Thursday, May 25, 2017

You're wrong, but I won't say what's right

I called Faso's office this morning to see if the congressman had a reaction to the CBO score of the AHCA.

The staffer thought there was something about it on the website, but he couldn't guide me to it. I clarified that I was calling about the CBO score that came out just yesterday.

"Oh. ... No, I don't have anything about that. Is there something you'd like to convey?"

"Yes. One of the reasons Mr. Faso gave for voting for the AHCA was that under Obamacare there are still 20 million people without coverage. But the CBO says that the AHCA will lead to 23 million fewer people having insurance than under Obamacare. If he's concerned about not enough people having coverage, why would he vote for that?"

"I'll pass along your concern. Is there anything else?"
"Yeah. When the CBO scored the first bill, the one that didn't get voted on, Mr. Faso said he didn't agree with the CBO's analysis. But does he have his own estimate of how many will lose coverage?"

"I don't know."

Doesn't trust his own president

Last week I was in touch with John Faso's office (NY-19) a few times, asking about Trump's sharing of highly secret intelligence with his Russian visitors to the oval office.

According to his staff, the congressman was resolute in not having an opinion.

I ended the last of those calls by telling the intern that if Mr. Faso is really interested in finding out what happened, he can vote for the discharge petition calling for an independent commission to investigate Trump's ties to Russia.

So a couple days ago I got an emailed letter from his office - about the Comey firing.

The full text is below. The "fun" takeaway is that in discussing the firing, Faso is still stuck on the White House talking points from May 10th. There seems to be no recognition that Trump himself invalidated that in his interview with Lester Holt.

It's understandable that Faso doesn't trust Trump's own account of his own actions. After all, the man has given little reason to believe that any particular thing he says is true.

It's also convenient for Faso not to believe Trump.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Summing up our current reality

The budget proposal released by the White House has a lot of problems, including double-counting $2 trillion that don't actually exist.

The $2 trillion is the increased revenues that they claim will come from all the super-duper economic growth unleashed by their tax cuts. This is fundamentally non-credible.

Tax cuts sometimes lead to increases in economic growth, particularly if you're starting from a very high tax level (we aren't). Or if you're seriously underperforming what it seems like you should be able to do (we're not - we're on a long-run trend of slowing growth, and past tax cuts have done nothing to stem that trend).

So that's why the $2 trillion doesn't exist.

The first place the White House proposes to use the non-existent money to finance the tax cut they claim will produce it.

But then it also wants to use the same money to pay for balancing the budget.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Can't figure out if betrayal of national security is wrong

Another day, another phone call with my Congressman's office.

"Yesterday morning I called about the president’s decision to take highly sensitive info derived from a foreign partner and share it with a hostile power. At the time, Mr. Faso didn’t have an opinion as to whether this was a good thing. Does he have one now?"

Pause, pause. "No."

"He's got no opinion on it?"

"I'm just an intern. I'm not aware of any statement of his on that. I would urge you to follow his web page. He released a statement on Director Comey's firing."

"Yes, I saw that. That's a week old. This is new. He really doesn't have an opinion on the betrayal of national security?"

"Not at this time."

Trump as a sociological construct

A commenter on Washington Monthly had an observation that struck home with me:
In short, it is my opinion that trying to understand the psychology of the Trump decision process is very incomplete. His decisions are made more by the sociology of his minions than by his own abilities, and they operate in order to cater to Trump's efforts to defend his weak ego.
For a while, I've been playing with the idea of society as a superorganism, where individual humans are the cells and social structures are what hold the whole thing together and coordinate the parts.

This commenter brings in a related idea, where the individual almost doesn't exist but is instead some sort of locus of the interactions of the people in the environment.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Does he know now?

I just sent this to Congressman Faso's office.

I called this morning to see if the Congressman thought it was a bad thing that the president shared with the Russians some intelligence derived from a foreign source that asked it not be shared.

The office said it was early in the morning and the congressman as yet had no opinion.

Now it looks as though it was specifically the Israeli intelligence service that provided the information in question.

And it turns out that in January the Israelis were warned by US intelligence not to share info with the White House or the NSC "until it is made clear that Trump is not inappropriately connected to Russia and is not being extorted – Israel should avoid revealing sensitive sources to administration officials for fear the information would reach the Iranians."

Has Mr. Faso had a chance yet to figure out whether Mr. Trump's action was OK?

I wouldn't think it was such a hard question.

If you're in NY-19 and feel moved to call, his DC number is (202) 225-5614. Or you can email through his website,

Faso not sure if blabbing secrets is OK

I just got off the phone with Faso's DC office.

The Congressman does not yet have a position on whether it's OK that Trump shared with the Russians some intelligence derived from an unnamed ally.

I asked if there was any line, anything Trump would do that would not be OK. Or could he actually, as he said in the campaign, shoot someone on 5th Avenue and that would be OK?

"The Congressman doesn't support everything the president does."

"Such as?"

"He didn't support the Muslim ban."

"Well, that's good." (And note, that she called it a Muslim ban, as it is, contradicting the administration's late-in-the-day contention that it's a "travel ban," not actually aimed at Muslims.)

She mentioned some other resolution with which I was unfamiliar.

I returned to the specific issue about the sharing of intelligence with a hostile country, and whether Faso was OK with that.

"It's early in the morning."

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Down the Delaware

Delaware County, NY, immediately to my south, is Trump country. Clinton got 34% of the county's votes, to 61% for Trump. And Republican John Faso, who is also my House Member up here in Otsego County, won the open seat in NY-19 with 63% to 37% for Zephyr Teachout, the Democratic candidate.

The county is a bit on the poor side with lower per-capita income, median household income, and median family income than the U.S.
The poverty rate is slightly higher than the national average, at 15.3% to the national 14.7%.

The county is pretty white, at 92.6% of the population (same source as above).

It's also very rural, with 20% more land than Rhode Island but only 1/20th the people.

An important fact of life in Delaware is that most of the county is in the watershed of the upper Delaware River, which means it's part of the watershed for New York City's drinking water.

In the 1990's, the city faced a choice: meet new EPA standards for drinking water quality, or install a filtration system. The filtration would have been hugely expensive, and the city thought it could meet the EPA's standard more economically by reaching a deal with the counties upstate in the watershed.

The result was the 1997 Memorandum of Understanding. The basic idea is that the counties in the watershed would restrict land-disturbing economic activities, and the city would spend money promoting economic development that didn't impair the watershed's ability to provide clean water.

I won't get into whether the money the city spends is enough to make up for the economic restrictions, but as you can well imagine, there is a widespread perception in the watershed that they are little more than a resource colony of the pushy city that always gets its way.

All of which is to say, if you were looking for a place where somewhat poor rural whites are likely to feel taken advantage of by coastal elites, the statistical description of Delaware County suggests it would be a good place to look, and Trump's vote share there is consistent with one of the narratives about the Trump voter.

And that's why it's worth noting the resolution passed last night by the elected government of Delaware Country. The highlighting is mine. I just wanted to call your attention to the kind of statements being approved by the County Supervisors in an area that went strongly for Trump and for a Member of Congress who voted for Trumpcare.

The board is made up of 5 Democrats, 1 Independent, and 13 Republicans. And apparently they unanimously voted for this:

Monday, May 8, 2017

Trying to get his side of the story

On Saturday Joy Reid reached out to the offices of all 217 members of Congress who voted "yes" on the AHCA to see if they wanted to come on her show and discuss their vote. Not one agreed.

I thought I'd check it out with my representative, John Faso, in NY-19, who was a "yes" vote, so "NI called his office this morning.

"Good morning. Joy Reid from MSNBC says her producers reached out to each of the 217 Representatives who voted in favor of the AHCA. Quote: I offered each of them the lead spot on this show this morning, to the one-on-one with me, to explain why they voted for the bill. And not a single one agreed. End quote.

That sounds like Mr. Faso's office was contacted and decided not to accept the invitation."

I'm not sure. I don't handle media.

"Who should I contact about that?"

Are you with a media outlet?

"No, I'm a constituent who wants to understand what the Congressman's position is."

He then gave me the contact info for the office's media person, but added that "all explanations for the Congressman's votes are on the website."

"Yes, but when I spoke to the office on Friday I had the impression that they felt their position was misunderstood. I would have thought we would have taken this opportunity to reach a broader audience."

We signed off with standard pleasantries and I wrote the media director:

Friday, May 5, 2017


My Congressman, John Faso, voted in favor of Trumpcare.

He issued a statement on Facebook that changes to the bill had addressed his concerns.

It's useful to know that his concerns don't include:
  • Millions of people losing the effective health insurance they've been getting from Medicaid.
  • Women being charged more for the privilege of being able to get pregnant and give birth.
  • Crippling the ability of schools to provide adequately for students in special education.
  • Weakening the financial viability of rural hospitals (like the one where my family gets our health care), because many of the patients they treat will no longer have a way of paying for their care.
Obviously the list could be considerably extended. Different things may come to mind first for you, but you get the point.

It makes you wonder what Faso was concerned about.

(I'm kidding. It's pretty obvious he was concerned about providing a hefty tax cut for upper-income households.)

Ben Wikler of MoveOn is suggesting people keep pressuring their GOP members of Congress even though the vote is past.

I'll be calling later this morning.

Previous episodes of the "Contact your Congressman" show:
Show your work
Asking the impossible
A simpler question
Faso by phone
Open letter on health insurance, round 3
Recess grading period
Open letter to Representative Faso on health insurance

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Show your work

Dear Congressman Faso,

I heard on the radio on Monday that you are OK with voting on some version of Trumpcare before it gets a score from the Congressional Budget Office, because you don’t believe the conclusions that office reached on the original version of the American Health Care Act.

Earlier that day I’d called your office to ask whether you would vote on the matter without a CBO score, and your staffer wasn’t aware of your position, so it was good to get that question answered eventually.

On the same phone call, I asked about your position on the current version of the bill, and the staffer said you hadn’t decided yet, because you were evaluating the bill in its entirety.

That’s commendable, but it makes an odd pairing with your stance on the CBO process.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Asking the impossible

Dear Conressman Faso,

On Sunday the president tweeted,
You can't compare anything to ObamaCare because ObamaCare is dead. Dems want billions to go to Insurance Companies to bail out donors....New healthcare plan is on its way. Will have much lower premiums & deductibles while at the same time taking care of pre-existing conditions!
Do you understand the purpose of those Cost-Sharing Reductions? They're not a bailout of insurance companies; they're payments to compensate them for taking on riskier-than-average clients without charging them more. In other words, they're a key component of how Obamacare achieves coverage of pre-existing conditions.

Do you understand that the Affordable Care Act is not dead so long as those CSR's are continued, as insurers have expressed their willingness to continue offering plans, contingent on being confident that the CSR's will remain in place? This is an entirely reasonable position - to expect insurers to act otherwise is to wish that they weren't profit-seeking companies.

(Of course, the other way for the ACA to die is for Congress to pass a law repealing it, but so far your caucus can't agree on a way to do that.)

Monday, May 1, 2017

A simpler question

Dear Mr. Faso,

I've been contacting your office pretty regularly about health insurance - one might say "pestering." Most recently, I called on Thursday and spoke to a pleasant staffer who said you didn't yet have a position on the AHCA as modified by the MacArthur amendment, and that you needed to study the bill in its entirety.

I thought I'd try again with a simpler question.

The president yesterday said that the GOP health-insurance bill: ""Pre-existing conditions are in the bill. And I mandate it. I said, 'Has to be,'" (see here).

If we look at what was in the AHCA + MacArthur amendment, we see that states can actually get an all-but-guaranteed waiver from the pre-existing conditions requirement, as long as they have a high-risk pool (their own, or via participation in a federal one).