Welcome to the 28th issue of The Outsider Perspective, brought to you by The Beltway Outsiders.
Good Friday Morning! The nation is awash in speculation regarding Russian interference with the 2016 election. This issue is going to cut through the noise in this story. I’ll also hit on the reignited debate over enhance interrogation techniques and an op-ed written by a Senator on Obamacare repeal. Let’s get down to the big story though…
Russia is actively engaged in an espionage, cyber, and proxy war with the United States
In 2012, GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney argued Russia was the US’s number one geopolitical foe. President Obama and the Democrats mercilessly mocked him. The popular line was: “The 1980’s called and they want their foreign policy back.” The Cold War was over, they said, Russia was not an issue. The tables have been completely flipped as Democrats are aghast that Russians have maliciously interfered with the US elections. This should not be, and is not for those watching carefully, a surprise.
When the Soviet Union fell, and communism with it, there was a brief moment of hope that Russia would become a responsible international ally over time. Though Russia did see reforms for a while, these reforms were steadily rolled back by Vladimir Putin (for a fantastic, but dense, historical take on this, see Garry Kasporov’s book: “Winter is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped“). Putin, a former KGB agent, has steadily increased his power and control over Russia to create, in effect, a police-state in which he has dictatorial power. Putin is not now, nor has he been for a while, an ally of the US. Putin rolled back US-Russian relations to the Cold War. A process which has been taking place for far more than 4 years since the 2012 election.
It is this conflict which you should view stories of how the US and Russia interact. Putin views the world through a Hobbesian lens: The world is solitary, nasty, brutish, and short. And Putin views himself as the strongman to keep the evil Americans at bay while securing his country, power, and people in the world. He’s trying to return the Russians to Cold War prominence in the world. The American Interest hit this perfectly (entire piece is worth your time):
The main problem with assuming that Vladimir Putin and his inner circle of strongmen had a preference either way [in the election] is that it imparts a certain farsighted strategic genius to a regime that has shown little evidence of possessing it. Putin is a world-class tactician, but is not an accomplished strategist.
That is not to say that the Kremlin is without a larger vision. On the contrary, its vision is quite well-defined. It sees itself inhabiting a zero-sum Hobbesian world, an order ruled not by norms but organized around state power. It sees Western demands for accountability, democracy, and the establishment of the rule of law not merely as threats to its own way of running its affairs, but as hypocrisies in their own right. The West lives in the same Hobbesian world, Putin and his cohort reason, and they wield those concepts as cudgels to bring low their rivals. But worse than that, Westerners appear to be blind to their own hypocrisy, and are genuinely baffled when civil wars fill the void left behind by a toppled autocracy.
This vision helps explain how Putin and his inner circle have understood world events since coming to power in 2000. The Iraq War, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the Arab Spring, and the Libya War were all seen by the Kremlin as part and parcel of the same thing: Western attempts at expansion. Civil society organizations and NGOs that help organize political parties and encourage democratization are quite clearly all funded by the CIA. These assets are all activated at the opportune time to force regime change—which is what the Westerners are really after.
The paradox of Putin and his siloviki is that their coherent, Hobbesian vision of the world does not lead them to a positive strategic program. Instead, it has them constantly fighting rearguard actions, trying to weaken and forestall what they correctly judge to be a far mightier competitor in the West. In many ways, EU expansion is just as threatening to the Kremlin as NATO expansion, as it represents another side of the same Western coin. (Similarly, grasping that fact helps explain why no amount of explanation that NATO is not meant to threaten Russia reliably falls on deaf ears in Moscow; NATO membership, which is correctly seen as a first step towards Westernization, is threat enough.)
These rearguard, defensive actions against the West are fought on many fronts. Russia has waged various small wars along its periphery since the fall of the Soviet Union, for example. These wars never really end, leaving behind smoldering dumpster fires that deter the West from further encroaching on what Moscow sees as its privileged zone of interest. Then there are the more traditional cloak and dagger operations, run deep inside enemy territory. Those can include “wet work” like the poisoning of dissident spy Alexander Litvinenko with Polonium in London, or more paramilitary-style efforts, such as the recent botched coup in Montenegro. Or they can be more political in nature, such as providing financing and training for ascendant populist parties across Europe, and bolstering their narratives through the creative use of propaganda, using state-run media outlets such as RT and Sputnik. The goal of all these actions is the same, however: to sow chaos and weaken the opponent.
All these factors come together to provide an explanation for just how and why the Russians did interfere in our most recent elections. First and foremost, the purpose of the operation was to wreak havoc. It’s all Putin’s Russia is ever up to these days: there is no deeper ideology at work, beyond a kind of reductive cynicism that sees everything in zero-sum terms. Any weakened, disorganized opponent is inherently good for Russia.
Even without Russian help, Trump had proven himself to be the chaos candidate early in the primaries. Insofar as Russian spymasters sought to help Trump, it was to empower the candidate who would be most likely to upset the status quo. And the rationale extends beyond domestic politics. Trump’s iconoclasm, much like that of his fellow travelers in Europe, extends to his foreign policy preferences: the rise of the populists comes at the expense of institutions such as the EU and NATO—another zero-sum win.
But even if Trump had not emerged, it’s likely that the Russians would have intervened in the elections against Hillary Clinton anyway. Even a muscular interventionist with no love for Russia like Marco Rubio might have benefited. The term “ratfucking”—spitefully using underhanded political tricks to screw over a rival—is attributed to one of Richard Nixon’s campaign strategists, but is a concept all too familiar to the graying ex-KGB specters in the Kremlin. Hillary Clinton probably sealed her fate in 2011 when she was widely seen to be the hand behind middle class uprisings that shook up Putin’s fabled Power Vertical. Something like that does not go unanswered—she had it coming to her. Who wins, after all, is immaterial. If Clinton could have managed to prevail, she would suffer while doing so.
All emphasis mine. Note the key here: It’s not important to Putin who wins. Is he happy Trump won? Certainly! But much for the same reason many conservatives are happy: Clinton lost. Putin also cheers on Clinton’s efforts to delegitimize the election. It’s a win-win for him. Further, the chaos Trump sows helps Putin provide an example of an America gone awry. He can point the corruption and decadence of Trump (naming CEO’s to his cabinet and meeting with big business) as a way to prove that Trump is merely a puppet of corporate America, the real rulers of the country (much the way Putin runs his country with the oligarchs). Putin can argue to his people that “American freedom” is a sham, America is run by oligarchs just as Russia is run.
Making matters worse: the Obama administration has completely mismanaged the issue of a rising Russia. Just this past fall, after being caught off guard by Russian geo-political moves repeatedly, US spy agencies revealed they were “playing catch-up” with Russia on espionage. And the process of catching up will take years:
The dozens of recruits that are currently training to perform espionage operations against Russia have a limited knowledge of the Russian language. Overall, the training and shifting of recruits and operatives will take years.
“It is a pipeline process,” one of the former officials said to the Post. “It will be years before they can be used operationally.”
And during the time it takes to train and shift the US’s intelligence capabilities against Russia, the US remains greatly outnumbered by Russian operatives.
“The counterintelligence operation that [Moscow] runs against the US Embassy measured in the thousands,” Michael McFaul, a Stanford University professor and former US ambassador to Russia, told the Post. “It always felt, especially sitting in Moscow, of course, that we were in a counterintelligence and collection battle that was an asymmetric fight.”
CIA Director John Brennan recently addressed Russia’s “exceptionally capable and sophisticated” infiltration abilities.
“I think that we have to be very, very wary of what the Russians might be trying to do in terms of collecting information in a cyber realm, as well as what they might want to do with it,” Brennan explained on CBS.
This brings us to the biggest issue the US faces in regards to Russia: The open Spy War that Russia has engaged America with, but the Obama administration refuses to acknowledge. Why didn’t the Obama administration force the issue with Russia? The issues of hacking and malicious interference with the election are not new. Obama would have been briefed daily on the Russian problem. NBC News reports:
The Obama administration didn’t respond more forcefully to Russian hacking before the presidential election because they didn’t want to appear to be interfering in the election and they thought that Hillary Clinton was going to win and a potential cyber war with Russia wasn’t worth it, multiple high-level government officials told NBC News.
“They thought she was going to win, so they were willing to kick the can down the road,” said one U.S official familiar with the level of Russian hacking.
The administration did take action in response to the hack prior to the election. In September, President Obama privately confronted Vladimir Putin about the hacks at the G-20 summit in China. He warned the Russian President of unspecified consequences if the hacks continued.
The G-20 talk was a useless gesture from the administration. The damage was done well prior to that meeting and the President feared entering into any conflict. It’s the storyline for this administration: fear of moving against any country (the bombing of Libya and letting it descend into anarchy notwithstanding). Obama was elected under the lens of the Iraq war. That lens has colored every single decision he’s made since: avoid entering another Iraq war (you can see this in the 2016 interview with administration official Ben Rhodes). Further, Obama wanted Russia’s assistance in Syria and Iran, which made him fearful of countering Russian cyber/espianoge wars against the US. And while Obama was responding fearfully or defensively, Putin was personally directing the spy war against the US.
This brings us to the “how” part of Russia’s espionage war against the US. Former NSA counterintelligence officer and military historian John R. Schindler has an excellent piece in the Observer on this point: “Understanding Russia’s SpyWar Against Our Election: There are Kremlin Moles Among Us.” I highly recommend it. I’m going to quote two salient sections from it here:
For [Putin] a former KGB officer, humiliating the hated Americans by disseminating the embarrassing emails of our top politicians is the summit of glee. The takedown of Clinton, Inc.—and no matter the reality, this is unquestionably how it’s being sold, with smiles all around, by Putin’s inner circle—was by any standard a very successful operation. A century hence, it seems likely that Moscow’s spies will rank this achievement among their “greats” like the TRUST operation and the Rosenbergs.
However, some salient facts about this secret Kremlin operation need to be understood. In the first place, there wasn’t much “hacking” going on here. Instead, most of the purloining of emails from top Democrats fell under normal 21st century signals intelligence operations of the kind done by Russia, the United States, and pretty much every technically advanced country on earth. Everybody spies—among adults this isn’t a controversial statement.
What set this year’s election games apart, however, was how the Kremlin weaponized what its spies in the ether had systematically purloined, disseminating it through its Wikileaks front to harm the Democrats. Russians intelligence has countless emails from American politicians of every stripe—if you’re a Washington macher of any variety who uses email, it’s a safe bet Moscow reads them—but this year it only wanted to expose the ones from Democrats.
Russians call this kind of nasty covert action scheme Active Measures, and Moscow’s spies have been doing it a long time. The only novelty here is that the Internet makes it devilishly easy to disseminate such disinformation, to use the proper term, quickly and anonymously. As the Internet has sped up our news cycle dramatically, it’s made spreading disinformation faster and easier, too.
The Kremlin has done this sort of thing many times to countries it dislikes or fears, indeed it’s old hat to a seasoned Chekist like Putin. But the Russians have never done anything quite this brazen to their “Main Adversary”—as they called America during the Cold War and today do again. To be clear, Putin ordered his spies to execute strategic Active Measures against the United States and top Democrats in 2016 because Moscow possessed enough stolen information to do so. He didn’t fear retribution.
Emphasis mine. The key here: The Kremlin is using Active Measures operations against the United States. US spy agencies are woefully behind on responding or countering anything Russia is doing. Obama’s only response was a stern talk with Putin at the G-20. By now, it should be clear if you understand the zero-sum view of Putin, that the G-20 talk was meaningless. Schindler goes on to point out the most troublesome aspect of this entire SpyWar: The Russians have active moles within our government and are feeding Putin’s regime with American secrets:
Here we need to see this from the Russian point of view, briefly. Putin has a very different way of looking at espionage than American spies do. Russian intelligence culture is its own breed of cat—cagey, conspiracy-minded and dangerous when cornered. They play the long game and take risks that no Western spy service would. For Chekists, the crown jewel in the SpyWar—the never-ending clandestine conflict between states, seldom seen by the public—is offensive counterintelligence, that is gaining control of the enemy’s intelligence apparatus to deceive him. Russian intelligence aims to create what counterspies term the “wilderness of mirrors,” and over the last century the Kremlin has gotten very adept at this cunning game.
Viewed in this manner, several important spy stories in recent years come into focus and can be understood for what they really are. American counterintelligence, which has never been a high priority in Washington, suffered complete collapse during President Obama’s two terms. In matters of basic security, Obama’s inattention and escapism amount to presidential dereliction of duty. Pretty much all our Federal agencies have been hacked by Russia and/or China, including the White House itself, while the pillaging of the Office of Personnel Management ranks as a security debacle without parallel in espionage history.
Then there’s the case of Edward Snowden, who, contrary to vast media myth-making, did enormous damage to Western intelligence by stealing and leaking 1.5 million classified documents, many of them relating to enormously sensitive intelligence programs. Snowden has been working for the Kremlin since he landed in Moscow in late June 2013—and perhaps before. It’s no coincidence that he was shipped to Moscow by Wikileaks, since that vaunted “privacy organization” has been doing Putin’s bidding for years, long before Julian Assange went on a crusade to take out Hillary Clinton.
Our biggest problem, however, resides in the Russian moles in Washington who haven’t been caught. There was one clear counterintelligence success on Obama’s watch, the roll-up of 10 deep-cover Russians spies in the United States in the summer of 2010. That operation, called Ghost Stories by U.S. counterintelligence, was a genuine coup, although it had been in the works for years, long before Obama moved into the White House. Putin was furious at our unmasking of his network of “Illegals” (to use the Chekist term) in America and he wanted revenge—which he got in 2016.
The most important aspect to Ghost Stories, however, was the dog that didn’t bark. In the course of the extended IC investigation of Russia’s Illegals network, it became obvious that Moscow had several moles in Washington, including inside our intelligence agencies—with one or more burrowed into the National Security Agency, our most important spy service—and Snowden wasn’t one of them. The evidence for their existence going back at least to 2007—and perhaps even earlier—is overwhelming to anyone who understands Russian spy tradecraft, what the Kremlin calls konspiratsiya (yes, conspiracy). Since no Russian moles in our nation’s capital have been unmasked over the last six years, it’s safe to assume they’re still active.
In this light, the events of 2016 come into proper focus. Putin confidently executed a strategic spy operation against our election, specifically to harm the Democrats and their presidential nominee. Russia’s president didn’t fear retribution, as he correctly assessed that Obama was too timid and eager to win Russian favor to respond in any meaningful way. After all, the White House in 2015 quashed a tiny State Department effort to counter Kremlin disinformation, which was taken in Moscow as a green light to put their spies-telling-lies machine into overdrive.
Moreover, Putin knew what the Obama administration would (and would not) do about this massive and aggressive jump in the SpyWar thanks to his moles in Washington. It seems highly likely, based on available evidence, that Russian intelligence has been reading secret U.S. communications for years—that’s what moles inside NSA are for—which would give Putin the ability to beat American spies every step of the way, not to mention deep insights into top-level decision-making in Washington.
Emphasis mine. Again, I highly recommend reading the rest of Schindler’s piece (if you’re on Twitter, follow him here). The most common rejoinder people give when the issue of Russian moles is brought up: “This is just McCarthyism all over again, it’s a fake red scare.” So let’s set the record straight: McCarthy went after Russian moles/spies in the worst possible way. He did more harm than good. However, the Soviets absolutely had moles and spies in the US government at ALL levels. And we have declassified KGB and NSA documents to prove it. Russia has a long history of infiltrating American society with moles (another great book if you want to delve further is “Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joseph McCarthy and his Fight Against America’s Enemies“). Putin’s SpyWar is just the latest iteration. I’ll end this section with Schindler’s final point:
Putin acted so brazenly in 2016, subverting our election, because he knew he could get away with it. Moreover, as someone who’s been critical of President Obama’s many foreign policy missteps, particularly regarding the Russians, it bears pondering that some of his underperformance may be attributable to the serious possibility that the Kremlin has been reading his mail.
We need to get to the bottom of the SpyWar which Putin and his intelligence agencies are waging against the West. Before we can fight back we need to see things as they really are. America fell victim this year, but it’s a safe bet that Germany and France—both of which are electing new leadership in the coming year—will be the next targets for Kremlin spies-telling-lies. Democrats desperately want to know the truth about what happened in 2016, and rightly so. However, answering that complex question—which can only be addressed by going back to 2009, at least, with fresh eyes and bracing honesty—will reveal unpleasant truths they will not welcome. The critical first step to unraveling ChekistGate is admitting what really happened.
New Book Reignites “Enhance Interrogation Techniques vs Torture” Debate
Dr. James Mitchell, Air Force veteran, and his colleague Bruce Jessen were tasked, in the days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, with developing new interrogation techniques. Their goal was to obtain sensitive information from enemy combatants to prevent future attacks. The “enhanced interrogation techniques” (EIT) they developed included things like highly controversial waterboarding technique, among others. In 2014, Senate Democrats and Republicans released separate reports discussing their findings on enhanced interrogation techniques. The Democratic version, headed by Sen. Diane Feinstein said EIT amounted to torture and had no reliability. Mitchell’s new book, “Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying To Destroy America,” is pushing back against that assertion.
In complete honesty, I have no idea where I fall on this issue. I fully see and understand the moral merits of both sides. I believe the case against EIT’s has been covered thoroughly by those opposed to it and consider it torture. Which is why I find Mitchell’s book interesting and worthy of engaging in this debate: he developed the techniques used by US intelligence services. Even if you disagree with him on whether or not it is torture, it is important to understand the arguments. Some of those arguments are in a recent interview Mitchell gave to the Washington Free Beacon (WFB). I found these sections of the interview interesting:
WFB: To what degree do you believe Islamist extremist thinkers such as Sayyid Qutb and Ibn Taymiyyah influence terrorist leaders like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) more than the unique personality of each terrorist leader?
Mitchell: They absolutely believe, the way I can’t believe I can breathe underwater, that there is a paradise. They absolutely believe that Allah has given them a mandate to purify the Earth, to get rid of all the infidels. To bring peace by subjugating, converting, slaughtering, or enslaving everyone. It took me a year to get my head around it. I’ve dealt with some people who have strong beliefs, but I’ve never dealt with people whose beliefs almost bordered on magic to me. What I think happened in the case of people like KSM is that their personalities and who they are influence how those beliefs are expressed. But beliefs drive behavior and it gets colored by the personality, but ultimately, they are Islamists. They are trying to impose sharia law on the world. And their beliefs about their mandate and need to purify, rather than being a relatively new phenomenon, they’re trying to breathe new life into these traditions from 1,400 years ago.
WFB: If you were president of the United States, what would your high-value detention program look like?
Mitchell: What the president has to ask himself is: What’s he going to do when he has reliable intelligence that there’s going to be another catastrophic attack–possibly involving nuclear weapons, like we had right after 9/11–to get the person who has the information to tell us that information? And that person is good at withholding information and they don’t want to give it up. I know, because we tried it with all of them, to get them to speak before they were ever given enhanced-interrogation. KSM is an excellent example of it. Before he was transferred to a black site, he had several days in which he was given tea and polite conversation. During that time he prayed and chanted. One of the interrogators during that period wore Pakistani dress [to try and earn KSM’s respect]. KSM later told me he thought those guys were clowns.
WFB: Some of your critics say that al Qaeda’s London plots against Canary Wharf/Heathrow were exaggerated. What’s your response?
Mitchell: Here’s why they say that. They say that if [the terrorists] are not inside the door with their backpacks on, it’s not an operational threat. But you know, the thing that saved most of the world from another catastrophic attack is that President Bush didn’t treat [9/11] like a law-enforcement issue. But when we did respond with military force, it threw them off balance. And on the London plots, Ramzi bin al-Shibh was behind that and he was working on it right when we picked him up. [Underplaying that threat] is a little bit like someone saying the guy down the street wants to kill you but he hasn’t loaded his weapon just yet, he’s not driving to your house yet. So when you stop him getting into his car, he wasn’t really coming to kill you. It’s a silly idea.
WFB: To what degree do you believe the Obama administration has taken too far of a step back from detaining and interrogating those who might be able to help us prevent Islamic State attacks?
Mitchell: I believe that we need a detention and interrogation program that focuses on actionable intelligence. That we don’t have that, I think, puts us at grave risk. I think that President Obama has stepped all the way back. But what I would do is quote KSM. When KSM was telling me that he expected George W. Bush to do exactly what Ronald Reagan had done and exactly what Clinton had done, to me that conveys that these guys look at how people have handled these situations in the past. And I think all you have to do is look at how the Obama administration has handled this problem.
We’re seeing more of these kinds of attacks because, quite frankly, the Obama administration is trying to manage it like a problem [as if the terrorists] can exist in our midst. The president treats it like a law enforcement problem, as opposed to how Bush did it–it’s a declaration of war. KSM expected that the [post-9/11 response] would be a law enforcement investigation and that the [Department of Justice] would try and extradite them from the Taliban. He expected that this would give them time to get other large-scale attacks off.
If U.S. policy continues to be what it is–if we don’t even call the problem, the problem–I think the [terrorists] would be emboldened by it. Here’s the problem that people in America don’t understand. [Terrorists] really do believe that our civil liberties, our willingness to be open to people, our tolerance, our multicultural diversity, they believe those are all weapons that Allah has provided them. [They believe] these things are flaws in us.
WFB: How do you feel about President Obama’s intention to close down the terrorist detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay?
Mitchell: I have mixed feelings about it. I have seen a Federal supermax prison. The [terrorists’] lives will be much, much worse in a Federal supermax prison. But I don’t want them on U.S. soil. So until there’s a federal prison that can isolate them from outside contact, I don’t think they should be on U.S. soil. KSM said that our desire to have the world be like us is a great flaw. He said that we lack the stomach to do what must be done to defeat them. Or even to protect ourselves.
This idea that the jihadis are going to quit trying to destroy America or kill Americans because Gitmo closes: in my mind, that’s insane. That’s just a narcissistic thing that somebody wants to do for their own legacy. Not because it’s going to make Americans any safer. I can’t imagine a situation in which some guy who has been crucifying children, or setting people on fire in cages, or decapitating people, and cutting the throats of Yezidi sex slaves so they can bleed out in a great big bowl, and believes that’s an act of worship, I can’t believe they are suddenly going to look and say, “Oh, they’re going to close Gitmo. I’m done with this.” That’s not going to happen.
I asked KSM about this. What he told me was that if it wasn’t Gitmo it would be something else: “We need something to stir things up.” The [terrorists] are going to find something because they need a place holder. Gitmo is what we’re fixated on; it’s not what they’re fixated on. The way you fight these hardcore guys is to make their mission look less sexy. They fear strength. They regard our efforts to look conciliatory as a weakness, as a gift to them from God.
This debate is far from settled. And in the new administration, it may very well be reignited as Trump has indicated some willingness to use these interrogation tactics (as with all Trump declarations, take with a grain of salt). Mitchell’s book appears to provide the basis for the pro-EIT side. This knowledge is worth keeping in mind as we watch ISIS and other terrorist groups spread and Trump take office. Trump could conclude that old tactics don’t work, but new enhanced tactics might. There are a plethora of options to him. Mitchell’s book provides the framework on how the pro-EIT crowd would argue.
Republicans are beginning to publicly signal their specific plans for Obamacare repeal
Last week, I noted that the GOP seemed to be telegraphing their future moves on Obamacare. Namely, that any future replacement could take upwards of 3 years. Personally, I don’t see this as a feasible plan. Planning to perform a major legislative overhaul post-midterms is a bad idea. Historically, the party holding the White House loses seats in the midterms. The best chance the GOP has of passing any healthcare reform is likely pre-2018. That’s one reason I read a recent op-ed by Senator Mike Lee with great interest. Public op-eds like this should be watched because these pieces are Senators signaling to others in the party what they plan to do. In this case, Sen. Lee writes:
When Republicans attained control of both the House and Senate in 2015, we saw an opportunity to lay the foundation for full repeal under a possible future Republican president. To that end, we penned an article in National Review calling for Congress to send President Obama a bill repealing Obamacare. “It is more important than ever for Republicans in Congress to honor the promises we have made to the American people,” we wrote. “We can do this, before the end of the year, through a procedure known as ‘budget reconciliation.’”
House and Senate Republicans followed through on this promise. We sent a bill to President Obama’s desk that would have repealed much of the law, and was promptly — and unsurprisingly — vetoed. But this exercise was not, by any measure, a fruitless effort. That bill, H.R. 3762, established the minimum standards against which any future Obamacare repeal bills would be measured. It zeroed out Obamacare’s individual and employer mandates, scrapped the taxes, revived health savings accounts, and rolled back the Medicaid expansion and subsidies. Majorities in the House and Senate are on record voting for all of these items. We can do it again. But there is no denying that any new reconciliation repeal bill in the next Congress will have a different outcome.
This time, when the House and Senate send such a bill to the White House, the incoming president has said he will sign it. That is why it is so important that we get this repeal bill right. And the bare minimum simply is not enough this time. A minimum effort could end up hurting many Americans. Specifically, the law’s many insurance mandates drive up health costs and force individuals to violate their deeply held religious convictions. When government bureaucrats and politicians decide that every insurance policy must cover free doctor visits and abortifacients, Americans who don’t need those options end up paying more for products they don’t want. That’s great for the insurance companies, but not for taxpayers or consumers.
Some have argued that insurance regulations fall outside the scope of what Senate rules allow in a reconciliation bill. But since taxpayers are on the hook for billions in health insurance premiums every year, we should not give up on tackling the insurance regulations that inflate those premiums. But deleting Obamacare from federal statute will be only the first step in reforming federal health-care policy. Republicans cannot wash their hands of the consequences of the Democrats’ failed health-care experiment. We have a responsibility to fix the broken government policies that have crippled our health-care system for decades. This means providing a transition, for however many years, for the market to recover and be able to serve individuals and businesses with more affordable, accessible health coverage. This means implementing the best of the many free-market repair proposals that Republicans have been developing for the past six years. People need options, not heavy-handed government mandates. The details of a replacement plan do not have to be finalized now. But overall, it must honor medicine’s founding principle: primum non nocere — first, do no harm.
Congress and the Trump administration can’t afford to fumble the repeal of Obamacare. We can’t afford to just squeak by with the bare minimum, while preserving many of Obamacare’s most burdensome and intrusive provisions. The American people have entrusted Republicans with a historic opportunity. They gave us the House, the Senate, a majority of governor’s seats, and the White House. Now we must honor the trust they have put in us by repealing and replacing Obamacare with health-care policies that lower costs, improve quality, and increase access for all Americans.
Emphasis mine. First, Lee seems to be suggesting that the GOP can pass something new in the reconciliation bill. This is important to note because it is generally thought on the Hill that budget reconciliation will only allow a full repeal of Obamacare. Lee suggests that some insurance regulations could be passed in reconciliation. Specifically, he seems to be floating some kind of taxpayer relief from insurance costs. Perhaps some form of a tax credit or reimbursement. This would derail the most effective argument for Democrats: “repealing Obamacare would jack costs back up for the little guy or make people lose their coverage.” Lee seems to suggest the transition period could be passed in reconciliation.
Second, if the above happens, Lee then says this would buy the GOP time to hammer out a deal of free market reform. Note the end though, he’s suggesting that the GOP has a mandate for complete healthcare overhaul. Though I greatly respect Sen. Lee, I would caution against any claims of a broad mandate. Don’t let the results of the 2016 election go to your head. Instead grand strategy bill, I’d prefer to see the GOP small-ball the Democrats to death on this issue. Meaning: pass healthcare reform in pieces. Small pieces that make the debate harder for Democrats to fight against. Broad bills allow for a larger target. Small-ball them like basketball, space out the floor to make things harder to defend. When NBA teams play small ball, they play smaller players, space the floor, speed the game up, and run the other team to death. I’d prefer this method to broad grand strategy bills like Obamacare.
However Republicans decide to handle this, I believe the clock starts on Jan. 20 and runs through the middle of 2018. They aren’t guaranteed to hold the House. They will likely gain seats in the Senate. But the House is another matter. If the GOP truly wants to push through reform, they likely have 18 months, not 3 years, to get it done legislatively on Obamacare. House officials are unlikely to have the stomach for hard votes in the 6 months prior to the next election.
What I’m reading
“The 7 Most Insane Andrew Sullivan Quotes About Obama From That New Republic Interview” by Blake Seitz, Washington Free Beacon
I wouldn’t normally post a listicle in this place, but I’m making an exception. If you ever wanted to know why Trump won, look at what the elites defending President Obama are saying right now. When I say elites, I mean those writers and thought leaders who command attention by everyone else, specifically the intelligent left. Andrew Sullivan is one of those elites. He is widely read, quoted, and trusted among the Washington elite. And at one point, during an interview, he said this regarding Obama:
SULLIVAN: At some point in the future, with the possible bloodshed and civil unrest in this country that we’re about to engage in, he may be a key person as a post-president—a bit like a monarch who might be able to hold us all together.
NELL IRVIN PAINTER: [Applauding] Well said, Andrew, well said!
ANNETTE GORDON-REED: That’s exactly right.
Take note of what Sullivan is saying: 1. That we’re headed for bloodshed and unrest. 2. Obama will be our uniting king. When people ask what evidence exists for the elites of coasts being out of touch with the rest of the country, look no further than quotes like this one.
It takes an incredible amount of conceit to look at the half of the country that voted for Trump, fellow citizens of Sullivan, and see them as such an alien entity that could could envision bloodshed and unrest. This level of disdain and dehumanizing was usually reserved, in the past, for our enemies like Nazis and Commies. It also reveals the moral blind spot liberals have in this area, as Johnathan Haidt showed in his book: “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.” When you’re blind and show no empathy to the concerns of others, disdain like this shows up.
Placing all your hope in a President leaving office shows how little respect Sullivan has for our Constitutional order. The President was never meant to hold a King-like role in our country. Treating it like one is dangerous to our Constitutional order. This line was, instead, applauded by Sullivan’s guests.
That’s why you got Trump.
What I’m watching
It’s one thing to talk about the destruction and human toll in Syria. It’s another to see part of it for yourself.
Thanks for reading!