Trump to target Planned Parenthood with new abortion curbs

The Trump administration is expected to announce Friday that it will dramatically change the federal family planning program to prohibit health care providers who accept the funds from mentioning abortion and defund Planned Parenthood.

The changes to the Title X program —which are expected to be announced in new regulations — would mark the Trump administration’s latest win for social conservatives who are looking to prohibit access to abortion.

Health care providers who accept Title X funding would be banned from mentioning abortion to their patients and would not be allowed to perform abortions — regardless of the funding source — at the same facilities that provide Title X services.

Conservatives hail the changes as the "defunding" of Planned Parenthood because the organization is a prominent recipient of Title X money, receiving $50 million to $60 million in annual funding through the $286 million program.

But critics say it will Continue reading “Trump to target Planned Parenthood with new abortion curbs”

Democrats ready to run on health care in 2018

Democrats are confidently running on Obamacare for the first time in a decade.

They’ve got a unified message blaming Republicans for “sabotaging” the health law, leading to a cascade of sky-high insurance premiums that will come just before the November midterm elections. They’re rolling out ads featuring people helped by the law. And Tuesday, they’re starting a campaign to amplify each state’s premium increases — and tie those to GOP decisions.

That’s a big change from four election cycles of reluctance to talk about Obamacare on the stump. During those campaigns, red-state Democrats were often on the defensive, dodging accusations they imposed government-run health care on unwilling Americans, made it impossible for people to keep their doctors and health plans, and caused double-digit premium increases every year.

Now, even those Democrats see Obamacare as a political advantage. The Affordable Care Act has grown significantly more popular. And as Republicans learned Continue reading “Democrats ready to run on health care in 2018”

The Baby Boom in Congress

The typical member of Congress is a man about 60 years old — often with a tuft of salt-and-pepper hair, or maybe none at all. He’s decades past having babies at home: Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma mused recently, and inexplicably, that the invention of disposable diapers means parents don’t have to carry diaper bags anymore. The 229-year history of the United States Congress is the history of the nation’s most prominent and enduring boys’ club, a bastion of grandfathers and — in Paul Ryan’s phrase — weekend dads.

Young mothers, weekend or otherwise, in Congress are like a good night’s sleep for new parents: highly unusual, and yet, more and more common with the passage of time. Only 10 women in history have given birth while serving in Congress: one in the 1970s, three in the 1990s, and six in the past 11 years.

Forty-five years before Tammy Duckworth Continue reading “The Baby Boom in Congress”

The Baby Boom in Congress

The typical member of Congress is a man about 60 years old — often with a tuft of salt-and-pepper hair, or maybe none at all. He’s decades past having babies at home: Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma mused recently, and inexplicably, that the invention of disposable diapers means parents don’t have to carry diaper bags anymore. The 229-year history of the United States Congress is the history of the nation’s most prominent and enduring boys’ club, a bastion of grandfathers and — in Paul Ryan’s phrase — weekend dads.

Young mothers, weekend or otherwise, in Congress are like a good night’s sleep for new parents: highly unusual, and yet, more and more common with the passage of time. Only 10 women in history have given birth while serving in Congress: one in the 1970s, three in the 1990s, and six in the past 11 years.

Forty-five years before Tammy Duckworth Continue reading “The Baby Boom in Congress”

Senate poised to allow Duckworth’s newborn on the floor

The hidebound U.S. Senate is expected to soon change its rules for a member who just made history as a new mom.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), who this month became the first sitting senator to have a baby while in office, has submitted a resolution that would allow senators to bring a child under one year old onto the Senate floor during votes. Senate leaders appear poised to approve the request, according to Senate sources.

The Illinois Democrat has been on a campaign to change the chamber’s rules, which prohibit children from the floor, arguing that the archaic ban doesn’t support working parents and would make it difficult for her to vote.

The Senate sometimes stacks several votes in a row or gets sidelined by delays, requiring lawmakers to be on the floor for an extended period of time.

“I can’t be away from a newborn infant in Continue reading “Senate poised to allow Duckworth’s newborn on the floor”

Abortion foes seize on chance to overturn Roe

The anti-abortion movement believes it’s one Donald Trump-appointed Supreme Court justice away from a shot at overturning Roe v. Wade, and advocates are teeing up what they hope will be the winning challenge.

From Iowa to South Carolina, lawmakers are proposing some of the most far-reaching abortion restrictions in a generation, hoping their legislation triggers the lawsuit that eventually makes it to the high court.

Mississippi just approved the earliest abortion ban in the country — at 15 weeks of pregnancy — and Kentucky last week banned the procedure used in most abortions after 11 weeks. Legislatures in Ohio and South Carolina are weighing total prohibitions of the procedure, while Iowa is considering a ban as soon as a heartbeat is detected — all bills that if signed into law would violate Roe and prompt lawsuits.

"That could ultimately be a bill that revisits Roe v. Wade," Ohio Continue reading “Abortion foes seize on chance to overturn Roe”

Inside the collapse of a bipartisan Obamacare deal

Everybody on Capitol Hill agreed: If anyone could break the deep-rooted partisan logjam over Obamacare in Congress, it was that deal-making duo Patty and Lamar.

But in the end, it was Obamacare that broke their alliance.

Just seven months after Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) heralded the beginning of a new bipartisan era on health care following the collapse of Obamacare repeal efforts, their lofty ambitions ended in much the same way as every Obamacare-related negotiation over the last eight years — with claims of betrayal, warnings of political fallout and no progress toward bridging the deep divide over the nation’s health care system. When Congress put its finishing touches on a $1.3 trillion spending bill late last week, there was one glaring omission: a proposal to head off huge premium spikes just before the November midterm elections.

“I’m no magician,” Alexander said in Continue reading “Inside the collapse of a bipartisan Obamacare deal”

Abstinence advocate gets final say on family planning dollars

A senior Trump health official who has promoted abstinence will be the final arbiter of which groups receive federal family planning funds — a change from prior years, when a group of officials made the decision, POLITICO has learned.

Conservatives have long criticized the $286 million Title X program, which funds family planning services, mostly for low-income women, because it gives money to Planned Parenthood and other groups that provide abortions, even though there is a prohibition on using those dollars for abortions.

Now, for the first time, the final decision of who gets the funding will be in the hands of one person — Valerie Huber, the acting deputy assistant secretary for population affairs at HHS, a longtime advocate of abstinence.

Prior to joining the Trump administration, Huber was president and CEO of Ascend, a national organization that promoted “sexual risk avoidance” — a term she used instead of Continue reading “Abstinence advocate gets final say on family planning dollars”

Trump IRS seeks millions in Obamacare fines even though law is ‘dead’

Hundreds of companies face prospective fines for violating Obamacare’s employer mandate by the same Trump administration that has done virtually everything in its power to abolish the federal health care law.

The Internal Revenue Service notices recently began arriving in corporate mailboxes, in some cases demanding millions of dollars in fines — an awkward development as the White House touts its business-friendly tax package. The notices will likely spur another legal fight over the health law — this time featuring the administration defending a statute that President Donald Trump has repeatedly declared dead.

“Litigation is in the works,” said Alden Bianchi, an attorney who represents several businesses facing potential penalties for failing to provide adequate insurance coverage to workers. “There is a challenge out there and it’s brewing and the players are serious.”

The enforcement actions cover potential violations in 2015, the first year the mandate was supposed to Continue reading “Trump IRS seeks millions in Obamacare fines even though law is ‘dead’”

Spending deals signal end of unpopular Obamacare cost checks

Republicans and Democrats finally found something they can agree on about Obamacare: killing unpopular policies that were supposed to pay for the law or reduce health costs.

The recent congressional spending deals repealed or delayed several Obamacare taxes, as well as a Medicare cost-cutting board. Removing those powerful levers, which terrified health providers and unions, is not a good omen for efforts to control health spending, which is expected to surge in the next few years.

“This was a skillful effort by the groups that would have faced the sharp end of these measures,” said John McDonough, a former Senate HELP Committee aide who helped draft the law, who is now a Harvard professor of public health practice. “The reason people got so exercised … is not because they wouldn’t have been effective. They would have been effective.”

What’s left are the expensive pieces of the law that are liked Continue reading “Spending deals signal end of unpopular Obamacare cost checks”

Trump’s HHS worked with conservative group on Planned Parenthood policy

A conservative legal organization worked with the Trump administration to make it easier for states to defund Planned Parenthood, according to documents obtained by congressional Democrats and shared with POLITICO.

HHS last month told states they no longer have to comply with Obama administration policy that made it difficult for states to exclude the women’s health group from their Medicaid programs — an announcement timed to the March of Life anti-abortion rally. HHS received a draft legal analysis from the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom a week before the announcement, according to House Oversight Committee ranking Democrat Elijah Cummings.

Cummings cited a whistleblower who shared emails and documents.

“The documents provided by the whistleblower raise serious concerns about whether the Trump administration is now taking orders from an extreme right-wing interest group that is trying to deny American citizens the ability to exercise their right to obtain family planning services from Continue reading “Trump’s HHS worked with conservative group on Planned Parenthood policy”

Public health workers find surprise cuts in paychecks

About 3,000 Public Health Service physicians and other workers saw their paychecks unexpectedly slashed last month because of government delays setting up a payment system Congress ordered a decade ago.

“A number of unanticipated events impacted our ability to fully execute these provisions,” Surgeon General Jerome Adams told Public Health Service Commissioned Corps officers in a Jan. 31 letter obtained by POLITICO.

Doctors, nurses, physician assistants and others in the corps work in underserved parts of the country, including on Native-American reservations and in prisons, as well as abroad on projects to combat HIV/AIDS and promote vaccinations. There are more than 6,500 health care workers in the corps.

Some officers saw cuts of up to $1,700 a month, according to anecdotal evidence from the Commissioned Officers Association of the USPHS, which advocates for corps officers.

“We understand that the approximately 3,000 officers of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Continue reading “Public health workers find surprise cuts in paychecks”

Why the CDC director had to resign

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar had planned to send a clear message to Congress and his new boss in the White House that he would not tolerate ethically questionable behavior.

That opportunity came faster than expected after POLITICO reported Tuesday that the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had traded in tobacco stocks while she led the agency.

Less than 48 hours after being sworn in, Azar accepted the resignation of CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald amid questions about her judgment and conflicts of interest.

Fitzgerald’s purchase of shares in tobacco, drug and food companies while serving as the nation’s top public health official and her inability to divest other holdings kept her from working on key health issues and were exactly the kind of distractions Azar vowed to eliminate.

“Alex has a really low tolerance for drama,” a person familiar with Azar’s thinking said. “He Continue reading “Why the CDC director had to resign”

Senate defeats Trump-backed 20-week abortion ban

The Senate on Monday blocked a bill, backed by President Donald Trump, to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The procedural vote, designed to put pressure on red-state Democrats who are up for reelection this fall, fell significantly short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

The White House expressed strong support for the measure earlier Monday, saying it would “help to facilitate the culture of life to which our nation aspires.” During the 2016 election, Trump said he would sign a 20-week abortion ban if it made it to his desk — one of several key reasons anti-abortion groups reversed course to back his campaign.

The Senate voted 51-46 against advancing the bill. Democrats Joe Manchin, Joe Donnelly and Bob Casey broke with others in their party to vote to advance the bill. Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski joined with the remaining Democrats present Continue reading “Senate defeats Trump-backed 20-week abortion ban”

House GOP leaders may target Obamacare to avoid shutdown

House GOP leaders may load up a temporary government funding bill with Obamacare tax delays in a bid to win over reluctant Republicans and avoid a shutdown at week’s end.

Speaker Paul Ryan and his team will huddle with rank-and-file GOP lawmakers in what’s expected to be a contentious conference meeting Tuesday night. Senior Republican sources say GOP leaders will float several options to try to secure Republicans votes on what will be the fourth spending stopgap since September — an embarrassing practice that Republicans say puts the military at risk.

Leaders will pitch a delay of the medical device tax, a loathed Obamacare levy on equipment such as defibrillators and surgical tools. The tax has been delayed for two years but went back into effect on Jan. 1. They’ll also discuss again delaying the law’s health insurance tax, which is now going into effect after a one-year delay.

A Continue reading “House GOP leaders may target Obamacare to avoid shutdown”

Trump’s secret plan to scrap Obamacare

Early last year as an Obamacare repeal bill was flailing in the House, top Trump administration officials showed select House conservatives a secret road map of how they planned to gut the health law using executive authority.

The March 23 document, which had not been public until now, reveals that while the effort to scrap Obamacare often looked chaotic, top officials had actually developed an elaborate plan to undermine the law — regardless of whether Congress repealed it.

Top administration officials had always said they would eradicate the law through both legislative and executive actions, but never provided the public with anything close to the detailed blueprint shared with the members of the House Freedom Caucus, whose confidence — and votes — President Donald Trump was trying to win at the time. The blueprint, built off the executive order to minimize Obamacare’s “economic burden,” that Trump signed just hours after Continue reading “Trump’s secret plan to scrap Obamacare”

GOP Obamacare quandary — easy to hate, hard to kill

Republicans start the year divided over whether to tear down or prop up Obamacare, a split that could derail their legislative agenda leading up to the 2018 midterm elections.

GOP leaders on Capitol Hill don’t want a repeat of last year’s Obamacare fumble: They spent precious time on a failed attempt to repeal the health care law every member of the GOP was presumed to hate.

But they also don’t want to take repeal off the table, which would provoke conservatives who are still determined to undo Obamacare.

The reality is the GOP is so divided on Obamacare, they don’t have the votes to achieve either objective — repeal or stabilization. That means former President Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment could keep limping along, crippled by the repeal of the individual mandate in the tax law but lifted by the surprisingly strong enrollment for the coming year.

President Donald Trump Continue reading “GOP Obamacare quandary — easy to hate, hard to kill”

Ryan and McConnell head for clash over Obamacare

Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell are about to lock horns over Obamacare — part of a House-Senate clash that needs to be resolved by Friday to avert a government shutdown.

McConnell promised moderate GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine that he would prop up President Barack Obama’s signature health law in a must-pass, year-end spending bill — so long as she backs tax reform. But Ryan’s more conservative conference is flatly rejecting that idea and urging the Wisconsin Republican to stand firm against his Senate counterpart.

“It’s very frustrating that this is getting thrown in there. Why didn’t the Senate just pass our health care bill?” House Republican Conference Vice Chairman Doug Collins of Georgia said of the failed Obamacare repeal push.

The disagreement could make for an awkward dynamic: The two most powerful men in Congress have worked side by side for months on Continue reading “Ryan and McConnell head for clash over Obamacare”

GOP leaders in House, Senate endorse conflicting shutdown strategies

Republican leaders in both houses of Congress face a sticky situation this week as they try to avert a government shutdown: Each side has promised its members things that will not fly in the other chamber.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told moderate Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) he’d support passage of legislation by the end of the year to prop up Obamacare insurance markets — so long as she votes for tax reform. That addition, however, puts Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) in a pickle: His members are loath to be seen as bailing out a health care law they hate.

Ryan, meanwhile, green-lighted a short-term spending strategy that funds the Pentagon but does nothing for Democratic priorities — and suggested House members could leave town to try to "jam the Senate" into accepting their bill. But McConnell needs eight Democrats to pass anything, so the House plan Continue reading “GOP leaders in House, Senate endorse conflicting shutdown strategies”

Health program for 9 million kids falls victim to partisan squabbling

Everyone in Congress claims to be a champion of children’s health.

But funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program ran out Sept. 30. And some lawmakers worry it might not be replenished until early next year.

It’s a mess that can happen only in Washington: Even a bipartisan program that covers 9 million poor and middle-class children is caught up in partisan squabbling, with Republicans and Democrats split over how to pay for renewed funding and placing blame on the other party.

But with unified GOP control of the government, voters and the program’s enrollees — who are beginning to get notices that money could be running out — could hold Republicans responsible if the program remains in limbo.

The nearly three-month funding lapse has raised the profile of a program that’s spent most of the year in the shadows of Republican efforts to overhaul the tax code and fund Continue reading “Health program for 9 million kids falls victim to partisan squabbling”