This week is set to be busier than usual in the White House as the Trump administration gets set to plough ahead with attempts to change two major pieces of US policy - Obamacare and the Clean Power Plan.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty of what this means and why it’s happening, it’s worth pointing out what both of these laws have in common - this man:
It’s no secret that President Trump has made something of a mission of hacking away at Barack Obama’s legacy, although dismantling the policies of his predecessor is proving to be more difficult than he may have thought.
So the short version of “why is Trump rolling back Obamacare and the Clean Power Plan?” is.. because Obama did it.
But still reading? OK then, here’s the nitty gritty.
THE CLEAN POWER PLAN
What Is It?
The Clean Power Plan (CPP) is the “historic opportunity to reduce carbon pollution from the single largest source of US global warming emissions”, namely power plants, by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.
These account for around 40% of carbon emissions in the US, the world’s second biggest emitter after China.
Fewer emissions = less global-warming = happier planet. Sounds pretty good, right?
Well not to Trump and the head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt.
Why Don’t They Like It?
Yesterday, when announcing he would sign a proposed rule on Tuesday to begin withdrawing from the CPP, Pruitt said:
Here's the President's message: The war on coal is over.
The EPA is also saying the CPP is illegal as it gave the government too much influence in the competition to generate power in the United States.
In short, they’re - allegedly - doing it for the coal miners and cash-strapped utility companies that still rely on coal-fired power plants.
What’s Really Going On?
The massive endangered elephant in the room is this...
The two people leading the charge against the CPP don’t believe carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming.
What Do They Believe In?
Fossil fuels. This is an excerpt from a Guardian article from last year.
Pruitt, 48, grew up in Lexington, Kentucky, and found his niche in constitutional and employment law. A Republican, he was elected attorney general of Oklahoma in 2010 after a spell as a state senator. Since 2002, Pruitt has received more than $300,000 in contributions from the fossil fuel industry and in 2014 even allowed Devon Energy, an Oklahoma oil and gas firm, to write a three-page complaint to the EPA on his letterhead.
Pruitt has sued the EPA, the agency he is now set to lead, multiple times over what he considers to be unwarranted meddling by the federal government. He has targeted regulations that limit air pollution haze in national parks, methane leaks from drilling, and mercury and arsenic seeping from power plants.
The attorney general even tried to strip protections from the lesser prairie chicken, a threatened bird, because it presented a feathered barrier to oil and gas drilling. Oklahoma has experienced a huge increase in earthquakes due to a boom in drilling over the past decade.
And according to Salon just this week:
President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, has apparently spent nearly every day of his tenure meeting with corporate leaders from the industries he’s supposed to regulate.
As for Trump, coal miners and coal miner communities make up a significant section of his electoral base and he campaigned on a promise to reverse the 41% decline in the industry since 2008.
What’s Wrong With That?
Whilst attempting to create jobs for the unemployed is no doubt admirable, reopening heavily polluting coal mines isn’t the only option.
Energy sectors in other countries are leading the way in investing in renewable energy rather than regressing back into increased reliance on fossil fuels.
Added to this is the fact that research indicates “Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental regulations will not materially improve economic conditions in America’s coal communities.”
“Obamacare again??!!” yes, but this time it’s different.
President Trump has had a rough time trying to repeal Obamacare, with all of the Republicans’ most significant attempts to kill the law this year failing in Congress.
So this week he announced a different tactic - “THE POWER OF THE PEN!”
What Is Obamacare?
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare or the ACA, was established with the simple aim of extending health insurance to all Americans.
Around 15% of the US population did not have any healthcare coverage because either their employers did not offer insurance, or they did not qualify for government programmes designed to assist poor and elderly people.
Obamacare attempted to bridge that gap in a number of ways, most notably by:
- Requiring businesses with more than 50 full-time employees to offer mandatory health insurance
- Banning insurance companies from denying coverage to those with pre-existing health conditions
- Allowing young people to stay on their parents’ plans until the age of 26
- Expanding the eligibility requirements of Medicaid, the government health programme for those on lower incomes
But the fundamental pillar behind Obamacare is that those Americans who can afford health insurance pay higher premiums. This helps fund subsidised coverage provided by government-run marketplaces to those on lower incomes.
This, as we shall see, is an example of redistributive economics that does not sit well with Republicans, who advocate small government and view the forcing of insurance on citizens as government overreach and unwarranted intrusion into the running of businesses and into private lives.
What Is ‘The Power Of The Pen’?
Essentially, having been thwarted in all attempts to repeal Obamacare so far, Trump has today used Executive Orders to undermine it to such a point it is no longer viable, specifically the rules that guarantee comprehensive coverage to people with pre-existing conditions.
How Will He Do That?
By instructing three key government agencies to rewrite a series of regulations that affect health insurance, particularly something called “association health plans,” or AHPs.
The order would exempt these plans from core Obamacare requirements such allowing them to craft cut-down AHPs that are cheaper but of no use to people who are already sick.
That Sounds A Bit Complicated
If you’re not overly familiar with the US healthcare system, it is a bit.
In the worst-case scenario, Trump’s executive action could destabilise insurance markets ― making coverage much more expensive or even unavailable to some small businesses and individuals, especially those with serious medical problems, even as it would make coverage cheaper for others in relatively good health.
What’s The Worst That Could Happen?
An even more unequal two-tier insurance system where healthy people can buy cheap plans with minimal coverage but those with pre-existing conditions and the elderly would end up paying even more - and it’s these people who tend to have less to spend.
Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Centre for Health Insurance Reforms, told HuffPost: “There will be healthy folks who can benefit from lower premiums, but people with serious medical conditions would be shut out from this market and left with dwindling options.”
Mila Kofman, executive director of the Washington, DC, health benefits exchange, agreed. “If you cherry-pick the healthiest small businesses or individuals, you essentially could destroy the regulated markets that are left, because they end up covering just sicker people.”
“This is a really big deal.”
What’s He Already Done?
Trump in May signed an executive order asking for rules that would allow religious groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor to deny their employees insurance coverage for services they oppose on religious grounds.
On Friday, officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said the agency was proposing to broaden those narrow religious exemptions to include moral exemptions for both non-profit and profit companies.