What did Goodlatte tell retirees in Harrisonburg?

On his Facebook page, Congressman Goodlatte reported on his July 10 visit to the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community (VMRC) in Harrisonburg, to “talk with residents and staff.”

“Thanks for your questions and hospitality!” Goodlatte wrote.

It would be good to know what the questions were and how he answered them. Unfortunately we are unlikely to find out from the congressman, who prefers to keep his planned visits in the Sixth District– and the contents of those visits– closely-guarded secrets.

Did Goodlatte get any questions about his support for repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with the American Health Care Act? Many residents of the VMRC depend on Medicaid to meet their living expenses, as the VMRC Foundation reports:

At any time, there are approximately 38 residents in Complete Living Care or Assisted Living who must depend on others for financial support, including Medicaid…

As The New York Times reported, Medicaid pays for most of the 1.4 million people in nursing homes. But the Republican-backed AHCA, as well as the Senate Republicans’ version of the bill, would make deep cuts to Medicaid.

Under federal law, state Medicaid programs are required to cover nursing home care. But state officials decide how much to pay facilities, and states under budgetary pressure could decrease the amount they are willing to pay or restrict eligibility for coverage.

“The states are going to make it harder to qualify medically for needing nursing home care,” predicted Toby S. Edelman, a senior policy attorney at the Center for Medicare Advocacy. “They’d have to be more disabled before they qualify for Medicaid assistance.”

States might allow nursing homes to require residents’ families to pay for a portion of their care, she added. Officials could also limit the types of services and days of nursing home care they pay for, as Medicare already does.

It would be nice to think Goodlatte could have provided assurance to all the residents of the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community that they will be allowed to remain there as long as necessary, even if the Republican bill passes. But it’s hard to see how he honestly could have done that.

Goodlatte’s health care talking points don’t reflect reality

Timothy Jost, Emeritus Professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law, is one of the nation’s foremost experts on government health care policy. I asked him to respond to some of Congressman Goodlatte’s statements in reply to an interviewer’s question on June 27 on radio station WIQO about the the Congressional Budget Office’s report that more than 20 million Americans stand to lose health insurance if Congress approves Republican legislation to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act:

Congressman Goodlatte is simply repeating here standard Republican health care talking points. It is not clear that he has read either the House or Senate bills or the Congressional Budget Office Reports or Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Chief Actuary’s report on the bill. By avoiding actually meeting with his constituents in town hall meetings, and rather limiting himself to interviews with reporters who are incapable of or unwilling to challenge his statements, Goodlatte avoids having to confront the actual damage the Republican proposals would do. Let’s examine each statement:

“Overall, let me just say about the number of people who may not be covered, a large percentage of those people are people who will voluntarily decide that the don’t want to purchase health insurance.”

The CBO report on the House bill that Goodlatte voted for projected that 23 million fewer Americans would have health insurance under the House bill than under the current Affordable Care Act. Goodlatte is correct that the CBO report estimates that 14 million fewer people would have coverage in 2018 under the Republican bill than under current law, and that many of these would drop or not renew coverage because of the repeal of the individual mandate penalty. This number is probably too high. But by 2026, the CBO projected that 23 million would lose coverage. About 14 million of these would be people who lose Medicaid coverage because of the Medicaid cuts and about 8 million who would lose coverage in the individual market because tax credits are cut and because the coverage becomes much skimpier and not worth the trouble of buying for many people.

“And remember, there are 30 million people today, even though they are mandated under what I think is a faulty Supreme Court ruling of a few years ago, 30 million people who chose not to get health insurance even with a law mandate that they must get health insurance or pay a fine. So that’s one part of it.”

It is true that, even though the Affordable Care Act has reduced the level of uninsured to historically low levels in the United States, 25-30 million people remain uncovered. It is hard to see how this is an argument for increasing the number of uninsured by another 23 million, but apparently Congressman Goodlatte seems to think that is the case. So why do people remain uninsured?

First, about 16 percent of those uninsured are undocumented immigrants whom Goodlatte has no intention of helping. Another 12 percent live in states like Virginia that have not expanded Medicaid and thus can’t afford healthcare but are not offered the help the ACA intended them to receive. Many of the remaining uninsured are eligible for Medicaid or for premium tax credit assistance, but do not know that this is the case. Many of these qualify for one of the exceptions to the individual mandate, such as having income below the filing limit. Some pay the penalty. Obviously, what is needed is more aggressive outreach to tell people that coverage is available, and additional help for those who can’t afford coverage, but Goodlatte would rather take coverage away from those who already have it.

“The other part of it is that people who will come off of this are the states that expanded Medicaid. That will be another large percentage of this 22 million that CBO says will not have health insurance. Since Virginia did not expand, we’re not going to experience that aspect of the problem.”

It is true that millions who will lose coverage will be from Medicaid expansion states, and that since Virginia never expanded Medicaid, these losses will not directly affect Virginia. But the logic here is bizarre. It is like saying that refugees who are starving to death in a refugee camp that has received no relief supplies should count themselves lucky that they will not be affected by the cut-off of relief supplies to another refugee camp that was receiving help. Of course, if the ACA remains in place Virginia could expand Medicaid in the future. That course of action will be cut off by the House or Senate bills. Moreover, both the bills cut Medicaid dramatically in the future. The Senate bill would reduce projected Medicaid spending by 26 percent in 2026 and 35 percent in 2036. It is clear that cutbacks of this magnitude will not just affect the expansion population, but also traditional Medicaid recipients— the elderly, disabled, children and their families, and pregnant women— who will lose services, access to providers, and even eligibility.

“Finally CBO has gotten this wrong year after year after year with Obamacare. So I’m not sure I trust their analysis with how this new law would work.”

It is true that the CBO’s projections of coverage under the ACA did not come out exactly right. Predicting what will happen with expenditures and coverage far into the future is difficult. It is particularly difficult to predict developments like a Supreme Court decision that would cut the legs out from under ACA Medicaid coverage and that surprised virtually all Supreme Court observers. But in fact the CBO has done better than anyone else in predicting developments under the ACA. And for better or worse, the CBO is Congress’ own nonpartisan scorekeeper, and Goodlatte cannot simply accept their projections when he agrees with them and reject them when they don’t support his case.

“What I do know is this will save the taxpayers a lot of money, it will give consumers more choice, it will lower health insurance premiums by up to 30 percent, which will make a big difference, which will encourage people to get health insurance.”

Specifically, the legislation will save very wealthy taxpayers, like Goodlatte, a lot of money. The House bill would have cut taxes by about a trillion dollars over ten years, with a quarter of that going to taxpayers making more than a quarter of a million dollars a year, and most of the rest to big corporations. The CBO projected that enactment of the House bill would initially raise premiums by 20 percent over current trend, but that by 2026 premiums would fall to 30 percent below current levels. The specific reason for this, however, was that coverage would become much skimpier— with higher deductibles, fewer benefits, and in some cases exclusion of preexisting conditions. Overall, the premiums for buying a plan equivalent to today’s marketplace coverage under the Senate bill would increase 74 percent by 2020.

“And they’ll have choices they can afford, whereas right now a federal bureaucracy tells every insurance company what needs to be in every plan. And in order to make the plans affordable they provide people with extraordinarily high deductibles– $7,500, $8,000, $10,000 deductibles. For a lot of people that’s almost meaningless except when it comes to a catastrophic illness. It’s not insurance in their minds.”

This claim is simply bizarre. What the House and Senate bills do is to allow insurers pathways to offering fewer benefits with higher cost sharing. In fact, under the ACA many insureds have high deductible policies. But people with incomes below 250 percent of the poverty level get cost-sharing reductions that dramatically reduce their actual cost sharing while many insurers offer basic services, like doctor visits, before the deductible kicks in. All analyses agree that deductibles and other forms of cost-sharing would go up dramatically under the Republican bills. In particular, older people would have to pay much higher premiums to get coverage like they get today. Insurers would not be able to offer services before the deductible.

“In addition we think we’ll have lower-deductible, affordable policies.”

This is simply not true. No responsible analysis projects this. It is possible that insurers will offer policies that exclude preexisting conditions and do not cover mental health services or prescription drugs and that have low-annual limits for lower premiums. But if you find this kind of coverage, make sure you never get sick.

“But for those who want high deductibles, we will have a vastly improved medical savings accounts program that will allow people to double the amount they put into their plans tax-free.”

Health savings accounts are a great tax shelter for wealthy people, who have extra income to invest in a tax-free account. They do little or nothing to help lower-income Americans who have benefited from the ACA. But the Republican legislation is all about helping the wealthy, and making life harder for the poor.

Congressman Goodlatte has the week off this week. He should spend it meeting with his constituents and learning how the ACA has affected their lives. Unfortunately, he is too cowardly to do so. He would rather spend his time on foreign junkets and meeting with wealthy donors. Perhaps if he talked to real people, he would learn that the talking points he is repeating do not reflect reality.

Judiciary Democrats call out Goodlatte on refusal to do his job

The Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee have written to Chairman Bob Goodlatte sharply questioning his reluctance to hold hearings on the Trump administration’s possible obstruction of justice, the firing of FBI director James Comey and the actions of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

With our Committee on the sidelines, the situation grows more perilous by the day. Last month, President Trump took to Twitter to threaten Mr. Comey, cautioning that he “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” Two weeks ago, the President floated the notion of firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller before his investigation even gets off the ground—over the loud objections of Democrats and Republicans alike. Last week, the President took aim at Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein: “I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director! Witch Hunt.” In anticipation of the President’s next attack, the public is now openly speculating about the line of succession at the Department of Justice.

In our Committee meetings, you have expressed reluctance to investigate these matters because “the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are also conducting investigations.” It falls to us—and not to the intelligence committees—to examine questions about obstruction of justice, the dismissal of the FBI Director, and any attempt to influence or pressure the leadership of the Department of Justice. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, agrees with us [see here] on this point, and our Senate counterparts are already working with Special Counsel Mueller to lay out the next steps of their investigation.

At other times, you have expressed unwillingness to debate these questions because “investigations into these matters are ongoing.” We appreciate the sensitivity of the work of the Special Counsel, but nothing about an ongoing investigation prevents us from acting responsibly and conducting our own oversight… [T]he investigation into Secretary Clinton’s use of a private email server did not prevent you from asking either the Attorney General or the FBI Director about the case—long before the investigation itself had concluded.


At the beginning of this Congress—under your leadership and pursuant to your amendment to our oversight plan—the Committee made a commitment to conduct oversight into allegations of misconduct by executive branch officials.

We ask you to respect that commitment, and schedule hearings with the leadership of the Department of Justice and the FBI without delay.

(See the letter here.)

Congressman Goodlatte has not had the courtesy to even respond to any of the previous letters from Judiciary Committee Democrats since November (see here, here, here, here, here, here and here). Unfortunately there’s no reason to expect anything different this time.

Goodlatte and the “defective speedometer” fiction

Dan Casey’s column in Sunday’s Roanoke Times makes it clear.

Bob “Law and Order” Goodlatte agreed to a legal fiction: that his April 12 speeding violation in Nelson County– for driving nearly twice the speed limit– was the result of a “defective speedometer” when in fact it was the result of a heavy foot on the accelerator. If Goodlatte expects the rest of us to respect the letter and spirit of the law, he should be willing to do so himself, even at the cost of some points on his driving record.

The amended charge simply requires everyone to pretend something happened that did not in fact happen. It’s unfortunate that that judge, the commonwealth’s attorney and the congressman colluded in such dishonesty, even if it is supposedly standard practice.

Trump humiliates Goodlatte; calls AHCA “mean, mean, mean”

When the House of Representatives approved the misbegotten American Health Care Act as a replacement for the Affordable Care Act, Congressman Goodlatte tweeted:

So I can’t help wondering how Goodlatte feels now that the president he has supported so loyally has trashed the House-passed AHCA in a meeting with Republican senators.

Sources who spoke to the Associated Press said Trump told GOP senators that the House bill is “mean, mean, mean” and must be made “more generous.” CNN adds that Trump told the lawmakers that the House bill would leave too many people vulnerable and that he wants more money spent on those people. One Republican senator related that Trump “talked about the need to take care of people.”

Now that Trump has blown to smithereens all of Goodlatte’s assurances about how the AHCA will protect people better than the ACA, what does the congressman have to say?

He should be asked.

Goodlatte urged to accept Trump’s offer to testify under oath

After President Trump answered “100 percent” to a question about whether he was willing to testify under oath about his conversations with then-FBI director James Comey, Congressman Luis Gutierrez called on House Judiciary Committee chair Bob Goodlatte to invite Trump to do just that.

“It is the House Judiciary Committee that should be the venue for the President to defend himself against the serious allegations of official misconduct, including but not limited to apparent attempts at obstruction of justice in the removal of Mr. Comey in order to relieve the ‘pressure’ the President was feeling from investigations related to his campaign’s ties to Russian meddling in America’s most recent presidential election,” Gutierrez, a member of the committee, wrote in a letter to Goodlatte.

“Therefore, I believe it is incumbent on you as Chairman to immediately invite the President to testify.”

The House Judiciary Committee has, to date, stayed out of probing alleged improprieties by Trump and his administration, to the dismay of Democrats on the panel.

Given Goodlatte eagerness to probe Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state, his hands-off approach to Trump raises legitimate questions. Now that Trump has suggested he wants to give his side of the story under oath, why not take it up on it?

Goodlatte backs bill to weaken consumer financial protection

Predictably Congressman Goodlatte joined virtually every other House Republican Thursday to approve the Financial CHOICE Act and send it to the Senate.

According to GovTrack.us:

This bill would make sweeping changes to the financial regulatory system by revising the changes that were put in place after the 2008-2009 economic crash. The bill would weaken the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Financial Stability Oversight Council, and regulations that prevent commercial banks from trading for their own gain, among other changes.

The New York Times reported:

The bill would also eliminate the Labor Department’s fiduciary rule, which requires brokers to act in the best interest of their clients when providing investment advice about retirement.

Perhaps Goodlatte would like to explain to Sixth District retirees depending on investment income how this will benefit them.

Goodlatte, who likes to present himself as a champion of service members and veterans, apparently chose to ignore a memorandum from Robert E. Wallace, Adjutant General of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, who pleaded with House members to oppose the Financial CHOICE Act because it could weaken the ability of the CFPB to protect service members and veterans from predatory financial practices.

vfw letter on cfpb

In a statement posted on his website, Goodlatte claimed:

The Financial CHOICE Act puts Main Street first. This legislation levels the playing field by eliminating the onerous regulations [of the Dodd-Frank Act] that are holding back job creators and stifling access to credit and capital.

But as CNBC reported, Dodd-Frank has not stifled access to credit or capital. In fact, “Since the law took effect in July 2010, bank lending to businesses and consumers has continued to hit new highs.”