Monday, July 31, 2017

Poor Students

While watching the health care drama unfold for Republicans over the past few weeks and months, I kept thinking, who does this remind me of? Today it finally hit me, the Republican party, with their years of whining about Obamacare and promises to repeal and replace as soon as they were put in power, are like some of my worst students. For years they promised this, they knew that eventually it would happen and they would face a real test. But instead of studying, instead of preparing, they just kept procrastinating and accomplishing nothing helpful. Now, even their best efforts are laughable in the face of the fact that they had so much time to work something out, and can only resort of the dirtiest tricks now to try to get something, anything passed.


How Republicans Got Stuck on Repeal
by Jennifer Haberkorn

Republicans openly speculated in November whether they could fast-track an Obamacare repeal bill to Donald Trump's desk by Inauguration Day or whether they might need just a few days longer.
But Congress got stuck. Its last-ditch attempt to pass a "skinny" bill to kill a few pieces of the health care law — many of which the president could have abolished himself with an executive order — collapsed.

In the intervening six months, Republicans were bedeviled by an enormous backlash from a public that suddenly decided it likes the health care law, cold feet over stripping health care coverage from millions of Americans, damaging intraparty squabbling and a White House that threw bombs at their efforts. Ultimately, an old truth held: Once politicians bestow social benefits, it's almost impossible to take them away.

Now that Republicans have failed to repeal former President Barack Obama's signature domestic policy achievement, the GOP faces an existential Obamacare problem with no immediate answer. Do they keep trying to undermine it, as they've promised for seven years? Or do they try to make it work better — even if that means compromise with Democrats?

Trump pressed the GOP all weekend to keep at it. "Unless the Republican Senators are total quitters, Repeal & Replace is not dead!" he tweeted. "Demand another vote before voting on any other bill!" He even taunted lawmakers by threatening to take away their health care benefits if they don't deliver. On Sunday, his health secretary, Tom Price, refused to rule out a move to stop enforcing the requirement that people get covered.

But if these six months have taught Republicans anything, it's that their party's divisions over how to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act are deep and systemic.

Repeatedly through the arduous process of passing legislation in the House and getting tantalizingly close in the Senate, the same problems kept reemerging — including public resistance to gutting protections for pre-existing conditions or rolling back Medicaid. They show no signs of resolution as the GOP seeks a path forward.

"It's complicated," said Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), one of several Republicans who echoed Trump when asked why the GOP can't come together on Obamacare. A pragmatic Midwesterner, Portman was among the Republicans caught between their campaign pledges to undo Obamacare and governors who don't want their Medicaid expansion funds wiped out. "It's tough to get to a solution," he said.

At the start of the year, Republicans planned to spend no more than a few weeks on repeal, maybe even having legislation ready for Trump's signature when he took office on Jan. 20. They would use a bill that was crafted by conservatives in 2015, passed by both the House and Senate — and vetoed, as expected, by Obama

That vote wasn't just symbolic. It was a test run for this very moment when a Republican occupied the White House. The bill would repeal Obamacare's most unpopular provisions, like the individual mandate, but had a two-year delay built in, giving Congress time to develop a replacement.

But the once-steely resolve to undo Obamacare "root and branch" eroded fast. Rank-and-file lawmakers refused to do repeal without an immediate replacement. They couldn't agree on how much to repeal — or what to replace it with.

"I don't think the American people will understand it if we say we're going to cancel your insurance and just trust us in the Congress to come up with a replacement," said Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, one of six Republicans who supported the repeal bill in 2015 but opposed it last week. "Most pilots like to know where they're landing before they take off."

With a new goal to get a bill to Trump's desk by his 100-day mark, House Republicans tried to craft a plan that killed enough of the law to satisfy conservatives but not so much to drive away an unusually assertive bloc of moderates.

The rift was too great. Speaker Paul Ryan pulled the bill in April and declared Obamacare the "law of the land," echoing the comments his predecessor John Boehner made after Obama's reelection, words that in retrospect signaled the beginning of the end for Boehner's speakership.

That first taste of defeat on Obamacare repeal was powerful. The bad headlines and fear of backlash from their base drove moderates and conservatives back to negotiations. Some now wonder whether history could repeat itself in the Senate.

By early May, the House passed a bill in part because of a last-minute moderate-conservative compromise, and partly because of an unorthodox pitch to squeamish lawmakers: Just vote to advance the bill one step closer to Trump's desk. The Senate will fix it.

But Republicans never really liked the policy they were voting on, and everyone knew it would land with a thud in the Senate.

"There is no constituency for the bill," said one Republican senator who was deeply skeptical of the repeal effort. His constituents still liked the idea of repealing Obamacare and supporting the president — but they weren't calling his office to say they liked the bill.

At first, it looked like Senate Republicans might have a chance at doing better. Alexander, a moderate who chairs one of the key Senate health committees, teamed up with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the conservative firebrand who had shut down the government in a failed bid to stop Obamacare in 2013. They assembled a group of 13 senators — originally all men, but later expanded to all Republicans — who might be able to find the formula that could get 50 of the 52 Republican senators needed for passage. Vice President Mike Pence could break a tie.

But two key policy issues divided the GOP in both the House and Senate — and still exist today: Obamacare insurance market regulations, including those protecting pre-existing conditions. And Medicaid.

Conservatives were adamant that to reduce premiums, they had to eliminate Obamacare's rule that insurers cannot deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. But moderates worried about the political price of undoing one of the ACA's most popular provisions.

Medicaid was also a sticking point, particularly in the Senate. Part of the problem was conservative overreach; the repeal bills went beyond Obamacare Medicaid expansion, fundamentally changing federal financing of a health care program for the poor that's been in place for 52 years. Governors in both parties were alarmed.

And even the Obamacare part of Medicaid pitted lawmakers from states that had taken billions of federal dollars to expand coverage against those that had not. The Senate was never truly able to come up with a solution that satisfied senators or their governors.

"I'm very frustrated," Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) said shortly before the Senate vote. "There are some people here who are ... holding out for their little piece of [a policy win], and that's not serving the national interest." Georgia had not expanded Medicaid, and it didn't want to pay for that decision for years to come.

In the end, Republicans weren't able to agree on much other than ending the individual and employer mandates, defunding Planned Parenthood for a single year and giving states more flexibility — some of which Trump and his Department of Health and Human Services can grant without legislation.
At 1:30 a.m. Friday, Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) — longtime critics of the repeal effort — and John McCain (R-Ariz.) — a surprise — voted with Democrats. For now, at least, the effort is dead.

Democrats won't back down in their defense of the health care law. It has endured life-or-death Supreme Court cases, a catastrophic rollout in 2014 and, until last year, several election cycles that only sharpened the public divide. The dark-of-night showdown in the Senate may have been its most serious brush with death.

But the Republican repeal effort hasn't died, either. It, too, has been resuscitated time and again, despite the court defeats and Obama's reelection. It's not clear what comes next — but something will.

"This health care bill," Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) pointed out when the Senate managed to get debate started last week, "has nine lives."

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Clinging to Culture

One of the aspects of Chamorro life that has frequently haunted me and frustrated me is the division between Chamorros in the Marianas and those who come from the diaspora, primarily the United States. It is a division that so much is made about in everyday conversation, which amounts to very little when you interrogate it. There is often times a perception that those from the diaspora are stuck-up, more Americanized and are completely disconnected from their culture and their identity. There is some truth to this, because much of what we get in terms of our identity has more to do with proximity and frequently than actual choices. You feel a certain way about yourself or you struggle with your identity in certain ways based on what you see around you, although there is always some element of personal agency or choice. Because of this, if you are born in Guam or the CNMI, chances are good you will generally know more Chamorro words or slang. You may know more Catholic songs. You may have a certain heavy or slight accent. You may be more familiar with general Chamorro knowledge. But in truth, for every Chamorro I have met from the states who meets the criteria for being stuck up and disconnected, I can match you with someone from Guam who has scarcely left the island, but is the exact same person, just with a Chamorro accent. Even the notion that Chamorros in the states are more Americanized falls flat quite quickly. For every stateside Chamorro that someone might call a "coconut" or "colonized" I can show you a local Chamorro would parrot the same colonized talking points, just with a chåd accent.

This is one of the ways that people in the homeland gain identity, and gain a positive sense of identity, even if they lack the knowledge or the commitment for what they are asserting. Because those in the diaspora are considered to be so empty, so vapid, and cling to whatever culture they can get, it means by default whatever minute amount of Chamorro or identity your average Chamorro on Guam holds, it glows brighter with cultural power. This does not mean that there aren't differences, but just that they are often over-stated for self-aggrandizing or self-mystifying effect.

It has been heartening to see Chamorros in the states doing more to openly and explicitly celebrate their culture, whether it be Liberation Day celebrations, t-shirts, dance groups or ethnic restaurants. What I am most interested in not any questions of authenticity or superiority, but the way that this cultural turn can help more Chamorros become critical of the colonial status of their islands and develop stronger commitments and connections in the name of helping them.


Guam' Imahe: Finding Identity Through Dance, Song and Chant
by Mindy Aguon
The Guam Daily Post
July 30, 2017

With the crowd settled in their seats, the lights dim and music fills the Star Center auditorium in Tacoma, Washington.

He sits back in amazement as he analyzes every dancers’ movement and spoken word. Normally he is back stage among the chaos, with dancers scrambling to change costumes, fix their hair and perfect their makeup between numbers.

For the first time since teaching dance, Joel Larimer is sitting in the crowd watching his teaching come to life.

Five years ago, Larimer had an idea to pursue his passion of dance and start what he calls a “backyard group.” Twenty-four dancers signed up and showed up to his sister’s three-car garage expecting to learn hula, something Larimer had studied while raised in Guam.

But as he began to interact with his students, Larimer felt something was missing.
He yearned for something more and felt drawn to research his roots.

“I was telling people our CHamoru culture is dying, yet I was contributing to that,” Larimer said.
And so began his journey to find his identity. “Something kicked me in the butt and told me 'Wake up.' I knew that in order for the culture to survive, I had to do what I had to do,” the dance instructor said.

Learning from a master

For the next year, Larimer would become the student, learning from Master Frank Rabon, Pa’a Taotao Tano and others, finding his identity through CHamoru dance, chant and song.
He had found his calling and that was when Guma Imahe was born.

“Guma Imahe – it is everything we see, from the manåmko', the famagu’on, the land, water, air – these are all treasures. These images are what will be held as a great value to us culturally as a people,” he explained.

The group’s slogan is imahe – images of the past, present and future – and Larimer teaches the values of inafa’maolek along with the language, singing and dancing.

Growing up in Guam, Larimer recalls visiting places around the island when he was a kid, wishing he could go back in time and experience life in the old days.

Inspired by latte stones and the Lenten antigu in Inarajan and the Plaza de España, Larimer felt drawn to know more, and watched as the CHamoru culture and language was slowly fading away, he said.
Life swept him away from the island and to the U.S. mainland where he took up a job in the airline industry and moved around before settling in Seattle, Washington five years ago.

What started as a “backyard group” practicing in a three-car garage has transformed into a full-fledged cultural dance group of 80 members who travel the state of Washington to perform for events throughout the year.

‘The bridge’

Guma Imahe is the only CHamoru group in Washington state, which allowed them to partner with the Asia Pacific Cultural Center in Tacoma, Washington. The partnership allowed them access to an auditorium and breakout rooms to practice.

“It was a blessing, because we were trying to figure out how are we going to fit these dancers in a three-car garage,” Larimer said. “We were the bridge that connects Guam and CNMI with the cultural center.”

Over the years, Larimer has watched as his students have not just memorized dance steps or chants, but really taken the time to learn and embrace what they are taught, giving him confidence that it will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

“You see it in their eyes, their willingness to want to learn and proud to be part of their culture. That’s the thing that keeps me going,” Larimer said.

He expressed appreciation to the Guam Visitors Bureau for its support of the group as well as Pa’a Taotao Tano.

“There is a place for CHamorus to come and learn different things about the culture,” Larimer said.
He hopes to expand on the idea by developing a Sagan Kotturan CHamoru in Washington state. The CHamoru cultural center would offer CHamoru cooking, teaching the language, weaving and more.
Although they may be miles and oceans away from home, Larimer and the members of Guma Imahe couldn’t be more proud to be CHamoru.

“We have a small island with people all over the world with big hearts who are proud of who they are and where they come from,” Larimer stated. “I’m just adding to it with my dancers and giving them more of home in regards to CHamoru dancing and singing.”

As the curtain is drawn on the fifth-year dance recital, Larimer reflects on all of the sweat, tears and hard work that has gone into creating Guma Imahe. “It has been a journey finding my identity through dance, song and chant and I’m just so grateful to my parents, the dancers and their parents.”
While there’s no telling where Guma Imahe will be 10 or 20 years from now, Larimer said his love for the CHamoru culture and dance will continue.

“I’ll only stop when I take my last breath or I have no more dancers,” he said. “I’m very proud of what I do and I do it out of my heart.”


Chamorros in diaspora cling to culture
by Jerick Sablan
Pacific Daily News
May 25, 2016

Chamorros living outside of Guam and the Marianas have the opportunity to be back home for the Festival of Pacific Arts.

And although they live far from home, many of them cling on to the Chamorro culture.
Vicente Diaz said some Chamorros in the U.S. mainland are really passionate about keeping Chamorro alive.

Diaz said the diaspora, or dispersal, of the Chamorro people has been happening for thousands of years since Austronesians made the long journey by canoe to inhabit the Pacific Islands.

He said some people assume that indigenous people not living in their land would mean they lose their culture, but it seems the exact opposite happens.

“Just because they left doesn’t mean they stop being who they are,” Diaz said.

Bernard Punzalan, who’s living in Washington, said Chamorros living in the mainland simply create another “village” wherever they may be, including in Washington, California or Maryland.
Both men were speaking at the University of Guam on Wednesday for a seminar on Chamorro diaspora for the ongoing Festival of Pacific Arts.

Punzalan said the feeling of community with the Chamorros in the mainland provides a great support system and a way to celebrate the culture away from home. They have funerals, fiestas and help fundraise for people in the hospital just like they do back home.

Punzalan said Chamorros living outside feel they need to keep the culture even more alive because they are so far from home.

“It’s a way we connect to people,” he said.

He said people of the same culture tend to come together, and Chamorros really do come together.
Many of the people attending the seminar shared how long they’ve been away from home and the feeling they had being back, with many becoming emotional.

Punzalan said it was great to be back home for FestPac and to be able to share their knowledge and their stories.

Mario Borja, from San Diego, who was one of the Chamorros who made the sakman Che’lu that is in Guam, also presented on his project.

Diaz said the canoes of the Austronesian people were very important in the first diaspora that filled the islands in the Pacific. He said the canoe is an important symbol for the diaspora and how, even though they left home, all Austronesians people in the Pacific are connected.


The Chamorro Diaspora
by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
The Marianas Variety
April 23, 2017

I spent five years of my life in San Diego while I was attending graduate school there at UCSD. It was an interesting experience that truly helped to shape and deepen my understanding of Chamorros as a people today. 
We may see Chamorros as tied to home islands in the Marianas, but the reality is that more than half of the Chamorro people live in the United States in what scholars refer to as “the diaspora.”

For most of my life, I have moved back and forth between Guam and this diaspora — spending a few years in Guam and then a few years in Hawai’i, a few more years in Guam, a few more years in California and so on. Although people tend to conceive of Chamorros as being either the “from the island” or “from the states” variety, there has, since the revoking of the military’s postwar security clearance, been a constant back and forth migration of Chamorros. Individuals and families travel east for education, military service, seeking new opportunities, and they also move back west into the Pacific, because of homesickness, family obligations and even for new opportunities.

In the formation of a diaspora, people can settle anywhere they choose but tend to follow particular patterns. The Chamorro diaspora to the United States began in a limited way with bayineru siha, or whalers who left during the late Spanish and early American colonial periods. They settled primarily in Hawai’i, the West Coast and even New England. During the 20th century the U.S. military, in particular the U.S. Navy became the next means of aiding in Chamorro migration. Chamorros began to settle in places where some whalers still retained a sense of being Chamorro, but more so they settled in areas with Navy bases. San Francisco, Virginia, Hawai’i and San Diego were all places where the Chamorro population was significant even before World War II.

After the passage of the Organic Act and the onset of the Korean War, more Chamorros began to join the U.S. Army and eventually the Air Force. This changed the Chamorro diaspora even more as Chamorro populations began to grow in areas like Texas and Washington. Chamorros traveling to the states who weren’t in the military would nonetheless follow these same routes, taking advantage of family members and friends who were already settled.

At present, the Chamorro diaspora still remains structured around these large populations, but Chamorros now migrate because of perceived economic opportunities, with people seeking places that are nice to live in, have affordable housing or possible job opportunities.

San Diego is the area with the largest diasporic Chamorro population and you could call it the ma’gas na sinahi of Chamorro diaspora communities. What makes San Diego different than other areas with large numbers of Chamorros is the amount of presence they have created for themselves and to represent themselves to others. San Diego has several different types of Guam clubs, the largest of which is the Sons and Daughters of Guam Club. This club is considered to be a central location in terms of the Chamorro diasporic landscape, because unlike many Guam clubs, it has a large permanent physical space. The clubhouse is used for all types of activities, from fundraisers to dinner dances to conferences. Chamorro language and cultural dances classes are also sometimes held there. The clubhouse is even rented sometimes by non-Chamorros for quinceañeras or debutante balls for young Latinas. The clubhouse also acts like a senior center where manåmko’ can hang out and play cards and also eat lunch. 

The San Diego Chamorro community has also come to a certain level of consciousness that through the nonprofit CHELU (Chamorro Hands in Education Links Unity) it now organizes an annual fair. This past March, they held their most recent “Chamorro Cultural Fair” that drew crowds of thousands. Chamorros from across the Western United States converged in San Diego to eat Chamorro food, buy Chamorro themed arts and crafts, listen to Chamorro music and watch Chamorro dance. A highlight of the festival was the display of a 47-foot replica of an ancient Chamorro canoe, or sakman. The canoe was carved by the group Sakman Chamorro, and not only is the canoe a sight to behold, it also does sail. Mario Borja, the main carver for the project, is promoting the idea of the sakman making a voyage to Guam in 2016 just in time for the Festival of the Pacific Arts.

It is often easy to dismiss Chamorros in the diaspora as being “po’asu” or “taimamahlao” because of their distance from the home islands of Chamorros. People sometimes think of them as being a lower type of Chamorro, possessing less knowledge, less respect and, in general, being less Chamorro. I would argue against these stereotypes. Chamorros everywhere are concerned about issues of language and cultural loss. Chamorros in the states don’t benefit from having easy access to a lot of the things that people in the Mariana Islands take for granted. On Guam, it is still easy to find a place where you can be surrounded by the Chamorro language, if you live in Nebraska that might be a bit more difficult. But it is exciting to see Chamorros in San Diego working to create more regular spaces for maintaining their heritage.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Håfa Na Klasen Liberasion #26: Real Liberation Lies Ahead

Another Liberation Day has come and gone, and with each passing year, more and more questions emerge about the meaning of this important event and our relationship to it. More people seem willing to question whether or not the US return to Guam in 1944 was a liberation, but for each person who earnestly asks that question, there is usually another who raises their voice in indignant defense of the liberation, demanding that it not be questioned. For them it is a sacred event for our elders and should require our patriotism and gratitude and nothing more.

One of the misconceptions that people have in life, is the notion that something sacred should not be questioned or analyzed. I would propose instead that something sacred holds such depth and power, that its meaning can sustain questioning or scrutiny. If people shout down those who have earnest questions about Liberation Day in the name of it being sacred, more likely they are scared of how the concept will fall apart once interrogated.

I have documented several hundred Liberation Day stories from Chamorro elders, and I can say for certain that it was a type of liberation, but it was not a liberation in the way it as come to be conceived in the decades since. 

The emotional liberation was real. It should be commemorated, the bonds between our elders and American soldiers were powerful. But to extend beyond that means to turn a beautiful and enriching experience into the raw materials to justify Guam’s colonial status quo. But what most people seem to celebrate each July on island, with talk of freedom and liberty isn’t what took place in 1944. That would be a political liberation.

To be considered a political liberation, we have to delve into the intent of what took place and also what happened afterwards. For the US return to be this type of liberation, the safety of the Chamorro people had to be the priority and that any interests of the US had to be minor or non-existence. The benefits that Chamorros received cannot simply be collateral, they had to be the goal.

This also means understanding what happened afterwards, since this tends to indicate a great deal about what the intent was, even if rhetoric may mystify it. Did the US return led to an end to Guam’s colonial status and the development of a relationship with it and the rest of the world predicated on principles of democracy, liberty and freedom? This only happened to a marginal extent and in truth, the US took advantage of the feelings of gratitude by Chamorros to illegally seize their lands. You might argue that their land was worth the price for their lives, but that isn’t liberation, not even close. To make that argument cheapens what a real and true liberation is supposed to be.

 With so many members of the greatest generation passing away, we should take seriously their sacrifices and their struggles. We should take seriously the legacy of that liberation, by acknowledging what did happen, what did not happen and what should still happen.

This means we should not refer to the American retaking of the island in 1944 as a liberation, but instead see it as a potential start of that journey, a process that remains decades later unfinished. This is something several American soldiers who liberated the island have themselves commented on.

In the name of all those who suffered and sacrificed, the United States government should allow the work started by those soldiers to be finished, and allow a true liberation, the decolonization of the island of Guam to take place.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Legacies Beyond Faces

The final book in the "Real Faces" trilogy, which focuses on documenting the stories of Chamorro World War II survivors is finally here. I am happy to see it come to completion, I've been assisting with this project for several years now and it has been a very heartwarming experience. For so much of the past few decades the recounting and retelling of Guam's World War II story has been focused on the United States, their role in expelling the Japanese and ending the occupation. As a result, even when Chamorros were doing the commemorating, they were often times excluding or minimizing their own stories, their own beliefs, perceptions, and lessons, for the sake of aligning their tales and memories with a more patriotic and American-supremacist narrative. I am thankful to see that shift in recent decades, and thankful if my work, research and writing has played some role in making that happen.


"Legacies Beyond Faces"
by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
Pacific Daily News
May 19, 2017

Over the past few years, the Guam War Survivors Memorial Foundation has been doing beautiful work in the community to commemorate the experiences of the Chamorros who suffered during the Japanese occupation of Guam in World War II. In the name of giving our elders their due, the foundation has published books, advocated for the passage of war reparations, held musical concerts, and even created a memorial wall with the names of 15,891 people on Guam during the war. I have worked with this foundation for several years, primarily through writing articles for their touching “Real Faces” series.

To date the foundation has published two books, “Real Faces: Guam’s World War II Survivors” and “Families in the Face of Survival,” and their third book, “Legacy Beyond Faces: A Sentimental Journey, Generation to Generation,” is set to be released sometime this summer. Victoria Leon Guerrero, the managing editor of UOG Press, has been a board member for the foundation since its inception and wrote recently in the Pacific Island Times:

[The foundation] was formed to tell the stories of Guam’s World War II generation. Its members felt an urgent need to capture these stories before they were lost. While these books are a collection of short stories, it is the hope and intention of the foundation that these stories will grow beyond the pages of this trilogy. That they will inspire the kinds of epiphanies that open minds, heal wounds, and bring families closer together.

This rationale for the foundation’s work is both beautiful and insightful. What would be the best way to pay tribute to our elders and to document their stories before they are lost? Would it be to simply record them and repeat them verbatim? Or would it be more powerful to put them into historical context and help facilitate the transmission of the stories, and the values or lessons they may offer, to younger generations? For those of us who have worked with Chamorro war survivors and collected their stories, the second option is by far the more powerful one.  

After all, if you were to spend hours with a war survivor, following their journey from the ruined fiesta for Santa Maria Kamalen to jubilation at the discovery of US Marines in Manenggon, these types of details may just be the surface of their experiences. There is most likely so much more that they wish they could say but may not be sure how. Over the more than 200 interviews I’ve conducted with Chamorro war survivors, I’ve seen and heard this in a variety of ways. With the way Chamorro history has largely been framed since the war, it is easy to articulate the lessons of the war as being about patriotism to the United States, but, for war survivors who wanted to offer a different lesson to younger generations, their stories are harder to articulate.

If you look at the way the Chamorro people are traditionally represented in documentaries, books, and other media about the Japanese occupation, they are usually mere footnotes to the exercise of American military might. They suffer, they cry, they die, they hope, and, most importantly, they stay loyal to the US and affirm its best elements, as an avatar for democracy, justice, liberty, and freedom. A nuanced and enriching understanding of the Chamorro experience is lost in such accounts. For even if it is compelling or tragic, it is hollow: it is reduced to a shade of life, meant to give color and texture to American exploits, but not meant to stand alone or mean something on its own. The work of the Guam War Survivors Memorial Foundation is meant to change that. 


 Final Book in Trilogy of War Survivor Stories Published
by Chloe Babauta
Pacific Daily News
June 19, 2017

The Guam War Survivors Memorial Foundation will release the third book in a trilogy of war stories today, .

"Legacy Beyond Faces: A Sentimental Journey Generation to Generation" features stories of more than 20 Guam World War II survivors, of which many were written by their descendants.

The foundation will host a launch event at 6 p.m. June 19, in the Ocean Sirena Ballroom at the Sheraton Laguna Guam Resort. The event is free and open to the public. 

War survivors, descendants and other book contributors will be present to sign copies of the book and share their stories. 

“'Legacy Beyond Faces' takes a unique focus on an instrumental outcome of the war ... a deep love for music,” foundation treasurer Mary Fejeran stated in a press release. 

The book includes interpretive essays and reflections by local scholars and musicians on Chamorro identity and music, and tributes to musical families descended from war survivors, the news release stated.

“It is a beautiful collection of stories and photos that work together to capture the very distinct musical legacy of the war,” Fejeran said.

The foundation has compiled and published two previous books with stories and essays that show survivors’ strength and resilience.  

The new book will be available for purchase at $70 for a single copy or $55 per copy for purchases of two or more books. Only cash and checks will be accepted. Customers who prepaid for books can pick up their copies at the launch, or at the office of Frank Blas & Associates after the launch.

After the launch, the books can be purchased at the office of Frank Blas & Associates in Barrigada on weekdays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For information, call 734-7702.


The Surviving Faces of War
by Victoria Leon Guerrero
May 2, 2017
Pacific Island Times

At the heart of war is conflict. Two forces at odds. The obvious signs of war include weapons, battles, bloodshed, utter destruction. It is the worst of human experiences. But it is never simply something that happens in the present. The pieces of war are put together throughout history. From the moments that led to it, to the lasting memories and trauma that keep it alive for generations. We know this all too well on Guam, where World War II continues to shape so much of who we have become as a people and as a place in the world.

Through a trilogy of books about the war, the Guam War Survivors Memorial Foundation has worked closely with survivors and their families to capture Guam’s wartime legacy. The Foundation has compiled and published stories and essays that offer a glimpse at the strength of those who survived the war, and the enduring resilience of the families who inherited their tribulation.

This summer, the Foundation will launch the third and final book of the trilogy entitled, “Legacy Beyond Faces: A Sentimental Journey Generation to Generation.” This book takes a unique focus on an instrumental outcome of the war that continues to uplift survivors and their descendants – a deep love for music.

Music played an integral role in both raising Chamorro spirits and expressing resistance during the war. Just as the second book of the trilogy entitled, “Families in the Face of Survival” highlighted the role of family, food, and faith in helping Chamorros survive the war, this third book examines how music kept them strong during this difficult time. The book also celebrates the role music continues to play in Chamorro families as part of the wartime legacy, and features reflections from some of the children and grandchildren of survivors, who have become some of Guam's most recognized musicians.

Legacy Beyond Faces shares the stories of more than 20 survivors, many written by their descendants. It also includes interpretive essays and reflections from local scholars and musicians on Chamorro identity and music, and features tributes to musical families, who descended from war survivors. It is a beautiful collection of stories and photos that work together to capture the very distinct musical legacy of the war.

The Guam War Survivors Memorial Foundation was formed to tell the stories of Guam’s World War II generation. Its members felt an urgent need to capture these stories before they were lost. While these books are a collection of short stories, it is the hope and intention of the foundation that these stories will grow beyond the pages of this trilogy. That they will inspire the kinds of epiphanies that open minds, heal wounds, and bring families closer together.

These books teach us that just as war is never simply something that happens in the present, neither is peace. In sharing their stories, one thing most war survivors commonly say is that they do not want their children, or their children's children to ever know the horrors of war. Many of them have died since they shared their stories, and many more died before they ever could. They may not have found the peace they sought, but we can. May their legacy inspire lasting peace in our community for generations to come.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Kulo' - June

As part of Independent Guåhan's outreach to the island community around issues of decolonization, we are proud to present our new monthly newsletter titled The Kulo'. This newsletter is put together by the Media Committee of Independent Guåhan, which is chaired by myself and Manuel Cruz. Feel free to save the images and also once Independent Guåhan's official website is ready, we'll be able to archive them there for public download.


Fanhokkåyan #6: Letter on Liberation Day

People frequently ask me why I'm such a publicly critical person. They assume it is because I am half Chamorro, that I must be trying to compensate for my lack of cultural identity, and even I can acknowledge that there is some truth to that. It could be simply part of my personality, maybe I've always been an oppositional person, who challenged authority in some way. My father says it is because of the way I was forced to confront certain racial realities during my childhood. Some say it is simply because I have an artist temperament and so I am seeking creative ways out of systems, thinking about what could lie ahead on the next horizon of imagination.

Hekkua', ti hu tungo'.

While searching from some of my early writings on an old laptop, I came across a draft of this letter for the editor pasted below. It remember helping my mother write it about 13 years ago, and it was submitted to the Pacific Daily News. This was a time, when I was first speaking out publicly, although usually in online forums and in letters to the editor of the PDN. But I remember my mother at that time feeling proud of me, because it allowed her to connect to her own previous work as a community organizer on Guam, primarily on abortion rights. Talking through our nascent critical thoughts was lots of fun. Reading back over this letter, I cannot help but cringe a little bit because of some of the dated references, such as the mention of the culling of karabaos, which we protested about in 2003 outside the entrance to Navy Base Guam. 


On February 8, 2004 I was reading the Pacific Daily News online, and I was so excited to see so many letters from people who were interested in protecting Guam’s history. Unfortunately though, the only parts that these people wanted to promote or protect was Marine Drive and Liberation Day.

 While I am so glad to see these people excited about Guam’s history and remembering important events, I always get very confused when I meet these people or read their letters, who care only about promoting or celebrating the parts of Guam’s history that have to do with the United States’ military. Implying that we don’t mean much without the United States or its military, which I believe is totally false.

But in the spirit of celebrating and remembering our past, I guess I’m wondering where are all the letters to the editor about how important it is to protect the Chamorro Land Trust? After all, isn’t that agency just a memorial or a historic reminder of how the US military stole almost the whole island after the war? Those land takings have just as much impact on Chamorro lives today, as Liberation Day. Our family was fortunate enough not to have our lands taken, but so many other families were not. Where is the memorial or the re-naming ceremonies for their children, that will explain to them why their families have no land?

If the past is to useful to us in helping us plan for the future, then we can’t just remember the patriotic parts, like the parts where American Marines unintentionally saved Chamorro lives. We also have to remember that for years after July 21, 1944, other military officers came and intentionally destroyed Chamorro lives by lying to them, by cheating them and by forcing them to give up their lands. .

I feel sick thinking about those days, when because of a war, the United States was allowed to destroy so many families, and handicap their futures. In one of my son’s Guam history textbooks, it tells the story of a Navy officer testifying before Congress about the land takings. When asked if the land takings had been legal, the officer replied that, no they weren’t, but then everything is legal in a time of war.

I feel more sick thinking about today, where the president of the United States often talks about America being at war, and calls himself a war-time president. While visiting my parents last year, I took part in a protest against the Navy’s needless killing of carabao at Fena Lake. For the military, they are always at war with something, and so for them carabao don’t mean much. The Navy must of felt like that about Chamorros after the war, taking their land, their lives, because they don’t mean much. And since the president says we’re at war now, who knows what they’ll do next?

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Independent Guåhan Teach-In - Filipino Revolutionary History


HAGATÑA, GUAM (July 11, 2017) - As part of their monthly Teach-In Sessions, Independent Guåhan will be holding a session introducing Filipino Revolutionary History and how Filipino struggles for independence are connected to CHamoru self-determination. The Teach-In will feature Josephine Ong, Kristin Oberiano, Jamela Santos and Ruzelle Almonds.

“As Filipinos living on Guam, we need to acknowledge that the fight for CHamoru self-determination is a fight for the ideals of self-governance, sovereignty, and freedom - the same principles that led to the establishment of the Philippines, the USA, and other independent countries around the world,” says Oberiano, whose grandfather came to Guam during the Camp Roxas Era.

All four presenters are Filipinos who consider Guam their home and are passionate about the conversation on the island’s political status. Through the teach-in, they hope to communicate to fellow Filipinos why their community should stand in solidarity with the CHamoru people.

“I feel more and more that we have a responsibility to acknowledge that the lands we are occupying as settlers are lands of a people who have not yet established independence from their colonizers in the same way that our people have,” says Santos. She expresses that should Filipinos understand their own history of independence, there is opportunity to increase the Filipino community support toward the CHamoru self-determination movement.

Among the topics of the teach-in include: Philippine revolutionary history, Philippine migration history and CHamoru self-determination movements. By drawing these connections, the teach-in aims to open the conversation on Guam’s political status for non-CHamorus and hopefully settle uneasiness people may have on the topic.

The Filipino Revolutionary History Teach-In will take place on July 20, 2017, at the University of Guam Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Building at Room 106 from 4:00 pm to 5:30pm. The presentation is open to those who are looking to gain a new perspective on Filipino history as well as non-Chamorros who seek understand their role in the conversation on Guam’s political status.

For more information, find Independent Guåhan on Facebook or Instagram.  

Obamacare v. Trumpcare

Some recent updates on the health care debate in the United States. It is fascinating to contemplate that in the past few years one party lost political power in order to expand health care to tens of millions of more people, and now another party is on the verge of potentially losing power as well, by taking health care away from tens of millions as well.


"Americans decided that health care is for all. Republicans want to roll that back."
Former Vice President Joe Biden
Washington Post
July 17, 2017

As vice president, I met with Americans all across our country. What they told me over and over is that the Affordable Care Act gave them peace of mind — that if they got sick, or if their child got sick, they could get care and not have to worry about going broke as a result. They no longer had to lay awake at night wondering: Can I pay for this treatment? What happens if she gets cancer? How will I feed my family and afford the care?

They told me that because when the ACA became law and health-care coverage was extended to millions of people, it meant we had finally decided, as a nation, that health care is a right for all and not a privilege for the few.

Republican leaders in Congress believe the opposite. And if they take that peace of mind away, they’ll have to look Americans in the eye and explain to them that they have to start worrying again.
Last week, Vice President Pence told the National Governors Association that the GOP health-care bill currently being debated in the Senate “strengthens and secures Medicaid for the neediest in our society.” Respectfully, that’s simply not the case. Their bill tries to deal with opioid addiction on the cheap, eviscerates the ACA’s Medicaid expansion and guts the ACA’s promise that care like maternity and mental health and substance-use disorder services must be part of any viable health coverage system. They want to drag us back to a time — not all that long ago — when Americans could be denied basic health care because they were unable to afford it. That’s the reality of where we are today and it’s enough to make your blood boil.

Now, I hear some folks say: But hospitals don’t turn anyone away from the emergency room. Before the Affordable Care Act, though, hospitals provided about $40 billion each year in uncompensated care. People who didn’t have health insurance or couldn’t cover their co-pays were putting off needed medical care and skipping out on preventive care altogether. That’s not a sustainable model, and we’re better than that. A health-care system built around emergency room visits isn’t a health-care system at all.

The ACA isn’t perfect, but the choices we made when designing the law flowed from a commitment to provide the best possible care to the most people. Compare that to Republican proposals, which the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said will mean more than 20 million fewer people will have health coverage by 2026, and millions more will no longer have the same protections provided by the ACA.

Here are just some of the people who could lose access to care if congressional Republicans get their way:

More than 70 million Americans rely on Medicaid, including close to 2 million veterans. Medicaid, including the Children’s Health Insurance Program, covers 39 percent of children in America, 49 percent of all births, 35 percent of Americans with disabilities and 64 percent of nursing home residents, around seven in ten of whom are women. Rural hospitals would be hit especially hard by proposed cuts because they’ve benefitted most from the Medicaid expansion that has meant fewer uninsured requiring uncompensated care, and yet Senate Republican leadership is looking to cut Medicaid by about three-quarters of a trillion dollars.

Slashing the Medicaid expansion would affect over a million Americans who’ve used it to cover mental health and substance-use disorder treatment. The original Senate bill proposed spending $2 billion to address the opioid epidemic — a drop in the bucket when it comes to addressing a crisis that is ravaging communities and ripping the heart out of our country.

After facing an outcry, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell increased that to $45 billion. But my longtime Senate colleague is, I believe, missing the point. You can’t take away comprehensive health insurance from people struggling with opioid addiction and then just throw $2 billion or, for that matter, $45 billion their way for treatment. Experts say we need closer to $183 billion over 10 years to provide those on Medicaid with treatment for addiction and to provide care for other illnesses that often affect those addicted to opioids. Americans in communities affected by this epidemic understand firsthand that the status quo is grossly inadequate. We must do more to address this crisis, not less.

A middle-class family getting health insurance through a small employer could lose coverage for maternity care, mental health care or substance-use disorder services. Under the Senate’s bill, they would bear the burden of paying for these services out-of-pocket or having to go without them.
The new bill would create two individual insurance markets: One in which insurers must cover people with preexisting conditions, and one in which they don’t. And you don’t need a Ph.D. in economics to guess what would happen next: Healthier, younger people would flock to the less expensive, unregulated market. Those remaining in the regulated market will be older and sicker, and their premiums would increase to the point that they could be left with an option for insurance that exists on paper, but not in practice.

If you’re young and healthy, maybe this bill means that you’d pay lower premiums. But the thing about life is that if you’re lucky, eventually you grow old, and, in the meantime, you don’t know what will happen next. In the blink of an eye, or in one phone call from a doctor, your outlook may change. And if, God forbid, you find yourself in that position one day, I hope we still have the ACA in place so you can have the peace of mind that comes with knowing that no matter what, you can still get affordable care.

Senator McConnell says there’s still time to make changes to the bill before it gets to the Senate floor. But it shouldn’t even get there, because his bill can’t be fixed. By denying that all Americans have a right to health care, it’s fundamentally flawed. And Republicans are underestimating the American people if they think a few changes to the bill here or there will convince us that this bill is anything but a big step backward.

In my 36 years as a senator, I saw my colleagues take plenty of hard votes. This just isn’t one of them. If Republican leadership wants to improve the ACA, let’s first come to an agreement that everyone should have health coverage. Then, based on that premise, let’s have a debate about how best to improve care and reduce costs. Let’s again make the commitment that in America, health care is a right for all, not a privilege for the wealthy.


 "Republicans Leap into the Awful Known"
by Paul Krugman
New York Times
July 17, 2017

Sometime in the next few days the Congressional Budget Office will release its analysis of the latest version of the Republican health care plan. Senator Mitch McConnell is doing all he can to prevent a full assessment, for example by trying to keep the C.B.O. from scoring the Cruz provision, which would let insurers discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions. Nonetheless, everyone expects a grim prognosis.

As a result, White House aides are already attacking the C.B.O.’s credibility, announcing in advance that whatever it says will be “fake news.” So why should we believe the budget office, not the Trump administration? Let me count the ways.

First, this White House already has a record of constant, blatant lying about health care that is, as far as I can tell, without precedent in modern history. Just a few days ago, for example, Vice President Mike Pence made the completely false assertion that Ohio’s expansion of Medicaid led to a cutback in aid for the disabled — a lie that the state’s government had already refuted. On Sunday, Tom Price, the secretary of Health and Human Services, claimed that the Senate bill would cover more people than current law — another blatant lie. (You can’t cut hundreds of billions from Medicaid and insurance subsidies and expect coverage to grow!)

The point is that on this issue (and others, of course), the Trump administration and its allies have negative credibility: If they say something, the default assumption should be that they’re lying.
Second, the C.B.O. is hardly alone in its negative assessments of Republican health care plans. In fact, just about every group with knowledge of the issue has reached similar conclusions. In a joint letter, the two major insurance industry trade groups blasted the Cruz provision as “simply unworkable.” The American Academy of Actuaries says basically the same thing. AARP has condemned the bill, as has the American Medical Association.

Third, contrary to White House disinformation, the C.B.O. actually did a pretty good job of predicting the effects of the Affordable Care Act, especially when you bear in mind that the act was a leap into the unknown: We had very little experience of how an A.C.A.-type system would work.

True, the C.B.O. overestimated the number of people who would buy insurance on the exchanges the act created; but that was partly because it overestimated the number of employers who would drop coverage and send their workers to those exchanges. Overall gains in coverage have been reasonably well in line with what the C.B.O. projected — especially in states that expanded Medicaid and did their best to make the law work.

Finally — and this seems to me to be the most compelling argument of all — predicting the effects of destroying the A.C.A. is much easier than predicting the consequences when it was enacted, because what the Senate bill would do, pretty much, is return us to the bad old days. Or to put it another way, what McConnell and Senator Ted Cruz are selling is a giant leap into the known, taking us back to a system whose flaws are all too familiar from recent experience.

After all, before Obamacare, most states had more or less unregulated insurance markets, similar to those the Senate bill would create. Many of these states also had skimpy, underfunded Medicaid programs, which would be the effect of the bill’s brutal Medicaid cuts.

So while careful, nonpartisan modeling, the kind the C.B.O. excels in, is important, you don’t need a detailed analysis to know what American health care would look like if this bill passes. Basically, it would look like pre-A.C.A. Texas, where 26 percent of the nonelderly population was uninsured.
And lack of insurance wouldn’t be the only problem: Many people would have “junk insurance” — insurance with deductibles so large or coverage limitations so extensive as to be effectively useless when needed.

Now, some people might be satisfied with that outcome. Hard-core libertarians, for example, don’t believe making health care available to those who need it is a legitimate role of government; letting some citizens go bankrupt and/or die if they get sick is the price of freedom as they define it.
But Republicans have never made that case. Instead, at every stage of this political fight they have claimed to be doing exactly the opposite of what they’re actually doing: covering more people, making health care cheaper, protecting Americans with pre-existing conditions. We’re not talking about run-of-the-mill spin here; we’re talking about black is white, up is down, dishonesty so raw it’s practically surreal. This isn’t just an assault on health care, it’s an assault on truth itself.

Will this vileness prevail? Your guess is as good as mine about whether Mitch McConnell will hold on to the 50 senators he needs. But the mere possibility that this much cruelty, wrapped in this much fraudulence, might pass is a horrifying indictment of his party.


"An Open Letter to the United States Senate"
Marian Wright Edelman
Huffington Post
July 14, 2017

I learned my first lessons about injustice and health as a little Black girl growing up in segregated Bennettsville, South Carolina. I remember my parents’ and my sadness over the senseless death of little Johnny Harrington, who lived three houses down from our church and who died before he reached 10 because his hard-working grandmother didn’t know about the need for or have the money for him to get a tetanus shot after he stepped on a rusted nail.
I also remember being awakened in the middle of the night after a Black migrant family’s car collided with a White truck driver’s vehicle on the highway in front of our parsonage, and the horror I felt when my daddy, my siblings and I witnessed the White ambulance driver and attendants arrive on the scene only to leave behind the seriously injured Black migrant worker after they saw that the White truck’s passengers were not hurt.
And I remember the loss of a playmate who lived around the corner who died from a broken neck after jumping off the bridge at Crooked Creek nearby where many Black children swam and many Black families fished for food. When I got older, I learned the creek was an outlet for hospital and other sewage.
The sorrow and outrage and sense of injustice I felt as a child at senseless deaths and injuries shaped my life’s work. I cannot stand seeing any child mistreated, placed at risk or excluded from essential services because of the color of their skin or the poverty of their parents or grandparents they did not choose. God did not make two classes of children and my Biblical values and my parents’ efforts to live up to its teachings enjoined me to believe each child is sacred.
During the Civil Rights Movement it was always clear that health care was one of the basic rights for which we were fighting because it could mean life or death. As my friend and mentor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman.” I would never have believed that decades later Dr. King’s words would still ring true and that after 50 years of hard-earned progress expanding access to health coverage for 95 percent of all children, it could all be ripped away in a heartless game of politics and greed that disregards human life — even the smallest human life.
In the wealthiest nation on earth, the fact that we are still unwilling to treat health care as a right available to all regardless of color, income or creed is a disgrace. That child lives are considered political fodder rather than a sacred responsibility by every adult is unjust and shameful.
You, the ever powerful United States Senate, will soon have a choice to make when Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brings the deeply harmful, flawed, unpopular and misnamed Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) — it should be called the Worse Care Reconciliation Act — to the Senate floor for a vote. This draconian bill will unravel decades of progress fighting for more health equity and justice for all. I hope every voter will stand up for children, the disabled, the elderly, and the most vulnerable among us and make sure those who vote against them are held accountable.
At a time when 95 percent of children in America have health coverage after years of laboriously achieved incremental progress with bipartisan leadership and the percentage of uninsured Americans is at a record low, will you vote for renewed pain and suffering or forward progress? Will you vote to end Medicaid as we know it — a lifeline for more than 37 million children and more than 40 percent of children with special health care needs — to pay for a giant tax cut for wealthy Americans and corporations who don’t need or deserve it? Will you vote to rip away health coverage from 22 million Americans and leave millions more paying a lot more for skimpier coverage? Will you vote to undermine coverage for essential services for children and other Americans including those with pre-existing conditions? Will you vote to strip important and popular protections, returning us to a day when discrimination based on age, gender, health status and ability to pay is permitted? Will you vote to deprive millions of Americans mental health and substance abuse treatment in the midst of a national opioid crisis?
You may be wooed with “fixes” being negotiated behind the scenes that tinker around the edges of the cruel, unjust Better Care Reconciliation Act, but make no mistake: it is irreparably flawed and no altering of growth rates and caps, taxes, or creating special “funds” or “risk pools” will fix it. It deserves a swift and decisive death in the Senate if we are to keep any semblance of an American sense of fairness and moral decency alive.
I have just returned from two days in the Mississippi Delta which Senators Robert Kennedy, Joseph Clark and George Murphy visited 50 years ago where they saw children with listless eyes and bloated bellies from lack of food and health care. Mississippi is one of 19 states that turned down Medicaid expansion money their people need. Health injustice still disproportionately affects people of color but those who will suffer come from every race in every state.
Would you vote to deprive your own children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews of basic life supports? I suspect not. Denying children essential health care makes no moral or economic sense. Healthy children and adults make America stronger and safer. So at this critical moment in our nation’s history, I hope you will stand up for children, the disabled, and the elderly left behind in multiple ways by the politics of greed and self-interest. Please vote NO on the misnamed Better Care Reconciliation Act — a mean-spirited, draconian, un-American step backward that would leave preventable suffering among millions in its wake.


 "How the White House and Republicans Underestimated Obamacare Repeal"
by Nancy Cook and Burgess Everett
July 17, 2017

The longer Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare flounder, the clearer it becomes that President Donald Trump’s team and many in Congress dramatically underestimated the challenge of rolling back former President Barack Obama’s signature achievement.

The Trump transition team and other Republican leaders presumed that Congress would scrap Obamacare by President’s Day weekend in late February, according to three former Republican congressional aides and two current ones familiar with the administration’s efforts.
Republican leaders last fall planned a quick strike on the law in a series of meetings and phone calls, hoping to simply revive a 2015 repeal bill that Obama vetoed.

Few in the administration or Republican leadership expected the effort to stretch into the summer months, with another delay announced this weekend, eating into valuable time for lawmakers to tackle tax reform, nominations or spending bills.

As Trump himself infamously remarked, “nobody knew healthcare could be so complicated” — even though health care has reliably tripped up past administrations.

Now that the difficulty of getting 50 senators to rally around a bill has come into stark relief, Republicans are starting to acknowledge they misjudged the situation.

“It’s easier to rage against the machine when you’re not in control of the machine, No. 1. And the perception that we are in control of the machine is inaccurate,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.).

“Needing 50 out of 52 members on the same page in the Senate? I think that is not being in control of the machine.”

The failure of the plan to quickly repeal Obamacare earlier this year forced Republican leaders to start over and attempt the daunting task of crafting a more comprehensive health care plan that would unite all sides of a squabbling conference. And the Trump administration’s lack of sufficient staff and planning for that early effort helped lay the groundwork for the legislative chaos the GOP’s agenda is mired in today.

A senior administration aide said that although the White House didn’t expect health care to take so long, the blame game will dissipate if the president signs a health care bill by August.

“If, a week from now, we have completed the repeal of Obamacare, I don’t think people looking back on it will do the woulda, coulda, shoulda game,” the aide said.

Still, rank-and-file senators now say starting with tax reform could have done more to unify the party and avoid the GOP’s ongoing quagmire.

“I would have much preferred to start off with tax. But that wasn’t my decision,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.). “Tax is the heavy lift here. It’s not going to be easier than health care. And we’ve been doing this for seven months.”

Past administrations have also been hurt by health care. Democrats said after the passage of Obamacare that they wished they had delayed the topic until more of their agenda was underway — House Democrats lost their majority in 2010 shortly after the law passed.

First lady Hillary Clinton took flak in the early 1990s for her failed health care task force, and President George W. Bush faced tremendous opposition when his administration pushed through the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit — even though the program has cost less than original estimates.

Still, after the November 2016 election, few in Trump world or Congress saw potential problems after Republicans campaigned on killing off the Affordable Care Act for seven years.

“We are probably all guilty of not being as creative as we needed to be,” said one former congressional leadership aide. “Every administration likes to check off an accomplishment.”

During the transition, the Trump administration never established a great deal of coordination with the Hill or a concrete game plan for health care, according to congressional aides and one former transition official.

The transition had just a handful of health policy people, who were also tasked with working on the confirmation processes for Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma. The administration official said the lengthy confirmation process, which he blamed on Democrats, hurt the White House because it meant the administration did not have two key health policy experts in place.

Helping sort through the process were Marc Short, now the White House legislative affairs director; Rick Dearborn, the White House deputy chief of staff; and Stephen Miller, a senior adviser for policy. All three had congressional experience, but several Republicans said Trump’s staff lacked experience negotiating or moving major legislation.

“I just don’t have confidence that the administration had the health care expertise and policy advice that they needed there,” said G. William Hoagland, former staff director for the Senate Budget Committee and former leadership aide to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. “The result is what we are seeing today.”

On the Hill leading up to the inauguration, one leading idea was to resurrect the 2015 House and Senate bills that repealed much of the law. Republicans were already on the books supporting the bills, which needed only 50 votes in the Senate instead of 60.

But when GOP leaders in January pitched the idea — which involved repealing the law and figuring out a replacement later — they were met with stern resistance from lawmakers worried about constituents who had gained insurance through the 2010 law and who could lose coverage if it were suddenly revoked.

“Health care looks much easier when you’re at the talking point level,” said Larry Leavitt, a senior vice president at the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation and senior health policy adviser during the Clinton administration. “It always gets more difficult as you start filling in the details.”

This was the first hint of real trouble for the Republican health care efforts. Passing a bill they knew would be vetoed under Obama was easy; passing one that would thrust their constituents into uncertainty was riskier.

“When you’re six years into a program, to change it when people are relying on it, there’s a fear that it may affect their own policies or their own families,” said Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.). “This is tough; this is complex. We knew it would be, but it’s really tough.”

In late January, lawmakers at a closed-door session at a Republican retreat in Philadelphia raised a myriad of concerns about tackling Obamacare, from the contours of the replacement plan to ways to keep premiums affordable. One former Republican Senate aide later called that meeting with Andrew Bremberg, the head of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, prescient, because lawmakers privately raised many of the concerns that have since dogged the bill.

At the same policy retreat, House Speaker Paul Ryan laid out a three-pronged approach to scrapping Obamacare. He wanted to repeal as much of the legislation as possible, eliminate more through deregulation, and then work with Democrats on a replacement, said one former Republican aide.

Many Republican lawmakers doubted Democrats would work with them on redoing the health care law.

The president and one of his former campaign rivals also unexpectedly helped undermine the GOP’s repeal plans. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said on television the GOP needed a replacement plan if it was going to repeal the law. Then Trump endorsed that requirement. Their comments caused GOP leaders to start from scratch.

Now that the Senate’s attempt to revamp the health care law has run into roadblocks — with moderates insisting on protecting coverage for their constituents, while conservatives focus on undoing as much of Obamacare as possible — both Paul and Trump have suggested going back to a repeal-only bill.

Many Republicans say that’s unworkable now.

“We’re not just trying to get rid of the law, we’re trying to replace it with something better. Getting rid of it is pretty straight-forward,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). “Replacing it with something better is a significant undertaking, but it needs to be done.”

Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell maintains that the Senate will vote soon, though he was forced to delay again while Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) recuperates from surgery. With two Republicans saying they will definitely vote no, the bill could not pass without McCain present. Other senators are still undecided.

“They’re trying to turn around a massive piece of public policy that has been the law of the land for seven years,” said Lanhee Chen, policy director for the 2012 Romney-Ryan presidential campaign. “One cannot overstate the magnitude of what is being attempted. This is a totally unique experiment in some ways.”

In the meantime, neither the White House nor Congress wants to claim responsibility if it doesn’t work out. While lawmakers grumble that Trump should have started with an easier policy goal, White House aides say they assumed congressional Republicans had it under control.
Republicans had campaigned on undoing Obamacare since 2010, the senior administration official said: “That was not contingent on President Trump.” 


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