Revenge of Zombie Obamacare

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Americans given more insurance options at a lower cost; Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar explains on 'Fox  Friends.'
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New health insurance rule bypasses ACA regulations

Americans given more insurance options at a lower cost; Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar explains on ‘Fox Friends.’

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On the roster: Revenge of zombie ObamaCare – Trump hate-tweets Sessions, but makes no moves – I’ll Tell You What: Dog Days of summer – Senate tries to check the House on spending – The Chinooks of helicopter parenting 

REVENGE OF ZOMBIE OBAMACARE

It would be condign punishment for Republicans to take a pasting in this year’s midterms on the issue of health insurance. 

They ran four national elections on rescuing Americans from ObamaCare and upon finally taking control at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue promptly dropped the rope. 

But can Democrats take advantage of the opportunity? And can Republicans act to mitigate what is their second greatest vulnerability this November?

On the second question, the Trump administration is deploying every pen and phone possible to try to mitigate the damage the imploding system will inflict on voters. Always bear in mind that the 11yh month isn’t just for elections, it’s for health insurance rate changes, renewals and, potentially, cancellations.

The administration today announced that it was slashing ObamaCare regulations that forbade insurers from selling cheap-o, stripped down plans except for as stopgap coverage between full policies. Now, companies can keep customers in these plans for as long as three years.

This will be a relief for the working poor and younger consumers who will now be able to get bare-bones coverage at a bare-bones rate. It will not be a relief for those who want full coverage as it will tend to undo a key cost-shift of the Obama-era law.

ObamaCare’s central premise was that by making people buy insurance they did not want, it would make insurance for those who already had or wanted policies cheaper. The government would add new requirements for insurers but compensate them by funneling in new customers either dragooned by the mandate to buy coverage or enticed by new subsidies.

But because the previous administration pulled its punch on the mandates, the promised goodies never materialized. And when Republicans cut off bailouts of the companies as part of a 2014 budget deal, premiums started to soar and coverage options started to plummet in many states.

Republicans neglected to come up with a plan for how to fix this in their eight years of crabbing about ObamaCare and fled the field of battle quickly when confronted with one of their central political miscalculations. Yes, ObamaCare was unpopular. But about a quarter of its unpopularity came from Americans who thought it was too stingy.

Now the Trump administration is using executive fiat and the court system to try to demolish ObamaCare one piece at a time. Team Trump is trying to drain the pool for subsidized insurance by allowing cheap plans like the ones announced today, joining a lawsuit that seeks to end the requirement that insurance companies must cover those with pre-existing conditions, stopping the enforcement of the mandate and setting up new competition from business associations.

This is a little like lighting the barn on fire with the horses still in it. When you open the door, you offer a way out, but you also fan the flames.

Democrats are in good position to take advantage of this risky play by the GOP, especially if we see a wave of rate hikes, lost coverage and other dislocations over the next 98 days.

But the Democrats face a different challenge. Their party is divided over the question of how to replace zombie ObamaCare. Is it Medicare for all, expanded Medicaid, ObamaCare 2.0? Something else entirely?

The stirring cockles of Democratic Socialists are unlikely to go for anything short of universal, single payer coverage, while red state Democrats will dig in their heels.

Here’s our bet: They’ll debate it for a while and ultimately do what Republicans did and agree that the issue is too good to get bogged down in actually solving. 

THE RULEBOOK: LIVING BY THE SWORD
“… of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 1

TIME OUT: TRUST TREES LOSE BRANCHES 
The Atlantic: “The average American trusts only 10 to 20 people. Moreover, that number may be shrinking: From 1985 to 2004, the average number of confidants that people reported having decreased from three to two. This is both sad and consequential, because people who have strong social relationships tend to live longer than those who don’t. … So what should you do if your social life is lacking? … To begin with, don’t dismiss the humble acquaintance. Even interacting with people with whom one has weak social ties has a meaningful influence on well-being. Beyond that, building deeper friendships may be largely a matter of putting in time. A recent study out of the University of Kansas found that it takes about 50 hours of socializing to go from acquaintance to casual friend, an additional 40 hours to become a ‘real’ friend, and a total of 200 hours to become a close friend. … The academic literature is clear: Longing for closeness and connection is pervasive. Which suggests that most of us are stumbling through the world pining for companionship that could be easily provided by the lonesome stumblers all around us.”

Flag on the play? – Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
41.6 percent
Average disapproval: 
53.6 percent
Net Score: 
-12 points
Change from one week ago: 
down 1.2 points

[Average includes: Gallup: 40% approve – 55% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 38% approve – 58% disapprove; NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist University: 39% approve – 51% disapprove; NBC/WSJ: 45% approve – 52% disapprove; Fox News: 46% approve – 51% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average:
 40 percent
Democratic average: 48.2 percent
Advantage: 
Democrats plus 8.2 points
Change from one week ago: 
No change

[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: Dems 51% – GOP 39%; NPR/PBS Newshour/Marist University: Dems 47% – GOP 40%; Fox News: Dems 48% – GOP 40%; Suffolk University/USA Today: Dems 45% – GOP 39%; CNN: Dems 50% – GOP 42%.]

I’LL TELL YOU WHAT: DOG DAYS OF SUMMER
This week, Dana and Chris discuss the dog days of summer and upcoming end-of-summer vacations. Plus, Chris breaks down the “moderate middle”, highlights some key midterm races to watch, and dips into the listener mailbag. LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE

TRUMP HATE-TWEETS SESSIONS, BUT MAKES NO MOVES 
Fox News: “President Trump called Wednesday for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation ‘right now,’ alleging bias on the investigative team and complaining about the trial of his former campaign chairman. ‘This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further,’ Trump tweeted. ‘Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!’ The tweet renewed Democratic complaints that Trump is wrongly challenging the independence of the special counsel. Trump has repeatedly blasted the probe as a ‘witch hunt,’ but the call for Sessions to intervene represents another escalation. Sessions, however, already recused himself last year – handing off oversight to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. So he is unlikely to act.”

Rails against Feds for not preventing him from hiring Manafort – 
CNBC:“President Donald Trump on Wednesday complained on Twitter that the government hadn’t told him that his former campaign chief Paul Manafort ‘was under investigation.’ Trump’s tweet, which came as Manafort entered the second day of his federal criminal trial, also said the ‘old charges’ Manafort now faces ‘have nothing to do with’ suspicions that members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russians trying to interfere with the 2016 election.

Bigwig Dems Tony Podesta, Greg Craig under scrutiny, too – WaPo: “Special Counsel Robert Mueller has referred another piece of his investigation to federal prosecutors in New York, asking them to take over an inquiry into whether American lobbyists violated any laws by not registering their work for the Ukraine government, according to people familiar with the matter. Mueller’s referral – essentially handing an ongoing case over to another prosecutor to determine whether charges should be brought – came months ago, these people said. … Lobbyists Tony Podesta and Vin Weber, and lawyers at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher Flom have fallen under scrutiny because they worked with Manafort on his pro-Ukraine efforts. It is that part of the investigation that has been referred to New York prosecutors … Podesta is the brother of John Podesta, a longtime Democratic adviser who led the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton.”

Pence: Russian effort to sink Hillary ‘unambiguous’ – WaPo: “Vice President Mike Pence on Tuesday affirmed the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia sought to influence the 2016 election, stating firmly what President Trump has been reluctant to say. ‘While other nations certainly possessed the capability, the fact is Russia meddled in our 2016 elections,’ Pence said, speaking at a government cybersecurity conference here hosted by the Department of Homeland Security. ‘That is the unambiguous judgment of our intelligence community, and as the president said, we ‘accept the intelligence community’s conclusion,’ Pence said.”

Foer: Of crooks and kleptocrats – The Atlantic: “The trial of Paul Manafort is not merely an episode in a larger scandal that will unfold over many chapters. It is a warning not to be ignored. It’s an occasion for the United States to awaken from its collective slumber about the creeping dangers of kleptocracy. So much about the American view of itself resists accepting a disturbing reality. Conventional wisdom long held that America’s free market would never tolerate the sort of clientelism, nepotism, and outright theft that prevailed in places like Brazil and Italy. Americans thought that globalization would export the hygienic habits of this nation’s financial system and its values of good government to the rest of the world. But over the past three decades, the opposite transpired…. American elites have learned to plant money offshore with acumen that comes close to matching their crooked counterparts abroad.”

Goldberg: ‘Does Russia want helter-skelter?’ – National Review: “It’s unknown whether Russia was behind these bogus [Facebook] pages, but they seem to be the prime suspects. I haven’t seen anything in these reports to suggest this was aimed at helping Democrats — or Republicans. Rather, this is precisely the sort of thing the Russians have done for nearly 70 years: Fuel racial resentment and anger in America. … The question of whether or not the Russians wanted Trump to win by the end of the campaign seems fairly settled: They did. But the question of why remains an open one (as does the question of how much coordination there was between Russia and the Trump campaign). But what is absolutely clear: The Russians want to see a divided, distracted America torn by racial and ethnic discord. Fomenting ‘anger on divisive issues such as race and immigration’ is perfectly consistent with that agenda.”

TRUMP HEADING TO OHIO AHEAD OF SPECIAL ELECTION 
Cincinnati Enquirer: “President Donald Trump plans to campaign for Republican Troy Balderson at the Delaware County Fair Saturday. Trump has repeatedly tweeted his endorsement of Balderson, a state senator, in his race against Democrat Danny O’Connorto fill the remainder of former U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi‘s term. The special election is Aug. 7. Balderson and O’Connor are facing off in a central Ohio district, which includes Columbus’ northern suburbs and surrounding rural counties. The seat has been an easy win for Republicans in the past. Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats 2-to-1. But Democrats like their chances with suburban voters who might be tired of Trump’s rhetoric.”

Ugly primary may cast shadows on Tuesday – Columbus Dispatch: “Questions remain about whether lingering ill will from a rough GOP primary, which included accusations of ballot fraud, will prompt some conservatives to sit on their hands, as Republicans try to maintain hold of the seat. Delaware County is no stranger to GOP squabbles. In the GOP primary, Balderson squeaked by Melanie Leneghan by 775 votes, thanks largely to his winning nearly 77 percent of the vote in Muskingum County, routing all eight of his GOP opponents. … Leneghan, a Liberty Township trustee who was backed by U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, beat Balderson by more than 2,100 votes in her home Delaware County. And she hasn’t gone away quietly. She filed a complaint with the Ohio Supreme Court, saying Muskingum County elections officials ‘fraudulently’ unsealed and tampered with paper ballots two days before an official election recount. The complaint is pending.”

DeSantis gets a boost from de president – FNC: “President Trump gave hearty endorsements to Florida Gov. Rick Scott and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis Tuesday as two of the state’s top Republican elected officials seek higher office in November’s midterm elections. ‘I don’t do these endorsements easily,’ Trump told an enthusiastic crowd during his rally at Tampa’s Florida State Fairgrounds. ‘I don’t need to be here, but I happen to love this state.’ … The speech was notable for Trump’s emphatic call to implement stricter voter ID requirements in apparent response to some cities giving illegal immigrants the right to vote in certain elections. ‘Only American citizens should vote in American elections … which is why the time has come for voter ID, like everything else. … You know, if you go out and you want to buy groceries, you need a picture on a card.’ Trump claimed. ‘You go out and you want to buy anything, you need ID and you need your picture. … In this country, the only time you don’t need it, in many cases, is when you want to vote for a president, when you want to vote for a senator, when you want to vote for a governor or a congressman. It’s crazy.’”

Heitkamp: Koch is not it – Politico: “Sen. Heidi Heitkamp isn’t surprised that the Koch network is withholding its support for her GOP challenger — but that doesn’t mean she’ll be seeking an endorsement from the conservative political powerhouse. Heitkamp won a digital thank-you ad campaign from Americans for Prosperity, a leading Koch-funded group, after she helped pass a bipartisan banking deregulation bill that had pitted her and other moderate Democrats against influential liberals. Still, the North Dakotan underscored on Tuesday that the Koch network’s refusal to support Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), who’s challenging her in November, ‘doesn’t mean that they’ve endorsed me. … The Koch brothers have definitely a perspective and a point of view, including on trade, and my opponent has been particularly opaque and unaware of the consequences of this [Trump] trade policy,’ Heitkamp said in a brief interview, adding that she has no plans to seek the network’s formal endorsement.”

Poll: Kelli Ward gaining ground in ugly Arizona Senate primary – ABC15: “With less than a month to go before Arizona’s Primary Election Day, an exclusive OHPI/ABC15 poll shows the race tightening for U.S. Senate in both primary and general elections. … OH Predictive Insights surveyed 576 likely voters in the GOP primary from July 23 to July 25. Of those surveyed, 35 percent said they would vote for Rep. Martha McSally, 27 percent favored Kelli Ward, and 15 percent liked Joe Arpaio. A whopping 23 percent of likely voters surveyed said they were still undecided … OHPI Pollster Mike Noble has been tracking the race and said Ward is closing in on McSally. ‘McSally was up 14 points, now she’s only up eight,’ Noble said. ‘With almost a quarter of the voters undecided, with early voting starting this week, I think the primary is far from over.’”

Pawlenty hauls in big bucks for bid to return as governor –
 Minnesota Public Radio: “With two weeks to go before the Minnesota primary election, former Republican Gov.Tim Pawlenty has raised the most money in the race for governor and has $1 million left to spend. Pawlenty has raised $2.1 million in his bid to return to the governor’s office, according the most recent round of fundraising reports. That’s far ahead of his Republican-endorsed primary opponent, Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson, who reported raising $306,000 this year and had $193,000 left to spend.”

Ignatius: Veterans in Congress can unite the country – WaPo: “This coalescence of young veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan may be the most positive trend on the political horizon. These young men and women have been through the nightmare of combat in the most challenging environments; they know what it means to serve the country, beyond flag-waving and sloganeering. … ‘My military experience gave me humility,’ says Rep. Mike Gallagher, a first-term Republican from Wisconsin who served in Iraq as a Marine intelligence officer. ‘At the point of the spear, neat solutions never survive contact with the enemy.’ Gallagher is a member of a bipartisan group of young veterans called ‘With Honor; that hopes to have 20 of its members in the next Congress. The group has raised $10 million for races so far this year and hopes to push that total to $30 million by year-end. Donations are split, 50/50, between Republicans and Democrats.”

SENATE TRIES TO CHECK THE HOUSE ON SPENDING
The Hill: “The Senate is taking significant steps to lower the odds of either a government shutdown or massive omnibus spending package. … Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said he had an agreement with Senate Democrats to pass a big domestic spending bill covering appropriations for the departments of Labor, Education, and Health and Human Services. ‘Our hope is by the end of August the Senate will approve nine of 12 appropriations bills, which means 90 percent of the funding of the federal government — from the Senate point of view — will be done through the regular order before we get to Labor Day,’ he told reporters … Senate Republicans believe that passing their bills early will put pressure on House Republicans to agree to their versions of the spending bills.”

McConnell: Pro-wall, anti-shutdown – Politico: “Mitch McConnell wants Donald Trump to know this: He’s got the president’s back on funding the border wall, even if it might have to wait until after the election. As Trump said Tuesday that he doesn’t ‘care what the political ramifications are’ of forcing a government shutdown over border wall funding, the Senate majority leader continued to try and impress upon Trump that Senate Republicans are willing to fight for the border wall. … ‘I support what the president is trying to do on the wall. Most of my members do as well,’ McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters. ‘We’re going to continue to discuss it with him and hope that this process can achieve what he would like to achieve on the wall and also get these appropriations bills signed into law which is quite different than what’s happened in the past.’”

Dems dig in for records fight on Kavanaugh –
 WaPo: “Infuriated with Republicans for requesting only a portion of Brett Kavanaugh’s records from his tenure in the George W. Bush White House, Democratic senators sent a wide-ranging request to the National Archives demanding that his entire paper trail be provided to Congress. The letter, sent Tuesday, asks for all of Kavanaugh’s records from his time as an associate White House counsel under Bush, as well as his years as staff secretary. Kavanaugh, who was nominated to replace retiring Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, served for two years in the counsel’s office and three years as staff secretary — a high-ranking position that controls the flow of documents in and out of the Oval Office.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
China vows to get even if Trump follows through on 25 percent tariff – Reuters

Kansas gubernatorial candidate blasted for big bills, little results on immigration – Kansas City Star

Bernie, Warren on collision course
 – The Hill

What is Jeff Flake doing in Africa? – Weekly Standard

Michigan voters to vote on anti-gerrymandering measure – Detroit Free Press

Wages jump, biggest increases in a decade – 
 WSJ

Al Franken opens the door to a comeback after resigning over harassment claims – USA Today

AUDIBLE: OBVI
“It is easier to pretend to be presidential than do what I do.” – President Donald Trump, Monday night at a rally for Rep. Ron Desantis’ gubernatorial bid in Tampa, Florida. 

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“I’m sick and tired of hearing about the big deal if the government shuts down. You ask me it’s perfectly reasonable just like the President says if it gets the wall and keeps our country safe. Just man up and do what you have to do to secure the border! MAGA.” – Jay Osier, Midland, Texas

[Ed. note: That’s no doubt true in Midland, and all of West Texas, for that matter. And if he voted for a shutdown, your congressman, Mike Conaway, would probably suffer no ill-effects in November. But not all of America is like the Permian Basin. (Lord knows our football and barbeque would benefit if it were!) But in many districts where Republicans are trying to hang on by the skins of their teeth, the wall is disliked and so is its leading proponent. Government shutdowns are always unpopular. Shutdowns forced over unpopular subjects stand to be doubly so. Democrats thought they had a good issue when they forced a shutdown over the president’s threat to deport adults brought to the United States illegally as children. But they clambered down off of that high horse pretty quickly. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re the one threating the shutdown, you’re going to be the one who loses in the showdown. It’s hard to imagine anything more damning the GOP might do this fall than shutting the government down and then having to walk away empty handed.

“The days of caring what the Koch brothers think are long past over and good riddance. Didn’t Trump get elected even though Hillary had all that extra money? What good did it do her? When you have a candidate who people feel really passionate about, money isn’t an issue. I think there will be enough people like myself who give small donations to the campaign. We may not be millionaires, but we are much greater in number.”– Denise Feldspar, Dunwoody, Ga.

[Ed. note: I don’t think money will be an issue for President Trump in 2020. Not even a smidgen. He is hauling in historic sums from small-dollar donors. He’ll be just fine. And, by the way, so will the Democratic nominee. Both presidential campaigns will have super-saturation levels of spending at their disposal with which to inundate the unfortunate voters of this great land. Where the Kochs matter most isn’t in two years, but now. With the demise of strong political parties, outside groups like the Koch Network and its grassroots arm, Americans for Prosperity, have filled the void. Their decision to sit out key contests means that Republicans will have to shift resources to make up the difference. As with a growing list of things, the fight with the Kochs is probably good for Trump, but bad for the traditional GOP coalition.]

Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

THE CHINOOKS OF HELICOPTER PARENTING 
WSJ: “Ally Hicks fretted over her 10-year-old son playing the hugely popular shoot-em-up videogame ‘Fortnite.’ It wasn’t the violence or the amount of time she was worried about. It was the result. He wasn’t winning. So she hired him a coach. For about $50, Ms. Hicks purchased four hours of online lessons from a player she found through a freelance labor website. For many children, ‘Fortnite’ has become a social proving ground. More than 125 million people play it world-wide, according to its maker, mostly in a free mode pitting 100 combatants against each other until one person or team is left standing. ‘There’s pressure not to just play it but to be really good at it,’ said Ms. Hicks, a project manager from Winchester, England. ‘You can imagine what that was like for him at school.’”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“I’m often asked: ‘How do you go from Walter Mondale to Fox News?’ To which the short answer is: ‘I was young once.’” – Charles Krauthammer, writing in the National Review, October 25, 2013. 

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Dave Sweet contributed to this report. 

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.

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