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Analysis, background reports and updates from the PBS NewsHour putting today's news in context.

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    In more than 11 hours of questioning Tuesday, Judge Neil Gorsuch defended his judicial record, philosophy and past work on Republican campaigns as he tried to stress his independence from outside influence, the importance of precedents and his unwillingness to wade into political crossfire. Democrats repeatedly pressed Gorsuch on Merrick Garland, whose nomination to the high court — by President Barack Obama — was not considered by the Senate. He also delivered a condemnation of ‘anyone’ who attacks the integrity of the judicial branch, a statement that many saw as a rebuke to President Donald Trump, drawing a response from the White House even before the day’s proceedings concluded. The marathon session in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee grew testy at times, especially when Gorsuch was pressed on specific cases or faced other scrutiny from Democrats on the panel.

    Here are some highlights from Gorsuch’s testimony.

    Less is more

    One of the main lines of attack from Democrats focused on Gorsuch’s relationship to Mr. Trump, who vowed during the campaign to nominate a conservative who supports his positions on issues like abortion and gun control. Democrats used Trump’s rhetoric to question whether Gorsuch would act as a rubber stamp for the Trump administration’s agenda.

    Gorsuch declined to say how he would rule on cases under litigation, such as the court challenges to Trump’s revised travel ban, which are widely expected to wind up at the Supreme Court. Gorsuch also declined to delve into controversial issues that have come before the court, or could come before the court in the future, like the campaign finance laws at the heart of the Citizens United decision.

    Democrats grew increasingly frustrated with his strategy.

    “You have provided us less about the way you would approach cases than previous nominees to the Supreme Court,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said towards the end of the hearing.

    Some court watchers agreed. “There was not a lot of substance, and that is something that the senators do expect,” Amy Howe, editor of the website Scotusblog.com, told PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff in an interview Tuesday.

    Howe pointed to Gorsuch’s position on whether cameras should be allowed into the Supreme Court chamber. In response to a question from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Gorsuch said he had not thought about the issue long enough to develop an opinion. Other recent Supreme Court nominees have answered the question by saying they would be willing to consider the idea. But “Gorsuch wouldn’t even go that far,” Howe said. His response “was kind of surprising, given that it’s come up at the last few confirmation hearings.”

    But if Gorsuch’s non-answers angered the Democrats on the panel, the Republicans seemed happy to play along, peppering the nominee with plenty of softball questions about his hobbies, childhood in Colorado and favorite books. They also gave Gorsuch numerous opportunities to expound on his judicial philosophy and love for the law. Given that every senator had a limited amount of time, the strategy of running down the clock paid off. For Gorsuch and the Republican senators backing his nomination, the less time spent answering difficult questions, the better.

    READ MORE: What we know — and don’t — about Neil Gorsuch’s judicial philosophy

    “Selective originalism”

    When Gorsuch did take a position, it was often to defend his view that judges should interpret the law narrowly — a philosophy known as originalism that was popularized by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Indeed, Tuesday’s hearing frequently devolved into a debate over originalism — and by extension, Scalia’s judicial legacy — with Democrats criticizing the approach and Republicans like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz defending it.

    Gorsuch argued repeatedly that the approach was not a call to return to the days of the “horse and buggy” or the “quill pen.” He cited several recent cases in which the Supreme Court looked to the constitution to settle disputes about modern technology that did not exist at the time of the country’s founding. In laying out his positions Gorsuch displayed an impressive command of constitutional law.

    Still, Democrats took issue with Gorsuch’s approach to the law, arguing that conservative judges applied Scalia-style originalism to some issues but not to others — for instance, cases of abortion or same-sex marriage. At one point, Klobuchar called it “selective originalism.”

    Senators also repeatedly questioned Gorsuch’s opinion in TransAm Trucking v. Dept. of Labor. The case involved trucker Alphonse Maddin, who while making a winter drive on an Illinois highway decided to unhitch the cab of his truck from his trailer and drive to safety when help was slow to arrive.

    Gorsuch’s fellow judges on the case ruled in favor of Maddin. Gorsuch sided with the company, saying Maddin had not “refuse[] to operate a vehicle” out of safety concerns, which would have protected him under the law from being fired. The choice Maddin made, Gorsuch argued, was to operate the vehicle despite safety concerns by driving to a nearby gas station.

    As other Democrats had before her, Hirono suggested Gorsuch interpreted that law too narrowly.

    “If judges are going to work this hard to stretch the text of a law to undermine its purpose … I think that makes it pretty tough for any law Congress passes or will pass [to] really being effective in protecting American workers,” she said.

    She also said she worried the decision, along with his opinions in other cases, suggested that Gorsuch leaned toward protecting corporate interests over individual rights. Or as was so often referenced on Tuesday, the “big guy,” over the “little guy.”

    Travel ban: “The real question is, what’s the law?”

    The hearing Tuesday also raised questions about how Gorsuch would rule in the ongoing legal dispute over President Trump’s immigration policy. Though Gorsuch refused to take a position on the issue, some legal experts wondered how Gorsuch would adapt his approach in the age of Trump. In a court challenge over Trump’s first immigration order, administration officials argued that the executive branch’s authority on national security issues was not subject to judicial review.

    In response to questions about executive power, Gorsuch said Tuesday that “nobody is above the law in this country, and that includes the president of the United States.” Gorsuch later added that he would be an independent arbiter on the court. “I am no one’s rubber stamp,” he said.

    Pamela Karlan, a professor at Stanford Law School, said Gorsuch’s approach to the law would be tested by the Trump administration.

    “When Judge Gorsuch says no man is above the law, the real question is, what’s the law?” Karlan, a former Justice Department official under President Obama, told PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff in an interview.

    Karlan added: “Does the constitution forbid the president from making xenophobic or religiously bigoted exclusions of people from the United States, or doesn’t it?”

    Taking on Trump

    Gorsuch kept a cool demeanor throughout most of the day. Yet at times he grew visibly impatient under questioning from Democrats. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) seemed to get under the nominee’s skin after he read emails Gorsuch had sent to Republican operatives after the 2004 election. Gorsuch, who volunteered in Ohio for George W. Bush’s reelection campaign, was looking for work in the Bush administration (he eventually found a job in the Justice Department the following year). In the decade-old emails, Gorsuch came across as a savvy political insider, presenting a stark contrast to the apolitical, above-the-fray persona Gorsuch has cultivated since becoming a federal judge in 2006.

    Gorsuch also appeared uncomfortable in an exchange with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), who pressed him to publicly address Trump’s criticism of the courts last month. Gorsuch had done so in a private meeting with Blumenthal in February, saying he found Trump’s attacks on federal judges who had blocked his original travel ban “disheartening and demoralizing.”

    Gorsuch initially demurred when Blumenthal asked him to repeat the assertion. But then, under pressure from Blumenthal, he relented, saying: “When anyone criticizes the honesty and integrity, the motivations, of a federal judge, I find that disheartening, I find that demoralizing.”

    “Anyone, including the president of the United States?” Blumenthal asked.

    “Anyone is anyone,” Gorsuch answered.

    The White House responded hours later, claiming Gorsuch’s remarks were not aimed at the president. “Wrong and Misleading: he spoke broadly and never mentioned any person,” Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary wrote on Twitter. The dispute drew attention to Trump’s troubled relationship with the judicial branch, threatening to overshadow a day in which Gorsuch was supposed to be the main star.

    Senators have another chance to question Gorsuch on Wednesday. Follow our live coverage here.

    The post What we learned from Neil Gorsuch’s marathon confirmation hearing appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Paul Manafort, former campaign manager to Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, has denied working on behalf of Russia. Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

    Paul Manafort, former campaign manager to Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump, has denied working on behalf of Russia. Photo by Rick Wilking/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.

    Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse. Manafort pitched the plans to Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska, a close Putin ally with whom Manafort eventually signed a $10 million annual contract beginning in 2006, according to interviews with several people familiar with payments to Manafort and business records obtained by the AP. Manafort and Deripaska maintained a business relationship until at least 2009, according to one person familiar with the work.

    “We are now of the belief that this model can greatly benefit the Putin Government if employed at the correct levels with the appropriate commitment to success,” Manafort wrote in the 2005 memo to Deripaska. The effort, Manafort wrote, “will be offering a great service that can re-focus, both internally and externally, the policies of the Putin government.”

    Manafort’s plans were laid out in documents obtained by the AP that included strategy memoranda and records showing international wire transfers for millions of dollars. How much work Manafort performed under the contract was unclear.

    The disclosure comes as Trump campaign advisers are the subject of an FBI probe and two congressional investigations. Investigators are reviewing whether the Trump campaign and its associates coordinated with Moscow to meddle in the 2016 campaign. Manafort has dismissed the investigations as politically motivated and misguided, and said he never worked for Russian interests. The documents obtained by AP show Manafort’s ties to Russia were closer than previously revealed.

    In a statement to the AP, Manafort confirmed that he worked for Deripaska in various countries but said the work was being unfairly cast as “inappropriate or nefarious” as part of a “smear campaign.”

    “I worked with Oleg Deripaska almost a decade ago representing him on business and personal matters in countries where he had investments,” Manafort said. “My work for Mr. Deripaska did not involve representing Russian political interests.”

    Deripaska became one of Russia’s wealthiest men under Putin, buying assets abroad in ways widely perceived to benefit the Kremlin’s interests. U.S. diplomatic cables from 2006 described Deripaska as “among the 2-3 oligarchs Putin turns to on a regular basis” and “a more-or-less permanent fixture on Putin’s trips abroad.” In response to questions about Manafort’s consulting firm, a spokesman for Deripaska in 2008 — at least three years after they began working together — said Deripaska had never hired the firm. Another Deripaska spokesman in Moscow last week declined to answer AP’s questions.

    Manafort worked as Trump’s unpaid campaign chairman last year from March until August. Trump asked Manafort to resign after AP revealed that Manafort had orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation until 2014 on behalf of Ukraine’s ruling pro-Russian political party.

    The newly obtained business records link Manafort more directly to Putin’s interests in the region. According to those records and people with direct knowledge of Manafort’s work for Deripaska, Manafort made plans to open an office in Moscow, and at least some of Manafort’s work in Ukraine was directed by Deripaska, not local political interests there. The Moscow office never opened.

    Manafort has been a leading focus of the U.S. intelligence investigation of Trump’s associates and Russia, according to a U.S. official. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the investigation were confidential. Meanwhile, federal criminal prosecutors became interested in Manafort’s activities years ago as part of a broad investigation to recover stolen Ukraine assets after the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych there in early 2014. No U.S. criminal charges have ever been filed in the case.

    FBI Director James Comey, in confirming to Congress the federal intelligence investigation this week, declined to say whether Manafort was a target. Manafort’s name was mentioned 28 times during the hearing of the House Intelligence Committee, mostly about his work in Ukraine. No one mentioned Deripaska.

    White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday that Manafort “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time” in the campaign, even though as Trump’s presidential campaign chairman he led it during the crucial run-up to the Republican National Convention.

    Manafort and his associates remain in Trump’s orbit. Manafort told a colleague this year that he continues to speak with Trump by telephone. Manafort’s former business partner in eastern Europe, Rick Gates, has been seen inside the White House on a number of occasions. Gates has since helped plan Trump’s inauguration and now runs a nonprofit organization, America First Policies, to back the White House agenda.

    Gates, whose name does not appear in the documents, told the AP that he joined Manafort’s firm in 2006 and was aware Manafort had a relationship with Deripaska, but he was not aware of the work described in the memos. Gates said his work was focused on domestic U.S. lobbying and political consulting in Ukraine at the time. He said he stopped working for Manafort’s firm in March 2016 when he joined Trump’s presidential campaign.

    Manafort told Deripaska in 2005 that he was pushing policies as part of his work in Ukraine “at the highest levels of the U.S. government — the White House, Capitol Hill and the State Department,” according to the documents. He also said he had hired a “leading international law firm with close ties to President Bush to support our client’s interests,” but he did not identify the firm. Manafort also said he was employing unidentified legal experts for the effort at leading universities and think tanks, including Duke University, New York University and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

    Manafort did not disclose details about the lobbying work to the Justice Department during the period the contract was in place.

    Under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, people who lobby in the U.S. on behalf of foreign political leaders or political parties must provide detailed reports about their actions to the department. Willfully failing to register is a felony and can result in up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, though the government rarely files criminal charges.

    Deripaska owns Basic Element Co., which employs 200,000 people worldwide in the agriculture, aviation, construction, energy, financial services, insurance and manufacturing industries, and he runs one of the world’s largest aluminum companies. Forbes estimated his net worth at $5.2 billion. How much Deripaska paid Manafort in total is not clear, but people familiar with the relationship said money transfers to Manafort amounted to tens of millions of dollars and continued through at least 2009. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the secret payments publicly.

    In strategy memos, Manafort proposed that Deripaska and Putin would benefit from lobbying Western governments, especially the U.S., to allow oligarchs to keep possession of formerly state-owned assets in Ukraine. He proposed building “long term relationships” with Western journalists and a variety of measures to improve recruitment, communications and financial planning by pro-Russian parties in the region.

    Manafort proposed extending his existing work in eastern Europe to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Georgia, where he pledged to bolster the legitimacy of governments friendly to Putin and undercut anti-Russian figures through political campaigns, nonprofit front groups and media operations.

    For the $10 million contract, Manafort did not use his public-facing consulting firm, Davis Manafort. Instead, he used a company, LOAV Ltd., that he had registered in Delaware in 1992. He listed LOAV as having the same address of his lobbying and consulting firms in Alexandria, Virginia. In other records, LOAV’s address was listed as Manafort’s home, also in Alexandria. Manafort sold the home in July 2015 for $1.4 million. He now owns an apartment in Trump Tower in New York, as well as other properties in Florida and New York.

    One strategy memo to Deripaska was written by Manafort and Rick Davis, his business partner at the time. In written responses to the AP, Davis said he did not know that his firm had proposed a plan to covertly promote the interests of the Russian government.

    Davis said he believes Manafort used his name without his permission on the strategy memo. “My name was on every piece of stationery used by the company and in every memo prior to 2006. It does not mean I had anything to do with the memo described,” Davis said. He took a leave of absence from the firm in late 2006 to work on John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign.

    Manafort’s work with Deripaska continued for years, though they had a falling out laid bare in 2014 in a Cayman Islands bankruptcy court. The billionaire gave Manafort nearly $19 million to invest in a Ukrainian TV company called Black Sea Cable, according to legal filings by Deripaska’s representatives. It said that after taking the money, Manafort and his associates stopped responding to Deripaska’s queries about how the funds had been used.

    Early in the 2016 presidential campaign, Deripaska’s representatives openly accused Manafort of fraud and pledged to recover the money from him. After Trump earned the nomination, Deripaska’s representatives said they would no longer discuss the case.


    Associated Press writers Jack Gillum, Eric Tucker, Julie Pace, Ted Bridis, Stephen Braun and Julie Bykowicz contributed to this report in Washington; Nataliya Vasilyeva contributed from Moscow and Kiev, Ukraine; and Jake Pearson contributed from New York.

    The post Former Trump campaign chair Manafort secretly worked to advance Russian interests 10 years ago appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The House Republicans’ health care plan has dominated the news cycle since it was introduced last week. Starting Monday, the focus in Washington will shift to the Senate confirmation hearing of Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

    The high-profile fight over Gorsuch, 49, comes one year after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Republicans refused to vote on President Barack Obama’s nominee to fill the vacancy on the court. The seat was held by Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February of 2016.

    The hearings start at 11 a.m. EST on Monday, March 20. Watch live in the player above.

    The first day of the Gorsuch proceedings, which are expected to last three to four days, will have to share the media spotlight with the House Intelligence Committee, which is hosting its first public hearing on Russia’s role in the 2016 election. But Gorsuch — a federal appeals court judge who has flown under the radar since his nomination in January — will take center stage Tuesday when he takes questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

    Senate Democrats are facing pressure from the left to oppose Gorsuch. But the GOP-controlled Senate is expected to confirm Gorsuch later this spring. McConnell has said he wants to hold a final floor vote before Congress’ easter recess in April.

    PBS NewsHour will provide live coverage of Gorsuch’s hearings when they begin March 20. Check this page for updates.

    More on Gorsuch:

    The post WATCH LIVE: Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination hearings – Day 3 appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    President Donald Trump greets Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at the White House in Washington, D.C. al-Abadi is meeting with an anti-ISIS coalition this week in Washington. Photo by REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque.

    President Donald Trump greets Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi at the White House in Washington, D.C. al-Abadi is meeting with an anti-ISIS coalition this week in Washington. Photo by REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque.

    WASHINGTON — Declaring the Islamic State group’s destruction its top Middle East priority, the Trump administration on Wednesday urged coalition partners to contribute more to forces who are retaking Iraq’s second largest city and readying an assault on the extremists’ self-declared Syrian capital. There was no apparent announcement of a new overall strategy, however.

    Addressing top diplomats of the 68-nation coalition, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for new ideas to expand the fight against IS in the Iraqi city of Mosul and accelerate the campaign to chase militants from Raqqa, Syria, while preparing for the complex humanitarian and political consequences of both efforts.

    Yet Tillerson did not propose, at least in his public remarks, a new approach, beyond noting the increased U.S. military role in each country. As the officials were meeting at the State Department in Washington, the Pentagon announced that it provided an airlift for Syrian fighters taking part in an offensive west of Raqqa, in an escalation of U.S. involvement.

    “I recognize there are many pressing challenges in the Middle East, but defeating ISIS is the United States number one goal in the region,” Tillerson said. “As we’ve said before, when everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. We must continue to keep our focus on the most urgent matter at hand.”

    Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Ababi said victory was finally within reach.

    “We are at the stage of completely decimating Daesh,” al-Abadi said, using the Arabic acronym for IS.

    Nothing Tillerson outlined departed significantly from the Obama administration’s strategy, which focused on using local forces to retake territory along with efforts to disrupt IS recruitment and financing, and the blueprint of the multilateral effort seemed unchanged.

    Tactics are complicated in Syria, where a partnership with Kurdish militants has prompted difficult discussions with Turkey, which sees them as a national security threat. The Pentagon made clear that in Wednesday’s offensive near Raqqa, U.S. forces were still in a support role.

    Tillerson said the United States would play its part and pay its fair share of the overall operation. But he said other nations, particularly those which have faced IS or IS-inspired attacks, must contribute more militarily or financially.

    He said increased intelligence and information sharing could overcome traditional rivalries between different agencies and governments, and advocated an enhanced online effort to halt the spread of extremist views, especially as the Islamic State group loses ground in Iraq and Syria.

    Although Tillerson alluded to the intensified campaign, he said the Trump administration was still refining its strategy. As a candidate, Trump spoke broadly about radical changes to the approach adopted by then-President Barack Obama. As a president, Trump has moved more cautiously.

    “A more defined course of action in Syria is still coming together,” Tillerson said. “But I can say that the United States will increase our pressure on ISIS and al-Qaida and will work to establish interim zones of stability, through cease-fires, to allow refugees to return home.”

    The reference to “zones of stability” appeared to stop short of “safe zones,” which the U.S. military has been extremely reluctant to commit to enforcing in Syria, even as Trump and others have raised the idea at various times.

    In an interview with The Associated Press, Hungary’s foreign minister said he liked what he heard.

    “We are enthusiastic about the new U.S. strategy,” Peter Szijjarto said, adding that he saw Trump’s administration determined “not only to fight against ISIS, but totally eliminate ISIS.” He said his country would send 50 more soldiers to Iraq, taking its contribution to 200.

    As the militants become more encircled, the mission will change. Officials expect in the coming months to see the dissipation of surviving fighters into underground cells that could plan and mount attacks throughout the Middle East, South and Central Asia, Europe, South America and the United States. Washington has been trying to get NATO, coalition and other partners to take actions to adapt to changing threats.

    “As we stabilize areas encompassing ISIS’s physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, we also must prevent their seeds of hatred from taking root elsewhere,” Tillerson said. “We must ensure ISIS cannot gain or maintain footholds in new regions of the world. We must fight ISIS online as aggressively as we would on the ground. A digital caliphate must not flourish in the place of a physical one.”


    Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper contributed to this report.

    The post U.S. tells allies to do more amid new offensive against IS appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    A neon sign says “Prescriptions.” Photo by Thomas Hawk.

    With prescription drug prices soaring and President Donald Trump vowing to take action, an old idea is gaining fresh traction: allowing Americans to buy medicines from foreign pharmacies at far lower prices. A new bill in Congress to allow the practice would modify previous safety standards and remove a barrier that proved insurmountable in past attempts to enable progress.

    Congress came close to allowing importation through the Medicare Modernization Act in 2003, but added one firm precondition that has proved a nonstarter. The secretary of Health and Human Services had to guarantee that imported medications posed no additional risk to public safety and would save money.

    “That is a fairly absolute standard and a high bar to cross,” said Elizabeth Jungman, director of public health at the Pew Charitable Trusts. Such an exacting standard — guaranteeing that no imported prescriptions posed a threat — has kept any secretary of HHS from condoning it.

    In an open letter to Congress, four former commissioners of the Food and Drug Administration argue consumer drug importation remains too risky to permit. “It could lead to a host of unintended consequences and undesirable effects, including serious harm stemming from the use of adulterated, substandard, or counterfeit drugs,” they said in the letter distributed to media organizations. It was signed by Robert Califf, Margaret Hamburg, Mark McClellan and Andrew von Eschenbach, who headed the FDA at various times between 2002 through 2016.

    “It could lead to a host of unintended consequences and undesirable effects, including serious harm stemming from the use of adulterated, substandard, or counterfeit drugs.”

    The recent proposal, from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and such Democrats as Cory Booker from New Jersey and Bob Casey from Pennsylvania, drops that requirement. Instead, it sets up a regulatory system where Canadian pharmacies who purchase their supply from manufacturers inspected by the Food and Drug Administration would be licensed to sell to customers across the border. The bill allows not only individuals but drug wholesalers and pharmacies to buy from Canada.

    After two years, HHS could allow importation from other countries that meet standards comparable to those of the U.S.

    (Another bill in Congress, proposed in January by John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) focuses solely on allowing individuals to purchase from such pharmacies.)

    Trump has promised that “pricing for the American people will come way down.” Last week, he had a high-profile meeting at the White House with Elijah Cummings, Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and the head of Johns Hopkins Hospital, Redonda Miller, to discuss allowing Medicare to negotiate prices on outpatient medicines. Cummings told reporters later that Trump said he supports Medicare price negotiation as well as the Sanders bill.

    PhRMA, the drug industry’s trade group, has denounced Sanders’ proposal as it has others that enabled imports in the past.

    “The bill lacks sufficient safety controls [and] would exacerbate threats to public health from counterfeit, adulterated or diverted medicines, and increase the burden on law enforcement to prevent unregulated medicines and other dangerous products from harming consumers,” said PhRMA spokeswoman Nicole Longo.

    Surveys indicate that up to 8 percent of Americans have bought medicines outside the U.S. even though the practice is technically illegal and imported pills are subject to confiscation.

    Around 45 million Americans — 18 percent of the adult population — said last year they did not fill a prescription due to cost.

    Around 45 million Americans — 18 percent of the adult population — said last year they did not fill a prescription due to cost, according to an analysis of data from the Commonwealth Fund by Gabe Levitt, president of PharmacyChecker.com, whose company helps Americans buy medications online by vetting overseas pharmacies and comparing prices for different drugs. Data compiled by the company comparing prices offered in Canada to those in New York, shows drugs are frequently three times or more as costly in the U.S. as over the border.

    For example, a simple Proventil asthma inhaler costs $73.19 in the U.S. vs. $21.66 in Canada. Crestor, the cholesterol-lowering drug, is $6.82 per pill in the U.S. but $2.58 in Canada. Abilify, a psychiatric medicine, is $29.88 vs. $7.58, according to pharmacychecker.com.

    Many previous bills to allow importation or to allow Medicare to negotiate prices for its beneficiaries have failed in the face of $1.9 billion in congressional lobbying by the pharmaceutical industry since 2003, according to Open Secrets. But Americans may be reaching a tipping point of intolerance. In polling just before the election by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 77 percent of Americans called drug prices “unreasonable” and well over half favored a variety of proposals to address them.

    To address safety concerns, the Sanders bill institutes several new strategies. Canadian pharmacies that want to be registered to sell to Americans would have to pay a fee to pay for additional FDA monitoring. A General Accountability Office study would be required within 18 months of the final rule to address outcomes related to importation processes, drug safety, consumer savings and regulatory expenses.

    Allowing people to legally import medications wouldn’t totally solve the problem of high prescription drugs, advocates say, but would be a step in the right direction. Said Levitt: “The best way for Americans to afford their meds is to enact polices here to bring the prices down here.”

    The post Should the U.S. make it easier to import prescription drugs? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    One woman has died and a number of others have been hurt – including some with “catastrophic” injuries – in the incident on Westminster Bridge, a junior doctor at St Thomas’ Hospital has said.

    Four people are dead and another 20 wounded in Wednesday’s incident outside the British Parliament, said Mark Rowley, Metropolitan Police’s counterterrorism head in London. The casualties include the suspect and one police officer.

    Police also said, currently, only one assailant was thought to be behind today’s terror incident, “but it would be foolish to be overconfident early on,” Rowley told reporters.

    The official casualty count came after Metropolitan police commander B.J. Harrington said the attack outside Parliament was declared a terrorist incident and that a counterterrorism investigation was underway.

    Metropolitan police tweeted earlier today that authorities responded to reports of a “firearms incident” at the Westminster Bridge outside Parliament at around 2:40 p.m. local time.

    Several witnesses said a car struck a number of people on the bridge before crashing into the gates around the Palace of Westminster, The Guardian reported. More accounts said they saw a man, armed with a knife, stab a police officer. Authorities later confirmed that the assailant was shot by police. The sequence of events are not yet immediately clear.

    “We were just walking up to the station and there was a loud bang and a guy, someone, crashed a car and took some pedestrians out,” witness Rick Longley told the Press Association, adding that he saw a man stab an officer outside Parliament.

    Parliament in London was on lockdown, following several initial reports of an incident nearby the building. Nearly two hours after the incident, people were allowed to leave the Houses of Parliament, the Associated Press reported.

    Previously, authorities said they were “treating this as a terrorist incident until we know otherwise” and that the suspect has been shot by police.

    Shortly after reports of the incident emerged, David Liddington, leader of the House of Commons, told AP that police shot a man at Parliament, adding that there were “reports of further violent incidents in the vicinity.”

    Before an official toll was provided by police, the London Ambulance Service said at least 10 people have been treated by their response crews.

    This is a developing story. PBS NewsHour will update the story with more details as they become available.

    The post 4 dead, 20 wounded in attack near UK Parliament appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    Rows of desks sit empty in a classroom. Photo by Alan Levine/Flickr

    Rows of desks sit empty in a classroom. Photo by Alan Levine/Flickr

    WASHINGTON — A unanimous Supreme Court on Wednesday bolstered the rights of millions of learning-disabled students in a ruling that requires public schools to offer special education programs that meet higher standards. The court struck down a lower standard endorsed by President Donald Trump’s nominee to the high court.

    Chief Justice John Roberts said that it is not enough for school districts to get by with minimal instruction for special needs children. The school programs must be designed to let students make progress in light of their disabilities.

    The ruling quickly led to tough questions at the confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois said the high court had just tossed out a standard that Gorsuch himself had used in a similar case that lowered the bar for educational achievement.

    In its ruling, the Supreme Court sided with parents of an autistic teen in Colorado who said their public school did not do enough to help their son make progress. They sought reimbursement for the cost of sending him to private school.

    The case helps clarify the scope of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a federal law that requires a “free and appropriate public education” for disabled students. Lower courts said even programs with minimal benefits can satisfy the law.

    Roberts said the law requires an educational program “reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.” He did not elaborate on what that progress should look like, saying it depends on the “unique circumstances” of each child. He added that there should also be deference to school officials.

    “For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to sitting idly awaiting the time when they were old enough to drop out.”

    “When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing merely more than de minimis progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all,” Roberts said. “For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to sitting idly awaiting the time when they were old enough to drop out.”

    At Gorsuch’s hearing, Durbin said the nominee had gone beyond the standards of his own appeals court by adding the word “merely” in his 2008 opinion approving the “de minimis” — or minimum — standard for special needs education. Durbin suggested that Gorsuch had lowered the bar even more.

    Gorsuch, handed a copy of the ruling during a break on the third day of his hearings, noted that his panel reached its decision unanimously based on a 10-year-old precedent.

    Durbin also said Gorsuch had ruled against disabled students in eight out of 10 cases dealing with the IDEA.

    “To suggest I have some animus against children, senator, would be a mistake,” Gorsuch said.

    Later, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., pressed Gorsuch again, saying he added the word “merely” to the standard “to make it even more narrow.”

    Gorsuch responded: “I disagree.”

    Disability advocacy groups argued that schools must offer more than the bare minimum of services to children with special needs.

    The ruling does not go as far as the parents wanted. They had argued that educational programs for disabled students should meet goals “substantially equal” to those for children without disabilities. Roberts rejected that standard, saying it was “entirely unworkable.”

    The court’s decision to require a more demanding test for progress has major implications for about 6.4 million disabled students who want to advance in school and rely on special programs to make that happen. School officials had cautioned that imposing higher standards could be too costly for some cash-strapped districts. They warned that it could also lead parents to make unrealistic demands.

    The case involved a boy known only as Endrew F. who attended public school outside Denver from kindergarten through fourth grades. He was given specialized instruction to deal with his learning and behavioral issues.

    But Endrew’s parents decided to send him to private school in 2010 after complaining about his lack of progress. They asked the school district to reimburse them for his tuition — about $70,000 a year — on the basis that public school officials weren’t doing enough to meet their son’s needs.

    The Colorado Department of Education denied their claim, saying the school district had met the minimum standards required under the law. The federal appeals court in Denver upheld that decision, ruling that the school district satisfied its duty to offer more than a “de minimis” effort.

    READ MORE: Supreme Court limits president’s power to fill temporary posts

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    File photo of Alexander Acosta by Marc Serota/Reuters.

    File photo of Alexander Acosta by Marc Serota/Reuters.

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the Labor Department said Wednesday he won’t allow potential political pressure from the administration to influence his hiring decisions and regrets he let that happen on his watch at the Justice Department.

    But Alexander Acosta, testifying before the Senate Health, Labor, Education and Pensions Committee, said little about what he would do about overtime pay and other issues if confirmed for the job. He would be the first Hispanic member of Trump’s Cabinet and is Trump’s second choice for the post, after fast food CEO Andrew Puzder withdrew his name.

    Ultimately, Acosta said, the president would be his “boss.”

    Sen. Patty Murray, the top Democrat on the committee, said that’s what concerns her.

    The Florida International University law school dean, whose career was touched by a political hiring scandal while he led the Civil Rights Division under President George W. Bush, said he’s “very aware” that the department’s internal watchdog criticized him for insufficiently supervising a subordinate.

    “I deeply regret it,” said Acosta.

    READ MORE: Acosta headed for questions on sex offender case at hearing

    Murray asked whether Acosta would stand up to any political pressure from Trump. Acosta’s reply: “Political views on the hiring of career attorneys for staff should not be used. If I am asked to do that I will not allow it.”

    The committee is expected to vote as soon as next week on sending the nomination to the full Senate, a committee spokeswoman said.

    Acosta declined to outline many policies he would pursue, though he did speak in favor of the youth training program Job Corps. For example, he would not say whether he would defend the rule extending overtime pay to some 4 million more people that had been blocked last year by a federal court in Texas. Nor would he say which other rules and regulations he would pull back, noting that Trump ordered Cabinet secretaries to review them.

    “I think it’s important that we eliminate regulations that are not serving a useful purpose,” he said under questioning by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

    The committee chairman, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., made clear he wants dozens of Obama-era rules overturned, including the prospect of overtime that he said would burden businesses.

    “One rule after another has stacked a big, wet blanket of costs and time-consuming mandates on job creators, causing them to create fewer jobs,” Alexander said.

    Introducing Acosta were two 2016 presidential nominees, both Hispanic, were lost to Trump. GOP Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Ted Cruz of Texas said Acosta was qualified to head the Labor Department.

    Acosta, the 48-year-old son of Cuban immigrants, has been unanimously confirmed by the Senate three times — to the National Labor Relations Board, to lead the Justice Department’s civil rights division and to become South Florida’s federal prosecutor.

    That means nominee has received some screening, a fact Trump and Senate Republicans have cited.

    At the hearing, Democrats furnished reminders of Puzder’s doomed nomination. He withdrew from consideration on the eve of his confirmation hearing after questions about his hiring of a housekeeper not authorized to work in the U.S. and about other issues. Puzder could not get enough Republican support to be confirmed.

    Acosta is in no such jeopardy so far. One Democrat has even pledged for vote for him: Sen. Bill Nelson of Acosta’s home state of Florida.

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    White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (C) arrives at a news conference Feb. 13 in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Carlos Barria.

    White House National Security Advisor Michael Flynn (C) arrives at a news conference Feb. 13 in Washington, D.C. Photo by REUTERS/Carlos Barria.

    WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn did not sign a mandatory ethics pledge ahead of his forced resignation in February, raising questions about the White House’s commitment to the lobbying and ethics rules it imposed as part of the president’s promise to “drain the swamp.”

    Flynn “didn’t have the opportunity to sign it,” said Price Floyd, a spokesman for the retired Army general. “But he is going to abide by the pledge” and has not engaged in any lobbying work since leaving the White House that would have violated the pledge, Floyd said.

    Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 28 prohibiting political appointees from lobbying the government in any way for five years after serving in his administration. That same order instituted a lifetime ban on outgoing officials representing foreign governments.

    Flynn was fired on Feb. 13. At the time, the White House said he was ousted for failing to fully disclose to the vice president and others the nature of his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.

    Since his departure, Flynn registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent, acknowledging that he had lobbied for a Turkish businessman, performing work that could be viewed as benefiting a foreign government, before going to work in the White House.

    Flynn’s lawyer says the Trump transition team and the Trump White House were aware of Flynn’s lobbying. The White House has said it did not know or ask for details on the nature of the work.

    White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said Wednesday that “all applicable employees have signed the ethics pledge.” She did not answer questions about why Flynn had not. The White House did not immediately respond to a request to review those documents.

    The Daily Beast first reported on Flynn’s failure to sign the pledge. Last week, when asked about the Flynn matter, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he wasn’t sure. He added that “all administration officials who come in are required to sign that ethics pledge banning them from lobbying for five years and then a lifetime ban on lobbying on behalf of any foreign government.”

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    A rainy, gray sky tops the U.S. Capitol dome on the first day of the new session of Congress in Washington, U.S. January 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    A rainy, gray sky tops the U.S. Capitol dome on the first day of the new session of Congress in Washington, U.S. January 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump cajoled House Republicans at the White House Wednesday to back the GOP health care overhaul bill as the hours ticked down to a crunch time vote. Conservative opponents stood united in opposition, telling leadership they lacked the votes and should start over.

    A day before the House planned showdown roll calls, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence asked Republicans for support in what would be a significant achievement for his young presidency or a stinging defeat if they failed. Republicans said the votes would occur Thursday, even as leaders planned near-continuous meetings with dissident and wavering lawmakers.

    Asked by reporters if he’d keep pushing a health overhaul if the House rejects the measure, Trump said, “We’ll see what happens.”

    Members of the House Freedom Caucus continued to resist all pleas to back the bill. A spokeswoman for the group tweeted that there were more than 25 “no” votes and Republican leaders should “start over.”

    A leading foe, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., told reporters: “There’s not enough votes to pass it tomorrow.”

    “There’s not enough votes to pass it tomorrow.”

    Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., a member of the House GOP leadership, said around 10 House members met with Trump. White House visitors included members of the hard-right House Freedom Caucus.

    “We’re bringing them to the closer,” McHenry said.

    Some also met with Pence, including top House GOP vote counter Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La.

    Outnumbered Democrats condemned the measure as a transfer of money to the rich, and former Vice President Joe Biden predicted the legislation would fail at a Capitol Hill rally. United Democratic opposition means the measure crashes if 22 GOP lawmakers vote “no.”

    At the rally, Democratic leaders denounced the Republican drive to demolish former President Barack Obama’s health care law, a GOP pledge since the statute’s 2010 enactment. They criticized its elimination of tax increases Obama imposed on high earners and health care companies while reducing federal help for many low-income people and cutting Medicaid, which helps the poor pay medical bills.

    “The people back home are not sold on what we’re doing yet.”

    “It ain’t going anywhere,” said former Vice President Joe Biden. “This is not going to pass.”

    Democrats champion Obama’s statute for its expansion of health care coverage to 20 million more people and requiring insurers to cover the very ill, families’ grown children to age 26 and specified services like mental health care.

    Interviewed on CNN, House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said Trump’s credibility problem over his wiretapping allegations and other issues “does hurt” GOP attempts to win votes. He also pointed to voters who remain dubious.

    “The people back home are not sold on what we’re doing yet,” he said.

    As the Rules Committee met to set the contours of Thursday’s planned floor debate, Republicans said their legislation would help achieve their long-time goal.

    “We have the best opportunity in seven years to repeal this sinking ship of Obamacare,” said House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas. He said the GOP bill would “deliver a health care system that truly works for the American people.”

    Democrats focused on recent projections by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office that the GOP would cost 24 million people coverage in a decade and drive up out of pocket costs for many, particularly lower earners and older people.

    “Sometimes I think my Republican friends have lost their human ability to feel what 24 million people really means,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

    “We have the best opportunity in seven years to repeal this sinking ship of Obamacare.”

    The Republican legislation would halt Obama’s tax penalties against people who don’t buy coverage and shrink the federal-state Medicaid program for low earners, which the statute has expanded. It would provide tax credits for medical bills, though generally skimpier than the aid Obama’s statute provides. It also would allow insurers to charge older Americans more and repeal tax boosts the law imposes on high-income people and health industry companies.

    The Rules committee, usually tightly controlled by GOP leadership, was expected to let the chamber vote on revisions that top Republicans concocted to win votes. These include adding federal aid for older people and protecting upstate New York counties — but not Democratic-run New York City — from repaying the state billions of dollars for Medicaid costs.

    Many conservatives are demanding that the bill void Obama’s restrictions on insurers, which they say drive up premiums. Moderates’ concerns include a worry that the measure would snatch insurance from many voters — a week after the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the measure would toss 24 million off coverage in a decade.

    The budget office had projected the original bill would cut federal deficits by $337 billion over a decade. But those savings are plummeting as top Republicans dole out provisions to nail down backing. Language helping older and disabled people includes $85 billion set aside for the Senate to beef up tax credits for people aged 50 to 64, who budget analysts said would see big cost increases from the GOP bill.

    Republicans face an even tougher fight in the Senate, which they control by just 52-48. Six GOP senators have already said they oppose the legislation, enough to sink it without changes.

    The post Conservative House group says GOP should ‘start over’ on health care bill appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    President Donald Trump delivers remarks Mar. 15 at the American Center for Mobility for American Manufactured Vehicles in Ypsilanti Township, Michigan. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    President Donald Trump delivers remarks Mar. 15 at the American Center for Mobility for American Manufactured Vehicles in Ypsilanti Township, Michigan. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House intelligence committee said Wednesday that the communications of Trump transition officials — possibly including President Donald Trump himself — may have been “monitored” after the election as part of an “incidental collection.”

    Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., said the intercepted communications do not appear to be related to the ongoing FBI investigation into Trump associates’ contacts with Russia. He said he believes the intelligence collections were done legally.

    The White House said Nunes would brief Trump on the matter later Wednesday.

    It was unclear whether Trump’s own communications were specifically monitored. Nunes initially said “yes” when asked if Trump was among those swept up in the intelligence monitoring, but then said it was only “possible” that the president’s communications were picked up.

    Nunes said the information on the Trump team was collected in November, December and January, the period after the election in which Trump was holding calls with foreign leaders, interviewing Cabinet secretaries, and was beginning to sketch out administration policy. Nunes said the monitored material was “widely disseminated” in intelligence reports.

    Asked whether he believed the transition team had been spied on, Nunes said: “It all depends on one’s definition of spying.”

    The California congressman did not say how the Trump team’s communications were picked up. U.S. intelligence agencies routinely monitor the communications of foreign officials.

    That surveillance sometimes includes the name of an American that the foreigner is speaking to or about. When this happens, intelligence analysts are obliged to hide or “minimize” the name of the American, unless knowing the American’s name is necessary to understanding the foreign intelligence described in the report.

    Nunes said the names of Trump associates were “unmasked” after the incidental collection, though he did not identify those aides. Those aides are believed to include Michael Flynn, who was fired as White House national security adviser after misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other top officials about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

    Nunes would not say how he had received the new information.

    Nunes notably did not appear alongside Rep. Adam Schiff, the intelligence committee’s top Democrat. A Schiff spokesman said Nunes had not informed his Democratic counterpart before disclosing the new information publicly.

    AP writer Eileen Sullivan contributed to this report.

    WATCH: Comey confirms Russia probe, but ‘no information’ supporting Trump wiretap claim

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    File photo of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn by Gary Cameron/Reuters

    File photo of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn by Gary Cameron/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — Republicans joined Democrats on Wednesday in pressuring the Trump administration to surrender records of former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s payments and contacts with foreign officials during the past three years.

    In a sign of deepening interest among congressional investigators, leaders of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee asked for materials on Flynn’s communications and payments from Russian, Turkish and other foreign sources since Flynn retired as head of the Defense Intelligence Agency in August 2014.

    The request came in letters to White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, FBI Director James Comey, Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats.

    Also sought by the committee chairman, GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah, and the top Democrat, Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, is any available material on Flynn’s security clearance, which would have been required to allow him access to highly classified government documents and information.

    President Donald Trump fired Flynn last month for misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other top administration officials about Flynn’s postelection conversations with Russia’s ambassador to the United States.

    The committee’s move is significant because of the bipartisan front and the effort to gain broad information about Flynn’s foreign-related work and communications for an extended period before Trump appointed him in January.

    WATCH: Trump didn’t know Flynn was to register as foreign agent, White House says

    Cummings said the goal is to learn whether Flynn “was untruthful on his security clearance forms, his vetting materials, and in other documents — conduct that could carry a criminal penalty — and we want to know what the White House knew when they hired him as national security adviser.”

    The committee also wants to determine whether Flynn violated the constitutional prohibition against foreign payments to former military officials who could be called back into service.

    The FBI has interviewed Flynn about his Russia contacts as part of its inquiry into meetings, phone calls and electronic contacts last year between Trump campaign aides and Russian officials and others representing Russian interests.

    The goal is to learn whether Flynn “was untruthful on his security clearance forms, his vetting materials, and in other documents — conduct that could carry a criminal penalty” — and “what the White House knew when they hired him as national security adviser.”

    The House request comes a week after the committee released documents showing Flynn accepted more than $33,750 from the Russian government-backed RT network for a trip to Moscow in 2015, before he joined the Trump campaign. U.S. intelligence agencies have described that network a propaganda arm of the Russian government.

    Cummings and Chaffetz cited Flynn’s payments from RT in their letters as they sought information about the retired Army lieutenant general’s responses to security clearance questions, as well as “any other security clearance applications, certifications, or requests for periodic reinvestigation.”

    The letters also ask for any “investigative and adjudicative” files concerning Flynn’s clearance. The lawmakers want to see “documents referring or relating to Lt. Gen. Flynn’s contact with foreign nationals,” including any direct or indirect contacts between Flynn “and foreign government officials, representatives, affiliates, or agents.”

    READ MORE: Comey: FBI is investigating possible links between Russia, Trump associates

    Price Floyd, a spokesman for Flynn, said Flynn met the disclosure requirement for national security adviser. “Everything that was supposed to be included was included,” Floyd said.

    He said Flynn last came up for a security clearance review in January 2016, and disclosed his trip to Russia to attend an RT event. Flynn also took a polygraph — required of someone with his level of security clearance — and passed, Floyd said.

    In addition to his RT contacts, Flynn filed paperwork this month with the Justice Department as a foreign agent whose lobbying work between August and November last year may have aided the government of Turkey. Flynn’s consulting firm, Flynn Intel Group, registered as a lobbyist last year for Inovo BV, a Dutch-based company owned by a Turkish businessman.

    After Flynn’s lawyers consulted Trump’s legal team during the transition and after Flynn’s appointment, he and his firm re-filed as foreign agents, a distinction that requires much more detailed documentation with the Justice Department.

    The owner of Inovo BV, Ekim Alptekin, told The Associated Press that Flynn and his firm did so due to pressure from Justice Department officials.

    The committee letters also ask for Flynn’s “receipt of funds from any foreign source,” as well as documentation of any efforts by Flynn to seek government approval for payments from foreign sources.

    The committee also asked the agencies for new documents relating to Flynn’s work for Leading Authorities Inc., which handles Flynn’s speaking requests.

    Last week, the committee posted material from the firm, including copies of checks Flynn received from RT and two other Russian companies, as well as emails between Leading Authorities, RT officials, and Flynn and his adult son, Michael Flynn Jr., who accompanied his father on the Moscow trip.

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    A February 2013 performance at the Louisville Orchestra in Louisville, Kentucky. The orchestra received $15,000 in funding from the NEA in 2016. Photo: Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images

    A February 2013 performance at the Louisville Orchestra in Louisville, Kentucky. The orchestra received $15,000 in funding from the NEA in 2016. Photo: Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images

    In a hallway outside their congressman’s office on Capitol Hill, eight of Louisville, Kentucky’s top art leaders huddled Tuesday to figure out a plan. Representatives from the arts community descend every year on Washington, D.C., to lobby for arts funding. But this year was different.

    Congress has questioned the value of the National Endowment for the Arts since its inception 52 years ago, and conservative groups like the Heritage Foundation have long called the NEA “little more than a direct subsidy to the cultured, upper-middle class.” Now, in his proposed budget, President Donald Trump suggested defunding the endowment, along with other cultural groups, entirely. “The federal government should not be in the business of funding the arts,” the Republican Study Committee echoed in its own budget report.

    A record number of cultural leaders — some 700 — gathered this week in the nation’s capital to fight to keep their funding. From Kentucky, more than 20 arts advocates showed up to crowd congressional offices, including the heads of major Louisville institutions like the Louisville Orchestra, the Actors Theatre of Louisville, the city’s Fund for the Arts and the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, known as KMAC. For years, many of these institutions have received and relied on NEA funding, or funding from the state’s Kentucky Arts Council, which distributes NEA grants.

    This year, the Kentucky arts leaders decided they needed a different strategy. They would not lobby for art for art’s sake. Trump has pledged to boost coal, manufacturing and infrastructure as a way to create more employment opportunities. But arts has already done that in their state, they said. They would argue that funding the arts was really about jobs, and economic development, especially in a state where the unemployment rate has gone down but remains higher than the national average. They would argue that the arts were not just for city folk, but rural people too. They would say that the NEA was not a waste of public funds, nor did it fund bizarre or controversial art; it funded real people.

    “We’re here fighting on behalf of the whole state,” J.P. Davis, senior vice president of the Fund for the Arts, said as the group prepared to head into its first lobbying meeting.“The NEA is not about New York or D.C.,” agreed Kevin E. Moore, who runs the Actors Theatre of Louisville. “It is really about the hinterlands of America,” he said, because, if NEA funding was cut, it would not kill big groups like his, but small and rural arts groups, some of whom might close their doors altogether.

    READ MORE: Trump budget seeks to boost defense spending, slash State Department and EPA

    Their first stop: the office of Rep. John Yarmuth, a Kentucky Democrat who has a reputation for being friendly to the arts. Still, the arts groups wanted to make sure they had his support, since Yarmuth was a ranking member on the House Budget Committee.

    “I am a [University of Kentucky] grad student, and a single mom, and I volunteer for a lot of these arts organizations,” Candace Weber told the congressman, pushing back against a recent comment by White House budget director Nick Mulvaney that questioned whether a “single mother of two in Detroit” would really want to fund programs like the NEA.

    Trump has pledged to boost coal, manufacturing and infrastructure as a way to create more employment opportunities. But the arts have already done that in Kentucky, groups there say.

    Actually, she said, a single mom like her appreciated that her 11-year-old daughter was able to take a school trip to the orchestra, where they played both the classics and a tribute to Harry Potter.

    “You historically have been very supportive,” Weber told Yarmuth. “Now it’s even more important.”

    Yarmuth nodded; he said he understood. Aldy Milliken, who runs the KMAC Museum, then steered the conversation toward jobs.

    “A lot [of arts funding] goes to underserved communities in our state,” he said, wearing a hat that said “Grow KY Arts” along with his suit. It also goes “to other jobs besides coal jobs, which are dwindling.”

    In Kentucky, the availability of coal jobs is at its lowest level in 118 years, according to a recent report from the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet, which said employment in the industry is at just 6,900. Arts, they argued, had created 108,000 jobs in the state, citing numbers from the Kentucky Arts Council.

    “I’d use those numbers,” Yarmuth told the group as it prepared to meet with conservative members of Congress.

    The next stop was the office Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, who as majority leader is the most powerful Republican in Congress. McConnell has not said how he feels about eliminating NEA funding, and his office declined to comment on this to the NewsHour. But the Americans for the Arts give him an “F” report card for his record on supporting the arts. For this meeting, the Kentucky art leaders knew they’d have to get creative.

    READ MORE: Why small and rural arts groups may hurt the most under Trump’s plan to gut the NEA

    Avoiding the art their institutions created, they instead told a McConnell staffer about NEA funding for art therapy for veterans; one KU student said the program had helped her veteran grandfather. And, taking Yarmuth’s advice, they talked about jobs; according to their numbers, Kentucky now had 6,338 arts-related businesses, and employed some 24,000 people.

    Though they received no promises at the meeting, Davis, whose organization is the the oldest united arts fund in the country, “felt really good about it.” He said he felt better knowing they argued the arts were about more than the arts — that they were also about the state’s education, health and economic development. That afternoon, they had more meetings planned with their state’s conservative lawmakers.

    As they walked back across the lawn of Capitol Hill, Milliken said he kept thinking how important it was that people understood where NEA money went.

    In 2016, the NEA’s budget was nearly $148 million, which makes up .012 percent of federal discretionary spending. That budget has shrunk about $20 million in the last six years; it is now at the same level it was two decades ago.

    “But this is not the NEA of the 90s, which funded the Andres Serrano pissmaking art,” Milliken said, in reference to a famous photograph of a urine-submerged crucifix that the NEA had once controversially helped sponsor.

    “The money is not going to artists, but to organizations,” he said. Organizations like his museum — and arts groups all across the state. “And it’s making Kentucky a more creative, dynamic place.”

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    Photo by Maciej Luczniewski/NurPhoto via Getty Images

    A woman breastfeeds her child on March 21, 2017, as part of a protest performance by mothers against illegal logging in Warsaw, Poland.

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    Donald Trump's then-campaign chair and convention manager Paul Manafort speaks at a press conference at the Republican Convention in Cleveland last year. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

    Donald Trump’s then-campaign chair and convention manager Paul Manafort speaks at a press conference at the Republican Convention in Cleveland last year. Photo by Carlo Allegri/Reuters

    WASHINGTON — The White House is distancing itself from former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, saying his secret work for a Russian billionaire detailed in an Associated Press report happened during “the last decade.”

    White House press secretary Sean Spicer says nothing in Wednesday’s AP report references any action by the president, the White House or any Trump administration official.

    Spicer says Trump was not aware of Manafort’s clients from the past decade and there are “no suggestions” Manafort did anything improper.

    Spicer also says former presidential rival Hillary Clinton had her own Russia ties. He says Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta sat on the board of a Russian-based energy company and Hillary Clinton was “the face of a failed Russia reset policy.”

    READ MORE: Former Trump campaign chair Manafort secretly worked to advance Russian interests 10 years ago

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    A Kentucky voter holds a 'repeal healthcare' sign at a rally for Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in 2014. Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images

    A Kentucky voter holds a “repeal healthcare” sign at a rally for Mitch McConnell (R-KY) in 2014. Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images

    With Congress enmeshed in determining the “what” of Obamacare repeal—that is, what gets included in the Republican bill—pausing to revisit the “why” of Obamacare repeal offers important guidance for the path forward.

    While Obamacare has been politically polarizing from the beginning, the broader public opposition to the law is not driven mainly by partisan animus.

    If that were the case, opposition would have diminished at least somewhat over the last six years. Certainly that is what Obamacare’s supporters expected would occur.

    Yet clearly that is not what has happened.

    Obamacare’s basic construct is to take control of private health plans and convert them into off-budget extensions of federal programs.

    Rather, the “why” of repeal primarily stems from public opposition to the law’s basic construct, reinforced by people’s negative experiences with the law’s consequences.

    Obamacare’s basic construct is to take control of private health plans and convert them into off-budget extensions of federal programs.

    As one of the law’s supporters explained back in 2010, its design “transforms health insurance into a public accommodation,” and turns private health insurance into “a regulated industry … that, in its restructured form, will therefore take on certain characteristics of a public utility.”

    The architects of Obamacare implemented that construct by imposing on private health plans new coverage requirements such as “essential benefits,” “preventive services,” and limits on plan cost-sharing.

    They also enforced cross subsidies—such as limits on age rating, minimum actuarial value standards, and minimum employer contributions—and imposed mandates on individuals to purchase coverage and for employers to offer it.

    Yet, large swaths of the public do not, in fact, want their private health coverage turned into a regulated public utility.

    Furthermore, that opposition has grown and hardened as more Americans personally experience negative effects from the law, such as higher premiums and deductibles and reduced plan choices and provider access.

    Making matters worse, Obamacare destabilized the individual insurance market by allowing people to wait until they need medical care to enroll in coverage. The resulting adverse selection further drove up premiums, as the law’s “carrot-and-stick” approach of low-income subsidies coupled with a fine for not buying coverage failed to enroll enough healthy individuals.

    In short, the “why” of repealing Obamacare is the need to undo the law’s regulatory takeover of private insurance and to reverse its cost-increasing effects. Viewed from that perspective, the “what” in the House bill, even in its latest iteration, still misses the mark.

    While the current legislation would repeal several of Obamacare’s insurance regulations—such as the age-rating restrictions that artificially increase premiums for young adults—it still leaves in place a number of the law’s federal coverage mandates.

    Aside from the costs that they add to premiums, the coverage mandate provisions are the centerpiece of Obamacare’s regulatory commandeering structure. Fundamentally, they are a shift in control over health plan design to the federal government.

    As long as they remain in place, they not only preempt the ability of states to better regulate their insurance markets, but also serve as the scaffolding for additional federal requirements to be imposed on private health plans in the future.

    Furthermore, the House bill also does not adequately remedy the adverse selection problems created by Obamacare.

    What is needed is for the legislation to make the ban on pre-existing condition exclusions contingent upon individuals maintaining continuous coverage—the same rules that Congress established for employer group coverage 15 years before Obamacare.

    That is the best way to reward responsible people who do the right thing, while dissuading the less responsibly inclined from waiting until they need medical care before enrolling in health insurance.

    This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal

    For more perspectives on health care, view our continuing coverage of the American Health Care Act.

    The post Column: As Republicans debate health bill, let’s remember why Americans want Obamacare repeal appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to meet with congressional Republicans at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. March 21, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

    Editor’s Note: Journalist Philip Moeller is here to provide the answers you need on aging and retirement. His weekly column, “Ask Phil,” aims to help older Americans and their families by answering their health care and financial questions. Phil is the author of the new book, “Get What’s Yours for Medicare,” and co-author of “Get What’s Yours: The Revised Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security.” Send your questions to Phil.

    Whether it’s the Affordable Care Act repeal, President Trump’s slash-and-burn “skinny” budget proposal or the certainty of upcoming Republican efforts to cut Social Security and Medicare, older Americans are under attack, along with poor, sick and disabled citizens.

    There is no way that enacting the American Health Care Act or the Trump budget in their current forms would not make life much, much harder for these groups. Fortunately, it looks like Republicans will be amending their health care reform efforts. And there is loud bipartisan opposition to Mr. Trump’s proposal to pay for big defense spending increases with broad and deep cuts to other discretionary federal spending programs.

    I doubt Mr. Trump ever expected his budget to be approved in its present form. Outrageous negotiating positions are a hallmark of his business dealings. Startle your opponents, move them out of their comfort zone and keep them off balance. Framing the discussion in your terms is more likely to yield favorable results than pursuing a balanced process where the parties begin at the 50-yard line.

    Does he have a specific goal in mind here? I don’t think so. He just wants to get the best deal he can. Many of the programs marked for extinction in this draft budget thus will escape that fate. But who doubts that the odds of serious funding cuts are much higher than before the Trump budget was unveiled? That should be the basis for evaluating the success of his efforts.

    Ironically, being targeted by this president is good for business. Subscriptions to many news organizations have soared since they were singled out as enemies of the people. Likewise, I hope and expect that donations to Meals on Wheels will skyrocket. Ditto for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and other social, arts, scientific and environmental organizations facing federal funding cuts.

    But make no mistake. If you are old or getting there, your life may get harder. Your health care is likely to become more expensive, and perhaps even harder to get and of diminished quality. Social Security benefits will also be subject to proposed cuts.

    Make no mistake. If you are old or getting there, your life may get harder.

    Further, with the national debt on its way to $20 trillion, federal deficits are being waved in front of conservatives like so many red flags before the bulls run in Pamplona. I don’t think deficits should drive fiscal policy right now. But they do matter. And with the Federal Reserve Board committed to raising interest rates in the face of a strengthening private economy, rising interest payments on our national debt will once again become a big deal.

    I won’t tell you what to do here. That’s your call. But I will tell you what I am doing. I am watching what I spend. Retirement has never looked appealing to me, but the idea of not working is a non-starter these days. I am taking the best possible care of myself, yet I am also maxing out the health insurance benefits I now enjoy. Getting ready for harder times seems the rational response here. If I’m wrong, which I hope I am, I will throw myself a party with my extra savings!

    And now, on to this week’s reader questions.

    Sally – Washington: My mother is turning 62 in June of this year. We went to the local Social Security office and felt like we had to pry answers out of them. My mother still works full time (her only source of income), but would like to slow down, as her job is very physical. However, she has to make enough to support herself and pay the mortgage. My dad died in 2010 at the age of 58. She has not claimed any of his benefits. She does not want to claim any benefits that would reduce her benefit amount later. Can you advise us or tell us where a person can go to get walked through these things?

    Phil Moeller: The basics of claiming Social Security are fully explained in our book, “Get What’s Yours: The Revised Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security,” however I can guide you through your question here.

    The short answer is that your mom can claim a survivor benefit without adversely affecting her own retirement benefit, which I assume will be larger if she waits to file. She can file now, but will face early claiming reductions. Still, if she knows she is going to file later for her own retirement benefit, the best course usually would be to file right away and then hold off on filing for her own retirement until she turns 70. At that age, her retirement benefits will have reached their maximum amount.

    Her decision could be complicated by Social Security’s earnings test. If she is still working, her wages could reduce her Social Security benefits. The thresholds in 2017 are that her Social Security benefits would be reduced by a dollar for every two dollars she earns above $16,920.

    Benefit reductions caused by the earnings test are not lost forever, but will begin being added back to her benefits — in the form of higher lifetime benefits — once she reaches full retirement age.

    But here is where things get tricky for someone in your mom’s situation. The restoration of earnings test reductions applies to the specific benefit a person is receiving. In your mom’s case, this will be a survivor’s benefit. However, she plans to switch later to her own retirement benefit. I’m assuming she will wait to claim this benefit until at least 66 (her full retirement age), and it will begin growing at that age by 8 percent a year until she turns 70, when this benefit reaches its maximum value.

    Her retirement benefit, however, was never subject to earnings test reductions, so there’s nothing to be restored. What this means is that the restorations to her survivor’s benefit would be lost when she filed for her own retirement benefit. I apologize if you’re totally confused by now. Welcome to the wacky world of Social Security benefits!

    The point I’m trying to make is that if her earnings test reductions are large enough, she might want to hold off filing for her survivor’s benefit until her full retirement age, when the earnings test no longer applies to wage earnings.

    You can help her determine the best strategy by looking at the earnings test rules and then opening an online Social Security account to see what her retirement and survivor benefits would be like at various claiming ages. Your dad died before becoming old enough to file for his own benefits. Social Security has special rules in such cases for determining what her survivor benefit should be. They are — surprise! — very complicated.

    Once your mom has a good idea of her own retirement benefits, she should get in touch with Social Security to find out the agency’s calculation for her survivor’s benefit. She should be careful here NOT to actually file for any benefit, but just to gather the information she needs. Once she knows when she wants to file for a survivor’s benefit, she should do so. At that time, she also should make it clear to the agency representative that she wishes to file only for a survivor benefit and defer filing for her own retirement benefit. Good luck!

    Judith – New York: My husband and I are both 72 and receive Social Security benefits. He is still working, so we now have employer health insurance. We both avoid doctors like the plague, and the rare times we go, we have to pay, because there is no way we meet the deductibles. I refuse to go the HMO route where they limit your choice of doctors. We take no meds, not even aspirin. When he retires, I am confused as to what Medicare coverage we’ll need. I really think just catastrophic coverage will do, as the several hundred dollars we usually pay each year is easily managed. Can you suggest what plans we should choose?

    Even though you are healthy now, the odds are that one or both of you will need substantial medical care when you’re older. It is this “future you” that should drive your Medicare decisions.

    Phil Moeller: Even though you are healthy now, the odds are that one or both of you will need substantial medical care when you’re older. It is this “future you” that should drive your Medicare decisions.

    Having said that, your basic pathway when your husband retires is:

    1) Basic Medicare (Parts A and B) plus a Part D drug plan and perhaps a Medigap plan

    2) A Medicare Advantage plan, which includes all of these items, although with benefits that aren’t always as generous as those for people with a comprehensive Medigap policy

    Going with #1 allows you to be treated by any licensed caregiver who accepts Medicare and is seeing new patients. If you went with #2, you might save money, but could face HMO-like restrictions in who could treat you.

    While #1 sounds like the path for you, it won’t be cheap. The catastrophic protection you seek would require a Medigap policy, and they can be expensive. You could get the cheapest available Part D drug plan and then change this coverage as needed during Medicare’s annual open enrollment period, which runs from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 each year.

    If you have a little time, you could also read my Medicare book, which reviews these choices in detail.

    Sharon – Virginia: Can I be refused Part B of Medicare? I need it to qualify for TRICARE for Life, the insurance program for military veterans. Social Security is telling me I refused Part B when I applied for Social Security benefits, which were denied, because I hadn’t worked enough hours. But I never worked enough hours to qualify for Social Security on my own. And I never would knowingly refuse Part B. I don’t think I should be penalized for this, as I was never told these things. I applied for Part B by mail, but have still not heard back from the agency.

    Phil Moeller: I am so frustrated on your behalf. Unfortunately, these kinds of things happen all the time. You cannot be refused Part B. So, even if there has been a bureaucratic snafu with your enrollment, you should still be able to get Part B and thus still participate in the TRICARE for Life program.

    I suggest you call TRICARE and see if someone there can help you through the enrollment process. If this doesn’t work, there are free Medicare counselors available at the State Health Insurance Assistance Program.

    Lastly, while there are late-enrollment penalties for Part B, they don’t kick in until you’re a full year late in enrolling. Your main job now is not to worry about penalties, but to plow ahead and get your health coverage.

    Vicki Mramor — Ohio: I have just been informed that my Social Security benefits will decrease, because Medicare will be deducting their fees! I already have Medicaid. Can I cancel Medicare? This is going to cause me a great financial burden!

    Phil Moeller: I’m assuming that you already were on Medicaid and, when you turned 65, were told you also must have Medicare. You cannot cancel Medicare without losing valuable health benefits and also exposing yourself to lifetime financial penalties should you later decide to enroll.

    Millions of lower-income seniors have both Medicaid and Medicare, a situation commonly referred to as being “dual eligible” for both programs.

    As a lower-income person on Medicaid, the odds are that you qualify for Medicare programs that can reduce what you need to pay, and thus lessen or even completely remove the Medicare premiums being deducted from your Social Security payments.

    You can get free counseling help to take advantage of these programs by calling a local office of the State Health Insurance Assistance Program.

    Sam: If your present Medicare Part B premium is capped by the hold harmless provision, but in future years, the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security increases greater than the Medicare premium for those years, will Medicare “take” your excess COLA to make up for the years in which your premium was held back by the cap?

    Phil Moeller: Good question! There is so much confusion over the hold harmless rules and what will happen in the future. The short answer to your question is “no.” What you describe as your excess COLA gains will not be subject to a Medicare claw back.

    Medicare rules require the agency to collect about 25 percent of total Part B program expenses from everyone’s Part B premiums. If future COLAs permitted the agency to raise premiums for everyone, the agency would only set the premium high enough to hit that 25 percent threshold. It would not collect past premiums that were lost due to the hold harmless rule.

    In the process of normalizing Part B premiums, everyone’s premium would move toward the same level. People whose Part B premium has been frozen at or near $104.90 a month would see it increase. People who had been paying $134 a month would see their premium decline.

    For more perspectives on health care, view our continuing coverage of the American Health Care Act.

    The post Column: Trump’s budget and GOP health care bill will hurt older Americans appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    People sit in the overflow seats at a town hall meeting for constituents hosted by U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) in North Charleston, South Carolina, U.S. February 25, 2017.  REUTERS/Randall Hill

    People sit in the overflow seats at a town hall meeting for constituents hosted by U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-SC) in North Charleston, South Carolina, U.S. February 25, 2017. REUTERS/Randall Hill

    When Louisiana resident Andrea Mongler wrote to her senator, Bill Cassidy, in support of the Affordable Care Act, she wasn’t surprised to get an email back detailing the law’s faults. Cassidy, a Republican who is also a physician, has been a vocal critic.

    “Obamacare” he wrote in January, “does not lower costs or improve quality, but rather it raises taxes and allows a presidentially handpicked ‘Health Choices Commissioner’ to determine what coverage and treatments are available to you.”

    There’s one problem with Cassidy’s ominous-sounding assertion: It’s false.

    It’s not clear if this is intentional or if the lawmakers and their staffs don’t understand the current law or the proposals to alter it.

    The Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, includes no “Health Choices Commissioner.” Another bill introduced in Congress in 2009 did include such a position, but the bill died — and besides, the job as outlined in that legislation didn’t have the powers Cassidy ascribed to it.

    As the debate to repeal the law heats up in Congress, constituents are flooding their representatives with notes of support or concern, and the lawmakers are responding, sometimes with form letters that are misleading. A review of more than 200 such letters by ProPublica and its partners at Kaiser Health News, Stat and Vox, found dozens of errors and mischaracterizations about the ACA and its proposed replacement. The legislators have cited wrong statistics, conflated health care terms and made statements that don’t stand up to verification.

    It’s not clear if this is intentional or if the lawmakers and their staffs don’t understand the current law or the proposals to alter it. Either way, the issue of what is wrong — and right — about the current system has become critical as the House prepares to vote on the GOP’s replacement bill Thursday.

    “If you get something like that in writing from your U.S. senator, you should be able to just believe that,” said Mongler, 34, a freelance writer and editor who is pursuing a master’s degree in public health. “I hate that people are being fed falsehoods, and a lot of people are buying it and not questioning it. It’s far beyond politics as usual.”

    “I hate that people are being fed falsehoods, and a lot of people are buying it and not questioning it. It’s far beyond politics as usual.”

    Cassidy’s staff did not respond to questions about his letter.

    Political debates about complex policy issues are prone to hyperbole and health care is no exception. And to be sure, many of the assertions in the lawmakers’ letters are at least partially based in fact.

    Democrats, for instance, have been emphasizing to their constituents that millions of previously uninsured people now have medical coverage thanks to the law. They say insurance companies can no longer discriminate against millions of patients with pre-existing conditions. And they credit the law with allowing adults under age 26 to stay on their parents’ health plans. All true.

    For their part, Republicans criticize the law for not living up to its promises. They say former President Obama pledged that people could keep their health plans and doctors and premiums would go down. Neither has happened. They also say that insurers are dropping out of the market and that monthly premiums and deductibles (the amount people must pay before their coverage kicks in) have gone up. All true.

    But elected officials in both parties have incorrectly cited statistics and left out important context. We decided to take a closer look after finding misleading statements in an email Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., sent to his constituents. We solicited letters from the public and found a wealth of misinformation, from statements that were simply misleading to whoppers. More Republicans fudged than Democrats, though both had their moments.

    “… misinformation or inaccurate information is a bad thing and not knowing what you’re voting on is a really bad thing.”

    An aide to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., defended his hyperbole as “within the range of respected interpretations.”

    “Do most people pay that much attention to what their congressman says? Probably not,” said Sherry Glied, dean of New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, who served as an assistant Health and Human Services secretary from 2010 to 2012. “But I think misinformation or inaccurate information is a bad thing and not knowing what you’re voting on is a really bad thing.”

    We reviewed the emails and letters sent by 51 senators and 134 members of the House within the past few months. Here are some of the most glaring errors and omissions:

    Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, incorrectly cited the number of Ohio counties that had only one insurer on the Affordable Care Act insurance exchange.

    What he wrote: “In Ohio, almost one third of counties will have only one insurer participating in the exchange.”

    What’s misleading: In fact, only 23 percent (less than one quarter) had only one option, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

    His response: A Tiberi spokesperson defended the statement. “The letter says ‘almost’ because only 9 more counties in Ohio need to start offering only 1 plan on the exchanges to be one third.”

    Why his response is misleading: Ohio has 88 counties. A 10 percent difference is not “almost.”

    Rep. Kevin Yoder, R-Kan., said that the quality of health care in the country has declined because of the ACA, offering no proof.

    What he wrote: “Quality of care has decreased as doctors have been burdened with increased regulations on their profession.”

    Why it’s misleading: Some data shows that health care has improved after the passage of the ACA. Patients are less likely to be readmitted to a hospital within 30 days after they have been discharged, for instance. Also, payments have been increasingly linked to patients’ outcomes rather than just the quantity of services delivered. A 2016 report by the Commonwealth Fund, a health care nonprofit think tank, found that the quality care has improved in many communities following the ACA.

    His response: None.

    Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., misstated the percentage of Medicaid spending that covers the cost of long-term care, such as nursing home stays.

    What she wrote: “It’s important to note that 60 percent of Medicaid goes to long-term care and with the evisceration of it in the bill, this critical coverage is severely compromised.”

    What’s misleading: Medicaid does not spend 60 percent of its budget on long-term care. The figure is closer to a quarter, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal think tank. Medicaid does, however, cover more than 60 percent of all nursing home residents.

    Her response: Eshoo’s office said the statistic was based on a subset of enrollees who are dually enrolled in Medicaid and Medicare. For this smaller group, 62 percent of Medicaid expenditures were for long-term support services, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

    What’s misleading about the response: Eshoo’s letter makes no reference to this population, but instead refers to the 75 million Americans on Medicaid.

    Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., pointed to the number of uninsured Americans as a failure of the ACA, without noting that the law had dramatically reduced the number of uninsured.

    What he wrote: “According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately thirty-three million Americans are still living without health care coverage and many more have coverage that does not adequately meet their health care needs.”

    Why it’s misleading: The actual number of uninsured in 2015 was about 29 million, a drop of 4 million from the prior year, the Census Bureau reported in September. Fleischmann’s number was from the previous year.

    Beyond that, reducing the number of uninsured by more than 12 million people from 2013 to 2015 has been seen as a success of Obamacare. And the Republican repeal-and-replace bill is projected to increase the number of uninsured.

    His response: None.

    Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III, D-Mass., overstated the number of young adults who were able to stay on their parents’ health plan as a result of the law.

    What he wrote: The ACA “allowed 6.1 million young adults to remain covered by their parents’ insurance plans.”

    What’s misleading: A 2016 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, released during the Obama administration, however, pegged the number at 2.3 million.

    Kennedy may have gotten to 6.1 million by including 3.8 million young adults who gained health insurance coverage through insurance marketplaces from October 2013 through early 2016.

    His response: A spokeswoman for Kennedy said the office had indeed added those two numbers together and would fix future letters.

    Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., said that 75 percent of health insurance marketplaces run by states have failed. They have not.

    What he said: “Nearly 75 percent of state-run exchanges have already collapsed, forcing more than 800,000 Americans to find new coverage.”

    What’s misleading: When the ACA first launched, 16 states and the District of Columbia opted to set up their own exchanges for residents to purchase insurance, instead of using the federal marketplace, known as Healthcare.gov.

    Of the 16, four state exchanges, in Oregon, Hawaii, New Mexico and Nevada, failed, and Kentucky plans to close its exchange this year, according to a report by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. While the report casts doubt on the viability of other state exchanges, it is clear that 3/4 have not failed.

    His response: None.

    Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., overstated that the ACA “distorted labor markets,” prompting employers to shift workers from full-time jobs to part-time jobs.

    What he said: “It has also, through the requirement that employees that work thirty hours or more be considered full time and thus be offered health insurance by their employer, distorted the labor market.”

    What’s misleading: A number of studies have found little to back up that assertion. A 2016 study published by the journal Health Affairs examined data on hours worked, reason for working part time, age, education and health insurance status. “We found only limited evidence to support this speculation” that the law led to an increase in part-time employment, the authors wrote. Another study found much the same.

    In addition, PolitiFact labeled as false a statement last June by President Donald Trump in which he said, “Because of Obamacare, you have so many part-time jobs.”

    His response: Rohrabacher spokesman Ken Grubbs said the congressman’s statement was based on an article that said, “Are Republicans right that employers are capping workers’ hours to avoid offering health insurance? The evidence suggests the answer is ‘yes,’ although the number of workers affected is fairly small.”

    We pointed out that “fairly small” was hardly akin to distorting the labor market. To which Grubbs replied, “The congressman’s letter is well within the range of respected interpretations. That employers would react to Obamacare’s impact in such way is so obvious, so nearly axiomatic, that it is pointless to get lost in the weeds,” Grubbs said.

    Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Mich., appears to have cited a speculative 2013 report by a GOP-led House committee as evidence of current and future premium increases under the ACA.

    What he wrote: “Health insurance premiums are slated to increase significantly. Existing customers can expect an average increase of 73 percent, while the average change due to Obamacare for those purchasing a new plan will be a 96 percent increase in premiums. The average cost for a new customer in the individual market is expected to rise $1,812 per year.”

    What’s misleading: The figures seem to have come from a report issued before the Obamacare insurance marketplaces launched and before 2014 premiums had been announced. The letter implies these figures are current. In fact, premium increases by and large have been moderate under Obamacare. The average monthly premium for a benchmark plan, upon which federal subsidies are calculated, increased about 2 percent from 2014 to 2015; 7 percent from 2015 to 2016; and 25 percent this year, for states that take part in the federal insurance marketplace.

    His response: None

    Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., misstated the reasons why Medicaid costs per person were higher than expected in 2015.

    What he wrote: “A Medicaid actuarial report from August 2016 found that the average cost per enrollee was 49 percent higher than estimated just a year prior — in large part due to beneficiaries seeking care at more expensive hospital emergency rooms due to difficulty finding a doctor and long waits for appointments.”

    What’s misleading: The report did not blame the higher costs on the difficulty patients had finding doctors. Among the reasons the report did cite: patients who were sicker than anticipated and required a raft of services after being previously uninsured. The report also noted that costs are expected to decrease in the future.

    His response: None

    Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., wrongly stated that family premiums are declining under Obamacare.

    What he wrote: “Families are seeing lower premiums on their insurance, seniors are saving money on prescription drug costs, and hospital readmission rates are dropping.”

    What’s misleading: Durbin’s second and third points are true. The first, however, is misleading. Family insurance premiums have increased in recent years, although with government subsidies, some low- and middle-income families may be paying less for their health coverage than they once did.

    His response: Durbin’s office said it based its statement on an analysis published in the journal Health Affairs that said that individual health insurance premiums dropped between 2013 and 2014, the year that Obamacare insurance marketplaces began. It also pointed to a Washington Post opinion piece that said that premiums under the law are lower than they would have been without the law.

    Why his response is misleading: The Post piece his office cites states clearly, “Yes, insurance premiums are going up, both in the health care exchanges and in the employer-based insurance market.”

    Rep. Susan Brooks, R-Ind., told constituents that premiums nationwide were slated to jump from 2016 to 2017, but failed to mention that premiums for some plans in her home state actually decreased.

    What she wrote: “Since the enactment of the ACA, deductibles are up, on average, 63 percent. To make matters worse, monthly premiums for the “bronze plan” rose 21 percent from 2016 to 2017. … Families and individuals covered through their employer are forced to make the difficult choice: pay their premium each month or pay their bills.”

    What’s misleading: Brooks accurately cited national data from the website HealthPocket, but her statement is misleading. Indiana was one of two states in which the premium for a benchmark health plan — the plan used to calculate federal subsidies — actually went down between 2016 and 2017. Moreover, more than 80 percent of marketplace consumers in Indiana receive subsidies that lowered their premium costs. The HealthPocket figures refer to people who do not qualify for those subsidies.

    Her response: Brooks’ office referred to a press release from Indiana’s Department of Insurance, which took issue with an Indianapolis Star story about premiums going down. The release, from October, when Vice President Mike Pence was Indiana’s governor, said that the average premiums would go up more than 18 percent over 2016 rates based on enrollment at that time. In addition, the release noted, 68,000 Indiana residents lost their health plans when their insurers withdrew from the market.

    Why her response is misleading: For Indiana consumers who shopped around, which many did, there was an opportunity to find a cheaper plan.

    Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., incorrectly said that the Republican bill to repeal Obamacare would cut funding for seniors in nursing homes.

    What he wrote: “It’s terrible for seniors. Trumpcare forces older Americans to pay 5 times the amount younger Americans will — an age tax — and slashes Medicaid benefits for nursing home care that two out of three Americans in nursing homes rely on.”

    What’s misleading: Wyden is correct that the GOP bill, known as the American Health Care Act, would allow insurance companies to charge older adults five times higher premiums than younger ones, compared to three times higher premiums under the existing law. However, it does not directly slash Medicaid benefits for nursing home residents. It proposes cutting Medicaid funding and giving states a greater say in setting their own priorities. States may, as a result, end up cutting services, jeopardizing nursing home care for poor seniors, advocates say, because it is one of the most expensive parts of the program.

    His response: Taylor Harvey, a spokesman for Wyden, defended the statement, noting that the GOP health bill cuts Medicaid funding by $880 billion over 10 years and places a cap on spending. “Cuts to Medicaid would force states to nickel and dime nursing homes, restricting access to care for older Americans and making it a benefit in name only,” he wrote.

    Why his response is misleading: The GOP bill does not spell out how states make such cuts.

    Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., misleadingly said premiums would rise under the Obamacare replacement bill now being considered by the House.

    What he wrote: “It’s about the 24 million Americans expected to lose their insurance under the Trumpcare plan and for every person who will see their insurance premiums rise — on average 10-15 percent.”

    Why it’s misleading: First, the Congressional Budget Office did estimate that the GOP legislation would cover 24 million fewer Americans by 2026. But not all of those people would “lose their insurance.” Some would choose to drop coverage because the bill would no longer make it mandatory to have health insurance, as is the case now.

    Second, the budget office did say that in 2018 and 2019, premiums under the GOP bill would be 15-20 percent higher than they would have been under Obamacare because the share of unhealthy patients would increase as some of those who are healthy drop out. But it noted that after that, premiums would be lower than under the ACA.

    His response: None.

    Have you corresponded with a member of Congress or senator about the Affordable Care Act? We’d love to see the response you received. Please fill out our short form.

    The post Fact check: Are the things lawmakers say in their letters about Obamacare true? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    FBI Director James Comey will spoke Thursday at a symposium at the The University of Texas at Austin on national security challenges in fighting terror attacks in the U.S.

    The symposium is sponsored by the university’s U.S. Intelligence Studies Project and the Business Executives for National Security.

    PBS NewsHour will update this story as it develops.

    The post WATCH: FBI Director James Comey speaks at national security symposium appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

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    The photo has been removed from this post, because it may have been staged and may have resulted in cruelty to the animals involved.

    The post Photo: Hitching a ride on the back of a turtle appeared first on PBS NewsHour.


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