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Trump barrels ahead with plan to gut ‘Obamacare’

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Washington, Mar 12 (AFP) President Donald Trump has vowed to press ahead with a controversial plan, slowed by bickering within his Republican party, to repeal Barack Obama’s signature healthcare law.

“We are making great progress with healthcare. ObamaCare is imploding and will only get worse. Republicans coming together to get job done!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

Trump, who spent part of Saturday meeting with senior aides at his golf club in Virginia, told reporters that he spent part of the day strategizing with his White House team on the health care overhaul.

The president has thrown his full weight behind a contested plan by House Republicans to replace Obamacare, battling to overcome resistance from the party’s right wing in hopes of meeting a key campaign pledge.

Yesterday, he dispatched his top lieutenant, Vice President Mike Pence, to the southern state of Kentucky to make a pitch for the beleaguered proposal.

“Here are the heart-breaking facts: today, Americans are paying 3,000 more a year on average for health insurance than the day Obamacare was signed into law,” Pence told a crowd in the city of Louisville.

“Last year alone, premiums spiked by 25 percent and millions of Americans have lost their health insurance plans and lost their doctors,” Pence said, touting the Republican reform plan, unveiled just this past Monday, as the solution.

“We’re going to give Americans more choices. We’ll expand health savings accounts,” Pence declared.

“Under President Trump’s leadership, we’re actually also going to finally allow Americans to purchase health insurance across state lines — the way you buy life insurance, the way you buy car insurance.”

Obama’s signature health insurance reform bill was the crowning domestic achievement of his presidency.

But like much of the rest of his legacy, it has come under attack from Trump, who has made dismantling it one of his top goals.

Republicans’ market-driven plan to replace it, however, has been roundly criticized by some members of their own party — especially in the US Senate — and also has been met with consternation from conservative pundits.

“The Republican health plan would make America’s economic chasm worse. It would cut health subsidies that go to the poor while eliminating the net investment income tax, which benefits only the top one percent,” right-of-center political columnist David Brooks wrote in the New York Times this week.

Democrats were no less harsh in their assessment of the Republican health care reform plan.

PTI

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Trump calls US court system ‘unfair’ after ‘Dreamers’ ruling: AFP

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WASHINGTON, United States (AFP) — US President Donald Trump lashed out Wednesday at the US judicial system as “broken and unfair” after a judge blocked his decision to end a program that protects so-called “Dreamers” from deportation.

Earlier, the White House had called the ruling Tuesday by US District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco “outrageous,” coming the same day Trump met lawmakers from both camps on the so-called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.

“It just shows everyone how broken and unfair our Court System is when the opposing side in a case (such as DACA) always runs to the 9th Circuit and almost always wins before being reversed by higher courts,” Trump said in a tweet.

The DACA program, instituted by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama in 2012, protects from deportation hundreds of thousands of immigrants who arrived in the country illegally as children.

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American aid cuts to Pakistan won’t change its policy toward terrorism

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American aid cuts to Pakistan

On Thursday, the State Department announced a freeze on most of Washington’s security aid to Pakistan. The decision won’t torpedo the U.S.-Pakistan relationship, as a rupture in relations would more likely result from a more drastic measure, such as designating Pakistan as a state sponsor of terror.

Still, a fragile partnership already on tenterhooks will now grow ever more tenuous, especially because cutting aid to the Pakistanis is unlikely to compel them to crack down on the terrorists that target American troops in Afghanistan. In other words, Pakistan won’t do what America wants it to do. That’s because Pakistan’s links to the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network, groups based in Pakistan that stage attacks in Afghanistan, serve longstanding national interests that are all but immutable.

Consider that these groups push back against the presence of Pakistan’s archenemy, India, in Afghanistan. The Taliban and Haqqani network may be fighting Afghan and American troops, but they’re also virulently anti-Indian and have attacked Indian targets in Afghanistan. Pakistan views India as an existential threat, and as the less powerful of the two, it must rely on asymmetric means to push back against India. Using non-state militant actors against its fearsome foe serves that purpose.
Additionally, Pakistan rightly believes U.S. forces will eventually leave Afghanistan. Amid the large-scale destabilization, including civil war, that may ensue, Pakistan wants to ensure it retains influence with and ties to the Taliban, arguably the most powerful non-state actor in Afghanistan. So the very terrorists that America wants Pakistan to eliminate are embraced by Pakistan as assets to be deployed against India, and as hedges against an eventual U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan.

For Pakistan, ties to terrorists amount to a strategic imperative. Being deprived of aid, even hundreds of millions of dollars of it, won’t change this calculus. It’s not as if the aid suspension will deliver a devastating blow to Pakistan. It can compensate by tapping into its deep security partnerships with Saudi Arabia and China. Pakistan has weathered previous U.S. aid suspensions, and this time around should be no different.

It’s hard to say what can be done to change Pakistan’s policy toward terrorists. The Trump administration has suggested it may resort to punitive actions that go beyond aid cuts. The implication is that draconian measures could eventually bring Pakistan to its knees and cause it to capitulate to U.S. demands.

These tough steps may include expanding drone strikes, revoking Pakistan’s non-NATO ally status, sanctioning Pakistani military officers with ties to terror, and designating Pakistan as a sponsor of terror. They could also entail non-security punitive measures such as getting the International Monetary Fund, where Washington enjoys strong influence, to stop providing lifelines, in the form of loans and bailout packages, to Pakistan’s fragile economy.

Yet, if provoked by these draconian policies, an outraged Pakistan may be inclined to tighten rather than ease its embrace of militants. It could help the Taliban and Haqqani Network intensify violence in Afghanistan. Indeed, for Washington, taking a harder line on Pakistan is risky business and could exacerbate the already-immense challenges of its warfighting efforts in Afghanistan.

Pakistan may contend it would be more willing to address U.S. concerns about terror if America helped advance Pakistan’s interests, such as by actively pursuing a solution to the Kashmir dispute, or by cutting back on its rapidly growing ties with India. In reality, because of its own interests, these are non-starters for Washington.

But this all amounts to putting the cart before the horse. For now, the Trump administration has restricted itself to suspending security assistance. In the coming days, expect angry statements from the Pakistani government, but perhaps not much else. Some analysts have suggested Pakistan may retaliate by shutting down the supply routes on its soil used by NATO vehicles to access Afghanistan. That is certainly possible.

However, Pakistan may also opt to hold its fire, preferring to keep its prime tool of leverage in reserve as a deterrent to forestall the possibility of Washington resorting to more draconian moves. For now, Pakistan may instead retaliate with softer measures, such as issuing fewer visas to Americans.

There are lessons in all of this, and particularly for members of Congress, including most recently Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), who plans to introduce legislation to end aid to Pakistan. Aid cuts to Pakistan can convey strong messages of unhappiness about Pakistan’s policy toward terrorism, but they can’t be expected to induce changes in Pakistan’s behavior. In the context of U.S.-Pakistan relations, the core impacts of aid cuts are symbolic more than substantive.

So the best way to pitch a bill to Americans about ending aid to Pakistan is to emphasize the benefit not for U.S. foreign policy, but for the U.S. economy: It puts money back in the hands of the American taxpayer.

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Donald Trump denounces ex-aide Steve Bannon, says he’s ‘lost his mind’

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US President Donald Trump unleashed a spectacular denunciation of one of his closest political allies Wednesday, describing his former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon as insane and irrelevant.

“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind,” Trump said in a statement that was notably abrasive, even for America’s combative 45th president.

Trump said Bannon — who engineered the New York real estate mogul’s link to the nationalist far right and helped create a pro-Trump media ecosystem — was “only in it for himself.”

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