Political Animal Blog

The GOP Only Wants To Investigate, Not Be Investigated

One of the most ridiculous arguments made by Republicans during the House Intelligence Committee hearing on Monday is that the real danger to our country is the actual investigation into whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russia. In other words, investigating those possible ties is more dangerous than finding out whether or not a sitting president worked with an adversary to influence our elections.

Beyond the fact that this is an absurd argument to make, it also happens to be drowning in irony for anyone who has been paying attention over the last 25 years. You might recall that this is the same party that pursued investigations of Bill Clinton almost continually for his eight years in office. To do so they had to make the case that we faced an impeachable moment if our sitting president lied under oath about having sex. Clearly they didn’t think that an investigation into whether or not that happened was dangerous.

But that was simply the crescendo moment of investigations. Republicans also didn’t think it was dangerous to investigate whether or not the Clinton’s improperly fired White House staff or if they somehow benefited from a failed land deal in Arkansas or any other of the myriad of things they investigated in the 1990’s.

You might say, “Well, that was a long time ago. Things have changed.” But obviously the Republicans didn’t think it was dangerous to investigate whether a president (or a subsequent candidate for the presidency) nefariously failed to use the appropriate words to describe an attack on our facility in Benghazi. Even now, Republicans seem intent on finding a way to make Obama the culprit in Trump’s lies about being wiretapped.

This kind of hypocrisy is part of what is damaging to our politics. First of all, if investigations into potential illegal activity on the part of presidents are too dangerous to conduct, our founders wouldn’t have bothered to include the standards and procedures for impeachment. They were smart enough to know that failure to do so would provide an open door for malfeasance of all kinds. A key component of democracy is accountability.

Secondly, ever since Watergate, the Republicans have fed our insatiable need for conflict with a steady diet of investigations in an attempt to suggest that “both sides do it” when it comes to malfeasance. So while we have the specter of investigations into whether Republican presidents lied us into war, approved the use of torture or colluded with the Russians to influence an election, Democrats have been investigated for whether they lied about sex, benefited from a failed land deal or didn’t appropriately describe an attack. See any equivalence?

In a way I agree with Republicans that investigations can be dangerous. But the record will show that they are the ones who have politicized the process – especially when it comes to the Clintons. Now that we have a Republican president, they want to claim, “investigations for thee, but not for me.”

Why the Rush To Repeal Obamacare? It’s All About the Tax Cuts

The assumption has been that all of the frenetic activity to put together a bill to repeal/replace Obamacare in the House on Thursday was to tie its passage to the 7th anniversary of Obamacare. While that may have played a role, there is also the fact that Majority Leader McConnell seems poised to hurry a bill through the Senate as soon as the House is done.

Why all the rush? The explanation has more to do with what is next on the Republican agenda – tax cuts – than it does with health care. I have noted previously that this second item is dependent on successful completion of the first. Chye-Ching Huang did a great job of explaining why.

…passing the health package first facilitates deeper tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations in subsequent tax legislation.

That’s because the House GOP health plan reduces revenues by nearly $900 billion over the decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), including $592 billion in tax cuts largely for the wealthy. Passing these tax cuts now as part of a health package allows the GOP to offset their cost through cuts to health care spending — particularly in Medicaid, which CBO estimates the House health care bill cuts by $880 billion over ten years. If these tax cuts were part of tax reform legislation rather than being in the health bill, Republican leaders would have to offset their cost

Huang goes on to quote Speaker Ryan himself making that case in an interview with Maria Bartiromo.

And more importantly, it would have been a trillion dollars more difficult to do tax reform had we done that first. That’s a big deal.

A trillion dollars, just to give you, in your mind a perspective, that’s 10 percentage points on rates for businesses…And so taking tax reform with a bigger trillion dollar number in it makes it really hard to do. That’s why doing this first [Obamacare repeal] makes tax reform that much easier to accomplish.

What Ryan didn’t mention is that the plan has been to do both Obamacare repeal and tax cuts in the Senate via the process of budget reconciliation (which bypasses the possibility of a filibuster) in order to avoid needing any Democratic support. But there are a lot of rules involved with reconciliation – like the fact that bills passed via that process cannot add to the deficit over the next 10 years.

Is the picture starting to come together? Republicans want to pass trillions of dollars of tax cuts, but have to offset their costs in order to use the reconciliation process and avoid having to work with Democrats. Because Obamacare repeal gives them an offset by reducing things like Medicaid to the tune of about $800 billion, it allows them to pile up those tax cuts.

In other words, it’s not just that Speaker Ryan has been dreaming about dismantling Medicaid since he went to keggers. He needs to reduce the money we’re spending on health care for the poor and disabled in order to fund his tax cuts for the wealthy. It’s really that simple.

Stan Collender explained why that fuels the rush to get Obamacare repealed. It’s an intricate process and you can read all about it at that link. But what it comes down to is that the clock is ticking on the timeline for getting this done. The FY18 budget and reconciliation deadlines (which Republicans plan to use to pass their massive tax cuts) come up in May-June. So Republicans now face the task of completing both a budget resolution and a tax reform reconciliation process – along with needing to raise the debt ceiling – in the next 2 1/2 months.

As Collender notes:

The GOP leadership could delay the FY18 budget resolution until the ACA repeal reconciliation bill is enacted, but that would greatly reduce the amount of time available for both the 2018 appropriations and tax reform. It would virtually guarantee that federal departments and agencies would start fiscal 2018 with a continuing resolution instead of the individual appropriations the House and Senate leadership have promised. It would also seriously exacerbate what has already become a significant political problem for congressional Republicans and the Trump administration: they promised that repeal and tax reform would happen quickly.

Major promises that Trump and the Republicans have made are going to start falling by the wayside pretty soon. That is why we’re seeing this frenzy to get something – almost anything – passed with respect to Obamacare. Ryan and Trump are playing fast and loose on a topic that not only affects our health, but makes up about 18% of our economy – all because they are in a hurry to give rich people a massive tax break.

Health Bill’s Failure Would Tell Us A Lot

Things can always change, but as of now it looks like the plan is for Speaker Paul Ryan to bring the health care bill to a vote tomorrow under the threat, issued from the White House, that if the bill is rejected there will be no more attempts to pass it. It’s a desperate effort to convince the hold-outs, particularly in the hardline Freedom Caucus, that they won’t get more concessions nor another chance to say that they killed President Obama’s most prized achievement.

It’s an interesting negotiating tactic because it depends on two things. First, it’s operating on the flawed premise that the people who are expected to vote for this bill believe that they will be better off politically for having done so. Second, it relies on the credibility of the threat. If this bill fails to pass tomorrow, will that be the last time in Trump’s presidency that any effort will be made to repeal Obamacare? If rank-and-file Republicans believe this, then maybe the logic is compelling. But if they don’t believe it, then it isn’t a real threat.

I know Donald Trump is supposed to be an expert on the Art of the Deal, and maybe he will prove himself worthy of that reputation. But his strategy is not very opaque here. And I don’t think he has the credibility to convince folks that he means what he says even though he may be completely sincere.

If the moment gets close to a vote and the whips announce that the bill with fail, it’s possible that it may get pulled again. But it sounds like they’re going to make the caucus walk the plank, show their cards, and go on the record. It won’t be a good vote to have on their record regardless of how they cast it.

For Speaker Ryan, it could cripple him in much the same way that Speaker John Boehner was crippled by his right flank. It will be more proof that the Republicans cannot function as a partisan majority. With Boehner, they needed to ask for Democratic votes repeatedly. That’s becoming less and less of an option, and it could come to a head when it’s time to raise the debt ceiling again.

A failure on health care will deny Ryan the funds he needs to pass a partisan tax reform bill, meaning that the two top legislative priorities of the year could go down in one late-March vote. If they want to move on to an infrastructure bill, they’ll find that that can’t pass on a partisan vote, either.

The only way the House leadership can function is by cutting out of the right flank and going to the Democrats to form their majorities, which is why I have long advocated a cross-partisan governing coalition for the House where some Democrats get committee chairs. It was the only way that Boehner could have saved his job, and he wouldn’t take the step out of party loyalty. Paul Ryan won’t do it either, but if his speakership fails and there is a new election, the moderate Republicans are going to have to consider making the kind of deal I envision.

It would actually be the only thing that could conceivably save Trump’s presidency, because it would not compel him but would give him permission to move away from this unworkable plan to govern based on only Republican votes. If he really wants to wheel and deal, he needs the freedom to get away from rigid far-right conservative orthodoxy. He didn’t run as that candidate, so he’s crazy to try to govern that way.

Look where it got him. Here he is trying to cajole people into voting for a bill that breaks almost every promise he made about health care. He couldn’t create a workable replacement for Obamacare that would cover everyone, keep prices low, and make people happier unless he was willing to get beyond conservative myths and talking points. He isn’t a down the line conservative and his effort to govern like one is bringing him to early ruin.

In any case, even if this bill somehow passes tomorrow, its chances in the Senate are approximately nil. I expect the Republicans senators are pretty much uniformly with the rest of us in hoping that Speaker Ryan fails and gets to take all the blame.

Quick Takes: Republicans Can’t Get to “Yes” on Obamacare Repeal

* Kevin Drum has a nice run-down of what happens when members of the House Freedom Caucus (HFC) meet with the guy who hails himself as the ultimate deal-maker.

President agrees to demands.

President Trump agreed to the demands of conservative House Republicans to remove federal requirements that health insurance plans provide a basic set of benefits like maternity care, emergency services, mental health and wellness visits as he struggles to round up enough votes to pass a broad health care overhaul.

HFC: not enough.

Conservative House Republicans rebuffed an offer by President Trump on Thursday to strip a key set of mandates from the nation’s current health-care law, raising doubts about whether House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has the votes to pass the bill.

HFC sets new goalposts.

Conservative lawmakers have asked to eliminate much of [Obamacare’s] Title I, which….bars companies from setting insurance rates based on a person’s sex, medical condition, genetic condition or other factors.

Result:

House leaders postponed a vote Thursday on their plan to overhaul the nation’s health-care system, as they and President Trump struggled to meet demands of conservative lawmakers who said they could not support the bill.

House Republicans planned to meet behind closed doors later Thursday to figure out their next steps.

* Here’s something John Boehner learned the hard way, but Ryan and Trump don’t seem to understand yet.

* One problem might be who is/isn’t represented in the room for the negotiations. Notice any particular groups that are not represented at the table? The photo reminds me of deals hammered out behind closed doors in the 1950’s.

* Someone who has experience with this kind of thing has some thoughts.

For some of us that is painful because we remember the days when our leaders actually knew what they were doing.

* By the way, CBO actually scored the bill that is not going to be voted on today.

Amid the chaos on Capitol Hill Thursday as GOP leaders failed to muster the votes for their bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Congressional Budget Office released its assessment of the most recent revision of the bill. The CBO had little good news for Republicans: 24 million people would still lose insurance over 10 years under the revised legislation, and it would do far less than the original bill to reduce the federal deficit.

The original bill was slated to reduce the deficit by $337 billion over a decade, but amendments proposed to win over the votes of moderate Republicans nervous about the bill’s impact on their lower-income and elderly constituents would cost the government an additional $186 billion.

Compared to the previous Republican edition, this one spends more but doesn’t cover any more people. It’s hard to see how they’re making progress.

* Because of Donald Trump, some kids were afraid to go to school.

On February 15th, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ice) officers conducted a raid in Las Cruces, arresting people at a trailer park on the outskirts of town. The raid came a few weeks after President Trump signed two executive orders, signalling his plans to fulfill a campaign promise of cracking down on undocumented immigrants. Rumors spread that there were further raids planned, though none took place. On February 16th, a Thursday, Las Cruces’s public schools saw a sixty-per-cent spike in absences compared to the previous week—twenty-one hundred of the district’s twenty-five thousand students missed school. Two thousand students stayed away again the next day. Attendance returned to normal the following week, which made the two-day rash of absences all the more pronounced. “It was alarming,” Greg Ewing, the district’s superintendent, told me. News of the raid caused such fear in the community that Ewing wrote a letter to parents on the 16th, in English and Spanish, reassuring them that “we do not anticipate any ice activity occurring on school campuses.”

* Finally, this is an interesting addition to the resistance:

In the suburbs of Minneapolis–St Paul, friends gather around a backyard campfire to discuss how to turn their Donald Trump anger into action.

In San Francisco, California, an all-female crew eats Middle Eastern food and reads the constitution.

In Decatur, Georgia, a silver bell gets rung if anyone in the group of mainly suburban moms starts speaking off-topic during their monthly get-togethers.

Political “salons” are popping up in living rooms, bars and backyards in response to the 2016 election of Donald Trump. Some have wine; some have a set agenda; all are scheming how to fight against this presidency.