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MONEY Medicare

Congress Just Passed a Medicare ‘Doc Fix.’ Here’s What That Means to You

doctor with money in his lab coat pocket
Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

Both houses have approved an overhaul to how Medicare reimburses doctors. Will that mean higher costs for seniors?

Medicare’s troubled physician payment formula will soon be history.

As expected, the Senate Tuesday night easily passed legislation to scrap the formula, accepting a bipartisan plan muscled through the House last month by Speaker John Boehner and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi. The Senate vote came just hours before doctors faced a 21% Medicare pay cut.

Under the bill, the current reimbursement schedule would be replaced with payment increases for doctors for the next five years as Medicare transitions to a new system focused “on quality, value and accountability.” Existing payment incentive programs would be combined into a new “Merit-Based Incentive Payment System” while other alternative payment models would also be created.

“Passage of this historic legislation finally brings an end to an era of uncertainty for Medicare beneficiaries and their physicians—facilitating the implementation of innovative care models that will improve care quality and lower costs,” said Dr. James L. Madara, chief executive officer of the American Medical Association. “Patients will be able to get the care they need and deserve.”

The Senate voted 92 to 8 to approve the legislation, which the House passed 392-37.

It now moves to President Barack Obama, who—shortly after the Senate vote—said he would sign the bill, calling it “a milestone for physicians, and for the seniors and people with disabilities who rely on Medicare for their health care needs.”

There’s enough in the wide-ranging measure for both sides to love or hate. “Like any large bill it’s a mixed bag in some respects, but I think on the whole it’s a bill well worth supporting,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday.

The bill includes two years of funding for an unrelated program, the Children’s Health Insurance Program, or CHIP. GOP conservatives and Democrats are unhappy that the package isn’t fully paid for, with policy changes governing Medicare beneficiaries and providers paying for only about $70 billion of the approximately $210 billion package. The Congressional Budget Office has said the bill would add $141 billion to the federal deficit.

Consumer and aging organizations also have expressed concerns that beneficiaries will face greater out-of-pocket expenses on top of higher Part B premiums to help finance the way Medicare pays physicians.

But lawmakers said they had struck a good balance in their quest to get rid of the old system. “I think tonight is a milestone for the Medicare program, a lifeline for millions of older people,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. “That’s because tonight the Senate is voting to retire the outdated, inefficiency rewarding, common sense-defying Medicare reimbursement system.”

For doctors, the passage is an end to a familiar but frustrating rite. Lawmakers have invariably deferred the cuts prescribed by a 1997 reimbursement formula, which everyone agreed was broken beyond repair. But the deferrals have always been temporary because Congress has not agreed to offsetting cuts to pay for a permanent fix. In 2010, Congress delayed scheduled cuts five times.

Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about the legislation and the congressional ritual known as the doc fix.

Q: How would the bill change the way Medicare pays doctors?

The House package would scrap the old Medicare physician payment rates, which were set through a formula based on economic growth, known as the “sustainable growth rate” (SGR). Instead, it would give doctors an 0.5% bump in each of the next five years as Medicare transitions to a payment system designed to reward physicians based on the quality of care provided, rather than the quantity of procedures performed, as the current payment formula does. That transition follows similar efforts in the federal health law to link Medicare reimbursements to quality metrics.

The measure, which builds upon last year’s legislation from the House Energy and Commerce and Ways and Means committees and the Senate Finance Committee, would encourage better care coordination and chronic care management, ideas that experts have said are needed in the Medicare program. It would reward providers who receive a “significant portion” of their revenue from an “alternative payment model” or patient-centered medical home with a 5% payment bonus. It would also allow broader use of Medicare data for “transparency and quality improvement” purposes.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., one of the bill’s drafters, has called it a “historic opportunity to finally move to a system that promotes quality over quantity and begins the important work of addressing Medicare’s structural issues.”

A “technical advisory committee” will review and recommend how to develop alternative payment models. Measures will be developed to judge the quality of care provided and how physicians will be rewarded or penalized based on their performance. While the law lays out a structure on how to move to these new payment models, much of their development will be left to future administrations and federal regulators. Expect heavy lobbying from the physician community on every element of implementation.

Q. Will seniors have to help pay for the plan?

Starting in 2018, wealthier Medicare beneficiaries (individuals with incomes above $133,500, with thresholds higher for couples), would pay more for their Medicare coverage, a provision expected to impact 2% of beneficiaries.

In addition, starting in 2020, “first-dollar” supplemental Medicare insurance known as “Medigap” policies would not be able to cover the Part B deductible for new beneficiaries, which is currently $147 per year but has increased in past years. If the policy had been implemented in 2010, it would have affected Medigap coverage for roughly 10% of all 65-year-olds on Medicare, according to an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Based on declining Medigap enrollment trends among 65-year-olds, expect this policy to impact a smaller share of new Medicare beneficiaries in the future, according to the study. (KHN is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

Experts contend that the “first-dollar” plans, which cover nearly all deductibles and co-payments, keep beneficiaries from being judicious when making medical decisions because they are not paying anything out-of-pocket and those decisions can help drive up costs for Medicare.

The bill also includes other health measures — known as extenders — that Congress has renewed each year during the SGR debate. The list includes funding for therapy services, ambulance services and rural hospitals, as well as continuing a program that allows low-income people to keep their Medicaid coverage as they transition into employment and earn more money. The deal also would permanently extend the Qualifying Individual, or QI program, which helps low-income seniors pay their Medicare premiums.

AARP, a seniors’ lobby group, sought to repeal a cap on the amount of therapy services Medicare beneficiaries could receive, telling senators that it would be a “key vote” for the organization.

“Similar to the SGR debate, an extension of the therapy cap — rather than full repeal — is short-sighted and puts beneficiaries in a dire situation when the extension expires,” AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond wrote in a letter to senators. “This amendment is important to the overall success of the Medicare program and the health and well-being of Medicare’s beneficiaries.” The amendment failed.

Q. What about other facilities that provide care to Medicare beneficiaries?

Post-acute providers, such as long-term care and inpatient rehabilitation hospitals, skilled nursing facilities and home health and hospice organizations, would help finance the repeal, receiving base pay increases of 1% in 2018, about half of what was previously expected.

Other changes include phasing in a one-time 3.2 percentage-point boost in the base payment rate for hospitals currently scheduled to take effect in fiscal 2018.

Scheduled reductions in Medicaid “disproportionate share” payments to hospitals that care for large numbers of people who are uninsured or covered by Medicaid would be delayed by one year to fiscal 2018, but extended for an additional year to fiscal 2025.

Q. What is the plan for CHIP?

The bill adds two years of funding for CHIP, a federal-state program that provides insurance for low-income children whose families earned too much money to qualify for Medicaid. While the health law continues CHIP authorization through 2019, funding for the program had not been extended beyond the end of September.

The length of the proposed extension was problematic for Democrats, especially in the Senate. In February, the Senate Democratic caucus signed on to legislation from Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, calling for a four-year extension of the current CHIP program. A Senate amendment to extend CHIP funding for four years failed.

Q. What else is in the SGR deal?

The package, which Boehner, R-Ohio, and Pelosi, D-Calif., began negotiating in March, also includes an additional $7.2 billion for community health centers over the next two years. NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood have criticized the provision because the health center funding would be subject to the Hyde Amendment, a common legislative provision that says federal money can be used for abortions only when a pregnancy is the result of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

In a letter to Democratic colleagues before the House vote, Pelosi has said that the funding would occur “under the same terms that Members have previously supported and voted on almost every year since 1979.” In a statement, the National Association of Community Health Centers said the proposal “represents no change in current policy for Health Centers, and would not change anything about how Health Centers operate today.”

Q. How did the doctor payment formula become an issue?

Today’s problem is a result of efforts years ago to control federal spending — a 1997 deficit reduction law that set the SGR formula. For the first few years, Medicare expenditures did not exceed the target and doctors received modest pay increases. But in 2002, doctors were furious when their payments were reduced by 4.8%. Every year since, Congress has staved off the scheduled cuts. But each deferral just increased the size of the fix needed the next time.

The Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), which advises Congress, says the SGR is “fundamentally flawed” and has called for its repeal. The SGR provides “no incentive for providers to restrain volume,” the agency said.

Q. Why haven’t lawmakers simply eliminated the formula before?

Money was the biggest problem. An earlier bipartisan, bicameral SGR overhaul plan produced jointly by three key congressional committees would cost $175 billion over the next decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and lawmakers could not agree on how to pay for the plan.

This time Congress took a different path. The measure both chambers approved is not fully paid for. That is a major departure from the GOP’s mantra that all legislation must be financed. Tired of the yearly SGR battle, veteran members in both chambers appeared willing to repeal the SGR on the basis that it’s a budget gimmick – the cuts are never made – and therefore financing is unnecessary.

But some senators objected. In remarks on the Senate floor, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., said any repeal of the SGR “should be done in a way that should be financially sound.”

Most lawmakers felt full financing for the Medicare extenders, the CHIP extension and any increase in physician payments over the current pay schedule was needed. Those items account for about $70 billion of financing in the approximately $210 billion package.

Conservative groups urged Republicans to fully finance any SGR repeal and said they would be watching senators’ actions closely. For example, the group Heritage Action for America promised to “key vote” an amendment that the measure be fully financed. That amendment failed.

Some members of Congress seemed pleased to have this recurring debate behind them. “Stick a fork in it,” said Rep. Upton. “It’s finally done.”

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

TIME Congress

Former Donors Sue Disgraced Congressman Aaron Schock

Congressman Expenses
Ron Johnson—AP U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, R-Ill., gives a news conference regarding his recent spending controversies outside his office in Peoria, Ill. March 6, 2015.

Some of former Rep. Aaron Schock’s donors are suing him, arguing that he misrepresented himself as an honest and ethical politician during his campaign.

The class-action lawsuit seeks refunds for thousands of the Illinois Republican’s donors who were allegedly swindled by a “campaign full of corruption and lies about his integrity,” according to a statement by the plaintiffs’ law firm, Hagens Berman.

Schock was accused of improperly using taxpayer money to take a private jet to a Chicago Bears game, using campaign money for a duty-free shopping spree in Buenos Aires and a number of other colorful scandals. The Justice Department has already launched a criminal investigation.

Filed on April 14 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, the lawsuit is based on racketeering and common-law fraud, among other things. But political lawyers are skeptical about the legal reasoning, noting that campaign donations are not guarantees.

“By definition, campaign contributions must be ‘donations’ unaccompanied by any expectation of a ‘quid pro quo’ return,” said Stefan Passantino, head of McKenna Long & Aldridge’s political law team.

Craig Engle, founder of the Arent Fox political law group, said that donors can ask for a refund if they gave money for a race the candidate never ended up running or if they accidentally gave too much (for example, a donor who gave $2,800 in a race where donations are legally capped at $2,600 is entitled to a $200 refund).

“I think what you have here is a moral obligation that the congressman has a lot of explaining to do, but certifying a class action of donors and giving them a right to a refund under the racketeering statutes, I don’t see that going forward,” he said.

Passantino agreed. “My impression is that this document reads more as a political document for public consumption than anything,” he said. “The investigation and enforcement of these allegations belongs with the (Federal Election Commission) and the Justice Department Public Integrity Section.”

Read next: Meghan McCain: Aaron Schock Embarrassed and Betrayed Millennial Republicans

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Congress

The Republican Senator Who Is Key to the Iran Deal

Sen. Bob Corker
Bill Clark—CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images Sen. Bob Corker, Senate Foreign Relations chairman, arrives for a briefing on Iran nuclear negotiations with Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama's chief of staff Jack Lew in the Capitol on April 14, 2015.

Over the next 10 weeks or so, Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker can’t afford a mulligan. Lucky for him, according to occasional golfing buddy and Georgia Sen. Johnny Isakson, he “doesn’t need ‘em.”

In that time, Corker will be “one of the most important people in the world,” as my colleague Massimo Calabresi writes in a magazine profile this week, as he attempts to ensure congressional oversight into a global debate on Iran’s nuclear program the Obama Administration would rather wage on its own.

As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Corker has the delicate task of crafting a 67-vote supermajority to beat back a veto threat on his bill, which the Administration has worried could imperil the chances of reaching a final deal by a June deadline. Corker struck a major agreement Tuesday, when the committee will take up his bill and introduce a series of amendments that could endanger consensus. But senators on both sides of the aisle are confident that Corker is well suited to the challenges ahead.

“There’s not a better horse to bet on in the United States Senate than Bob Corker,” says Isakson, a Republican member of the committee.

At first glance, Corker is an unlikely player in international affairs. A successful construction company owner, former Chattanooga mayor and head of Tennessee’s finances, Corker had no foreign policy experience before coming to the Senate in 2007. While a student at the University of Tennessee, Corker wasn’t even interested in politics, according to his roommate, Jimmy Haslam, who used to call Corker “Thor” because he “looked like a little Viking.” But his interests eventually evolved and after an introduction from Haslam, Corker met with Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander in 1993. The pair talked for an hour and a half as they walked down the beach at Hilton Head, South Carolina, discussing whether Corker should run for Senate or governor.

“He’s never been afraid of big jumps,” says Alexander, who thinks the two-term senator would be “terrific” as Secretary of either the State or Treasury departments. “In a way he’s perfectly named—Corker.”

Corker popped to the ranking Republican position on the committee in 2013 and became chairman when Republicans took the Senate this year. To overcome his initial lack of expertise, Corker has engaged in policy discussions with numerous foreign policy experts, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who has breakfast with him every two or three months. Corker also travels extensively; he told TIME in February that he had traveled to over 63 countries. Haslam, now the owner of the Cleveland Browns, says his longtime friend flies commercial on his trips to the Middle East with usually one staff member. “Bob’s not a hot dog,” says Haslam. “He gets the job done.”

Corker’s temperament may serve him well as debate over U.S. foreign policy no longer ends at the water’s edge. Democrats are still smarting from Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton’s direct letter to Iranian leaders and House Speaker John Boehner’s invitation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to Congress. One of seven Republicans who didn’t sign Cotton’s letter, Corker has garnered praise from Democrats. Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin, the top Democrat on Corker’s committee, calls Corker a “serious legislator” and an “ideal fit” for the panel’s chairmanship.

“I think that he is trying to use that position in the best tradition of the U.S. Senate to bring as much unity on behalf of foreign policy as possible,” Cardin told TIME last week. “And recognizing that’s challenging today, I think he’s done a really good job on his bill on the congressional oversight of the nuclear agreement. It’s one in which I hope we can find common ground. I think we’re very close to that.”

Introduced with Democratic Sens. Bob Menendez and Tim Kaine and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham as cosponsors, Corker’s bipartisan bill threads the needle by establishing an order of review, preventing the president from waiving Congress’ economic sanctions against Iran for 30 days, according to a Corker aide, and up to 52 days if Congress passes a bill and the president vetoes it. If the deal is submitted late, after July 9, the review period reverts to 60 days, according to the aide. If President Obama accepts it, the Administration would be required to tell Congress every 90 days if Iran is still keeping up its end.

“We have reached a bipartisan agreement that keeps the congressional review process absolutely intact and full of integrity,” said Corker on MSNBC’s Morning Joe Tuesday. “On behalf of the American people we want to make sure that if a final deal is reached it lays before Congress, so we have the opportunity to go through every detail.”

Corker has worked for months to bring Democrats on board. The bill originally had called for a vote to approve or disapprove of the deal—now there is the option to not act, Menendez told TIME. Another priority—pushed by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, according to the New York Times—was ensuring a 60-vote rather than a 51-vote threshold for any resolution of disapproval or agreement, ensuring that Congress spoke in a bipartisan manner. Kaine claims credit for limiting the bill to only sanctions imposed by Congress, rather than the Administration or international bodies. Still, just last week Cardin said he had three major areas of concern: “the time for review, the limitation of presidential powers during the review, and to the statute issues that are not directly related to the nuclear agreement.”

So over the past few days and up through Monday night, Corker has worked to close the gaps with Democrats, reportedly softening requirements that Iran isn’t directly sponsoring terrorism against the United States and loosening restrictions on the original timetable for a 60 day congressional review period.

The negotiations have appeared to assuage Democratic concerns. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that Obama’s veto threat would be revoked—a stunning turnaround—if some of the changes the White House has proposed, including the timetable and terrorism language, make it through committee.

“We have to see what comes through the committee process,” said Earnest. “What we have made clear to Democrats and Republicans is that the President would be willing to sign the proposed compromise that is making its way through the committee today.”

Corker’s immediate challenge now is to navigate a series of controversial amendments from Democrats and Republicans alike. One from Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy would allow President Obama to waive sanctions during the 60 days if a “failure to do so would be a breach of the final comprehensive agreement,” according to Murphy spokesman Chris Harris. Another by Isakson would make a condition of sanctions relief “fair and appropriate compensation” to Americans who were terrorized in the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. And Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio will introduce an amendment making approval of the deal dependent on Iran’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist, according to the New York Times.

Some of those amendments are nonstarters with the Administration, which has launched a full-scale lobbying effort on Capitol Hill. Secretary of State John Kerry, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew and Moniz briefed House members in a classified session Monday and are expected to hold another for senators on Tuesday, according to the Times. They are trying to convince lawmakers to agree to a framework agreement that couldn’t be subject to a wider divergence of opinion. Critics like Cotton, a foreign policy hawk and Iraq combat veteran, believe the deal could eventually lead to a nuclear confrontation. The Administration argues it could lead to a safer world, lengthening the time it would take for Iran to produce such a bomb over the next decade from three months to a year, giving America’s allies more time to forcefully respond.

Corker’s knack for jumping into the hairiest policy debates hasn’t always been a success, including in his early efforts to negotiate the auto company bailout and Dodd-Frank financial regulation reform. “He’s a guy who views things without the partisan lens and from a very practical approach,” says Josh Holmes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s former chief of staff. “I think in some ways early on it made him a target for Democrats to try to wedge the best deal out of.”

“I will say that Corker is amongst the most intelligent senators on the Hill,” adds Holmes. “He learns a great deal from each one of these interactions.”

Corker did seal a deal during the 2013 immigration reform debate, helping craft border security legislation that the Senate incorporated and passed before it died in the House. Menendez told TIME he “swallowed” Corker’s “odorous” amendment because he agreed with his colleague that it would “guarantee us a big vote and that the greater good was better served by accepting what he could bring along with him.”

Corker’s goal is essentially the same now: to convince a wide swath of Congress to get to “yes” despite their reservations. Menendez, who has “tag teamed” members on the bill on the Senate floor, says Corker is a dogged negotiator.

“He’s tenacious going to anyone on either side of the aisle making his case,” says Menendez. “And he won’t stop. If you say no to him, he’ll ask you why and then try to argue away the concern. If you say I’m thinking about he’ll probably come back to you another 10 times.”

With reporting by Maya Rhodan and Massimo Calabresi/Washington, D.C.

TIME trade

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Will Help Define President Obama’s Legacy

US President Barack Obama speaks while Japan's new conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens, following their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on Feb. 22, 2013.
Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images US President Barack Obama speaks while Japan's new conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe listens, following their bilateral meeting in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on Feb. 22, 2013.

The massive TPP trade deal could help boost the global economy and President Obama's legacy—if Congress lets it happen

In the next few days, the Senate will begin debate on one of the most important questions it will answer this decade—whether to grant the President “trade promotion authority” (TPA), also known as “fast track.” This move would give President Obama and his successors the authority to place trade agreements before Congress for a simple up-or-down vote, denying lawmakers the chance to filibuster or add amendments to the deal which change its rules.

Those in favor say that Presidents can’t negotiate growth-boosting trade deals without fast track authority, because other governments won’t make concessions if they know that Congress can later rewrite parts of the agreement. Those who oppose TPA say the devil remains in the details—small changes within a massive trade deal can have huge impacts on individual business sectors, and on the winners and losers in any agreement. They say trade deals are too important for the lives and livelihoods of ordinary Americans to leave their elected representatives with no say in their content.

That debate is now coming to a head because negotiations among a dozen Pacific Rim nations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)—an enormous multilateral trade deal involving a dozen Pacific rim countries—are entering the final stages. The talks now include the United States, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei. This group represents 40 percent of world trade and 40 percent of global GDP. Without TPA, there will be no TPP, say trade advocates, which would cost America significantly. Too bad, counter trade opponents. If Americans can’t influence the deal’s content through their representatives, America is better off without it.

What’s at stake? TPP proponents say the deal would generate hundreds of billions of dollars of economic gains over the next decade by reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers across the 12 countries it covers. It would enhance security relations among member states, boost labor and economic standards and set rules for global commerce on free-market terms. For some countries, TPP would give their economies a significant boost. Projected GDP growth in Japan and Singapore for 2025 would be nearly a full 2 percent higher with the deal than without. Malaysia’s GDP might be higher by more than 5 percent. The difference for Vietnam might be more than 10 percent.

For the U.S., the political and security impact of the TPP is more important than the economic effects. In 2025, US GDP will be $77 billion higher with TPP than without it—just 0.3 percent. But the White House says it will boost exports by 4.39 percent over 2025 baseline forecasts. If true, that matters, because exports create the kinds of middle class jobs that boost longer-term growth and reduce income inequality. TPP would also give the U.S. a firmer commercial foothold in the world’s most economically dynamic region. And it would do so while growing the economies of U.S. partners and allies, which are anxious to avoid overdependence on fast-expanding China. That’s good for US security interests and makes TPP a central element of the Obama Administration’s long-promised pivot to Asia.

This is a big moment for those who believe in the power of trade to boost economic trajectories. In 2012, China surpassed the United States to become the world’s no. 1 trading nation in total trading volume. Today, there are 124 countries that trade more with protectionist China than with free trade America. That’s why the Trans-Pacific Partnership—whether he can pass it or not—will be a crucial part of Barack Obama’s legacy.

TIME Television

Watch John Oliver Get Michael Bolton to Sing an Ode to the IRS

Spare the IRS your ire

Tax day is nigh and John Oliver used his Last Week Tonight platform to urge taxpayers not to blame the IRS for their tax day woes — and instead save that ire for Congress.

“The fact is, blaming the IRS because you hate paying your taxes is like slapping the checkout clerk because the price of eggs has gone up,” said Oliver. He noted that if people are angry about the amount of tax they pay, they should blame Congress, who are also responsible for setting the tax rate and for making frequent, confusing changes in the tax code.

Oliver believes that the IRS is unfairly vilified by taxpayers, and their status as the universal scapegoat, gives Congress leeway to cut the agency’s budget, which results in fewer services and longer lines. To encourage people to spare the IRS, Oliver conscripted Michael Bolton to sing a stirring ode to the most maligned agency in the U.S. government.

Read next: Here’s What to Do If You Can’t Finish Your Taxes On Time

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TIME Congress

Rep. Jim Clyburn Blames Conservatives for Walter Scott Shooting

Rep. James Clyburn
Tom Williams—Getty Images UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 29: Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., speaks at a news conference after the 113th Congress Democratic Caucus Organizational Meeting in Cannon Building. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

South Carolina Rep. Jim Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat and one of the most prominent African Americans in Congress, blames the shooting of an unarmed black man by a North Charleston police officer on conservative lobbying efforts.

Clyburn, who represents and previously lived in North Charleston where the shooting occurred, said that authorities should make an example of police officer Michael Slager, who was charged with murdering Walter Scott after videotape surfaced of the shooting.

“This is the most obvious thing I’ve ever seen involving a police officer,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. “And I think there’s many more like this, we just didn’t have the videotape.”

Clyburn said that the relationship broadly between African Americans and law enforcement is “very, very bad” and blames the American Legislative Exchange Council, a nonprofit conservative group that drafts and promotes state legislation, and the billionaire Koch brothers, who have donated to ALEC.

Clyburn called the group “dangerous” and claimed that it was partly responsible for the death of Scott because of its support of conservative legislation, including the “stand your ground” laws that allow a person to kill in self-defense without having the duty to retreat. He then added that while the Kochs are lauded for their philanthropy in New York City—they have giving hundreds of millions of dollars to Memorial Sloan Kettering Center and the home of the New York City ballet and opera—some Ku Klux Klan supporters were once viewed as “upstanding citizens” as well.

“Let me tell you something, people who used to fund the Ku Klux Klan who were upstanding citizens by every other stretch of the imagination,” Clyburn told TIME. “The Klu Klux Klan didn’t run free throughout the South without financial support from some upstanding people. And that’s what’s going on here. The Koch brothers may be upstanding people in New York but they are funding these draconian attacks on voting, attacks on young black males—and that’s what ‘stand your ground’ laws are all about.”

Clyburn then blamed ALEC for creating the “atmosphere” in which the shooting happened. “This American Legislative Exchange Council is at the hub of a national effort to stand your ground laws, with these voter ID laws, these things are going out all over this country,” he says. “This is not isolated, this is coordinated.”

“I blame them for creating the atmosphere that will allow this police officer to shoot this guy in the back,” he said. “Yes, I blame them for creating that atmosphere. They’re the ones responsible for stand your ground laws. Yes I do.”

While ALEC has played a role at the state level in “stand your ground” legislation, the law isn’t relevant in this particular shooting, as Slager is a police officer.

Bill Meierling, ALEC’s Vice President of Public Affairs, says Clyburn is being fed “incredibly inaccurate and false information” about the organization.

“We work on limited government, free market and federalism issues,” he says. “We haven’t worked on anything having to do with firearms or self-defense in more than three years. We work on no social issues. We do, however, work on reducing recidivism rates and working on getting people out of jail, working on over criminalization issues.”

“We are working on body camera issues for local police enforcement that I think would have solved this problem,” he adds. “So we’re doing pretty much the exact opposite of what he says we’re doing. I can’t be more emphatic or stress it enough because it’s damaging to say that we’re involved in creating some sort of conditions by which these things happen.”

Ken Spain, a spokesperson for Koch Industries, called Clyburn’s comments “unfortunate and disappointing.”

“We share Mr. Clyburn’s outrage over what happened in South Carolina, but it is unfortunate and disappointing that he would perpetuate the false notion that Koch has been involved in so-called ‘stand your ground’ legislation or any public policy that would weaken voting rights,” says Spain. “In fact, Koch Industries has played a leading role in partnering with a number of liberal organizations on the issue of criminal justice reform to restore voting rights for non-violent offenders and support the overhaul of a system that has negatively and disproportionately impacted the rights of African Americans.”

TIME Rand Paul

Did Rand Paul Break Senate Rules at His Campaign Kickoff?

A video produced to kickoff Sen. Rand Paul’s presidential campaign may have run afoul of Senate rules designed to separate official government resources from electioneering.

The April 5 video, released two days before Paul announced his presidential bid in Louisville, includes a clip of the Kentucky Republican on the Senate floor during the nearly 13-hour filibuster in 2013 in which he temporarily blocked the John Brennan nomination for CIA director over criticism of drone warfare. Using the footage, contained in a Fox News package on the filibuster, appears to violate Senate guidelines on the use of video footage of Senate, an issue first flagged by a Democratic operative speaking to TIME.

“The use of any tape duplication of radio or television coverage of the proceedings of the Senate for political campaign purposes is strictly prohibited,” the Senate Manual states.

Jason Abel, an attorney for Steptoe & Johnson and former chief counsel to Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer on the Rules & Administration Committee, told TIME that the video contradicts a rule that prohibits the use of television coverage on the Senate floor for political campaign purposes.

“As a general matter, floor proceedings should not be used for any campaign purposes, even if it is footage from a news outlet,” he said. “The thinking behind this is any official’s actions or official resources should not be used for campaign purposes. The rules look at floor proceedings as official actions.”

A spokesman for the Democratic minority on the Rules committee told TIME that “after reviewing the information, it appears to be a violation of the Senate rules.”

Republicans and Paul’s campaign argue that the use of the video is acceptable, but did not explain their rationale.

“Use of footage produced by a news organization does not necessarily violate the rule,” says Amber Marchand, a spokeswoman for Senate Rules Chairman Roy Blunt. “We defer to the Chairman,” says Sergio Gor, a spokesman for the Paul campaign.

Abel added that violations of this rule are generally handled by the Rules committee, not the Ethics committee, but Democrats in the minority would not be able to take action unilaterally. Typically, the remedy is asking the Senator to pull the video or to remove the footage from it.

The issue has raised its head before. In 2004, an ad for President George W. Bush’s re-election campaign raised similar questions after using brief clips from the Senate floor to criticize then-Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s voting record on military issues. The Bush campaign denied any wrongdoing and the ad continued to run. In 2014, then-Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu re-enacted a contentious Senate hearing for an ad to avoid running afoul of the rule.

The Paul video announced that on April 7, when Paul officially launched his White House run, a “different kind of Republican will take on Washington.”

With reporting by Michael Scherer/Washington, D.C.

TIME Rand Paul

Watch Rand Paul Accuse Today’s Savannah Guthrie of ‘Editorializing’

“Let me answer the question"

Sen. Rand Paul, who announced he was running for president Tuesday, butted heads with the Today show’s Savannah Guthrie on Wednesday over questions about his foreign policy record that he deemed “editorializing.”

“You once said Iran was not a threat, now you say it is,” Guthrie said to the Republican candidate, who was speaking remotely from New Hampshire, per Politico. “You once proposed ending foreign aid to Israel, now you support it, at least for the time being, and you once offered to drastically cut … defense spending.”

But the Kentucky Senator, who has accused reporters of being biased in the past, pushed back against her statements. “Before we go through a litany of things you say I’ve changed on, why don’t you ask me a question, ‘Have I changed my opinion?’” he said. “That would be sort of a better to approach it. You’ve editorialized, let me answer a question.”

Paul clarified the he still believes countries should be free of foreign aid (“because we shouldn’t borrow money to do it”), just that it has happen “gradually” — and that his stance isn’t different from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s. He also acknowledged that the situation in Iran has changed since he first said the nation wasn’t a threat in 2007. “[That] was a long time ago, and events do change over long periods of time,” Paul said. “What I would say is that there has always been a threat of Iran gaining nuclear weapons, and I think that’s greater than it was many years ago.”

[Today]

TIME 2016 Election

John McCain to Run for Senate Re-Election in 2016

John McCain
Andrew Harnik—AP Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., during a press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, March 26, 2015, on the situation in Yemen.

The "maverick" Senator will be 80 by Election Day 2016

Republican Sen. John McCain isn’t ready to throw in the towel yet. The “maverick” Senator announced Tuesday that he will run for what would be his sixth term in office in 2016.

“I have decided to run for re-election,” McCain said in an interview with NBC News. “I’m ready, I am more than ready. In some ways, I am eager.”

McCain has served in the Senate since 1986 when he succeeded Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. He currently sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, an ideal job for the former serviceman, and has run for president twice— in 2000 and in 2008, when he gained the Republican Party’s nomination.

McCain could face a challenge from conservatives who think he’s been too liberal, including those in his home state. “I have to convince the voters all over again of Arizona,” he said. “But I will stand on my record but more so, I will stand on what I can do for Arizona and the nation.”

The senator has another factor weighing against him: his age. McCain, 78, will be 80 by November 2016. He told NBC he’s up for the time intensive labor that goes into working on Capitol Hill. In fact, he said, it’s in his genes. “I’m happy to tell you my mother is 103-years-old and she’s doing well,” McCain said.

Watch the full interview at NBC.com.

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