Sam Baker: “Nearly 1.5 million people have signed up for coverage through HealthCare.gov in the first two weeks of this year’s open enrollment period — up from just over 1 million at the same point in the last enrollment window. Those results are stronger than many experts anticipated, in light of the Trump administration’s cuts to enrollment outreach.”
Wall Street Journal: “Tucked into Republicans’ tax overhaul bill is a technical tweak to how inflation is measured. The change is designed to hold down the deficit, but over time it becomes a significant tax increase that hits many of the same middle-class households who start out as the plan’s beneficiaries.”
“Both the House and Senate versions of the tax bill would adjust the income thresholds at which tax rates change using a “chained” measure of inflation rather than the better-known consumer-price index.”
“Richard Cordray, the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, said that he would leave the agency this month,” the New York Times reports.
“Mr. Cordray, a Democrat and a holdover from the Obama administration, was appointed to a five-year term that was to end in July 2018. He was widely expected to step down before then to run for governor in Ohio, his home state.”
President Trump “has turned his daily intelligence briefing — a routine that in previous administrations has been a dry, formal affair — into a free-flowing conversation during which he peppers his CIA director, former House member Mike Pompeo, with questions about everything from national security threats to the internal dynamics of Congress,” Politico reports.
“The CIA director’s favored status in the West Wing has made him the odds-on choice to succeed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, according to more than half a dozen administration officials and outside advisers familiar with the White House’s current plans. It’s not clear when Tillerson might leave — he has vigorously denied rumors that he plans to resign anytime soon — but Pompeo has told associates that he expects the president to tap him for the position and that he’d accept the job if it’s offered to him.”
Matthew Yglesias: “But looking back through today’s lens, this whole argument was miscast. The wrongdoing at issue was never just a private matter for the Clinton family; it was a high-profile exemplar of a widespread social problem: men’s abuse of workplace power for sexual gain. It was and is a striking example of a genre of misconduct that society has a strong interest in stamping out. That alone should have been enough to have pressured Clinton out of office.”
“Had Clinton resigned in disgrace under pressure from his own party, that would have sent a strong, and useful, chilling signal to powerful men throughout the country.”
“Instead, the ultimate disposition of the case — impunity for the man who did something wrong, embarrassment and disgrace for the woman who didn’t — only served to confirm women’s worst fears about coming forward.”
Jonathan Chait: “The genius of the Republican plan, if they pull it off, is that they are using hostage-taking in a novel fashion. They are using a 50-vote bill to pass the things Republicans care about, and setting up other, 60-vote bills to fix them. The partisan bill adds up on paper because it doesn’t include the cost of the bailout, which they can assume will be bipartisan.”
“Democrats can complain about this abuse of the rules, but the more productive course is to think of ways of imitating it. For instance: Suppose Democrats win control of Congress and the presidency, but cannot clear a filibuster (and also lack the votes to eliminate it). For instance: What if they decide to pay for an expanded Medicaid or Medicare buy-in plan by imposing a really gigantic tax hike on the rich — higher than even Democrats would like to see? Like a 90 percent top tax rate? Then they can invite Republicans to join them in a follow-up bill to cut that rate back down to a reasonable level.”
“If the rule is that majority-only bills have to add up, but bipartisan bills can increase the deficit all they want, then you can offload the costs of your bills by creating incentives for the other party to join in. In the short run, Republicans may have figured out a way around budget rules. In the long run, Democrats can do the same thing.”
Los Angeles Times: “Even as Senate leaders seek to enhance their tax package to make it more attractive to middle-class Americans, they are proposing making the new individual benefits expire at the end of 2025 in an effort to avoid adding to the long-term federal deficit.”
“Proposed cuts to corporate taxes would be permanent, under the revised Senate plan.”
First Read: “But even if the legislation does pass (and it seems like Senate Republicans are doing whatever it takes to pass it) they won’t have an easy time selling it to the American public. Higher premiums, fewer who are insured, tax cuts for corporations, estate-tax repeal for the wealthiest of Americans – the TV ad attacks in 2018 are easy to envision.”
“And pairing repeal of the individual mandate makes it all but impossible to get some Senate Democrats (West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp, Indiana’s Joe Donnelly) to support the GOP’s tax plan. And we’ve seen how partisan legislation plays with the American public at the ballot box.”
“Bottom line: Senate Republicans may have solved their math problem by repealing the individual mandate, but they’ve now added other problems to their tax plan – a week after health care was the most important issue in Virginia’s gubernatorial election, per the exit poll, and after Maine easily passed Medicaid expansion. What’s more, only 27 percent of Americans approve of President Trump’s handling of health care, according to last month’s NBC/WSJ poll.”
“Fox News anchor Shepard Smith debunked what his own network has called the Hillary Clinton uranium “scandal,” infuriating Fox viewers, some of whom suggested that he ought to work for CNN or MSNBC,” the Washington Post reports.
“Smith’s critique, which called President Trump’s accusations against Clinton ‘inaccurate,’ was triggered by renewed calls from Republicans on Capitol Hill for a special counsel to investigate Clinton.”
A new WBUR poll in Massachusetts finds that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Gov. Charlie Baker (R) both retain wide leads over challengers who are struggling to gain broad public attention.
Key finding: “All of Elizabeth Warren and Baker’s current challengers suffer from a lack of name recognition; for each of the seven, most voters polled had never heard of them.”
“North Korea gave its version of a diplomatic verdict Wednesday on President Trump’s recent trip to Asia: He’s a coward who deserves to die,” USA Today reports.
“Pyongyang’s state media slammed Trump for insulting North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un while on a five country tour of Asia. It said the American president, who Kim has feuded with for months, deserves the death penalty.”
After two years of mending fences after a failed presidential bid, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) “has clawed his way back. His numbers have inched up each of the past four quarters, and his approval rating is now back in the mid-to-high 40s,” according to James Hohmann.
“As the GOP primaries continued without him from New Hampshire to South Carolina and beyond, Walker convened the first of more than 100 ‘listening sessions’ in all 72 of Wisconsin’s counties. His advance team would set up two whiteboards in the front of every room. The governor would spend the first 20 minutes asking attendees to say something positive about the state, which he’d write down. Then he’d spend the next hour asking how Wisconsin could be better, filling up the second whiteboard. He tried to talk as little as possible.”
“The governor offered several concrete proposals in his budget around the themes that came up again and again, such as opioid abuse and broadband access, but he said the most important result of the sessions was conveying to Wisconsinites that he had not ‘moved on.'”
“Democrats wrested control of New Mexico’s largest city from the GOP on Tuesday as New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller (D) easily won a race to become Albuquerque’s next mayor,” CBS News reports.
Keller beat Albuquerque City Councilor Dan Lewis (R) with 62% to 38% “in a race that centered on the city’s raising crime rates and its struggling economy.”
“Sources tell Page Six exclusively that the shortest-ever-tenured White House communications director has been meeting with publishers about a planned tome that’s being repped by Trident Media Group… While the Mooch has previously penned finance books, a source tells us of the new project: ‘It’s about his time at the White House — all 10 days of it!’”
Fox News host Sean Hannity walked back his original remarks insinuating that the five women accusing Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore (R) of sexual assault when they were teenagers might be lying, Politico reports.
Said Hannity: “For me, the judge has 24 hours. You must immediately and fully come up with a satisfactory explanation for your inconsistencies that I just showed.”