Some Sudanese families are reportedly so desperate for money, they bribe militia officers to take their children to warzones.
Saudi Arabia is reportedly outsourcing its war in Yemen to be fought by child soldiers from Sudan.
According to a bombshell investigation from the New York Times’ David Kirkpatrick, the Saudis are dipping into their deep pockets to bankroll a militia of Sudanese fighters — many of them children — to fight on the frontlines against Yemen’s Houthi rebels, insulating the Kingdom from casualties and the political blowback they could cause. Many of the Sudanese fighters come from the region of Darfur, where violent conflict consumed the countryside for more than a decade. Across the Red Sea in Yemen, they face a steep risk of death again:
At any time for nearly four years as many as 14,000 Sudanese militiamen have been fighting in Yemen in tandem with the local militia aligned with the Saudis, according to several Sudanese fighters who have returned and Sudanese lawmakers who are attempting to track it. Hundreds, at least, have died there.
The conditions inside Yemen were already bleak. The war there, led by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has by some estimates claimed the lives of nearly 50,000 people. The conflict has spurred a massive humanitarian crisis, leaving more than 12 million people on the brink of starvation and in desperate need of assistance.
Kirkpatrick reports that some families in Sudan are so desperate for money from Riyadh, they bribe militia officers to allow their children to fight, some as young as 14 years old. While estimates vary and Saudi Arabia denied employing child soldiers, the Times reports that minors make up anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent of the Sudanese fighters in a unit:
“People are desperate. They are fighting in Yemen because they know that in Sudan they don’t have a future,” said Hafiz Ismail Mohamed, a former banker, economic consultant and critic of the government. “We are exporting soldiers to fight like they are a commodity we are exchanging for foreign currency.”
Congress has made a half-hearted attempt to curtail the violence in Yemen
The US government as a whole — from Congress to President Donald Trump — so far has done little to meaningfully put an end to hostilities in Yemen. The US currently sells weapons to the Saudi-backed coalition in Yemen, and provides them with some intelligence support. And while the US indicated in November it will stop refueling the coalition’s aircraft used in the conflict, which potentially limits the Saudi’s ability to carry out bombing campaigns, calls are growing for Congress to do more.
When Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in October, momentum built — briefly. Lawmakers made preliminary moves to cut America’s ties to the three-year conflict, with the Senate passing a historic resolution to cut military aid to Saudi Arabia related to the war in Yemen.
But as Vox’s Tara Golshan explains, the resolution was thrown back to square one after House Democrats helped Republicans stall any action on Yemen until at least the new Congress comes into session.
Meanwhile, the White House has pushed back against efforts to end aid, and done little more than turn a blind eye to Riyadh’s range of troubling actions — including the crown prince’s likely involvement in Khashoggi’s murder.
But as new harrowing stories come to light detailing the atrocities being carried out in Yemen, the conflict — and the US’s complicity in the violence — may become harder to ignore.
The president says Democrats are to blame for the eight-year-old Guatemalan boy who died in Border Patrol custody on Christmas Eve.
President Donald Trump is now blaming Democrats for the deaths of two migrant children who died in federal custody earlier this month.
In his first public comment on the two tragedies Saturday, Trump tied the deaths to the political impasse over funding for the federal government, saying in a series of tweets that Democrats are to blame for refusing his $5-billion pet project to build new walls along the southern border.
The two young children died in Border Patrol custody over the span of just a few weeks. The latest was an eight-year-old from Guatemala who died on Christmas Eve. Medical examiners say the boy, Felipe Gomez Alonzo, tested positive for influenza. Weeks earlier, seven-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin, died of dehydration after being detained in New Mexico with her father.
Trump’s comments come as Department of Homeland Security Sec. Kirstjen Nielsen finishes up a two-day tour of the border to inspect the conditions at processing and detention facilities for migrants in both El Paso, Texas and Yuma, Arizona.
Any deaths of children or others at the Border are strictly the fault of the Democrats and their pathetic immigration policies that allow people to make the long trek thinking they can enter our country illegally. They can’t. If we had a Wall, they wouldn’t even try! The two…..
…children in question were very sick before they were given over to Border Patrol. The father of the young girl said it was not their fault, he hadn’t given her water in days. Border Patrol needs the Wall and it will all end. They are working so hard & getting so little credit!
Already Border Patrol has moved to step up medical screenings for children since the two deaths.
And amid the growing scrutiny,CBP has also shifted its policy of holding families until Immigration and Customs Enforcement takes over custody, as Vox’s Dara Lind reports. The new plan allows agents at the border to release families directly if they’ve been held for more than a few days, which could leave hundreds of families dropped around El Paso and around the Rio Grande Valley.
Deaths along the border have been a problem for a long time
The tragedy of the two children’s deaths only amplifies what has been true along the border for a long time: The journeys that families take are often extremely dangerous, and deaths along the border are not at all uncommon.
By official counts, more than 7,000 migrants have died trying to cross the southwest border since 1998,but it’s likely those statistics are dramatically lower than the reality.
And for years, advocates have complained of the conditions at Border Patrol facilities, where they say migrants are forced into excessively cold holding cells. In the last year alone, six adults have died in Border Patrol custody, the Washington Post report.
But as Lind notes, the two children’s deaths are the latest signal that the immigration system isn’t designed to deal with families crossing into the US:
That goes double for Customs and Border Protection, which oversees Border Patrol as well as ports of entry. CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan told the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month that “the infrastructure is not compatible with the reality” of who is getting apprehended — essentially admitting that his agency was ill-equipped to take care of the people currently entering the US.
Administration officials, as well as the president’s allies, have meanwhile tried to spin the sting of deaths as fairly a rare occurrence. DHS counters that before the two migrant deaths this month, no child has died in Border Patrol custody in nearly a decade. On Fox News Friday, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) went as far as praising ICE for its treatment of immigrants.
”These are the only two children that have died, certainly in recent memory,” he said. “Considering what does happen in housing projects … I think ICE has an excellent record.”
Bullock leads an all-star cast in a meandering movie with an intriguing premise.
Every week, new original films debut on Netflix and other streaming services, often to much less fanfare than their big-screen counterparts. Cinemastream is Vox’s series highlighting the most notable of these premieres, in an ongoing effort to keep interesting and easily accessible new films on your radar.
The premise: In a post-apocalyptic world, haunted by beings that cause psychotic behavior in nearly anyone who looks at them, Mallory (Sandra Bullock) tries to protect two small children while traveling to what she hopes is a safe colony.
What it’s about: Directed by Susanne Bier (After the Wedding, In a Better World), Bird Box takes its name from a box of birds that Mallory carries with her on her journey, which she and the children — who are named Boy and Girl, for reasons that become clear later on — must undertake blindfolded to save their very lives.
The movie cuts back and forth between that journey and the period five years prior, when bizarre apocalyptic horror was unleashed across the globe with the arrival of the beings. Who they are and what they want is never fully explained; Bird Box is more interested in its characters’ reactions to the horrors of their world than it is in explaining exactly what brought them about.
The film boasts a star-studded cast, including Bullock, John Malkovich, Trevante Rhodes, Sarah Paulson, Tom Hollander, and more. Most of them play characters who become trapped in a house together while trying to outrun the carnage taking place outside.
Bird Box is post-apocalyptic horror, with moments of intense violence and elements reminiscent of movies like Night of the Living Dead, A Quiet Place, and Children of Men. Unfortunately, the cross-cutting narrative device doesn’t add much to the movie, and as it wears on, it starts to feel like it isn’t totally sure what it’s trying to do. Still, it’s entertaining enough to be worth watching for fans of the genre or of Bullock, who turns in a strong performance as a woman who has motherhood thrust onto her in a world loaded with peril.
Critical consensus: Bird Box currently has a score of 51 on Metacritic. At Indiewire, Michael Nordine writes that “Bier’s direction is coolly efficient, which fits the material to a t — anything more ostentatious would just feel wasteful.”
’Twas the night before Christmas, and I really, really wanted a freakin’ drink.
During Christmas dinners past, between courses, you could always find me ducking into my room to hide. I felt incredibly uncomfortable at the table, but I never drank in front of my family — my parents knew I had a problem. I usually held tight and counted the minutes before I could escape and meet up with my friends for a drink (or four). As loving as my family is, they have their moments — and the holidays seem to bring a lot more of them. Admittedly, most families are like this, which is why none of my friends punch the air and grin as they declare, “Yeah, I’m going home for Thanksgiving!” It’s usually more of a dejected sigh of resignation. Understandably, many of us either drink to get through it or get through it to drink.
A few years ago, though, the holidays became different for me. At 22 years old, in November 2011, I decided to get sober for good. The timing wasn’t necessarily intentional. In fact, the timing was horrible; a more-than-challenging feat during that matrix of Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and everyone’s favorite amateur hour — New Year’s Eve. The holidays are the time of year when the child in all of us feels the most temptation to overindulge in, well, just about everything.
Throughout college, I was a social drinker who couldn’t stop once I started. I held down an internship and a part-time job as a reporter while maintaining a 3.8 GPA throughout all four years of school. High-functioning, smart, and responsible, I loved that drinking let me throw caution to the wind — it was like a reward. It allowed me to go against my better judgment and act “wild and young,” to be really spontaneous. However, if I tried to stop after one or two drinks, I was either a) unsuccessful or b) left with that empty disappointment that lingers when all of the presents have been opened on Christmas morning and it’s only 10 am. Now what?
The sickening realization that I didn’t drink like “normal” people dawned on me slowly, but I didn’t know how to stop without destroying my social life. As a city girl raised on fabulous, bubbly Sunday brunches and packed, Patron-fueled parties, making the decision to stop for good was terrifying.
So I didn’t make the decision. Instead, I did all sorts of things to try to control my drinking. I’ll stop for a month. I’ll just have one. I’ll just have two. Well, I’ll eat a lot, so maybe I can have three. I’ll switch from hard liquor to wine. I’ll only drink at dinner. These worked temporarily, but I always fell right back off the wagon.
I woke up shaking and throwing up more mornings than I can remember. After two, three, then four times in the emergency room for alcohol poisoning, it was clear that it had gone beyond the scope of a harmless social habit. I began to get violent with my boyfriend when I drank, wake up in places I didn’t recognize, and keep my mother up at night worrying where I was (my phone was usually dead or lost). Long story short, I spent Thanksgiving of 2010 hooked up to an IV, hospitalized for alcohol poisoning once again, and it still took me another year to reach out for help.
Why I finally got help
It’s no coincidence, of course, that sometime between November and early January, a new slew of 20-somethings always find their way into substance abuse recovery programs. Many of us were just social drinkers who knew when to say “when,” but couldn’t. The consequences gradually became greater, especially after the “we’re in college” excuse disappeared. In the midst of excuses to overdo it and shattered expectations of the perfect family Christmas, something happened to make us realize that our drinking wasn’t like other people’s, that we were powerless over the compulsion to drink to excess, and that it was starting to make our lives really unmanageable.
There wasn’t any one “moment” for me. It wasn’t the overwhelming number of days spent crying and throwing up, holding my head in the agony of a migraine, that forced me to say enough is enough. It wasn’t my then-boyfriend’s question, “How long are you going to keep doing this to yourself?” It wasn’t the panic attack I had when I realized that in a drunken stupor, I’d left my BlackBerry in a puddle overnight, or the ones I had when I woke up next to a complete stranger.
It was the gradual realization that I had a disease, one that made excessive drinking look like a choice. No sane person endures so much physical and emotional anguish and continues to drink — that’s why it’s called a disease. What caused me to throw in the towel was the week in late October 2011 when I managed to get drunk night after night, each one worse than the last, after promising myself — pleading with myself — that I wouldn’t.
On the mid-November day that I first walked into a 12-step recovery meeting, I was shocked to see that so many young girls were in the same boat as I was. I thought sobriety was for prudes who did nothing interesting with their lives and had no idea what real problems were, but these were stylish women pursuing amazing careers and attending prestigious universities. I was invited to a booze-free party after the meeting; I was just one day sober when I agreed.
The people at this party could have easily been gathered together inside the hottest club West Chelsea has to offer. Not only did they look cool as hell, but they were the happiest crowd of people I’d seen in a long, long time, and the most cheerful I’d ever seen sans alcohol. All of them were in the program — some had five years, some five months, others had decades.
I stood awkwardly in the doorway clutching a red plastic cup full of seltzer and watching dozens of people laughing, chatting, dancing, and singing, doing everything they normally would have if there had been vodka in the punch. They looked like they were comfortable with themselves. The laughter was real. The friendship was genuine — you could feel the warmth and the love radiating out of them — and they all had this ease about them that, even at my drunkest, I couldn’t quite cultivate. Best of all, none of them looked like they were dying to escape.
“I felt so awkward I wanted to die,” one attendee later told me, laughing. “I didn’t realize how socially anxious I was until I didn’t have a drink in my hand.” I could relate.
That’s how a lot of us feel, but didn’t realize it, because 20-something binge drinking is so normal in our culture.
How SantaCon made me glad to be sober
Case in point: SantaCon, a Christmas disaster that can only be described as a calamity on 34th Street — and every other street in New York City. (Sadly, it’s now also a nationwide epidemic.) College kids (and children of all ages) dress up as Santa or scantily clad Mrs. Claus and take to their city’s bars and restaurants, later spilling out onto the streets, where they continue drinking.
The original idea for SantaCon started off as a very merry concept: People would dress up and parade through the streets spreading goodwill and good cheer, singing Christmas carols, and giving out gifts to strangers. Unfortunately, it has been completely overhauled into an event in which adults act like out-of-control kids and hundreds of thousands of people confuse Christmas “spirit” with “spirits.”
I had about 30 days of sobriety under my belt when the SantaCon “parade” took to the streets in 2011. The “SantaConers” start as early as 10 am, and that year, by lunchtime, my Lower Manhattan neighborhood smelled like one big brewery. Last time I checked, walking down the street and drinking from clear plastic cups full of beer was illegal, but it seems to be tolerated on SantaCon day.
By 1 pm, people were urinating in public, passing out in the street, keeling over on the sidewalk, screaming profanities, and throwing up on subways and in parks. My elderly neighbors were pushed and knocked over, and children were shoved aside. Many SantaConers needed to be taken care of, pulled away from a fistfight or carried home, passed out from all the excitement like small children after a wedding.
As people dodged profanity-screaming elves and belligerent reindeer running amuck, I heard one little boy ask his father, “Daddy, why are Santa and the reindeer acting like that?” Another little girl hid underneath her mother’s coat, and others literally ran away crying, repeatedly looking back over their shoulders in terror as the crowds gained momentum.
As the Christmas-themed pub crawl of college-aged clowns clamored through my neighborhood, all I could think was, “Holy shit, I’m glad that’s not me.” Not that it would have been me — I was more the type to drink in lounges and wine bars than partake in out-on-the-street reveling. I wouldn’t have been caught dead at a pub crawl. Still, as someone who understands the need to take a mini Christmas vacation from reality, I saw something familiar as I looked into the glazed eyes of one slutty Mrs. Claus: the need to get obliterated, and what a mess it looks like when you do.
For a long time, I was the one wearing a costume — and I wore it all the time. I liked my tiny, boozy escape from reality, a carefree feeling I’d chase and chase as it slipped right through my hands. I couldn’t get enough when I drank: more, more, more. I kept chasing that warm feeling I got when I hit that perfect level between tipsy and drunk — but I just couldn’t stop there. As a result, I ended up sick, ashamed, absent, or blacked out more times than I can recall.
Seeing how disgusting SantaCon was affirmed my commitment to never drink again. However, I had to admit that the tamer members of the bunch looked like they were having a great time, and that triggered something I had struggled with my whole life: fear of missing out.
Such a feeling was an evil Grinch that presented itself whenever something was going on without my involvement. The Grinch pointed a big hairy finger directly at my fear of what other people thought of me, whether I looked popular, cool, or pretty enough. I had so little confidence in myself that I put all of the value on the external. Watching them parade by, erupting in laughter, I heard my aunt’s enabling voice in the back of my head:
“You’re young; you’re supposed to go out and have fun,” she would say. “When I was your age, I had a thousand friends and we went out every weekend. This is your time.”
My aunt was a party girl at my age — think Studio 54 — who knew all of the right people and was out every night. She’s still a party girl now. She lives on the Upper East Side with my uncle, and I would see her and speak to her often. So I regularly found myself on the defensive, bracing for questions about what I’d been doing and whom I was dating. I was especially careful not to divulge compromising information that would welcome more unsolicited opinions.
But of course, then there was the big Kahuna. The most challenging night of the season for me was not SantaCon but Christmas dinner with my relatives — every single one of them.
My first sober Christmas was challenging — but my new friends helped me through it
Throughout the day, my mind replayed old tapes of Christmases past, churning up anxiety and forming negative expectations that created a nice big bubble of dread in the pit of my stomach. The criticism, the judgment, the well-intentioned yet unsolicited advice salted the wounds of my own insecurities, and last year was no different.
“Are you going to any parties?” my aunt asked as she spooned her baked ziti onto my plate. (She knows I don’t eat pasta.)
“Yes,” I said, my voice cracking with hesitation. “There’s a party at this girl’s house.”
“What kind of party? Is it on the Lower East Side? Where are the cool people going these days?”
In hindsight, I see that telling her it was a sober party was a mistake. I know that now.
“What are you going to do, have no life anymore?” she cried in response. “Those people are lame. Go do something fun. Live it up!”
Fortunately, I had been given one of my gifts early: nearly 20 new numbers in my phone, all belonging to friends and other women in my support network who would listen, laugh, and help me feel true relief. Calling in their support was more comforting than any amount of Baileys. After my aunt’s comment, I furiously texted Allie, who reassured me, “Soon, you and I are going to be able to go anywhere and do anything we want, living lives fuller than we ever could have imagined.”
“This is a very short period of time,” Allie said, “that we are using to get ready for the best years of our lives.”
Throughout the night, I surreptitiously and periodically backed away into my room, but this time not alone; I reached out to girls who knew how to turn off the valve that began steaming inside me when my uncle raised his voice. When that happened, my friend Claire and I ran through a list of what I was grateful for.
“It’s easy to see what’s wrong and get annoyed, but it takes practice to start learning how to see the good in people and in each situation,” she said.
Perhaps even more useful — for many of us — is the advice that Phoebe, another friend from my recovery group, gave me: “Hum a little tune and pretend that you’re watching and listening to someone else’s family.”
Learning to be patient and to accept my family as they are, instead of how I wish they would be, took time. They’re human, I realized eventually — fallible and flawed, just like me, just like all of us. When I stopped expecting them to be anything else, I started seeing the best in them, which wasn’t hard once I had the right lenses on.
Eventually, I was able to stay present, no longer jumping out of my skin or champing at the bit to escape their clutches and flee the situation. Despite temptation, I continued making my own transition to adulthood, gripping reality tightly even when I wanted to let go through hot toddies and spiked cider.
My first sober New Year’s Eve, my favorite midnight kiss didn’t take place on a vodka-soaked dance floor as champagne rained down from above. I was sprawled on my bed, sober, getting smooches from my then-boyfriend’s dog, Nayla. I was finally growing up, facing my choices, and moving through the stress of uncomfortable family dinners and social situations without picking up a drink.
I can’t say I miss the taste of alcohol, because I always shot it back like medicine, hating the flavor of booze but loving the effect. I’ll admit there are days I wish I could drink up a bit of that warm, fuzzy feeling of relaxation to take the edge off, but the trade-off is more than worth it.
I’ve found what Allie said to hold true: I can go anywhere and have a good time, and I never feel like I’m being shortchanged just because I’m not drinking. Now my nights are filled with authentic laughter and fun, sometimes at a “normal” party, sometimes at a sober one, sometimes at a dinner party full of drinkers. Regardless, I know for sure that I’m definitely not missing out on anything.
As for the holidays this year, I am incredibly grateful for a family that, despite their kinks, loves each other unconditionally.
For the record, I’m far from a prohibitionist. If you can hold your liquor, by all means, go ahead. I toast you with my rum-free eggnog! Peace of mind, I now know, is what I’d been looking for all along — I just never thought I could achieve it, ever, let alone without a bottle of wine to create the false, quickly fading feeling for me. The realization that I finally know what real peace and happiness feel like — well, that’s a very merry feeling.
Helaina Hovitz is a born and raised New Yorker who has written for the New York Times, Teen Vogue, and Salon.com, among other publications. She is currently writing her first book and has the unshakable notion that she can help save the world.
Melissa Mendes is the author of the Xeric Award–winning graphic novel Freddy Stories. Her current comic series Lou is being published by Oily Comics. She lives and works in western Massachusetts.
Since October 2017, when BuzzFeed published allegations made by actor Anthony Rapp that Spacey made a sexual advance toward Rapp when Rapp was 14, more than 30 people have come forward with their own allegations against Spacey, with accounts ranging from harassment to attempted rape. On November 16, 2017, London’s Old Vic Theatre, where Spacey served as artistic director from 2004 to 2015, announced that a hotline it set up to facilitate its investigation into Spacey had received 20 allegations of “a range of inappropriate behavior,” all concerning young men over the age of 18.
The revelations of his alleged behavior took a bizarre turn on Christmas Eve 2018, when Spacey released a bizarre video via his official Twitter account and what appeared to be a YouTube fan channel, in which he attempted to address the public. (Some internet onlookers have questioned the possibility that the video is a fake, an example of a creepy computer-generated simulation known as a “deepfake.”) The video, called “Let Me Be Frank,” tacitly presented Spacey as Frank Underwood, his former character from House of Cards. The video appeared just as news broke that Spacey would be arraigned in Nantucket District Court in January 2019 on criminal charges related to the alleged 2016 assault of a then-18-year-old at a bar.
In the video, Spacey seems to simultaneously be referencing both the allegations made against him and the “death” of his fictional House of Cards character — who was promptly killed off after Netflix first suspended production on the show following the allegations against Spacey, and then promoted Robin Wright to solo lead for the show’s sixth and final season.
In language that recalls several of the more disturbing allegations of nonconsensual physical assault made against Spacey, the actor seems to tell the audience that he’s making a comeback, regardless of what they say they want:
“We’re not done, no matter what anyone says. And besides, I know what you want. You want me back.”
Here’s what we know so far about the allegations that have surfaced against Spacey, and the consequences that have ensued.
Anthony Rapp accused Spacey of assaulting him when Rapp was 14. Spacey deflected by coming out as gay.
Rapp is a veteran Broadway actor best known for originating the role of Mark in Rent; he’s currently playing Star Trek’s first openly gay character on the CBS All Access series Star Trek: Discovery. He told BuzzFeed that Spacey befriended him in 1986, when Rapp was 14 years old and performing in the Broadway play Precious Sons. According to Rapp, Spacey made “a sexual advance” toward him while he was attending a party at Spacey’s home.
After his claims went public on October 29, 2017, Rapp stated on Twitter that he was coming forward in solidarity with the dozens of women who’ve made allegations against Harvey Weinstein, as well as other assault survivors, “standing on the shoulders of the many courageous women and men who have been speaking out to shine a light and hopefully make a difference.”
Spacey responded to Rapp’s allegations by issuing a statement on Twitter in which he said he owed Rapp “the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior.” Spacey then added, “This story has encouraged me to address other things about my life. I know that there are stories out there about me and that some have been fueled by the fact I have been so protective of my privacy. … I choose now to live as a gay man. I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behavior.”
And in the days that followed, several other accusers came forward to make their own allegations against Spacey, challenging his implication that his behavior was an isolated incident of irresponsible drunkenness.
More than 30 accusers have come forward against Spacey with allegations that span decades. Here’s a rundown.
Since Rapp came forward, numerous other allegations against Spacey have surfaced. More than a dozen men have made specific claims against the actor. Many of Spacey’s accusers describe witnessing or experiencing behavior from the actor that, like Weinstein, involved using the lure of his success and the opportunity of career mentorship to put himself in a position where he could then prey on young men. Taken together, the allegations suggest a pattern of escalating physical contact, the consistent presence of alcohol, and Spacey making a habit of cornering his victims in order to confront them.
Here are the allegations we know so far.
1983–1984: anonymous 14-year-old boy
An anonymousman told New York magazine that in 1983, when he was 14 and Spacey was 24, he began a sexual relationship with Spacey that allegedly culminated in Spacey attempting to rape him.
The anonymous actor stated that his relationship with Spacey lasted about a year, during which time he became aware that “25-year-olds don’t have sex with 14- and 15-year-olds, that that’s wrong, that I was not the guilty party and I could leave.” He told New York that the relationship ended when he was 15, after Spacey allegedly attempted to rape him.
“Mr. Spacey absolutely denies the allegations,” a representative for Spacey told the magazine.
1985: anonymous 17-year-old boy
The BBC reported on November 1, 2017, that Spacey allegedly approached an anonymous 17-year-old boy in 1985, befriending the teen and then ultimately inviting him to visit his home, where Spacey progressed from being “charming and brotherly” to sexually inappropriate. After rejecting Spacey’s initial advances, the accuser says he woke up to find “Spacey’s head on his stomach and his arms wrapped around him.” The anonymous source described Spacey to the BBC as “either very stupid or predatory or … both,” and noted that Spacey had not been drunk during their encounter.
“It seems he was grooming me,” the anonymous source told the BBC.
1986: Kate Edwards
When London performing arts teacher Kate Edwards was 17, she worked as a production assistant for the 1986 Broadway revival of Long Day’s Journey Into Night, in which Spacey starred alongside his longtime idol Jack Lemmon. Edwards alleged to the BBC that Spacey, then 27, invited her up to his flat for an apparently nonexistent party, where he kissed her. When it became clear he wanted sex, she made her excuses about wanting to leave, alleging that he then “became cold” and told her to “find [her] own way” home.
Edwards said that Spacey subsequently “cut her dead” after the encounter, telling the BBC that she became depressed and eventually had to quit the show because of how “confused, completely isolated, ashamed” she felt over the incident.
1988: Justin Dawes
A man named Justin Dawes told BuzzFeed that he met a 29-year-old Spacey through a Connecticut theater when he was 16 years old and a junior in high school. Spacey allegedly invited Dawes and a friend to hang out at his apartment, where he served them cocktails and showed gay porn. According to BuzzFeed, even though nothing else happened, “at the time, the 16-year-old felt like he ‘should’ve realized’ that Spacey wanted him to come over for reasons related to sex.”
“He knew that I was in high school,” Dawes told BuzzFeed. “It was pretty clear.”
1995: Mark Ebenhoch
Mark Ebenhoch told BuzzFeed that he had been working as a military adviser on the set of Outbreak, in which Spacey played a supporting role, when one of Spacey’s on-set assistants propositioned him on Spacey’s behalf.
“They asked flat out to engage in a sexual act,” Ebenhoch alleged. “It was enough to stun me. It blew me away.” Ebenhoch told BuzzFeed that he rejected the invitation and avoided Spacey for the duration of the production.
1995: anonymous crew member on the film Albino Alligator
The BBC reported that while working on the 1995 film Albino Alligator, which marked Spacey’s film debut, the actor allegedly harassed an anonymous crew member who was 22 years old at the time. According to the anonymous crew member, Spacey initially seemed friendly and took an interest in his career, but progressed to “creepy” behavior such as giving him an unwanted massage.
“On one of the last days of shooting … he sat down next to me and put his thigh against mine and put his hand on my thigh and moved it towards my inner thigh,” the man alleged. “I felt trapped. I felt harassed, sexually harassed.”
1995-2015: at least 20 young men, the Old Vic Theatre
Spacey’s involvement with the Old Vic Theatre began in the mid-’90s, when he was involved in several highly acclaimed productions there, spearheaded a successful fundraising campaign to keep the theater from closing, and became one of its most significant donors. He ultimately assumed the position of artistic director for the Old Vic, a role he held from 2004 to 2015.
After the allegations against Spacey came to light, the Old Vic set up a confidential email to receive tips and reports about the actor, while claiming in a public statement that it was “deeply dismayed” to hear about the allegations. Meanwhile, multiple allegations concerning Spacey’s behavior while at the Old Vic began to surface.
On November 1, 2017, Mexican actor Robert Cavazos discussed past encounters at the Old Vic with Spacey in a Facebook post (written in Spanish). Cavazos alleged that Spacey touched him inappropriately numerous times, and said that Spacey would frequently grope men while hanging out at the Old Vic’s bar.
“It appears that all that was needed was a male under the age of 30 for Mr. Spacey to feel free to touch us,” Cavazos wrote. “It was so common that it turned into a local joke (in very bad taste).”
On November 3, 2017, BuzzFeed reported that an anonymous actor recently contacted the Old Vic to report that Spacey “repeatedly sexually assaulted him in a public place in 2013.” No further detail was reported, but the actor told BuzzFeed that Spacey treated the theater “like a playground.”
On November 16, 2017, the Old Vic announced that it had received 20 “personal testimonies” through its investigation into Spacey. These claims reportedly ranged “from behaviour that made people feel uncomfortable all the way through to sexually inappropriate behaviour.” The claims spanned 1995 through 2013, with most occurring before 2009. All of the claims involved young men, all of whom were over the age of 18 at the time of the alleged incidents.
The Associated Press reported that the Old Vic had urged 14 of the 20 respondents to go to the police with their allegations, but couldn’t confirm whether any of them had done so.
2003: director Tony Montana
Director Tony Montana was the second person to publicly come forward with an allegation against Spacey. On October 31, 2017, he told the gossip website Radar Online that Spacey physically assaulted him in 2003, when Montana was in his 30s. Montana alleges that Spacey approached him in a bar, groped him, and said, “this designates ownership,” as he did so. “I had PTSD for six months after” the incident, Montana said.
Date unspecified: anonymous journalist
An anonymous journalist gave a detailed account to BuzzFeed of an incident that occurred in London during the early 2000s, when the journalist was in his early 20s. The journalist was assigned to interview Spacey at his office at the Old Vic; after the interview, Spacey allegedly invited the journalist to hang out with him and some friends at a club, where he allegedly groped the journalist “aggressively” despite repeated attempts to get him to stop. When the journalist told Spacey he was in a committed relationship with a woman, it seemed to make no difference; when he tried to leave, Spacey implored him to stay. “He had somehow convinced himself that this was a sexual liaison that we both wanted,” the journalist told BuzzFeed.
Finally, the journalist said, Spacey tried to prevent him from leaving:
[Spacey] was screaming in my face outside of the main bar area, red-faced, spit flying out of his mouth, screaming at me with fury because I didn’t want to fuck him. He was actually saying that I did want to and I was a coward. That was his tactic. It was unbelievable.
The journalist said he reported the incident to his editor, who confirmed as much to BuzzFeed, and the story ultimately ran without a byline. The journalist told BuzzFeed that a major concern that prevented him from going public with the incident was his fear of outing Spacey as gay. “Being closeted has for him enabled him to use this privacy claim as a shield against anybody looking closely at his actual behavior,” he said.
2007: bartender Kris Nixon
According to the BBC, Belfast bartender Kris Nixon met Spacey in 2007 while Nixon was working at a cocktail bar in London near the Old Vic. In a videotaped interview, Nixon told the BBC that after attending a party at Spacey’s penthouse, “Kevin Spacey sat down next to me on a sofa, then reached over and grabbed my penis,” declaring to Nixon, “I could fuck you better than [Nixon’s girlfriend, who was also in attendance].”
Nixon claimed that he left the party immediately but encountered Spacey again two weeks later while he was on shift at the bar where he’d first met Spacey. Nixon alleges that Spacey followed him down to a basement storeroom and cornered him, grabbing him by the waistband and offering to “make it up to [him].”
“I didn’t speak out at the time because I didn’t think anyone would believe me,” Nixon said, adding that he “[didn’t] want to risk getting fired.” Nixon told the BBC that by coming forward, Rapp has made it possible for others to speak out. “Now that it’s become clear that this is a pattern of behavior,” he said, “I feel I have a responsibility to say what happened, so that other people, who maybe don’t yet feel in a position to speak out, feel empowered to do so.”
2007: writer Ari Behn
Ari Behn is a Norwegian writer who was married to Princess Märtha Louise when he attended the 14th Annual Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo in December 2007. The concert was hosted by Spacey and Uma Thurman.
Afterward, according to an on-air interview Behn gave to the Norwegian radio network P4 on December 5, 2017, Spacey and Behn attended an afterparty at a nightclub, where they were seated next to each other.
“After five minutes, he says, ‘Hey, let’s go out and have a cigarette,’” Behn recalled, saying that Spacey then reached “under the table” and groped his genitals.
Behn said he responded with, “Eh, maybe later,” and declined the invitation. He seemed to laugh off the incident.
2008: actor Harry Dreyfuss
In a piece he wrote for BuzzFeed, actor Harry Dreyfuss alleged that Spacey groped him when he was 18 years old, recalling an incident that took place while he was helping his father, the actor Richard Dreyfuss, rehearse for a play at Spacey’s London apartment.
In a very detailed account, Dreyfuss describes how Spacey touched him inappropriately throughout the rehearsal, and describes his failed attempts to stop Spacey from fondling him without disrupting the rehearsal or alerting his father. Thinking back to what was going through his head at the time, Dreyfuss writes:
Looking into his eyes, I gave the most meager shake of my head that I could manage. I was trying to warn him without alerting my dad, who still had his eyes glued to the page. I thought I was protecting everyone. I was protecting my dad’s career. I was protecting Kevin, who my dad surely would have tried to punch. I was protecting myself, because I thought one day I’d want to work with this man. Kevin had no reaction and kept his hand there. My eyes went back to the script and I kept reading.
“In retrospect, what disgusts me about Kevin was how safe he did feel,” Dreyfuss concluded. “He knew he could fondle me in a room with my father and that I wouldn’t say a word.”
Spacey denied Dreyfuss’s allegations via his lawyer.
2008: anonymous 23-year-old man
According to Variety in 2017, Scotland Yard began an investigation into a claim that a man who is believed to be Spacey assaulted a 23-year-old bartender in London in 2008. “On 1 November, City of London police referred an allegation of sexual assault to the Metropolitan police service,” a Scotland Yard spokesperson said in a press statement released November 3, 2017. “It is alleged a man assaulted another man in 2008 in Lambeth. Officers from the child abuse and sexual offences command are investigating.”
Though Scotland Yard has not named Spacey as the alleged perpetrator, Variety notes that the incident being investigated took place in the South London neighborhood of Lambeth, where Spacey maintains a home. The details, which were first reported by the British tabloid the Sun, allegedly involve the victim approaching Spacey to ask for help with his career, passing out after smoking weed at Spacey’s apartment, and waking up to find Spacey performing oral sex on him. The man, who is now 32, is said to have reported the incident to police in early November 2017, after other allegations against Spacey became public.
2010: Daniel Beal
A British bartender named Daniel Beal told the Sun that Spacey flashed his genitals at him in 2010, while Beal was working at a bar in West Sussex. Beal, then 19, photographed himself at the time wearing an expensive watch, which was allegedly given to him by Spacey shortly after the incident, apparently to buy his silence.
2016: the teenage son of journalist Heather Unruh
Heather Unruh, a former news anchor for the Boston news outlet WVCB, was one of the first people to mention Spacey in the wake of the Weinstein allegations, when her October 13, 2017, tweet that the actor had assaulted a loved one went viral. At a press conference in Boston on November 8, 2017, Unruh provided details of the assault, alleging that Spacey came on to her then-18-year-old son at a restaurant in Nantucket.
According to Unruh, Spacey encountered her son at Nantucket’s Club Car Restaurant in July 2016. Spacey “bought [her underage son] drink after drink after drink,” then sexually assaulted him. “Spacey stuck his hand inside my son’s pants and grabbed his genitals,” Unruh alleged. “My son’s efforts to shift his body to remove Spacey’s hand were only momentarily successful. My son panicked, he froze. He was intoxicated.”
Unruh claims that after Spacey repeatedly pressured her son to attend a party with him, Spacey got up to go to the bathroom, at which point a woman at the bar approached her “very shaken” son and told him to “run.” Her son left, and disclosed the incident to his sister and Unruh later that night.
Unruh stated that her son had filed a police report against Spacey with the Nantucket Police Department. A spokesperson for the Cape and Islands District Attorney’s Office told Boston.com that “an individual has provided information to the Nantucket Police regarding an allegation of an indecent assault and battery” but did not provide further details. On December 24, 2018, news broke that Spacey would face arraignment on a count of sexual assault in Nantucket District Court. The hearing will occur on January 7, 2019.
2012 to 2017: multiple anonymous cast and crew members on the set of Netflix’s House of Cards
On November 2, 2017, CNN reported that multiple cast and crew members working on the House of Cards set allege that Spacey engaged in harassment and created a toxic environment during the production. A total of eight sources told CNN that Spacey’s behavior was “predatory,” or that he harassed or initiated nonconsensual physical contact with production crew or had targeted young men. One anonymous crew member said Spacey routinely touched him inappropriately throughout the six seasons he worked on set, and that he did not “feel comfortable” asking Spacey to stop.
Additionally, a former House of Cards production assistant who reported Spacey’s behavior to a supervisor told CNN that a supervisor resolved the problem by attempting to make sure Spacey and the assistant were segregated while on set. Months after the implementation of this practice, Spacey allegedly sexually assaulted the production assistant while they were driving in a car together. The crew member did not report the assault.
Netflix and the Old Vic Theatre responded to the allegations against Spacey by distancing themselves from the actor
Many current and former employers and associates of Spacey’s have been quick to denounce the allegations made against the actor, and to attempt to distance themselves from reports of his alleged behavior.
One day after BuzzFeed published Rapp’s allegations against Spacey, the Hollywood Reporter confirmed that House of Cards would end with its sixth season, noting that “official word on its conclusion, which has been in the works since the summer, comes at a problematic time for Spacey.”
Netflix, along with House of Cards’ production studio Media Rights Capital, latersuspended production on the show entirely. “MRC and Netflix have decided to suspend production on House of Cards season six until further notice,” read a joint press statement, “to give us time to review the current situation and to address any concerns of our cast and crew.”
MRC has claimed to have no knowledge of outstanding or unresolved complaints made against Spacey. In a statement to CNN, the company claimed to have handled any incidents brought to its attention:
[D]uring our first year of production in 2012, someone on the crew shared a complaint about a specific remark and gesture made by Kevin Spacey. Immediate action was taken following our review of the situation and we are confident the issue was resolved promptly to the satisfaction of all involved. Mr. Spacey willingly participated in a training process and since that time MRC has not been made aware of any other complaints involving Mr. Spacey.
Netflix told CNN that “Netflix was just made aware of one incident, five years ago, that we were informed was resolved swiftly,” but that it was “not aware of any other incidents involving Kevin Spacey on-set.” Netflix stated it was committed to “maintain[ing] a safe and respectful working environment,” while MRC announced that it had established “an anonymous complaint hotline, crisis counselors, and sexual harassment legal advisors for the crew.”
However, since the CNN report, multiple anonymous House of Cards crew members alleged to BuzzFeed that Spacey’s behavior was widely known on set, with many people, including series creator Beau Willimon, knowingly turning a blind eye to a pattern of harassment.One source told BuzzFeed that the production team treated Spacey’s “flirtatious behavior toward crew and cast … like a joke,” adding, “He touches and feels anyone he wants to.”Willimon has denied all knowledge of Spacey’s behavior, including the on-set incident reported by CNN. The source BuzzFeed spoke with called Willimon’s claim “100% bullshit.”
Meanwhile, since the news concerning Spacey has surfaced, the Old Vic has battled accusations that staff members of the theater knew about the actor’s alleged longstanding pattern of harassment and predatory behavior but did nothing to stop it.
According to the Guardian, multiple Old Vic employees witnessed Spacey behaving inappropriately at the theater company during his tenure as artistic director, quoting one anonymous former staffer who said, “We were all involved in keeping it quiet. I witnessed him groping men many times in all sorts of different situations.”
After the Old Vic concluded its investigation into Spacey, in which it learned of 20 allegations of inappropriate behavior, its current artistic director, Matthew Warchus, said in a public statement that “These allegations have been a shock and a disturbing surprise to many of us. It is incorrect, unfair and irresponsible to say that everybody knew.”
Yet the theater also acknowledged in that statementthat multiple staff did witness incidents at the times they occurred, noting, “Staff who observed this behaviour claimed they were unclear about how to respond; in some cases they did not consider allegations of misconduct to be serious and, where they clearly did, they said they did not feel confident that The Old Vic would take those allegations seriously given who he was.”
“What we have learnt is how better to call out this behaviour in future,” Warchus said. “These findings will help not only The Old Vic but our industry as a whole, as together we rapidly evolve an intelligent new standard of protection and support in and around the workplace.”
The consequences Spacey is facing so far have been wide-ranging and immediate — but so far, he largely stands alone
On some level, Rapp’s accusation against Spacey served as a litmus test to determine if the cultural shifts heralded by the allegations against Harvey Weinstein and the growth of the #MeToo movement could impact the careers of A-list actors. Spacey did in fact experience a number of striking and swift career setbacks:
Netflix suspended production of House of Cards, and Varietyreported on November 3, 2017, that House of Cards producers were considering killing off Spacey’s character, Frank Underwood, for the show’s final season. Netflix later released a statement declaring, “Netflix will not be involved with any further production of House of Cards that includes Kevin Spacey. We will continue to work with MRC during this hiatus time to evaluate our path forward as it relates to the show.” Netflix additionally scrapped the release of Gore, a planned 2018 Netflix movie with Spacey in the lead. The production ultimately went ahead with its final sixth season after killing off Spacey’s character offscreen and promoting Robin Wright to solo lead.
The International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which produces the annual International Emmy Awards (a global edition of the Emmys), rescinded its previously announced plans to honor Spacey with an International Emmy Founders Award, an honor given to “an individual who crosses cultural boundaries to touch humanity.”
Spacey’s representatives said in a brief statement released to the Hollywood Reporter on November 1, 2017, that Spacey “is taking the time necessary to seek evaluation and treatment.” Later that month, he was reportedly spotted at the same elite Arizona treatment center for sex addiction that Harvey Weinstein briefly retreated to after the allegations against him broke.
But Spacey is far from the only alleged sexual predator in Hollywood, or the only one who’s led a successful career despite his behavior apparently being an open secret. And while some of the most powerful men in the industry — including Weinstein and former CBS head Les Moonves — have seen their careers topple, others remain largely unscathed by allegations against them. And as Spacey’s video indicates, he seems to think he deserves a comeback despite the overwhelming number of people who’ve spoken out against him.
It’s highly unlikely he’ll get one. But his confidence is a telling statement about an entertainment industry that for so long has allowed powerful men to operate with impunity — one that allowed him to allegedly prey on targets for decades with no repercussions, and that could still harbor many more Kevin Spaceys in its midst.
Vox has reached out to Spacey’s representatives for comment but has received no response.
Update 12/24/18: Updated to include information about the felony sexual assault charge against Spacey and the video he released.
Sick of the typical holiday music? Try this playlist — which has over a week of tunes.
If you’re sick of hearing the same Christmas music over and over and over again — and, let’s face it, you probably are — then let me propose an alternate solution to just white-knuckling it until December 26, or whenever your local grocery store stops playing the holiday hits.
It’s a Spotify playlist full of Christmas music.
No, no, no, hear me out! Created by the King of Jingaling, a.k.a. Brad Ross-MacLeod, a.k.a. the blogger behind FaLaLaLaLa.com (long the best internet repository for discussion of forgotten Christmas music, and a hub that connects a bunch of other essential Christmas music websites like Ernie, Not Bert and Hip Christmas), this playlist collects the Christmas songs you know, but in versions you’ve maybe never heard before.
There are 3,600 songs on this list. Impressively, it amounts to a full week of music. Wrote the King in a post introducing it:
It leans heavily toward classic music from the 1940s to the 1970s; classic crooners and divas, ‘beautiful music’ orchestras, ‘Now Sound’ vocal groups and combos. But I wanted some more variety so there’s some jazz, classic rock, a smattering of subtle electronica, some international flavor, etc. I wanted a balance of the nostalgic and familiar with a bit of the modern and unexpected. As I’ve listened to it over the past several days I feel like it’s a nice mix and even I’m surprised by a song now and then.
The King of Jingaling has listened to more Christmas music than almost anybody I’m aware of. As he mentions above, his tastes skew toward the second half of the 20th century, but he’s compiled a massive variety of music within the playlist, which is called FaLaLaLaLa GREAT BIG Christmas Variety Shuffle List.
The featured selections include versions of songs you know from artists you’ve never heard of — like a disco-infused “Little Drummer Boy” and a variety of tunes from the Seeburg Library, an easy-listening competitor to the more famous Muzak — as well as some versions of songs you know from artists you have heard of, like the Jackson Five and Perry Como and Harry Connick, Jr.
Let’s face it: The problem with most Christmas music is that even if you like a given Christmas song, there are only two — maybe three — versions that get airplay on the radio and in public spaces, over and over, year after year. The King of Jingaling’s big list combats this problem by pulling in versions you’ve never heard of the songs you love, with a wide variety of artists and musical styles to keep the party going.
So whether you have a holiday party to attend, presents to wrap, or last-minute shopping to do, put on this playlist. It’ll make your day that much more jolly, without driving you to desperately wish for the cold, snowy days of January and their decided lack of Christmas songs.
Parts of the government shutdown on Friday night and by Saturday afternoon there was no sign of a deal coming together to reopen them.
There’s been no progress on the center of the fight. President Donald Trump is demanding $5 billion in funding for a wall at the southern border. He’s refused to sign any version of a funding bill that doesn’t include it, and Democrats have refused to vote for any spending bill that funds the wall. Meanwhile, hardline conservatives, who have had Trump’s ear, are pushing the president further from compromise. The Senate adjourned Saturday with no plans to reconvene until after Christmas.
For the shutdown to end, Republican leaders say Trump has to negotiate with Democrats. But there’s no indication that the president is interested in coming to the table. On Saturday, he tweeted that he would host a meeting at the White House that did not include either of the two top Democratic leaders. Conservative hardliners, however, were reportedly invited.
Even an offer from Vice President Mike Pence, who came to Capitol Hill Friday to broker a deal, fell short. His suggestion — $1.6 billion in wall funding — which Democrats previously signaled openness to, saw push back from hardline House Republicans.
At this point, it’s unclear how long this shutdown will last — though, in one scenario, it could go as long as January 3 when control of the House shifts to Democrats.
Much of the government remains open. But nine federal departments, as well as a number of other agencies, making up roughly 25 percent of the federal government, have shut down, including the Department of Justice, State, and most contentiously, the Department of Homeland Security, which has purview over construction on the southern border. The shut down impacts hundreds of thousands of federal employees.
Many government agencies operate with a skeleton crew over the holidays, but if the fight drags on longer, it could start to significantly impact government functions. This is actually the third government shutdown this year, and with a Democratic majority coming into the House in January, there may be more to come.
This shutdown threat is all about Trump
There’s not a lot of gray area about the central cause of the shutdown. Trump preemptively and explicitly took the credit for the shutdown during an explosive Oval Office meeting with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer last week.
“I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. … I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it,” Trump said at the meeting, dashing any Republican hopes of using Democrats as their cover.
But he changed course at the last minute this week — putting the shutdown on Democrats in a tweet on Friday.
When the Senate passed a bipartisan short-term spending bill Wednesday that didn’t fund the wall, Trump said he wouldn’t sign it before the House voted. So with pressure to heed to the president’s demands, the House passed a different funding bill Thursday, with only Republican support, that included $5.7 billion for the wall.
This is far from the first time Trump has said he’d veto a spending bill over the border wall but this time he was serious. Many wondered why he decided to pick this fight now, while Republicans still control both chambers of Congress rather than wait to go up against a Democrat-controlled House, when he could effectively shift the blame.
Part of this calculus is that a Republican-dominated House is much more likely to help Trump get closer to what he wants. Another reason might be related to the fact that Republican voters aren’t too troubled by the possibility of a shutdown as long as it’s the result of Trump standing his ground.
While government shutdowns have historically been viewed as wasteful and a poor reflection on elected leaders, a recent Marist poll found that 65 percent of Republicans were open to a shutdown if it meant that Trump didn’t compromise on a border wall, The Washington Post reports.
Who is affected by the shutdown
Depending on the duration of the partial shutdown, hundreds of thousands of federal employees could be furloughed, while some federal agencies will limit the services they provide.
Since this is a partial shutdown, only agencies that fall under the parts of the government that have yet to be funded will see any impact.
Because National Parks are overseen by the Department of Interior, which is still waiting on funding, they could experience limited operations even though many are likely to remain open, for example. Other services like veterans benefits will not observe any effects because these programs were already funded earlier this year.
Additionally, mandatory programs including Medicare are due to keep running, though new sign-ups could see some delay.
There’s also a somewhat confusing political twist in this partial shutdown.
Among the slew of “essential” government workers who will keep working, despite the shutdown, are active duty members of the military as well as the majority of those working in U.S. Customs and Border Protection, including border patrol.
Both groups are on deck to continue reporting to work over the holidays, though they won’t receive their backpay until the government officially reopens. Ironically, this would mean that Trump is basically calling on both border patrol and members of the military, to spend the holiday season working without immediate pay.
“If a lapse in appropriations were to take place, a majority of DHS activities would continue,” an administration official told CNN. “For instance, those protecting our borders with the Customs and Border Patrol will continue to do so.”
What and who will keep working
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid
United States Postal Service
Veterans hospitals and benefits
Food stamps (The agency has limited funds, but the programs will continue operating in the short-term.)
Active duty military
Air traffic control and TSA
What will be closed or could see limited operations
The IRS and tax refunds
State Department services (Passports and visas will continue to be issued though some services could be closed.)
Environmental and food and drug inspections
What happens now?
While there’s still an apparent chasm between Democrats and Republicans, lawmakers are able to end the shutdown by inking some kind of agreement on the outstanding spending bills.
As Golshan and Scott have noted, they have a couple different options at their disposal:
[They] can 1) pass the appropriations bills, likely in an minibus, which just crams together  appropriations bills into one spending package; 2) pass a “continuing resolution” (CR), which would fund the government at its current levels, basically buying more time to negotiate the actual appropriations bills; or 3) pass a “CRomnibus,” which is a combination of the two, extending the deadline on certain more contentious appropriations — like for the Department of Homeland Security — and passing a spending bill on the rest.
Earlier this week, lawmakers seemed close to averting a partial shutdown after the Senate passed a continuing resolution that would keep the government fully funded through February 8th. A vocal contingent of House Republicans were displeased with this option, however, and urged Trump to maintain his opposition — something which he clearly has.
Until Trump and lawmakers agree on a new deal, this partial shutdown could continue to drag on as the Christmas holiday rapidly approaches, sending this lame-duck Congress out on anything but a high note.
A government shutdown for the holidays; an election postponed in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Welcome to the last issue of Sentences until 2019! Starting tomorrow, December 23, we’ll be taking a holiday break until January 2. But to tide you over, you can sign up for Vox’s Future Perfect newsletter here, and twice a week, you’ll get a roundup of ideas and solutions for tackling the world’s biggest challenges.
We’re wishing you all a happy and healthy end to 2018. See you next year!
Four nights before Christmas, no deal in the House
The federal government appears headed for a partial shutdown after President Trump and Congress could not reach a spending deal before a midnight deadline. [NYT / Emily Cochrane]
Trump is now trying to blame the looming shutdown on Democrats. But last week, he told Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, “I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck. … I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it.” [Vox / German Lopez]
There actually is one way that Senate Republicans could have passed a budget deal without Democratic votes: the “nuclear option,” which bypasses the Senate filibuster to let legislation pass with a simple majority. Since Republicans control a majority of the Senate, that would have been enough. But enough Senate Republicans rejected the idea after Trump proposed it. [The Hill / Jordain Carney]
Some Republicans are now working with Democrats on a deal that could maybe pass the House and Senate, which would include more border security funding but not nearly as much as Trump wants. [The Hill / Alexander Bolton]
This is only a partial shutdown, so some agencies will remain open. Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the US Postal Service will also be uninterrupted. But other federal agencies will need to scale down or close their doors completely, including the IRS and national parks. [Vox / Ella Nilsen and Li Zhou]
DRC postpones presidential elections, again
The Democratic Republic of Congo has pushed back long-awaited elections, scheduled to take place this Sunday, until December 30. This is the latest in a literal years-long delay; Congo has been postponing these elections since 2016. [NPR / Colin Dwyer]
It deals another blow to democracy advocates and opposition parties in the DRC, a country that has yet to see a peaceful democratic transition of power since independence in 1960. The current president, Joseph Kabila, has ruled since 2001. He maxed out his term as president in 2016, but delayed elections and so remained in power. [NYT / Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura]
The head of the DRC’s election commission blamed the delay on a bunch of issues, including the ongoing Ebola crisis in war-torn parts of the country and the destruction of thousands of voting machines. [Washington Post / Max Bearak]
Yes, that’s right. A fire in Kinshasa, the capital, destroyed ballots and more than 7,000 of the city’s 10,000 voting machines. Arson is suspected, and opposition leaders have blamed Kabila’s ruling party. [Guardian / Jason Burke]
This latest delay will likely increase tensions in the DRC, particularly in Kinshasa. Government security forces frequently cracked down on opposition supporters, who’ve protested past delays in elections. Last week, security forces reportedly killed seven people in the capital. [Al Jazeera]
If the elections do happen, they will pit Kabila’s handpicked candidate and former minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary against two main opposition figures: Félix Tshisekedi, leader of the largest opposition party, and former Exxon executive Martin Fayulu. [CFR / Claire Felter]
Many Congolese, however, fear that the elections will be rigged and Shadary will win no matter what. It’s already leading to fears of violence. [Foreign Policy / Kristen Chick]
On a darker note, “Pandemic Trail” is a new game from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the 1918 flu epidemic. It’s like Oregon Trail, except instead of trying to reach Oregon, you’re trying to get through the day without getting the flu (and likely dying). [CDC]
Aquaman, Warner Bros.’ marine opera superhero flick, has one post-credits scene. The scene calls back to the movie while simultaneously setting up the potential conflict for a future Aquaman sequel, should one get made.
Credits scenes have become a tradition in superhero movies, and are used by studios and filmmakers to reward the fervent fandoms that follow comics-based properties. Marvel, for example, has frequently used them to tease future villains and heroes, and to hint at upcoming movies; indeed, every Marvel Studios movie in recent memory has had at least one post-credits scene.
So Aquaman having a credits scene at all is somewhat notable in itself. On top of that, it’s a pretty juicy one.
In Aquaman’s credits scene, Black Manta is saved and gets some help
In the film, Black Manta is treated as a secondary villain to King Orm. Early in the movie, Black Manta and Aquaman clash after Aquaman rescues a Russian sub that Manta tries to hijack. Then we see him get an under-the-table weapons upgrade from King Orm, who believes he can use Manta to do his dirty work and dispatch Aquaman — Manta uses his new weaponry to fashion a laser beam-firing helmet for himself. Finally, in the film’s third act, Mera and Aquaman, while traveling to find the magic trident, catch up with Manta in Sicily, defeat him, break his helmet, and throw him into the ocean.
That’s where Aquaman’s post-credits scene picks up.
Manta is floating unconscious in the sea and gets rescued by men on a boat. It’s not entirely clear who his saving him, but as we see shots of the boat’s interior, we see that whoever it is has a deep interest in Aquaman’s identity — various newspaper clippings about Aquaman are pinned to a board and connected with string in a heavy-handed, “whoever did this is a conspiracy theorist” type of way.
When Manta wakes up, it’s revealed that his rescuer is Doctor Stephen Shin (Randall Park). In theAquaman comics, Shin is a genius-level scientist with ties to Aquaman; he appears in a couple brief moments during the movie, as a scientific expert and researcher working on land who believes Atlantis is real.
The credits scene shows Manta and Shin making a pact: Shin will help Manta find out Aquaman’s true identity and repair Manta’s laser beam-firing helmet and Manta will reveal the secret of Atlantis to him.
The credits scene ends with that agreement, possibly hinting that Manta will be the villain of an upcoming Aquaman sequel, if a sequel comes to pass. It’s pretty straightforward, as Manta vows revenge on Aquaman and Shin gets confirmation that his theories about Atlantis’s existence are correct.
But with that said, it wouldn’t be too strange, considering how easily Aquaman brushes Manta aside in Aquaman, for Manta and Shin to become the secondary villains in a future movie.
“Medicare-for-all” has become a rallying cry on the left, but the term doesn’t capture the full scope of options Democrats are considering to insure all (or at least a lot more) Americans. Case in point: There are half a dozen proposals in Congress that envision very different health care systems.
“Democrats ran on health care,” says Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz. “We now control one chamber of Congress. We have an opportunity and an obligation to demonstrate what we’d do if we were in charge of both chambers. We have an obligation to hear from experts and figure out the best path forward.”
We spent the past month reading through the congressional plans to expand Medicare (and a few to expand Medicaid, too) as well as proposals at major think tanks that are influential in liberal policymaking. We talked to the legislators and congressional staff who wrote those plans, as well as the policy experts who have analyzed them.
These plans are the universe of ideas that Democrats will draw from as they flesh out their vision for the future of American health care. While the party doesn’t agree on one plan now, they do have plenty of options to choose from — and many decisions to make.
The eight plans fall into two categories. There are three that would eliminate private insurance and cover all Americans through the government. Then there are five that would allow all Americans to buy into government insurance (like Medicare or Medicaid) if they wanted to, or continue to buy private insurance.
The bills we reviewed are:
We learned these plans are similar in that they envision more Americans enrolling in public health plans. They would all give the government a greater role in everything from setting health prices to deciding what benefits get included in an insurance plan. Experts say all these bills would almost certainly create an insurance system that does better to serve Americans with high health care costs.
“If you’re really sick and have high drug costs, it would be hard not to benefit from these bills,” says Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation who recently co-authored a report comparing the different Democratic plans to expand public coverage.
But the Democrats’ plans differ significantly in how they handle important decisions, like which public health program to expand and how aggressively to extend the reach of government. Some would completely eliminate private health insurance, eventually moving all Americans to government-run coverage, whereas others still see a role for companies providing coverage to workers.
Some bills require significant tax increases to pay for the expansion of benefits — while others ask those signing up for government insurance to pay the costs.
And while Democrats aren’t under any illusion that they’ll pass Medicare-for-all this Congress, they see the next two years as key to figuring out where consensus in the party lies. More plans are coming too: Jacob Hacker of Yale University, for example, has outlined the contours of a plan called Medicare Part E, and House legislation is in the works to flesh out the details.
“We want to have public hearings on this, we want to see movement on the issue,” says one Democratic House aide working on this legislation. “The Senate is still Republican but right now, Democrats have the opportunity to build support, have public hearings, and help move this idea along and educate members.”
Here are the key questions those hearings and that education will grapple with.
How many people get covered?
Bottom line: Some plans from the Democrats would cover all Americans — while others would provide insurance to more but leave some number of people uninsured.
In a way, this is the fundamental question. Even under the Affordable Care Act, 30 million Americans don’t have health insurance. The left believes health care is a human right, and mainstream Democrats aren’t far behind them. The whole reason Democrats are ready to take up health care reform again so soon after the ACA is to fix this problem.
Medicare-for-all (Senate and House): Every single American would be covered by a government insurance plan, after a short phase-in period.
Medicare and Medicaid buy-ins (congressional plans): Millions more Americans would likely be covered, but experts don’t expect the various buy-in plans to achieve universal coverage. They would still, after all, be optional programs.
Medicare Extra for All (Center for American Progress): The health care plan from the leading Democratic think tank would achieve universal coverage for all legal residents, through a combination of private and public insurance — at least for the next few decades. It eventually foresees getting to a very similar level of coverage as the Medicare-for-all proposals in Congress, by enrolling all newborns into a government health plan and taking steps that would diminish the role of employer-sponsored coverage.
Healthy America (Urban Institute’s Linda Blumberg, John Holahan, and Stephen Zuckerman): This center-left plan from three Urban Institute fellows is explicitly not a plan for universal coverage, by attempting to work within certain political constraints. But it would, according to Urban’s estimates, cut the number of uninsured by 16 million in its first year.
A big part of the remaining uninsured would be undocumented immigrants. The plan’s authors said the program could be adjusted to cover that population but didn’t think there’d be political will to do so.
What happens to employer-sponsored insurance?
Bottom line: Democrats are split over whether expanded Medicare should make space for employer-sponsored plans — or get rid of them completely.
Nearly half of all Americans get their insurance at work — and Democrats’ various health care plans make different decisions about whether that would continue.
Currently, the American health care system provides employers with a big incentive to provide coverage: Those benefits are completely tax-free. This means companies’ dollars stretch further when they buy workers’ health benefits than when they pay workers’ wages.
This, however, creates an uneven playing field. Fortune 500 companies get, in effect, a huge federal subsidy to insure their workers, while an individual who doesn’t get coverage through their job and makes too much money to receive subsidies under the Affordable Care Act doesn’t get any advantageous treatment under the tax code.
Medicare-for-all (Senate and House): Both the Medicare-for-all plans would make the biggest change and eliminate employer-sponsored coverage completely. Under these options, all Americans who currently get insurance at work would transition to one big government health care plan.
The question of work-based insurance is prickliest for the Medicare buy-in plans. Broadly speaking, under those bills, more Americans would be allowed to purchase a public insurance plan under the Medicare umbrella. Everybody who currently buys insurance on the individual market would be allowed to buy a Medicare plan, under each of the buy-in bills.
But they differ in important ways in how much they would let people leave their current job-based insurance for the new government plan.
The “Choose Medicare” Act (Merkley and Murphy): Merkley described his bill with Murphy as, potentially, a glide path to true single-payer Medicare-for-all. Under their Medicare buy-in framework, workers could leave their company’s insurance for the new public plan — but only if their employer decides to allow it. Otherwise, they’d be shut out.
(The bill does include a provision, however, allowing workers to keep the government plan once they sign up, even after they leave their current job.)
We asked Merkley why they left the decision up to the employers, not the employees. He pointed to a workers’ compensation program that had been successful in Oregon that was modeled the same way. He’s also worried about adverse selection (employers sending sick employees to the public plan while healthier workplaces stay in the private market).
Lastly, he emphasized the workers who transition to new jobs or go for a period without coverage would have a chance to sign up for Medicare and then keep that plan even after they get a new job.
“Workers can go to their employer and say, ‘I really would prefer to be in the public option,’” Merkley says. “We wanted to avoid the situation of employers pushing people out.”
The CHOICE Act (Schakowsky and Whitehouse): Small employers who are currently eligible to buy insurance through the ACA’s marketplaces would be allowed to participate in the Medicare buy-in. Workers at larger firms would be frozen out, however.
Medicare X (Bennet, Kaine and Higgins): Likewise, small employers eligible for ACA coverage could buy into Medicare under this legislation, but large employers could not. Medicare X would actually be limited to customers in Obamacare markets that had only one insurer or particularly high costs, for the program’s first few years, before expanding to the rest of the individual market nationwide.
Think tank plans
Medicare Extra for All (Center for American Progress): This plan does let employers continue to offer coverage to their workers so long as it meets certain federal standards. At the same time, it would give employers an alluring, simpler option: stop offering coverage and instead pay a payroll tax roughly equivalent to what they currently spend on health coverage.
As to how alluring that plan would be, that depends a lot on how generous this new Medicare Extra program is. A generous plan with low premiums would likely lure many away from their employer-sponsored coverage, whereas a skimpier plan with higher premiums could convince workers to stick with what they already have. These are policy details that aren’t currently specified in the CAP plan.
What’s more, Medicare Extra makes another policy decision that would erode employer-sponsored coverage: It automatically enrolls all newborns into the public program. That means a new generation of Americans likely won’t get coverage through their parents’ workplaces — and would assure the Medicare plan a constantly growing subscriber base.
Healthy America (Urban Institute): The Urban Institute explicitly designed its Healthy America plan with the goal of disrupting the large employer market as little as possible. They expect only lower-wage workers whose current insurance isn’t very good anyway to move over into the brand new insurance marketplaces that would be set up under their plan.
Those markets would combine the Medicaid population with the people currently covered by Obamacare but more or less leave people who get insurance through their jobs alone.
“That’s a real barrier to doing anything big,” John Holahan at Urban said. “Most people with employer plans are reasonably happy with them.”
What public program will expand?
Bottom line: The vast majority of proposals expand Medicare, the plan that covers Americans over 65. But there is one option that would expand Medicaid, the plan that covers low-income Americans — and another option that creates a new government program entirely.
The American government already finances two major health coverage plans: Medicare and Medicaid. Taken together, these two programs cover one-third of all Americans: 19 percent of Americans get their coverage from Medicare, and 14 percent from Medicaid.
What’s more, both of these programs are popular. One recent poll found that 77 percent of Americans think Medicare is a “very important” program. Voters have recently given a boost to Medicaid, too: Voters in Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah all passed ballot initiatives that will expand the program in their states to thousands of low-income Americans.
Given the popularity and size of Medicare and Medicaid, nearly all the Democrats’ proposals use these programs as a base for universal coverage, changing the rules to make more people eligible. But there are differences in which programs they pick, and one plan that starts a new government program entirely.
Medicare-for-all, Medicare buy-in, Medicare Extra for All: As their names imply, all these plans use Medicare as the base program for expanding health insurance coverage. Medicare is, after all, the only major health program run exclusively by the federal government (Medicaid is run jointly with the states), which can make it an appealing choice for a national coverage expansion.
Traditionally, Democrats have focused on Medicare as a base for expanding coverage. And five of the six legislative proposals we looked at use the program that covers the elderly as the one that would absorb additional enrollees.
Medicaid buy-in (Senate and House bills): Recently, Democrats have begun to eye Medicaid as another option, suggesting that we should focus on expanding the health plan that covers the poor to Americans with higher incomes.
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), for example, has offered a bill that would allow every state to let residents buy into Medicaid. A companion bill is offered by Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) in the House.
This plan wouldn’t mean moving all Americans into Medicaid — instead, it would give people the option to sign up for the public program, which would presumably offer lower premiums because it would pay doctors and hospitals lower reimbursement rates than private plans typically do.
In an interview with Vox, Schatz said he likes the idea of this Medicaid buy-in because the program has proved popular across the political spectrum. In the 2018 midterms, for example, three red states (Idaho, Nebraska, and Utah) voted to participate in Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion. “Medicaid is popular in blue, red, and purple states,” he says. “It’s not politically fraught anymore. So it’s a good place to land for progressives who want to make progress for everyone.”
Healthy America (Urban Institute): Rather than rely on any existing program, Healthy America would create a new one. Obamacare and Medicaid would effectively be combined into a brand new insurance market covering upward of 100 million people, and there would be a public insurance plan under the Healthy America brand.
What benefits get covered?
Bottom line: Democrats generally agree that health insurance should cover a wide array of benefits, although there is some variation around how different plans cover long-term care, dental, vision, and abortion.
Every country with a national health care system has to decide what type of medical services it will pay for. Hospital trips and doctor visits are almost certainly included. But there is wide variation on how health care systems cover things like vision, dental, and mental health.
Covering more services mean citizens have more robust access to health care. But that also costs money — and a more generous health care plan is going to require more tax revenue to pay for all that health care.
Even Medicare, as it currently stands, has a relatively limited benefit package. It does not cover prescription drugs, for example, nor does it pay for eyeglasses or long-term care.
Instead, many seniors often take out supplemental policies to pay for those services — or end up selling off their assets to pay for care in a nursing home.
Medicare-for-all (Senate and House)
Both single-payer options envision Medicare covering more benefits than it currently does. The Sanders bill, for example, would change Medicare to cover vision, dental, and prescription drugs, as well as long-term care services as nursing homes. It would also cover a wide breadth of women’s reproductive health services including abortion, a feature that would likely draw controversy.
The House bill covers a slightly different set of benefits but, according to one Democratic House aide, is undergoing revisions to look more similar to the Sanders package. “We want to make sure we’re able to align the coverage services [of our bill] with the Sanders plan,” said the aide, who asked to speak anonymously to discuss the ongoing negotiations.
All three notable Medicare buy-in plans would cover the 10 essential health benefits mandated by Obamacare: outpatient care, emergency services, hospitalization, maternity and newborn care, mental health and substance abuse services, and prescription drugs. None of them include vision or dental care.
The “Choose Medicare” Act (Merkley and Murphy): This bill covers essential health benefits, as well as the benefits included in Medicare’s current inpatient, outpatient, and prescription drug plans. Abortion and other reproductive services would also be covered.
The CHOICE Act (Schakowsky and Whitehouse): The ACA’s essential health benefits would be covered.
Medicare X (Bennet, Kaine and Higgins): Same. The new public plan would cover the essential health benefits dictated by the 2010 health care reform law.
“The policy would have all the ACA benefits. We’d give HHS the time and seed money to figure this out and price it,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) told Vox previously. “There are studies, back from 2010, that suggest a public option would not only save money but it would make the markets more competitive.”
Think tank plans
Medicare Extra for All (Center for American Progress): The Medicare Extra plan mandates that all health insurance cover a robust set of benefits including prescription drugs, hospital visits, doctor trips, maternity services, dental, vision, and hearing services.
Healthy America (Urban Institute): The benefits package is again based on Obamacare’s essential health benefits.
How much does it cost enrollees?
Bottom line: Democrats do not agree on whether patients should pay premiums or fees when they go to the doctor. Some plans get rid of all cost sharing, while others (largely those that allow employer-sponsored coverage to continue) keep those features of the current system intact.
Medicare is currently similar to private health insurance in that it expects enrollees to pay a significant share of their medical costs.
The public program, for example, currently charges seniors a $134 monthly premium (and a higher premium for wealthier enrollees). Traditional Medicare also has deductibles and co-insurance. An estimated 80 percent of Medicare enrollees have additional coverage to help cover those costs.
The plans offered by Democrats have really different visions for whether enrollees in a newly expanded Medicare would end up paying these kinds of costs — or if premiums, deductibles, and copayments would become a thing of the past.
Medicare-for-all (Senate and House)
Both Medicare-for-all bills would eliminate cost sharing completely. This means no monthly premiums, no copayments for going to the doctor, and no deductible to meet before coverage kicks in.
The only place where enrollees might pay out of pocket is under the Sanders plan, which does give the government discretion to allow some charges for prescription drugs — but even that would be capped at $200 per year.
This is very similar to how the Canadian health care system works but is actually quite different from European countries. Most countries across the Atlantic actually do require patients to pay something for going to the doctor. In France, for example, patients are expected to pay 30 percent of the cost of their doctor visit — and in the Netherlands, copayments range from $10 to $30.
The senator who rails regularly against “millionaires and billionaires” doesn’t see value in asking those people to pay when they show up at the doctor. They’ll pay more in taxes to finance a system without copayments, but when they go to the doctor, he argues, they ought to be treated the same as the poor.
There is one important common thread through these bills: Premiums would be set to cover 100 percent of the actual medical costs that the government plan expects to cover, as well as any administrative expenses — but nothing more. There would not be any profits or robust executive compensation, as there still is in the private market. Premiums could be adjusted by a limited number of factors: a patient’s age, where they live, the size of their family, and whether they smoke tobacco.
The most notable difference in the buy-in proposal is in how much patients would be expected to pay out of pocket.
The “Choose Medicare” Act (Merkley and Murphy): This is the most generous Medicare buy-in plan. The new government plan would cover 80 percent of health care costs, matching the “gold” plans on the ACA marketplaces. The bill would also add new out-of-pocket caps for the traditional Medicare population, people 65 and older.
The CHOICE Act (Schakowsky and Whitehouse): This bill would offer several versions of the public plan, with varying out-of-pocket costs: They would cover between 60 and 80 percent of expected medical expenses.
Medicare X (Bennet, Kaine and Higgins): By default, the government plan would be offered at two tiers: one that covers 70 percent of medical costs and another that covers 80 percent. The health secretary could also decide to offer health plans covering 60 percent of costs or 90 percent, but it is not required.
Medicaid buy-in (Sen. Schatz and Rep. Lujan): The Schatz proposal would give the states leeway to decide how they want to set premiums, copayments, and deductibles. They would cap premiums at 9.5 percent of a family’s income (a provision that already exists for those covered under Affordable Care Act plans) or the per-enrollee cost of Medicaid buy-in, whichever is less.
Think tank plans
Medicare Extra for All (Center for American Progress): The plan from the center-left think tank would, unlike the congressional Medicare-for-all options, continue having some Americans pay premiums tethered to their incomes. This reduces the tax revenue necessary to finance an expanded Medicare program — but also requires a slightly more complex system that can calculate each family’s premium and collect that payment.
Low-income Americans would be enrolled in Medicare without any premiums. Higher-income Americans would be expected to pay a monthly premium (at most, 10 percent of their income) — and pay deductibles and copayments (the exact amount of these is not set in the CAP plan).
Healthy America (Urban Institute): Premiums would range from 0 percent of a household’s income, for people who make less money, up to 8.5 percent. Nobody would be asked to pay more than that.
The standard health insurance plan under Healthy America would cover 80 percent of medical costs. People with lower incomes would receive additional subsidies to reduce their out-of-pocket obligations, while consumers would also have the option to buy a plan with higher out-of-pocket costs but lower monthly premiums.
How is it paid for?
Bottom line: Most Democrats have focused their energy on figuring out what exactly an expanded Medicare program looks like. Legislators have given significantly less attention to how to pay for these expansions.
Bringing government health care to more Americans usually means finding more government revenue to pay for that expanded coverage. The Affordable Care Act, for example, expanded coverage to millions of people through a wide range of taxes that hit health insurers, medical device manufacturers, hospitals, wealthy Americans, and even tanning salons.
Right now, many of the details around financing remain murky. One reason for that is we don’t actually know how much these different plans would cost; the Congressional Budget Office hasn’t scored any of these plans yet (although there are a few independentestimates of how much the Sanders plan would cost).
Senate: Sanders’s office has released a list of financing options that generally impose higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans, such as increased income and estate taxes, establishing a new wealth tax on the top 0.1 percent, and imposing new fees on large banks.
House: Over on the House side, aides say that while they are currently working on revisions to HR 676, that focuses mostly on updating the benefits package — and less on deciding how to pay for the package. They do not currently expect to release a financing plan in early 2019.
“Let’s get our policy straight first and then look for suggestions on financing,” says one Democratic House aide involved in the process. “It’s possible we might offer some ideas on financing, but that’s still under debate.”
Depending on how you look at it, financing is either one big advantage of the buy-in approach or it reveals the flaw in their design. These plans still charge people premiums, which would be calculated to cover the costs of covering people who buy the new public option plan as well as any administrative costs.
So there isn’t necessarily a need for a big new revenue source; the premiums are the revenue source. None of the Medicare buy-in plans included major new taxes or anything like you would see to pay for the Medicare-for-all single-payer plans. All three of them do set aside some money for startup costs, but it’s a marginal amount in the context of the federal budget. And the Medicaid buy-in plan does bump up certain doctor payment rates, which the legislators say would come from general revenue.
The differences are so minor, they aren’t worth going through in detail. But it’s important to remember the trade-off: Medicare and Medicaid buy-ins don’t require a lot of new money because people will be asked to pay premiums — but that also means people will be asked to pay premiums, something the more ambitious versions of Medicare-for-all try to eliminate.
Think tank plans
Medicare Extra for All (Center for American Progress): Like the Sanders plan, Medicare Extra for All offers a menu of possible financing options that target the wealthy. Beyond that, Medicare Extra for All suggests one unique funding source: taxes on cigarettes and sugary beverages, as a way to raise revenue and improve public health outcomes.
Healthy America (Urban Institute): Because Healthy America combines Obamacare and most of Medicaid, the proposal is largely funded by repurposing the federal dollars that currently go to those programs. That would cover the bulk of the costs, but Urban does anticipate the need for new federal funding.
Like many of its peers, Urban isn’t yet set on a specific revenue stream, but it has floated a 1 percent increase on the Medicare payroll tax, split evenly between employers and employees. That would bring in about $820 billion over 10 years, which Urban thinks would be enough to cover most of the new costs needed to fund Healthy America.