The Never-Ending Primary

I haven’t written anything in a while, so quick shout out to Donna Brazile for making words flow my keyboard and steam stream from my ears.

Early today I was at my desk having a perfectly fine Thursday during Infrastructure Week, err, excuse me, Tax Reform Day, and I start seeing all this chatter about Donna Brazile “smashing” and “taking down” Hillary Clinton.

What in good name of Joe Biden just happened.

Well, here is what happened. For some unknown – actually we do know – reason, Donna Brazile, a lifelong Democrat and former interim DNC chair decided that today would be an excellent day to publish a portion of her book on Politico about how the DNC and the Clinton campaign shared finances well before Hillary became the nominee.

She wrote about how the whole system was rigged and it wasn’t fair to poor Bernie “Not a Democrat” Sanders and how she cried when telling Bernie Sanders that the DNC and Hillary for America shared finances.

Give me a f*cking break.  Donna Brazile cried because Hillary had an unfair advantage during the primary? Is this same Donna Brazile who gave Hillary’s campaign debate questions ahead of debates against Bernie Sanders during the primary?

As the kids would say, I’m woke to your bullshit, Donna.

So how did this turn out? Wonderfully, as you can surely imagine.

Instead of talking about how the Republican’s are attempting to add $1.5 trillion to the national deficit, or how not one, not two, but three of Trump’s campaign advisors are facing federal charges, or how Jeff Sessions appears to have lied in front of Congress again, or ho… oh you get the point.

Instead of doing any of those things, we instead are talking about Elizabeth Warren going on Jake Tapper and flatly saying that the Democratic primary was rigged. We have Trump tweeting about money laundering (yes, he’s an idiot and that’s wrong, but what whatever) and Democratic collusion.  We have an event that ended nearly a year and half ago as the top story in the news.

Meanwhile, this welcome distraction will help Republican’s whip votes for a bill that asks college students to fork over nearly $50 billion in lost tax credits while corporations get a $1.4 trillion break.

All because Donna Brazile decided today was a good day to make up for hurting Bernie’s feelings nearly two year ago.

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Picture credit: ABC News
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Single Payer, Multiple Problems.

Gillibrand. Booker. Harris. Warren. Sanders. What do those names have in common?

Well, two things actually.  First, they are all of the Democratic senators with presidential aspirations. Second, they are all cosponsors of a recently proposed bill to create Medicare for all single-payer healthcare.

That list alone should tell you about the realistic possibilities of this proposal. If there were a bill on the other side of the aisle on a Republican pet issue sponsored by Cruz, Rubio, Paul, Graham, and Cotton, do you think Democrats would be willing to work with them to pass it?

The Sander’s bill operates under the assumption that healthcare is a right not a privilege, which is the absolute correct opinion – in my opinion.  Because this bill views it as a right, it eliminates the for profit insurance industry in favor of a government system that sets premiums based on health care costs, not health care costs, + overhead + profit + risk + shareholder concerns.  People wouldn’t have to worry about doctors being in network or preexisting conditions or anything. You get sick, you get taken care of.

Sounds wonderful, right?  But the bill has no chance of passing, so why is Sanders forcing the issue right now?

The Democrats just fought a seven year battle over the Affordable Care Act. When it passed in 2010, it was the biggest shake-up of the American healthcare system since the 1960’s and the politics of it cost Democrats the House in the following election.  They then spent the next six years listening to Republicans promise to repeal and replace it if they were to gain power.

Then Republicans caught the car.

With both houses of Congress and the White House under the Republican flag, push came to shove and the Republicans choked.  After promising their ideal version of healthcare to the American people for the better part of a decade, the Republicans couldn’t agree as a caucus on the path forward and had to throw in the towel and let the ACA stand.

While it is too early to judge if this will cost them House seats – remember, nothing matters anymore – it is hugely embarrassing and an enormous hit to their credibility.

So why then, in the minority, are the Democrats setting foot down the same path?  They just narrowly defended the ACA and by proposing a new bill are not only moving the goal posts, but conceding that the ACA isn’t the healthcare system they’d prefer.

I know that some out there – hi @PodSaveAmerica – would argue that even if the bill doesn’t pass that providing healthcare for all should be the Democratic position and this bill should be the conversation starter moving forward.

No, wrong, false, dumb.

By introducing this bill in this political climate, it is automatically polarized to the extreme. Not only is the idea toxic to Republicans, but Sanders is forcing Democratic senators to publicly comment and stake out a position on something that is divisive and  unrealistic.

In an effort to take back the Senate – and maybe the House? – why are you forcing Joe Manchin and Heidi Heitkamp to talk about single payer when their constituencies barely even tolerate their support of the ACA?

I don’t think that the two caucuses need to operate as cohesive blocs at all times or that every vote needs to be a party line decision, but in today’s nationalized political environment elected officials live and die as a team much more than they used to.

If he were a true team player, Sanders would have never introduced this into the conversation under these circumstances.  Then again, he’s only ever paid attention to a constituency of one.

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Don Jr. and the Hyenas

In June of 2016, Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer and possibly a Russian spy to try and get dirt on Hillary Clinton.  

While this seems obviously sketchy and possibly illegal, not everyone seems to know why this is wrong.  Don Jr. and Donald Sr. seem to think this was standard practice and Sean Spicer is still coming down from whatever pain killers he took to make it through another day to answer honestly.

Since Don Jr. appears to have so much trouble discerning right from wrong, I thought I could look at his foibles through the lens of something he could understand. Something that he’s probably familiar with from still having bunk beds with Eric.

Disney movies.

As we open this tale, we head to the plains of Africa where we find Scar and his whispy, thinning mane lounging around Scar Rock with his much younger lionesses while admiring his crumbling kingdom. The massive budget cuts he put in place have sparked a famine and his refusal to acknowledge climate change has brought extreme drought to the savannah.

As the Scar Administration continues to try and ban leopards and giraffes from entering their land, suspicion among the pride grows that Scar and the hyenas may have colluded to oust Mufasa and Simba.

It had longed seemed strange to the pride that from the day he arrived and blinking, stepped into the sun, Scar has praised the Shadowland and expressed admiration for the hyena’s strong leadership and defense of the elephant grave yard.

In addition, patterns have started to emerge between the movements of the hyenas and those of the wildebeest on the day of the stampede. Scar refuses to denounce any hyena other than Ed and appears unconcerned with their increased hunting of the lions prey.

As news leaks out that Mufasa actually fell while trying to escape the hyena induced stampede, Scar mocks him for having a “weak grip” and despite the fact that there is more to be seen than can ever be seen and more to do than can ever be done, he keeps regularly sending flocks of birds to remind everyone that Nala and Rafiki once ran into each other on a hunting trip and who knows what they may have been conspiring to do.

Not to mention, maybe if Simba hadn’t been strutting around singing about how he was going to be king, Mufasa may have done something about the hyena’s plot.

Eventually the elephant herd and Bob “The Trunk” Mueller start combing through the outtakes to see if any further scenes yet revealed to the audience exist. As they work they realize there’s far too much to take in here, more to find than can ever be found, but one day, with the sun rolling high through the sapphire sky, they find a deleted scene where Scar’s eldest son, Scar Jr. makes contact with the hyenas.

In the previously deleted scene he is lounging around Scar Oasis when noted hyena sympathizer Zazutskaya comes flying in with a message from the Shadowland.  The hyenas want to meet. They know of a sure-fire way to make certain Simba doesn’t become king of Pride Rock and they want to run it by him before bringing it to Scar.

Oh, and if anyone asks, this meeting is to discuss “zebra access” due to the lion’s restrictions on the hyena’s hunting grounds.

Zazutskaya returns to the Shadowland to share Scar Jr.’s exuberance at the idea the hyenas could help stop Simba from becoming king and instead put Scar in power.

While the remaining scenes haven’t been found, the audience knows that the hyena’s ended up carrying out the plot that killed Mufasa, exiled Simba, and put Scar in charge.

Oh… and Scar knew about the entire thing all along.

Now, Don Jr., I realize that it still may be a little hard to understand how what Scar Jr. did was kind of wrong and lead to the ruin of his pride – and downfall of his father – but I’m sure Eric could explain it to you in terms you can understand.

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Picture credit: Disney

The American Legion of Liars

Donald Trump got what he wanted. Thanks to a media that covers politics with the same objective analysis as the sports section during a playoff run, everyone across the country heard the narrative that the most important thing that happened in Washington this week was that the Republicans “got a win.”

No, that mass of mental midgets did not get a “win.”  What they did was display horrifying neglect of duty in rushing to pass a bill that would do irreparable harm to millions and millions of people across the country.

What the stampede of simpletons in the lower chamber did this week flies in the face of everything I have ever believed about what elected leaders are supposed to do. Beyond just the merits of the legislation, the callousness and recklessness with which they rushed through legislation would up-end 1/6 of our economy was outrageous, egregious and preposterous.

And the best – I shouldn’t say “best” because there is nothing good here – part is that the people who will be hurt worst by this abomination are the very people who elected this cohort of clowns. The bill allows states to seek waivers to no longer protect those with pre-existing conditions. You know who won’t seek those waivers? Democratic governors who don’t want to see their people suffer. You know who will? Republican governors like Scott Walker who already said he’d probably use it (Hey Paul Ryan, guess what state that is).

Call me a smug liberal if you want, but I’m smart enough not to vote for someone who campaigns on taking away a benefit that I rely on.

As the horde of hee-haws were pushing yay at their desks, staff were carting palates of Bud Light covered in black tarps through the Capitol. But they couldn’t even do that right as the genius they tasked with this mission left one corner uncovered for all the world to spy the signature blue and white box of “Up for Whatever.” Symbolism.

Though let’s be fair. The beer, I’m sure, was to celebrate granting insurance to millions for the first time. Or maybe it was that those born with ailments could finally get coverage. Or maybe it was their provision to ban life-time limits and out of pocket expenses for people that suffer catastrophic injuries. Or maybe it was confirming their belief that the character of this country is defined by the fact that no one should go bankrupt because of an illness or injury.

Oh shit, sorry, those are all the things in the Affordable Care Act they’re trying to end. Silly me.

As Dan Pfeiffer said on “Pod Save America” his week, if Republicans came out and made a case that they want to return the healthcare industry to the free market and that government has no place directing a private marketplace, then at least they would be making an intellectually honest argument about why they’re doing this.

Instead, this legion of liars are blanketing the talk shows spreading some of the most bald faced “alternative facts” I’ve ever witnessed in politics.

Kevin McCarthy talked of expanding coverage despite a CBO score on a similar bill that says 24 million fewer people would have coverage. Paul Ryan’s communications director said this bill had been scored twice, despite the fact that the previous two scores were for entirely different bills.  This is like saying your car is doesn’t need the state inspection because you had the emissions tested 2 years ago.

And finally, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers wrote an op-ed about how her son’s pre-existing condition led her to vote for this bill. But given that this bill weakens protections for people like him, there must be something she knows that we don’t.

Oh, that’s right, Republicans made sure the law didn’t apply to Members of Congress, their families, or staff.

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Picture credit: Twitter

The Showdown at Amateur Alley

There is a book that Donald Trump has not read. Yes, I know that could be literally any book, but the one I have in mind is called The Showdown at Gucci Gulch.  It is the riveting story of how the last major tax reform was passed in 1986.

The 30 second summary is this: House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, Senators Bill Bradley and Bob Packwood, White House Chief of Staff / Treasury Secretary James Baker worked together for years hammering out every detail of every aspect of tax reform. They debated how and if to keep it revenue neutral, how to simplify it, and how to spread the benefits.

By contrast, the Trump Administration talks about overhauling major aspects of the American economy like they are launching a menu item at McDonalds. “Healthcare reform will happen his week.” “Tax reform will be released on Wednesday.”

That is not how this works. That is not how any of this works.

I almost forgive Trump for this naiveté.  He is new to governing, has surrounded himself with no one of any expertise, and is generally not very bright. But Paul Ryan on the other hand – who used to hold the same title as Rep. Rostenkowski – should know better.

Well, he should know better, but as we saw with how he handled Health Care Crash and Burn Episode 1, he is a pretty shitty Speaker.

He not only crafted a bill that couldn’t crack 20% approval, but secured no outside support, made no efforts to secure votes, and gave the world’s worst PowerPoint infomercial on national television.  He had 7 years (that is over 2500 days for those of you keeping track) to craft a replacement to that evil, sinister, job killing Obamacare and instead he basically put the letters “H.R.” in front of a turd and gave it to the House clerk.

Then as if he didn’t learn his lesson, he was back at it this week saying that the GOP has spent a whole four weeks writing an even worse version of their original dumpster fire. Once again, every major national health organization is opposed, no senators have been briefed, and the president is unable to articulate any provisions beyond “it’s very good and very well liked.”

While all of this is going on, Ryan somehow thought it was also a good idea to allow the White House to release an outline of a major tax reform proposal that differs in key ways from the plan Ryan has been salivating over for his entire life. Not to mention how it will make Republicans want to hide those debt clocks they were so fond of under Obama.

Despite being billed as the most powerful city on earth, Washington actually has very little bandwidth for more than one major undertaking at any given time.  Major legislation takes up a ton of energy. The research, the hearings, the lobbying efforts, the scoring and analysis. It is a dance that has all the kinetic energy of an anthill and the organized chaos of a kayak race in a hurricane.

When the Republicans secured both houses of Congress and the White House, most Democrats began digging graves for all their priorities. The rich were about to get tax cuts, the ACA was on its way to the gallows, and social progress was shifting out of drive.  Thankfully, Republicans have chose to govern like a puppy in a dog park that doesn’t know which tennis ball to chase.  So for now, it looks like most liberal accomplishments are safer than we thought.

Back in 1986, Republicans were able to secure major victories like lower top rates in the final tax package despite Democratic control of the House.  They did this through painstaking negotiating, intense cooperation between the Treasury and Congressional leaders, and careful consideration of major stakeholders concerns.

What they didn’t do was announce that it would happen “on Wednesday.”

 

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Picture credit: Associated Press

Empty Suit Gives Empty Speech

Don’t be fooled by the rhetoric and the reviews. Donald Trump said absolutely nothing in his first speech to Congress last night.  Sure, he spoke 57 minutes worth of words – largely on script – but those words told us basically nothing that we didn’t already know.

Republicans across the board are lauding him for his “presidential” performance. Marc Thiessen of the Washington Post said it was the best speech he has even seen – and he helped write two – but what exactly is he basing that off of? Donald Trump read from a teleprompter for an hour straight without leading a “lock her up” chant and only inserted a few extra superlatives and suddenly he’s the oratorical love child of Reagan and Obama?  

Reading a prepared speech without spontaneously combusting is hardly an indication of presidential perfection. In fact, it was the minimum requirement for getting at least a B in my 5th grade oral presentation project.

Look at what else the Republicans are congratulating him for, like the standing ovation for a Navy SEAL’s widow. That was an incredibly touching and heartbreaking moment. But let’s not pretend that happened in a vacuum. Since Ryan Owen’s death during a raid in Yemen, Trump has blamed Obama, “the generals”, other Navy Seals, bad intelligence, and the Ghost of Christmas Past for his death. Less than 24 hours prior to his speech in an interview he deferred responsibility and said “they lost him” as if the Navy SEALs were responsible.

That is despicable behavior for a Commander in Chief of the military.

The ovation Mrs. Owens received was representative of how everyone in this country should treat families of the fallen, but don’t be mistaken in thinking that Louie Gohmert wasn’t voraciously clapping in part to help drown out Trump’s botching of that entire episode.

Style points aside, was there any substance to praise Trump on? I’m glad you asked. In setting up his agenda, he started by highlighting every Breitbart statistic on the Obama Administration and then proceeded to paint the world’s rosiest pic of his agenda. Are you ready for this?

  • He wants to increase and preserve world peace. He also wants to raise military spending by $54 billion and “start winning wars.”
  • He wants to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  He also wants to keep the ban on preexisting conditions, keep subsidies, improve quality of care, lower costs, improve competition, expand marketplaces, let you keep your doctor, and lower pill costs.
  • He wants to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure package. He also wants massive tax breaks for “the middle class.”
  • He wants to welcome all legal immigrants of all kinds.  He also wants a merit based immigration system where we only admit high wage, high skill folks from countries we like.
  • He wants clean air, safe water, and environmental preservation.  He also says for every new regulation, you must repeal two.

He wants a juicy steak, but it must also be well done.  Certain things in life are just not possible.  

Republicans won’t pass a program that assists blind, wheelchair bound grandmothers get groceries without a pay-for, so does Trump really think they’ll drop $1 trillion AND cut the tax base further? How are you going to improve world peace while “winning wars” at the same time?

My brain is in more knots than a rope at Boy Scout camp trying to figure this one out.

And finally, let’s not forget… Trump boldly claimed that he was going to create “millions of new jobs” and bring dying industries “roaring back.” While I wish him every bit of luck in improving the lives of people in the forgotten regions of this country, that is an outrageously bold claim in a world where there are more solar energy jobs than coal mining jobs and robots (not trade) are permanently ending manufacturing jobs.

All during the campaign, half of the media would scream “Trump turned a corner!” each time he gave a speech without offending another country, and the half would mutter “you idiots, just wait a week.” The latter proved to be correct more times than not.

The Donald as president is no different. So what that he read from a teleprompter and said he supported a strong America. Every policy prescription was vague, if not contradictory, and most were dead on arrival even with Republican majorities in Congress.

This is still the same Trump who signed the Muslim ban, made a moral equivalency argument between the US and Russia, and called a major news network “FAKE NEWS” every chance he got. For those who think Trump became a new man yesterday, please come talk to me next time he tweets a conspiracy theory at 7 am.

Follow on Twitter @EighteenthandU

Picture credit: Cox Media

How to be president 101: Political Capital

Somewhere in the White House sits a giant sheet of posterboard with “CAMPAIGN PROMISES” scribbled across the top.  Each morning I imagine Donald Trump wakes up, looks at it like it’s the queen’s mirror from Snow White and thinks, “which of you suckers can I check off today? Muslim ban. Check. The Wall. Check. Repeal Obamacare and expand the military. Check and check.”

As time goes on and this list dwindles, Trump will undoubtedly see himself as the pinnacle of a successful president.  He’ll tell his supporters that unlike a normal politician, he actually delivered on his promises.  But is that really a good thing for him?  Does turning every campaign gaffe into national policy make for a successful leader?

There is a reason that political leaders don’t come in to office and rush to complete their entire agenda in the first 100 days. Two words: political capital.

Political capital is the nerd equivalent of swag. It is the length of the leash, the slack in a bungee cord, the gravitational pull of public opinion.

During the honeymoon phase of an administration, a new president has a lot of political capital, but it can be a fleeting beast. Back in 2009, President Obama was riding high, he had an approval rating in the high 50’s and majorities in both halls of Congress.  He had campaigned on two big ideas – healthcare and immigration reform.  But armed with staff of political veterans – including David Axelrod, Jim Messina, and Pete Rouse – Obama knew that only enough capital existed for one of those two achievements.

Immigration reform had actually been a possibility under Bush, but never made it across the finish line, so the calculation was made that it could wait. Instead, Obama pushed for the Affordable Care Act. Republican opposition was fierce, and less than a year later, Obama had lost his House majority from which he would never recover.

In a recent interview on the podcast “Keepin’ It 1600” Obama talked about how many freshman House members went out on a limb for him, voted for the ACA, and then lost their seats. That is what political capital can do for you.

Trump should be wise to heed this lesson, though the path he is on will be like death by a thousand cuts rather than the scorched earth bombing Obama experienced.

The first few weeks of the Trump Administration have been marked by constant controversy to the point it feels like we have been under his leadership for years already – with the gray hair to prove it.  All during the transition, Republican leaders still stood by his side, defending him when they could and simply staying silent when he really went beyond the pale.

This type of honeymoon will last for a bit, but if Trump’s approval numbers continue to submarine, his staff continue to play fast and loose with ethics rules, and the economy doesn’t take off, lawmakers will flee him in droves.

You’re starting to see it already. This past weekend John McCain, who jumped right under the covers with Trump during the campaign despite being mocked by him, went to Germany and gave a speech absolutely obliterating Trump’s worldview. Members of the same party don’t do this unless something is serious amiss.

McCain’s foray into resistance won’t be the last. Trump currently is governing by executive power (yes, I know it is early) and doesn’t appear particularly engaged in Congress.  This is another way to deplete his political capital regardless of scandal.

One of Democrat’s biggest complaints about President Obama was that he never engaged Congress when pursuing new agenda items, a philosophy epitomized by his 2014 declaration that he can get things done with the use of “a pen and a phone.”  As a result, when he did come calling, they were less willing to engage and be helpful. Back in their districts, they were hearing disdain with his policies, but they felt powerless to shape them.  This feeling led to resentment less willingness to cooperate.

Trump ought to be a student of history and heed this lesson.  If he continues to try and push major – and unpopular – agenda items via Executive Order he will find himself on an island politically.

He will not only see his agenda flounder – caveat… if he has one – but he may see himself more vulnerable to investigations by Congress.

Right now, there is plenty that should warrant a congressional investigation of Trump’s activities. Remember, the Republicans held 8 separate investigations of Benghazi at a cost of over $7 million dollars all in order to expose Hillary Clinton’s emails and weaken her, so don’t underestimate how powerful they can be when they want to.

If Republicans in the Senate are the canaries, Republicans in the House are the miners. We’ve already seen a handful of Senators including Chuck Grassley, Lindsey Graham, John McCain and others ask for investigations into the Russian / Trump contacts, but so far Jason “Profiles in Courage” Chaffetz has held his tongue.  

Chaffetz will continue to search for his spine as long as Trump’s political capital remains at acceptable levels. But, if he starts losing the support of Republicans and swing state Republicans start to appear vulnerable, Chaffetz will eventually find a reason to care about Russian interference.

Trump’s personality is part of the problem because everyone knows it isn’t in his nature to back down. But if his political capital were poker chips, he’d be in danger of going out just by anteing up. If I were advising Trump, I’d tell him to back off the immigration orders and ACA repeal and instead start floating options for infrastructure projects. He can do those things if he wants, but he should build good will with Democrats first instead of rallying their base to the point so that bipartisanship is impossible.

Obama lost all his political capital upending the healthcare system, what makes Trump think that his story will end any differently? In addition, Trump didn’t win the election because of hard-line Breitbart readers who want to end Islam. He won because blue-collar voters in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania couldn’t stand to hear “Fight Song” even more goddamn time.

Trump’s presidency may be listing, but it doesn’t have to sink.  If he focuses on rebuilding ties with Republicans in the Senate, proposes legislation that does not automatically trigger the gag reflex of 60% of the country, and stops attacking judges and writers, he could slowly rebuild his dwindling pile of chips.

Four years is a long time, and members of Congress have the power to make that time as productive or ineffective as they want for a president.  If Trump is popular, they’ll work with him, but Mar-a-Lago turns into a slush fund, protests continue to stall traffic in Lexington, and lawsuits start piling up, Trump will be reduced to nothing more than a another guy yelling at a television in a bathrobe.

Follow on Twitter @EighteenthandU

Picture credit: Zazzle.com