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Congressman Capuano's
E-UPDATE
An update from the office of U.S. Representative Michael E. Capuano
7th Congressional District of Massachusetts


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March 10, 2017

Another Lengthy Report

I feel compelled to note (again) the length of this Newsletter. I am sure you know how much has been percolating and I don’t want to miss anything just to save a few lines of type. So here goes:

Community Meetings

Just a reminder we have three community meetings coming up with more being scheduled. Details are below:

  • Monday March 13th, Somerville High School auditorium from 7:00 – 8:30 PM, 81 Highland Avenue.
  • Wednesday April 12th, Stetson Hall, Randolph from 7:00 – 8:30 PM, 6 S. Main Street.
  • Thursday April 13th, East Boston High School auditorium from 6-7:30 PM, 86 White Street.

As additional meetings are added we will share the details with you. Hope to see you at one of them. If you’d like, you can RSVP on Facebook.

Trumpcare, or Perhaps More Appropriately, Trumpdon’tcare

After seven years and more than 75 votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without once offering any alternative, House Republicans finally introduced actual legislation Monday. They’re calling it the American Health Care Act. In keeping with tradition, we’re calling it Trumpcare. The legislation was marked up in committee this week and proponents are pushing for a vote on the floor of the House next week. This rush to passage is happening even after President Trump finally realized that “healthcare is complicated”.

The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has not completed its work on the legislation so nobody can be sure how much the bill will cost, though the Joint Committee on Taxation estimates its tax “relief” will cost nearly $600 billion over the next ten years. We also do not know how many people will lose coverage, although the bill does eliminate the employer mandate. Currently 177 million Americans get their health coverage through their employer who would now be under no obligation to provide it. The legislation also threatens both Medicaid and Medicare.

Yesterday the Brookings Institute estimated the CBO will likely conclude that under the Republican health care plan, 15 million people would ultimately lose their coverage. If that number turns out to be even close to accurate, then this plan is irresponsible and heartless.

When the ACA was being considered, 79 hearings were held over two years and the text was available for review online for 30 days before being marked up. Trumpcare was available for less than 48 hours before it was moved through the committee process.

So much of this legislation raises significant concerns:

  • As noted above, it eliminates the employer mandate which puts job-based health insurance at risk;
  • It eliminates the individual mandate; the point of that provision is to prevent “free riders” from remaining uninsured until diagnosed with costly maladies. Instead, under Trumpcare, insurers may charge an extra 30% to any person who has been without coverage for 63 days in the past 12 months – I wonder how anyone could afford such a penalty;
  • Older Americans may be charged up to 5 times more for the same coverage as younger persons;
  • Tax credits will be provided rather than direct subsidies for persons or families who cannot afford health insurance. The proposed credit is not designed to keep pace with increases in the cost of health care, and the result will inevitably be significant cost-shifting to middle class families.
  • No replacement is planned for cost-sharing subsidies to people who are below 250% of poverty ($61,00 for a family of four)
  • The legislation’s “Health care savings accounts” offer tax shelters for the rich but are unaffordable for most of us so clearly not a realistic option.
  • Medicaid expansion will be limited and capped – it is not alarmist to predict this would lead to the rationing of care.
  • Medicare for 57 million Americans is placed in serious jeopardy by a $170 billion raid on the Medicare Trust Fund.
  • Some additional funding is directed to community health centers BUT the bill prohibits any federal funding for Planned Parenthood which is often the only clinic in underserved neighborhoods. This prohibition begins one year after the passage of the law.
  • The legislation eliminates all funding under the ACA for prevention and public health after 2018.
  • The legislation eliminates the requirement that basic mental health and addiction treatment be covered by Medicaid, this will effectively take treatment off the table for people who can’t afford it on their own. There is an epidemic of opioid abuse in our country and this bill will be devastating for many. 1.3 million Americans currently receiving coverage under Medicaid would lose it. This provision also appears to put the federal government in violation of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2006 which forbade insurers from treating such disorders less favorably than medical/surgical conditions.

You may already know that many conservative and libertarian Republicans are also opposed to the bill, although not for the same reasons. Trumpcare faces opposition not just from Democrats. This is one of the reasons why House Republican leadership is rushing it to the floor for a vote. Stay tuned.

Privacy

In case you missed it, I wanted to share with you my Thursday op-ed in The Guardian about our technology costing us our privacy. Yes, our TVs really are watching us!

Travel Ban. . . . the Sequel

On Monday the Trump Administration released its updated travel ban, after their first attempt was met with massive protests and rejected by the courts. The sequel reads just like the original – with minor updates. It doesn’t go into effect until March 16th and Iraq is removed from the list of banned countries. I find the delayed start ironic since officials defended the chaos at airports and removal of people from planes by arguing that advance warning of the ban would encourage terrorists to rush here. I guess the Administration isn’t concerned about that anymore. The predominately Muslim countries of Syria, Iran, Sudan, Yemen, Libya and Somalia remain on the list. No new visas will be issued for residents of those countries for 90 days but that timeframe can be extended. The updated ban still includes a 120 day freeze on the refugee program, which can also be extended by authorities. It may have been tweaked, but it’s still offensive, it still targets Muslims and it still goes against our country’s welcoming history symbolized by Lady Liberty.

About Those Weekend Tweets

President Donald Trump claimed without a shred of evidence that former President Obama ordered a wiretap of his phones at Trump Tower before the election then demanded a congressional investigation of his own claims. As far as I’m concerned, Trump needs to show Congress and the American people what evidence he has to support this charge. Trump should stand by his words and tell us more about why he thinks Obama had his phones tapped. How did he find out? Where is the evidence? The Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism have asked the Justice Department and the FBI to provide any evidence they may have about Trump’s claims. As I’ve already noted, I also think a truly bipartisan Special Joint Committee consisting of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans should be established to look into all of this, including Russia’s role in the last election.

A Note about Elections Around the World

It is easy to become consumed with what is happening in our own backyard, now especially, and to ignore political activity in other parts of the world. It’s important, however, to be aware of what is at stake in other countries. On March 15th the Netherlands will elect their Parliament. The world needs to keep a wary eye on the success/failure of the far-right People’s Party. They hold openly anti-immigrant positions (their party leader, Geert Wilders, was convicted of anti-immigrant hate speech last December) and openly support exiting the European Union (EU). This bodes ill for Europe and the world. It is not clear they will win a plurality or, if they do, whether they can form a majority coalition with other parties. Regardless, this election is worth watching.

On April 23rd, France will hold the first round of elections to choose a new President. If no one wins a majority on that day, the run-off will be held on May 7th. The major postwar parties are weaker than they have ever been. The world needs to pay attention to the success/failure of the National Front. Led by Marine Le Pen, this party has long stood for anti-immigrant and anti-EU positions.

If both of these elections move Europe further to the right, a worldwide shift towards isolationism, protectionism, and nationalism could follow.

Defense Appropriations

On Wednesday the House considered H.R. 1301, the Department of Defense Appropriations Act. This legislation funds the Department of Defense (DOD) and related programs for Fiscal Year 2017. You may recall that a continuing resolution (CR) was necessary at the end of 2016 to keep the federal government open. That CR expires on April 28th. This legislation provides more than $550 billion in funding for defense, including more than $60 billion in funds from the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account. The OCO was initially created to supplement the military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s now being used as a piggy bank to fund a host of defense programs and projects. It’s worth noting that the total amount of defense-related OCO funds is several billion dollars more than combined funding for the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency and Food and Drug Administration.

I voted NO. H.R. 1301 passed and will be sent to the Senate where it is likely they will incorporate the rest of the FY 2017 appropriations bills. The entire vote is recorded below:

  YEA NAY PRESENT NOT VOTING
REPUBLICAN

230

5

0

1

DEMOCRAT

141

43

0

9

TOTAL

371

48

0

10

MASSACHUSETTS
DELEGATION

4

4

0

1

Tipping the Scales of Justice?

On Thursday the House considered H.R. 725, the Innocent Party Protection Act. This legislation amends the “fraudulent joinder doctrine” which gives federal courts the authority to direct a case involving multiple defendants to state courts as long as one of the defendants is a resident of the same state as the plaintiff. In general, cases in federal courts take longer and cost more money than cases in state courts. Plaintiffs often prefer to pursue their claims in state courts while defendants (often big business) prefer federal courts.

The legal doctrine known as “fraudulent joinder” prohibits a plaintiff from adding a party to a case just to keep it in state court. The defendant has to prove that the “joinder” is fraudulent to get the case moved to federal court.

H.R. 725 takes the opposite approach, putting the burden on the plaintiff to prove there is a “plausible claim” against the defendant which they must do before any discovery has taken place. The legislation does not define this term so it would be up to individual judges to interpret what it means. Republicans claim this legislation eases burdensome federal judicial rules. In fact, H.R. 725 will likely lead to even more litigation because well-funded defendants (i.e. corporations, big business) can delay cases, or even prevent them being filed at all. The bill also steps on states’ rights by making it harder for state courts to shape state laws. It should be called the Big Business Wins Again Act. I voted NO. H.R. 725 passed and the entire vote is recorded below:

  YEA NAY PRESENT NOT VOTING
REPUBLICAN

224

10

0

2

DEMOCRAT

0

184

0

9

TOTAL

224

194

0

11

MASSACHUSETTS
DELEGATION

0

8

0

1

Big Business Wins Again . . .and Again. . . and Again

On Thursday the House considered H.R. 985, the Fairness in Class Action Litigation and Furthering Asbestos Claim Transparency Act of 2017. This legislation alters federal tort system rules having to do with class action certification. It directs plaintiffs to meet burdensome requirements before a class can be certified, including showing proof that each member of the class suffered the “same type and scope of injury”. Currently, individuals with injuries suffered for the same reason, such as a defective product, could all join the same class action suit. H.R. 985 requires that the injuries be the same in order to join the same class action suit. So if one person broke a leg and someone else broke an arm because of the same defective product, they would have to join separate lawsuits.

It’s clear that H.R. 985 will burden plaintiffs, making it more difficult and expensive for them to pursue a claim. This, of course, favors corporations who are the focus of these class action lawsuits.

The legislation also requires the disclosure of the personal information of anyone seeking relief through asbestos settlements. So the names and medical histories of people poisoned by asbestos would be accessible to everyone if they or their families pursue reimbursement from the very corporations whose products did the damage. I voted NO. H.R. 985 passed and the entire vote is recorded below:

  YEA NAY PRESENT NOT VOTING
REPUBLICAN

220

14

1

1

DEMOCRAT

0

187

0

6

TOTAL

220

201

1

7

MASSACHUSETTS
DELEGATION

0

9

0

0

Unequal Protection Under the Law

On Friday the House considered H.R. 720, the Lawsuit Abuse Reduction Act of 2017. This legislation reinstates Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which covered the imposition of penalties on plaintiffs that the courts determined filed frivolous lawsuits. The courts abandoned this rule in the early 1990s because of its harmful impact, particularly in civil rights cases where plaintiffs might advance a new legal argument. Because the arguments presented were untested, they could be considered frivolous before being fully explored. H.R. 720 reinstates the old rule, which made sanctions mandatory in response to frivolous filings. Under current rules, sanctions are at the discretion of the court. I voted NO. H.R. 720 passed and the entire vote is recorded below:

  YEA NAY PRESENT NOT VOTING
REPUBLICAN

227

5

0

4

DEMOCRAT

3

183

0

7

TOTAL

230

188

0

11

MASSACHUSETTS
DELEGATION

0

9

0

0

Feedback

We’ve gotten lots of feedback about our new feature Behind the Curtain, as well as the newsletter itself. We appreciate all the commentary and thank you sincerely for your interest. Based on your input, we’ve made a couple of changes. Although numbering remains the same, all new entries to Behind the Curtain will be listed first on our website so they will be easier to find. Starting with this newsletter, we will put the official title of every bill we feature in italics to distinguish it from the more descriptive titles we are using. One reader also asked that we provide information about Senate consideration of each bill we write about. In many cases, that next step will not yet be available. It is not always clear how the Senate will consider the bills that pass the House. They can take up the House passed bill, consider their own version of that bill or insert entire bills into completely separate legislation. Whenever we can, we will share that information with you. We welcome all suggestions and appreciate your interest.

Behind the Curtain

Here are this week’s additions. If you need to catch up or share with friends, you can find the full list here.

  1. On March 7, 2017 the Trump Administration withdrew a rule requiring airlines and ticket agents to disclose fees for checked and carry-on bags at the beginning of an online customer fare search. Now they can continue to bury the information, making it harder for consumers to comparison shop and fully understand how much they will actually pay for a flight.
  2. The Department of Labor has removed from its website information on consumer protections for retirement investors. The page provided answers to FAQs clarifying a new fiduciary duty rule. This will make it harder for the average person saving for retirement to understand and protect their rights under the new rule.
  3. H.R. 725 as described above
  4. H.R. 985 as described above
  5. H.R. 720 as described above

What’s Up Next

The next House votes will take place on Tuesday March 14th. The House is expected to consider H.R. 1181, the Veterans 2nd Amendment Protection Act and H.R. 1259, the VA Accountability First Act of 2017.

Mike


Congressman Mike Capuano
7th District, Massachusetts
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure
Committee on Financial Services

P.S. I welcome your feedback on our e-Updates. Please let me and my staff know what you think of this service by e-mailing our office.


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Stetson Hall Room 124, 6 South Main Street, Randolph

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