association, the American Hospital Association, AARP, and the American Cancer Society are condemning it too.

The CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield said:

“The bill contains provisions that would allow states to waive key consumer protections, as well as undermine safeguards for those with pre-existing medical conditions. The legislation reduces funding for many states significantly and would increase uncertainty in the marketplace, making coverage more expensive and jeopardizing Americans’ choice of health plans.”

The CEO of Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association said:

“The cuts could be devastating to our health care system, including rural and frontier hospitals that operate on razor-thin margins. These hospitals are often accessible only by airplane or ferry, so the loss of a hospital means an expensive and disruptive medical evacuation out of the community. Ultimately, patients will bear the consequences, through reduced access to health care and lost insurance coverage.”

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the previous, similar repeal bills would have resulted in 15 to 18 million fewer people having healthcare the following year, a fact that doomed those bills in the Senate. The CBO does not have enough time to score the Graham-Cassidy bill before the September 30th deadline for a “reconciliation” vote, but preliminary calculations suggest a decrease of at least 15 million and as many as 30 million people.

You said in July: “I will keep working towards a solution to increase access to care and deliver affordable health insurance options.” But Graham-Cassidy and its predecessors would decrease access and decrease affordable options. Even if you’re right that “Obamacare does not work,” these repeals are not solutions. When will you start working for a bill that, like the ACA, is at least trying to achieve the goals you claim to support?

The AHCA, like Graham-Cassidy, would decrease access to care, but you voted for it because you said the AHCA would increase access to care. How can your constituents understand your position as anything other than Orwellian doublethink?


Email #288: “condemn such detestable views”?

Earlier this month a close friend of mine was driving in Lexington when a woman in the next lane yelled at him from her car:

“Move back! Go home!”

My friend (he asked me not to use his name) was born in India, but he is a U.S. citizen and has lived here for twenty-five years. Home for him is Rockbridge county. Both of his daughters were born in the U.S., and his oldest is attending an Ivy League college. Politically, he’s a Libertarian-leaning Democrat. When he lived in India, he was arrested and beaten while in police custody, so he understands a hell of a lot more about government corruption than anyone else I know. You met him yourself during a twelve-person constituent meeting in Staunton about three months ago. I believe he was the only dark-skinned person in the room.

I mention this because after the stranger yelled at him, he drove to our local Republican headquarters and told them that the incident was their responsibility. Xenophobic racism is now a defining trait of the GOP brand.  You know full well that racist driver voted for you last November.

I had assumed the incident was isolated, but then I learned that Republican audience members at the Labor Day parade in Buena Vista yelled “Move back! Go home!” at Delegate Sam Rasoul too. Rasoul is the only Muslim member of the Virginia House of Delegates. His parents are Palestinian immigrants, but he was born in the U.S., the only home he has ever known. I was told that none of the GOP candidates present—Ben Cline, Ed Gillespie, Jill Holtzman Vogel, and John Adams—said anything to their supporters who booed and jeered Rasoul with their racist taunts.

You said after Charlottesville: “The racist and anti-Semitic views embraced by white supremacists have no place in our nation and do not reflect core American values of equality and religious freedom. We are all created in the image of God, and I strongly condemn such detestable views against fellow human beings.”

But what about the racist views embraced by members of your Republican base here in the 6th district? While I hope very few of your supporters would label themselves white supremacists and even fewer would commit violence in support of white supremacy, many of those at the Buena Vista parade openly and proudly violated your stated values of equality and religious freedom.

When my friend spoke to you in person, he said you explained that you have to sometimes support extreme rightwing positions in order to ensure your reelection and so be able to accomplish what you called “the good I want to do.” But what about that bad you do in that process? What about the harm of allowing your voters’ extreme prejudices to go unchallenged? Worse, you and the President fuel those prejudices through your always one-sided rhetoric that paints immigrants as inhuman threats. You are politically profiting from the detestable views you claim to condemn.


Email #287: “we cannot fix the DACA problem”?

“I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.”

Do you disagree with that opinion? If so, you disagree with Ronald Reagan. He said it during a presidential debate in 1984, but he began promoting the policy during his first year in office. It became law through the bipartisan Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which increased security along the U.S.-Mexican border and also allowed undocumented immigrant who entered the country before 1982 to become citizens.

“The vast majority of illegal immigrants are decent people who work hard, support their families, practice their faith, and lead responsible lives… there are differences between an illegal immigrant who crossed the border recently and someone who has worked here for many years, and has a home, a family, and an otherwise clean record. I believe that illegal immigrants who have roots in our country and want to stay should have to pay a meaningful penalty for breaking the law, … to pay their taxes, … to learn English … and to work in a job for a number of years. People who meet these conditions should be able to apply for citizenship.”

Do you disagree with that too? If so, then you also disagree with President Bush. He announced his immigration reform plan in 2006, one that would have combined amnesty with increased border security. The bill died in the Senate the following year.

Now even President Trump—easily the most anti-immigration President of the modern era—has vowed to protect undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children from deportation and to provide a path to legal residency. Though the President’s commitment to replacing DACA with legislation falls far below his Republican predecessors, you have not expressed support of even this limited gesture. You said last week:

“President Trump has called on Congress to address this issue the right way through legislation. However, we cannot fix the DACA problem without fixing all of the issues that led to the underlying problem of illegal immigration in the first place.”

Does this mean you will vote against a DACA-replacing bill endorsed by the President? He has given Congress only six months to fix DACA, but “fixing all of the issues” related to immigration will take considerably longer. Rather than tackling this task in stages, will you block the President’s first, bipartisan step?

Email #286: “health insurance in 2018”?

Last month, Anthem announced it would be leaving the Virginia ACA market because the President would not guarantee the federal subsidies that let poor enrollees afford deductibles. As a result, 70,000 Virginians were going to lose their health insurance next year, over 30,000 in your own district.

Fortunately, Anthem changed its mind, announcing last week: “Since learning that 63 counties and cities would not have access to individual health plans, Anthem has been engaged in further evaluation and discussion with regulators to ensure that no bare counties or cities exist in Virginia.”

Your Republican colleague Rep. Griffith expressed thanks: “I am appreciative that Anthem re-entered the market, ensuring that Southwest Virginians will have an option to purchase health insurance in 2018.” Griffith’s congressional district borders yours, and so you share the 40,000 residents of Roanoke and New River valleys who would have lost their insurance.

You, however, did not express thanks. Would you prefer that Anthem not provide healthcare for your neediest constituents? Do you want the ACA market to collapse regardless of the human price?

Last week the Senate Health Committee held its fourth and final hearing on a bipartisan bill to stabilize the ACA insurance markets. Republican Committee chair Senator Alexander and Democrat Committee member Senator Murray hope to introduce a new healthcare bill for a vote this month. It would fund the subsidies that Anthem needs to remain in Virginia. It would create a catastrophe-only coverage option for enrollees. And it would give states more freedom to control rates and plans.

Personally, I think catastrophe-only coverage is a terrible idea, but I understand that many conservatives feel it’s essential for any bipartisan deal. I therefore support it. I also fear that states will have the “freedom” to strip away protections for pre-existing conditions and other essential needs. Still, if the measure brings Democrats and Republicans together, I support it. I assume many conservatives will dislike the cost of subsidies. But that’s the nature of compromise. Both sides must move to the center.

Unfortunately, these bipartisan efforts are being halted by the GOP’s latest and last attempt to repeal the ACA before September 30th, the deadline for the filibuster-preventing reconciliation process. Senator Murray said yesterday: “Republican leaders have decided to freeze this bipartisan approach and are trying to jam through a partisan Trumpcare bill.”

I know you would prefer to repeal the ACA. But if the repeal fails and the Senate passes the Health Committee’s bipartisan bill instead, will you vote for it? I predict the President will describe it as “essentially” a repeal of the ACA anyway and so claim to have accomplished a campaign promise. As long as it gets insurance to the people who need it, I don’t care who takes credit. Do you?

Email #285: “essentially, it’ll be brand-new”?

Because President Trump failed to express condolences about the devastating earthquake in Mexico earlier this month, Mexico rescinded its offer to aid U.S. victims of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The President later tweeted an excuse: “Spoke to President of Mexico to give condolences on terrible earthquake. Unable to reach for 3 days b/c of his cell phone reception at site.” But, as he demonstrated in his tweet, the President always has access to his Twitter account and could have expressed condolences at any time.

While Mexico always stated openly and directly that it would not fund the building of a border wall despite what the President promised throughout his campaign, the notion of a Mexico-financed wall has become that much more impossible. The President of Mexico told President Trump last month: “my position has been and will continue to be very firm saying that Mexico cannot pay for that wall.” This once again nullified the President’s “100-day action plan to Make America Great Again” call for an Act that “Fully-funds the construction of a wall on our southern border with the full understanding that the country of Mexico will be reimbursing the United States for the full cost of such wall.”

Fortunately, even the President is setting aside such notions now. He said last week: “We’re working on a plan for DACA. The wall will come later.”

This is good news for you since you’ve been so opposed to expanding government spending. You said even before President Trump was elected:

“We are at a crossroads in America. We can make the tough choices and control spending, paving the way for a return to surpluses and ultimately paying down the national debt, or we can allow big spenders to lead us further down the road of chronic deficits and leave our children and grandchildren saddled with debt that is not their own.”

The big spenders now are members of your own party who want Congress to expand the budget even further to include wall construction. As your fellow Virginian Rep. Brat said last week in response to the President: the wall was “what the whole election was about.” And that wall will add $25 million to the deficit—money that Mexico will never reimburse.

Given your career as a staunch deficit hawk, will you oppose any future calls for a deficit-expanding “Great Wall”?

Regardless, the President has already signalled how he intends to manuever out of his current predicament. He said last week: “Just so you understand, we’re renovating massive sections of the wall right now. And essentially, it’ll be brand-new and we’ll be able to use that.”

The President will declare that money already allocated and being spent on border maintainance fulfills his campaign promise to build a wall because it’s “essentially brand-new.” I predict that before the end of the year President Trump will say: “The wall is there. It’s there. It’s built. Look for yourself. I kept my promise. I said there would be a wall and there’s a wall.”

If this move to a moderate position works, he will placate both the left and right–including you by avoiding increased spending. But his opponents on both the far right and far left could still oppose him. Where will you stand?

Email #284: “distinct investigatory functions”?

Speaking as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, you explained in March:

“We believe both the Legislative Branch and the Executive Branch have unique but distinct investigatory functions.  The Executive Branch uniquely investigates allegations of criminal wrongdoing… The Legislative Branch has a distinct constitutional role as well, in that it exercises oversight of the functions of the Executive Branch.  This Committee will, of course, continue to engage in oversight within our jurisdiction.”

Though the Executive Branch is currently exercising its distinct investigatory functions through the controversial Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, you are not exercising your distinct constitutional role to engage in oversight of the Commission’s functions.

The Commission, as you of course know, was created in response to the President’s November tweet that “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” a claim rejected by GOP leaders, including Speaker Ryan who responded: “I’ve seen no evidence to that effect. I’ve made that very, very clear,” and Senator Graham who responded: “I am begging the president, share with us the information you have about this or please stop saying it.”

Instead of admitting that he had no such information, the President created the Commission. And rather than impartially investigating allegations of criminal wrongdoing, the Commission is attempting to justify the President’s unfounded claim.

While biased from its conception, now that the Commission has begun investigating, that bias has grown more overt. The Commission’s vice chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, published an article in the alt-right website Breitbart earlier this month claiming that “facts have come to light that indicate that a pivotal, close election was likely changed through voter fraud.” This assertion has been widely rebuked and openly mocked. Although Kobach had previously stated that the Commission should have no “preordained” or “preconceived” notions, his article demonstrates the opposite by interpreting same-day registrations in New Hampshire college towns as “out-of-staters” heading “to the Granite State to cast fraudulent votes.” This is not a “likely” interpretation of the data, and Kobach has since backtracked, explaining that “It’s a very difficult issue to condense into a short article.”

First, why was a co-chair of an executive branch investigation writing an article for a website with an extreme rightwing bias? It would be equally inappropriate if Democrats on the Commission were writing content for the Daily Kos and its deeply leftwing readers. Second, why was the vice chair writing a news article at all? That’s more egregious than leaking information to reporters. Shouldn’t the Commission’s findings be carefully weighed and then released as an official report when complete?

Since, as you stated, the House Judiciary Committee “will, of course, continue to engage in oversight within our jurisdiction,” specifically oversight of the executive branch’s investigatory functions, what are you doing to oversee the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity? If the issue is integrity, the Commission is damaging both the Trump administration’s and now, because of your inaction, the House Judiciary Committee’s.

Email #283: “the Ministry of Truth”?

When you attempted to change the Office of Congressional Ethics in early January, the New York Times wrote:

“The claim by Mr. Ryan and Mr. Goodlatte (who, hilariously, leads the House Judiciary Committee) that gutting the office would improve “due process” for accused lawmakers is a marvel of Orwellian newspeak. So is Mr. Goodlatte’s insistence that dismantling the O.C.E. “builds upon and strengthens” it.”

The editors of the Roanoke Times and Staunton New Leader also titled letters I wrote about you in January: “Goodlatte is Orwellian” and “Goodlatte excels at doublespeak.” I wrote:

“Goodlatte talks like a character from a George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth: “With Republicans holding the White House and the majorities in both chambers of Congress, I am hopeful that we will now have an avenue to move bipartisan legislation that has been stalled over the past eight years.” If that legislation is “bipartisan” why only now is there an avenue to pass it? Goodlatte also told me he wanted us to unite and work together, but using a tactic that is overwhelmingly partisan is the opposite.”

So I was amused when you evoked “the Ministry of Truth from George Orwell’s 1984” in a letter last month. I assume you know that sales of the novel spiked in January after White House spokesperson Kellyanne Conway coined the phrase “alternative facts.” Four days later, the novel was Amazon’s top-seller. A Penguin spokesperson told CNN: “We put through a 75,000 copy reprint this week.” A theater professor at my school and your alma mater, Washington and Lee University, had gotten the rights to produce the play, but as a result of the Trump-triggered popularity surge, she lost the adaptation when it moved to Broadway. W&L is producing an alternate version instead. Will you be attending it?

While I appreciate how tempting it must have been for you or one of your staff writers to direct an Orwellian allusion toward someone other than you or another member of the Republican party, I don’t think it’s a good idea to draw further attention to the novel. As the party currently controlling all three branches of the federal government, the GOP will inevitably attract the brunt of the comparisons. You have also inadvertently lengthened the already long list of browser results when users type “GOP” and “Orwell” into a search engine.

When reading your press releases and newsletter columns over the past nine months, I have been reminded of two terms from 1984, “Doublethink” and “Blackwhite.” According to Orwell, “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.” And Blackwhite is “a loyal willingness to say that black is white when Party discipline demands it. But it means also the ability to BELIEVE that black is white, and more, to KNOW that black is white, and to forget that one has ever believed the contrary.”

These two concepts have been useful for analyzing your various positions, especially when you ignore shortcomings of the current administration after having so doggedly criticized similar faults of the previous administration. Also some of your longest held principles–reducing federal spending for instance–seem to vanish when President Trump proposes expanded spending initiatives or budgets that rely on implausibly positive economic projections. Party discipline appears to be your guiding priority, regardless of contradictions.

It would of course be hyperbolic to call your House Judiciary Committee “the Ministry of Truth.” But it would only be hyperbolic–because you have provided the basis for the exaggeration. Assuming you earn a sentence or two in our grandchildren’s American history books, do you think those future authors will be tempted to encapsulate your role with the same hyperbole?