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Dismantling Obama's imperfect legacy can be dangerous business


The contrasts between the 44th and 45th presidents of the United States of America could not be more divergent.

Cool, collected, studious and professorial, Barack Obama never mastered our 36th President Lyndon Johnson’s adroit ability to press the administration’s agenda by dissuading key legislators on Capitol Hill from their adversarial standpoints.

Equally alienating, intellectually incurious loose cannon Donald Trump cannot get cooperation from a majority of his fellow Republicans within the beltway. GOP leaders and rank-in-file members alike are so suspicious of the president’s reckless, extemporaneous utterances and his volatile, vengeful retorts to anyone who even appears converse to the president’s intentions; they are circumspect with their support.

With an unrelenting stagnancy in Congress, both Obama and Trump have circumvented the legislative branch of government and stretched the limits of executive power. Barack Obama crossed the line with executive orders and Donald Trump is doing the same. So the constitutional law professor and the real estate developer are both guilty of violating the foundation laid by our founding fathers concerning coequal branches of government.

One could argue that most of Trump’s executive orders have tried to turn the tide of Obama’s mistakes. However, government is a continuum in which abrupt stops and starts can cause real harm. Such is the case with recent executive orders regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Presidents are human beings with strengths and foibles and eccentricities. Since the midterm elections of 2010, the congress has been fractious and hyper-partisan, and as a result not much has been accomplished through the legislative process. Consequently, in this type of legislative environment, a president must be endowed with excellent persuasive talents. Instead, Donald Trump is steadfast in his belligerence. Furthermore, the issues he is addressing with the stroke of his pen or with a combative voice at a podium will have far reaching effects.

Undoubtedly, the ACA is an imperfect law that has adversely affected many while simultaneously saving the lives of the indigent. Passed while a Democrat majority existed in both houses of the legislature, the ACA (casually called Obamacare) has failed to keep insurance costs in check.

The act required a mandatory purchase of health insurance or the suffering of a penalty for not having coverage. Also, it required employers with over 50 employees who worked an average of 30 hours per week to provide coverage. Young people simply elected not to secure individual coverage. Employers opted for stunted schedules rather than full time staffs to avoid providing insurance. As a result, deductible payment requirements skyrocketed, along with monthly health insurance rates. Even with government subsidization, health care insurance providers could not turn reasonable profits in states exchanges and as a result fled from the programs.

There simply was not enough aggregate purchasing of policies to compensate for the approximately 15 million of impoverished or low income insured.

Too many times to enumerate over the last six years, the Republicans have attempted to repeal the ACA, but they have never succeeded. This year, the GOP legislators have tried to pass a replacement law called the American Health Care Act of 2017 (AHCA), which would repeal most of the ACA simultaneously with the new law’s prospective passing. Their effort failed.

Thus, President Trump’s strategy is to sabotage the ACA through executive orders and be damned with the consequences.

Recently, Trump instructed a trio of Cabinet departments to rewrite federal rules for “associated health plans (AHP)”. These “AHPs” are a form of insurance where small businesses of a similar type get together through an association to negotiate health benefits. Currently, under the ACA, these plans have to meet specific coverage requirements.

Trump has ordered that AHPs will now be exempted. Also, these plans will now be able to be sold state to state without in-state insurance licensing.

Potentially, people will be now purchasing policies which will have questionable, catastrophic coverage. Additionally, purchasers will be blinded by the rescinding of rigid declaration requirements. Therefore, this order enables the unscrupulous to sell policies that do not adequately cover the insured when serious circumstances occur. No state regulatory agency will be able restrict sales tactics either.

Also, the availability of “short-term” or “gap” policies, which under the ACA may not last for more than 3 months, will now be extended to a year long time frame. These policies are notorious for limited coverage and higher rates. Subsidization of state exchanges will continue to be incrementally de-funded.

Trump also ordered advertising for reenrollment curtailed so the insured will fail to reenroll in the ACA. Essentially, these actions will speed up the demise of the ACA. Also, it will increase the negative impact of the ACA’s potential failure.

Most colossal in this order against Obama’s perhaps most important legacy is how these actions will injure the health of millions of those presently insured. The ACA is unquestionably unfair, flawed and untenable long-term. However, it can be modified and saved if the congress would simply do its job.

A hybrid system, which encourages free market benefits while simultaneously establishing a minimum standard of health care for all citizens, should be the objective. Yet Republican congressmen, who are fearful of the reaction of their constituents in their home districts, lack the testicular fortitude to address the issue properly. Thus, their internal conflictions propelled Trump to make these incendiary orders.

The conflagration which will result from the implosion of the ACA without a thoughtful alternative in place will be catastrophic to the health insurance system in America and to low income Americans.

Equivalent in its imperfection was Barack Obama’s JCPOA. This framework of an agreement was constructed to impede the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Defective in many ways and constructive in others, this framework of an agreement was not ratified through the United States Congress. This framework released billions to the Iranians that the US had constrained since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979. The deal also required the president to sign a re-certification every 90 days.

Trump has thrown the responsibility to the auspices of Congress. Congress now has a 60 day window to re-impose sanctions against Iran should they decide such action is warranted.

Meanwhile, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has repeatedly certified Iran’s compliance with the framework agreement since its inception two years ago. This disposition of enforcement was attested to by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Joseph Dunford.

“Iran is not in material breach of the agreement,” Dunford said. Secretary of Defense General James Mattis also concurs that so far Iran has complied.

On the contrary, their boss President Trump has contended that, “Iran is guilty of multiple violations of the agreement.” A series of eight reports from the IAEA over the past two years belie the president’s claims of breach.

The evidence is undeniable – Iran is compliant. However, the agreement was not a great deal for America to begin with. Iran gets a least two weeks forewarning before an inspection, therefore enabling Iranians enough time to move enriched uranium. They are still allowed to position their nuclear production facilities near heavily populated areas so as to thwart strategic bombing.

Positively, the number of centrifuges has been greatly reduced, the Iranian uranium stockpile has been significantly lessened and the core of their “Arak” reactor (which produces weapons grade plutonium) has been disabled.

Ideally, their nuclear program should have been eliminated, surprise inspections should have been permitted and US-held billions should have been given back incrementally over several years of verified compliance. In other words, this was a bad deal when it was struck. Thus begging the question, is a partially satisfying agreement better than no agreement at all?

His secretaries say yes, while the president says no. That is why the issue has been thrown in the lap of congress.

Sadly, President Obama’s tenure in office was marked by his lackluster performance and his condescending attitude, which resulted in his inability to negotiate with the legislative branch. President Trump’s tenure in office so far has been an exercise in the assignment of culpability for various failures. These disappointing chief executives have governed while the congress could not reach consensus on virtually anything.

We Americans deserve better from our presidents and our representatives.


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Thursday, October 19, 2017