2017 may have been just one year, but it had more than enough news to span a decade. That certainly proved true in the second half of the year, as Nevadans tried to make sense of Congress’ debate over health care and taxes. Las Vegas then suffered the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, and the nation once more had to come to terms with its gun laws. By the end of the year President Donald Trump signed his tax bill into law, yet decisions were further delayed on the federal budget, the DREAM Act, Gold Butte National Monument, and more.
The year in Trumpcare
Throughout the spring, House Republicans struggled to pass their Trumpcare bill to repeal and replace large swaths of Obamacare (or the Affordable Care Act). In May, they finally succeeded. And despite his original promise not to jeopardize Nevadans’ health insurance, Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Carson City) voted to pass the bill in early May.
That added further pressure on U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R) to make a stand. In June, he stood alongside Governor Brian Sandoval (R) in Las Vegas to declare his opposition to any bill that could result in “millions more uninsured Americans”. Heller’s declaration factored into Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Kentucky) decision to shelve the controversial bill in the Senate, but it wouldn’t be the last time Heller made headlines for his stance on health care reform.
Heller’s flip and the big flop
Despite the promise Heller made to Sandoval and to constituents just a month prior, he went ahead and voted for Trumpcare in July. And despite Heller’s claim that he wouldn’t jeopardize the Medicaid expansion that provides insurance for some 200,000 Nevadans, he cosponsored the Graham-Cassidy Trumpcare bill that included severe cuts to Medicaid and conversion of the insurance program to smaller federal “block grants” to states.
Amidst strong public opposition, and with Sandoval and a bipartisan group of Governors repeatedly registering their disapproval, the Senate failed to pass Trumpcare in July. They failed again in September. Republicans then had to scale down to just repeal of the Obamacare’s individual mandate when they passed the Trump-GOP Tax Plan earlier this month.
The GOP Tax Plan cometh
Speaking of the tax plan, the White House and Congressional Republican leaders made it their new priority after their failed attempts to pass Trumpcare. Once again, Amodei and Heller voted to pass it despite widespread disapproval.
The tax plan was slapped together so hastily that the Senate version was partially handwritten just hours before its passage. Still, that didn’t stop Heller from boasting about how he “helped write it”. Heller has yet to explain how his bill will result in any lasting economic growth when 82.8% of its benefits flow exclusively to the top 1% of income earners.
Remembering Route 91
For many Nevadans, everything changed on the night of October 1. At the Route 91 Harvest country music festival near Mandalay Bay, a shooter opened fire to kill 59 people and injure some 500 others. Even three months later, many are coming to terms with the physical and emotional scars from America’s deadliest mass shooting to date.
When President Trump visited Las Vegas three days after the massacre, he refused to answer questions about gun violence prevention policy. That foreshadowed the challenges ahead in getting Congress to take action, even on small changes like regulating the bump stocks that were used on October 1.
The shooting also reignited debate over what was (not) happening at home. Even though voters approved Question 1 in 2016 to close background check loopholes, Governor Brian Sandoval (R) and Attorney General Adam Laxalt (R) have thus far refused to enforce the law. Even after the shooting, Laxalt has continued to deny enforcement of the background checks law.
The monumental year for Gold Butte
On December 28, 2016, then President Barack Obama designated Gold Butte National Monument under the authority granted to the President by the Antiquities Act of 1906. Four months later, President Donald Trump ordered a review of 27 National Monuments that were declared by Obama, George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.
Despite the constant outpouring of public support for maintaining full protection for both monuments, Nevada’s own Gold Butte and Basin and Range were included in the review. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke went to great lengths to avoid pro-monument Nevadans during his visits to the state in June and July, and the Native American communities who have called these lands home for centuries were limited to merely a few phone calls with Zinke.
This is why Native American community leaders felt blindsided by Zinke when he announced earlier this month that the Trump Administration is considering a size reduction and weakening of protections for Gold Butte. To date, the Interior Department and the White House have yet to clarify what exactly they are considering for Gold Butte.
Unfinished business means big decisions ahead in 2018
In many ways, 2017 is ending with more questions than answers. As public lands advocates continue to await a final decision on Gold Butte, some 13,000 Nevada DREAMers continue to wait on Congress to pass the DREAM Act to ensure permanent protection for them and 9 million other young immigrants who are now at risk of deportation due to President Donald Trump’s decision to end the DACA program. Both the DREAM Act and long-term reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program were left on the to-do list when Congress passed a continuing resolution on December 21 to keep the government open through January 18.
And here we are now, at the end of this very eventful year. What can we possibly expect in the new year ahead? In Part 3 we’ll take a sneak peek at what’s in store for 2018, from plotting the future of the nation’s health care system to finding meaning in what may be a particularly historic midterm election in the Silver State.