Twenty-Two And Three And The C.B.O.

[ Posted Thursday, March 9th, 2017 – 17:24 PST ]

That title is not a weak attempt to make a pun on the genetics company "23andMe." It is not a throwback to "23-skidoo." And it's definitely not an attempt to sound like a quarterback calling signals at the line (besides, it's the wrong season for football metaphors). Instead, it represents the three biggest hurdles that Republicans now face in their efforts to dismantle Obamacare.

The first two are actual numbers, unlike (for the moment) the last one. Twenty-two is the number of votes Republicans cannot afford to lose in the House. Likewise, if they lose only three senators, the bill will also fail. So far, Paul Ryan should be worried about both of those numbers. But the biggest headache is going to arrive for Ryan next Monday, when the Congressional Budget Office is slated to release its "score" of the GOP health bill. Because the C.B.O. numbers might just push both the House and the Senate Republicans into open revolt over what was supposed to be their party's signature issue.

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From The Archives -- Don't Call It A Black-And-Tan

[ Posted Wednesday, March 8th, 2017 – 18:28 PST ]

[Program Note: Sorry, no new column today. In anticipation of next Friday, I'm re-running a Paddy's Day column from a few years back. I did check (and update) the final link in this article, because it was the most important one, but haven't checked any of the others, so my apologies if they don't work anymore. Oh, and if you're interested in reading some recent Irish politics, check out this story of the pro-choice protest this week. Otherwise, just sit back and learn why you should never order a "black and tan" in Ireland, as it could save you some severe embarrassment (or worse), should you ever travel there. Regular columns will resume tomorrow.]


Originally published March 15, 2012

I realize I'm a wee bit early for a Saint Patrick's Day column, but tomorrow is our regularly-scheduled Friday Talking Points, and Saturday I will be hoisting a pint of Sir Arthur Guinness' fine product, so we'll just have to make do with today.

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Ryancare Immediately Attacked By Republicans

[ Posted Tuesday, March 7th, 2017 – 17:53 PST ]

Almost seven years after the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare), the Republicans have finally released their much-anticipated replacement bill. They had been content, up until quite recently, to just use "repeal" as a rallying cry without giving a whole lot of thought to replacing Obamacare with anything, and for good reason. No matter whether you agree with them or not, you have to admit that, politically, this tactic worked wonders for them. But now that there's a Republican in the White House again, the pressure was on Paul Ryan to actually show America what Republicans would do differently than Obamacare. Late yesterday, his bill was finally publicly unveiled.

It hasn't even been 24 hours yet, and already the bill is being rhetorically torn to shreds. This would be a normal political reaction, except for the fact that the biggest pushback is coming from Republicans. Democrats are indeed denouncing the bill, but their voices aren't getting as much media coverage as the Republicans who are currently savaging their own party's bill (which, to be honest, is more interesting -- explaining the media's decision to focus on it).

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Comey Needs To Clear The Air

[ Posted Monday, March 6th, 2017 – 17:57 PST ]

It's never a dull moment in Donald Trump's White House, and this weekend was certainly no exception. Trump began the weekend early Saturday morning by tweeting out what seemed to be a conspiracy theory. This did precisely what it was intended to do, which was to divert attention from the growing questions about Russian influence in both the Trump campaign and in his administration. Trump was reportedly furious during a Friday meeting that Jeff Sessions had recused himself from the investigation, because to Trump any backing down from any previously-held position is a sign of weakness and not to be tolerated. As dawn broke on Saturday, Trump decided to distract the media by tossing another Twitter hand grenade into the political conversation, and as a result Sessions quickly dropped from the news.

Trump's accusations were breathtaking -- all the more so since he didn't offer the tiniest shred of evidence to back them up. According to Trump, President Barack Obama personally approved wiretapping Trump Tower at the height of the election season. He originally alluded to McCarthy, but then later was apparently counseled that the appropriate political parallel to use was Watergate. Which is more appropriate, since Richard Nixon did all sorts of nefarious things of this nature against his political opponents (see: "enemies list" if you don't remember the term).

Whatever historical analogy you prefer, if Trump was right it would be an abuse of power for Obama to personally order a wiretap on the opposition party's candidate for president in the midst of an election. This would be political misuse of the Justice Department of the highest order. Only problem is, there appears to be absolutely no evidence whatsoever to back up Trump's claim.

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Friday Talking Points [427] -- Lock Him Up!

[ Posted Friday, March 3rd, 2017 – 18:29 PST ]

This was supposed to be a good week for Donald Trump. He was going to give a big speech, and he was all set to roll out the 2.0 version of his Muslim ban. As usual in the Trump administration, though, things didn't quite work out as planned.

Trump gave his speech, and because he didn't froth at the mouth or scream at the media, it was deemed his first "presidential" moment. Of course, Trump had offered up a profile in cowardice the morning before his big speech, insisting that the buck not stop anywhere near the Oval Office desk on the botched Yemen raid. First he blamed the generals for "wanting to do" the raid, he tried to blame Barack Obama since the planning "was started before I got here," and then Trump laid all the blame for one soldier's death on "the generals, who are very respected," but who also "lost Ryan." Now just for one moment, imagine what Republicans would say if Hillary Clinton -- or any Democratic president, for that matter -- had said anything even remotely like that. Their indignation would be epic, but when Trump passed this buck, they uttered not a peep.

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Beyond Sessions, Trump's Russian Scandal Is Here To Stay

[ Posted Thursday, March 2nd, 2017 – 17:21 PST ]

As is frequently said in Washington, it's not the crime but the coverup that gets you. It's looking like that theory is going to be tested sooner than anyone might have expected, in the Donald Trump administration. No matter what happens now, they may have already done permanent damage to themselves in the eyes of the American public. The underlying theme of Trump being no more than a stooge for Russia's Vladimir Putin seems to be growing by the day, at this point. Which means that everything they do to fight this image is going to have the flavor of "Methinks they doth protest too much" about it. At this point, they can't avoid it.

We've now entered into the freewheeling phase of political scandal where everything gets tossed at the wall just to see what sticks. We've already had one prominent Trump administration official step down amid allegations of inappropriate contacts with Russia -- and then lying about it, even to Vice President Mike Pence. Now we've got another high Trump official who is currently dancing around "it depends what your definition of 'is' is" Clintonesque statements, in an effort to explain why he was just misleading Congress under oath, and not actually lying and committing perjury to them. And once again, team Trump appears completely blindsided by the entire crisis -- apparently they only heard about Jeff Sessions having meetings with the Russian ambassador by reading them in the newspaper like everyone else. This brings up the real possibility that Sessions -- like Michael Flynn before him -- has previously lied to the White House about the existence of such meetings. Which, if you'll recall, was the reason why Flynn was fired.

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Style Versus Substance

[ Posted Wednesday, March 1st, 2017 – 18:03 PST ]

President Donald Trump's first speech to Congress and to the American public was not a disaster of epic proportions. Normally, I wouldn't begin a speech review with such a statement, but with Trump, the possibility always exists (see: Trump's first press conference). Trump managed to clear the bar of "speaks like the public wants to hear a president speak, and not like an enraged adolescent on the playground." Again, for any other president this bar wouldn't even be mentioned, because it has never been an issue before now. Because it was Donald Trump, however, much of the audience watching the speech breathed a sigh of relief that Trump finally managed to "look presidential."

Grading Trump's first big speech has to be split into two different categories. Now, much of the mainstream media chose to focus solely on the first aspect of Trump's speech: style. Precious little attention was paid to the substance of the speech, which is why I'm saving it for last in my own review. Suffice it to say for now that I think Trump did much better on style than on substance.

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Media Can't Count, Gets Trolled On Trump Budget

[ Posted Tuesday, February 28th, 2017 – 16:40 PST ]

I should begin by stating that I'm writing this before President Donald Trump gives his first almost-but-not-quite State Of The Union speech (historically, the first such speech isn't officially given the S.O.T.U. title). So anything he says in his speech tonight that contradicts this article can't be avoided. Just to point it out, up front.

The Trump White House released its first hints of a budget proposal yesterday, and in doing so they masterfully trolled pretty much the entire mainstream media. The first thing everyone focused on was the proposal to boost military spending by $54 billion, or ten percent. But the other focus was successfully manipulated by the White House to "journalists" who seem absolutely incapable of doing basic math. Get that -- the Trump team is outdoing someone else on lack of math skills! Really thought that would have proven impossible to accomplish, but here we are.

The Trump White House spin was that they'd be paying for their big boost to Pentagon dollars by cutting other spending in the federal budget. The trolling happened when they dangled a few programs which would be first on the chopping block. The result was that virtually every media report about the budget proposal said something like: "and Trump will be saving an equal amount of money by making cuts in the State Department, foreign aid, and the E.P.A." Few media reports gave any context to this statement, and the ones that bothered to dig deeper somehow came up with "these agencies will be subject to deep cuts -- as deep as 30 percent!"


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Will Perez Be Effective?

[ Posted Monday, February 27th, 2017 – 18:50 PST ]

The Democratic National Committee met this weekend and elected as its new chairman Tom Perez, who narrowly beat out Keith Ellison on the second round of voting. It was the most contentious race for party chair seen in decades, so the first challenge Perez is going to face is whether he can quickly achieve any sort of party unity before the big push for the midterm elections gets underway. He's got his work cut out for him, but the bigger question is whether he'll be an effective party leader for the Democrats, and whether he can reverse the slide in the party's relative strength both nationwide and at the state and local level.

This is a lot to ask of anyone. Normally, party chairs are (somewhat mockingly) called "fundraisers-in-chief," since a big part of their job is keeping the party's campaign chest full, by convincing the big donors to keep the money flowing in. But these are not normal times, and that's before even considering the Trump effect. Even if a run-of-the-mill Republican were in the Oval Office right now, Democrats would still have no real visible leader. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are the closest thing to party leaders the Democrats have, but they don't exactly personify where the energy is in the party right now. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren clearly lead one wing of the Democratic Party, but they can't realistically be called the outright leaders of the entire party either. All of this puts much more weight on the shoulders of the D.N.C. chair, elevating the position to more prominence than just being the best at shaking down big donors on a regular basis.

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Friday Talking Points [426] -- Who To Believe?

[ Posted Friday, February 24th, 2017 – 18:29 PST ]

That question is becoming more and more acute for the rest of the world, in reference to President Donald Trump versus the rest of the Trump administration. If you were the foreign minister from a country in Europe, for example, would you believe what Trump says about American policy towards Europe and Russia, or would you believe his minions, such as the Vice President Mike Pence or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson? This dilemma could become a sort of low-level ongoing crisis, since Trump's comments are so far removed from what others in his administration are saying. Who are you going to believe? The boss, or the underling who is making much more sense? That's a pretty risky geopolitical gamble to make, no matter which side you choose to believe.

Since the Trump regime assumed office, the president has disparaged NATO (as he had repeatedly done on the campaign trail). This had to be walked back by Pence, who assured European leaders that Trump really didn't mean what he said. The Europeans are awfully nervous about Russia, and every time the Trump-Putin bromance gets chummier, they get more worried. Tillerson and Pence both tried to reassure the Europeans, but skepticism remains high that they don't truly speak for the president. Understandably so.

Tillerson went down to Mexico this week to make a desperate attempt at healing wounds south of the border. He immediately had to walk back a statement by Trump that deportations were proceeding as "a military operation." Tillerson was left to weakly insist that of course this wasn't true, and the U.S. military wouldn't be rounding people up in America. Again, who would you believe?

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