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The Past Week’s “Deconstruction”

March 12, 2017

In it for the money

One of the parts of the Affordable Care Act that would be eliminated by the Republican “replacement” unveiled this week, is the requirement that Medicaid cover basic mental-health and addiction services in states that expanded it. Among the 31 states (and DC) that did expand Medicaid are those bearing the brunt of the opiate crisis, including Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia. Some 33,ooo people–a record number–died from opioid overdoses in 2015, and the 15 counties with the highest death rates from overdoses were in Kentucky and West Virginia. Perhaps the Republicans regard all of this as Darwinian selection, but then they don’t believe in evolution, do they?

Another bill cleared committee in the House that would impose severe penalties for employees who refused genetic testing as part of workplace wellness programs. The legislation, if enacted, would undermine basic privacy provisions of the Americans With Disabilities Act and the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). According to the Washington Post, the House legislation would allow employers to impose penalties of up to 30 percent of the total cost of the employee’s health insurance on those who choose to keep such information private. The bill, Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, HR 1313, was introduced by Rep. Virginia Foxx, (R-N.C.), who chairs the Committee on Education and the Workforce. A committee statement said the bill provides employers “the legal certainty they need to offer employee wellness plans, helping to promote a healthy workforce and lower health care costs.” It passed on a party-line vote, with all 22 Republicans supporting it and all 17 Democrats opposed.

The Senate voted 49 to 48 to eliminate a regulation, dubbed the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule, which required federal contractors to disclose and correct serious safety violations and would limit the ability of companies with recent safety problems to complete for government contracts unless they agreed to remedies. Shortly before the vote, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) released a staff report that says that 66 of the federal government’s 100 largest contractors have at some point violated federal wage and hour laws. Since 2015, the report says, more than a third of the 100 largest OSHA penalties have been imposed on federal contractors.

The Trump administration’s proposed budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration–the nation’s prinicipal agency studying and dealing with climate change–targets a handful of programs that provide important resources to help coastal states prepare for sea level rise.These programs include NOAA’s Coastal Zone Management grants and Regional Coastal Resilience grants, which come to $75 million combined; its $10 million in Coastal Ecosystem Resiliency grants; the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, an annual investment of about $23 million; and its $73 million Sea Grant program. South Florida’s coastal residents especially should pay attention. But by the time the Atlantic Ocean engulfs Mar-a-Lago, I’m sure Trump or his heirs will have unloaded it off on some Russian oligarch.

In related news, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, said on March 9 that he did not believe that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was a primary contributor to global warming. His statement contradicts a consensus of climate scientists arrived at after decades of analysis of data, not to mention the EPA’s own website.

And if anyone doubted that the Trump administration and Big Oil were in synch, in a March 6 news release, ExxonMobil highlighted its plan to spend $20 billion over 10 years, build 11 chemical and natural-gas projects and create 45,000 jobs. Within the same hour, the White House put out its own statement claiming credit for the expansion and adding, “The spirit of optimism sweeping the country is already boosting job growth, and it is only the beginning.” One full paragraph appeared nearly identically word for word in both releases. Another sentence appeared almost verbatim elsewhere. ExxonMobil spokesman Alan T. Jeffers said that the company had supplied the information to the White House, which dutifully reproduced it. Thanks, Exxon! Now what has Rex Tillerson been up to?

The administration announced plans for deep cuts to the budgets of the Coast Guard (14 percent), TSA, and FEMA (11 percent each), in order to shift about $5 billion to security at the Mexican border– for hiring new agents, infrastructure, and of course, The Wall. In other words, in order to help finance Trump’s useless and quite unnecessary fantasy project, he’s proposing to weaken security for the nation’s airways and coastlines and increase the risk of another Katrina, which climate change makes more probable with each passing year.

On March 10, Trump met with executives of smaller banks and promised to eliminate regulations on banking oversight and reporting requirements imposed by Dodd-Frank, which Trump has pledge to eviscerate. The banks are complaining that the regulations are too burdensome and “crushing” their ability to make loans. Despite the industry’s grousing, bank profits are actually at record levels, according to the Washington Post. Last year, the country’s nearly 6,000 banks — from large players like Bank of America to small community banks — made more than $171 billion in profits, up nearly 5 percent compared with 2015, according to government data. Community bank profits have been rising even faster — 10 percent last year. The proportion of community banks that made a profit reached 95.7 percent last year compared with 78.8 percent in 2010 when the Dodd-Frank Act was passed. So it couldn’t have been hurting them all that badly.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reported that Republicans in the House are quietly advancing several bills that would make lawsuits against corporations and doctors more difficult. The measures would severely limit class-action lawsuits and cap malpractice awards, and would insulate large corporations and the health-care industry from retribution for any kind of harm they may cause everyday people.

So for anyone who voted for Trump because he was going to protect the little guy, the joke’s on you, sucker!


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