Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Listen: this has happened before, part three.

I have previously written about two other historical antecedents to Trump: the Know-Nothings and "Redemption."  But there is a third parallel that is most apt: Senator Joe McCarthy.

McCarthy was born in Wisconsin to poor farming parents who had immigrated from Ireland.  His schooling was erratic, since he helped his family on the farm, but he managed to put himself through college and then law school.  After a few years of practicing law, he ran as a candidate for judge in 1939 and won, succeeding in the race in part by lying about his opponent's age.

His judicial career doesn't bear discussing -- although it has to be said he didn't exactly shine -- and it ended when McCarthy volunteered for the Marines when America entered World War 2.  He was a briefing officer with no combat duties, but he volunteered to be a gunner/observer for twelve missions.  He was injured during the war when he broke his leg at a party.

After the war, McCarthy ran a failed Senate campaign, then took back his seat as judge while planning for a second run.  This time, he won -- a victory that many attributed to attacks on his opponent for war profiteering.

Senator Joe McCarthy started off quietly, giving speeches and working for a few special interests, but his real rise to power came when he started declaring that he had identified numerous Communists (205 of them!) who worked in the State Department and elsewhere in the government.  In a country shaken by the Soviet development of a nuclear weapon and the revelation of several high-profile spies in the government, McCarthy's claim sparked a firestorm of press.

McCarthy seldom provided any evidence for these claims, but they initially seem to have come from allegations made by a former Secretary of State to another Congressperson. The accusations were essentially unsubstantiated, since few of the accused still worked at State and all of them had undergone further security checks.  But that didn't stop McCarthy.  He seized upon this and other prior claims as "evidence," as though someone else's baseless accusations could constitute evidence for his own.  Suspicion alone was all the evidence that McCarthy needed.

Responding to McCarthy's rampant fearmongering, the Senate put together a special committee and held hearings -- the Tydings Committee.  The hope by many senators was that McCarthy's allegations would fall apart under scrutiny.  And, sure enough, he never substantiated them and the committee (and the full Senate) approved conclusions that cleared the State Department and its security procedures.

Unfortunately, the opportunity to rant for hours at a time in the national spotlight didn't diminish McCarthy's standing.  Rather than implode, McCarthy swelled.  While his approval in Wisconsin wasn't great, he had achieved national standing and was widely regarded as one of the most prominent figures in the Senate.  He was helped by the fact that he was Catholic and America's large Catholic community was just beginning to flex its political muscles (including the Kennedy family, which supported him).  And after he was re-elected, he was put in charge of a major committee -- not the security committee he would have preferred, but one with enough scope that he could start holding his own hearings.

McCarthy's committee began holding prominent investigations of different institutions, focusing particularly on those bodies that could be expected to have some diversity of opinion.  He investigated the Voice of America radio station run by State and then the International Information Agency system of libraries.  Unsurprisingly, he found some broadcasts and some books that could be characterized as "communist."  It made for even more national exposure and strengthened the public perception that there really was some sort of communist conspiracy.

Having met with success -- if hysteria, rumors, and scapegoating of innocents can be called such -- McCarthy turned away from the State Department to the Army.  As before, he seized on already-existing accusations in order to inflate his own profile.  Maj. Irving Peress was a dentist enlisted in the Army as a medical professional, but who had failed to satisfactorily answer questions on a standard Army "loyalty review" form.  Accordingly, he'd been discharged.  McCarthy made a show of "investigating" the case, even though there seemed to be no mystery and no scandal, raking Peress over the coals as a witness and blasting the Army's handling of the case.

In the process, though, McCarthy made some enemies in the Army; not longer thereafter, the Army officially accused McCarthy of using the investigation process to apply pressure on senior officials to promote one of McCarthy's friends.  McCarthy's own committee was set to adjudicate the matter.

It would prove to be the end of his career.

McCarthy had always seem invulnerable.  He wasn't, but he did have a special power: Joe McCarthy could not be shamed.  With a straight face and despite incontrovertible evidence, he would declare that he'd flown 32 combat missions during the war, had been wounded in the line of duty, and that he was the recipient of numerous awards for heroism.  With a steady voice and despite clear contradictions, he would denounce vast legions of the innocent as communists.  With a clear conscience and despite all reasonable dissent, he would do evil things and rejoice as it gave him power.

As long as there was a shred of ambiguity -- some thin thread on which to hang his accusations -- McCarthy didn't stop.  He blustered and bullied, and his fans loved him for it.  They were willing to forgive any exaggeration or extremity as long as he was on their team and seemed to be dominant.

But when your power comes from an illusion of your mastery or the prevalence of prejudice, it is a fragile thing.  McCarthy found that out when he went up against the Army... and for the first time, after years of claims and bluster, the American people saw him clearly.

Senator Stu Symington, focused and prepared and calm, took him apart like a roast chicken.

Edward R. Murrow did a feature on McCarthy, found him to be a crude liar, and denounced him for a dangerous fool.

And attorney Jack Welch leapt to the defense of an innocent young lawyer, Fred Fisher, in words that rang as clear as a bell with their passion and scorn.

Almost like magic, McCarthy became a figure of contempt for most of America.  His majority support inverted, his allies in Congress abandoned him, and everyone in the country suddenly felt free to criticize him without fear.  The Senate officially censured him.





Joe McCarthy served out the remainder of his term, to be sure.  But his spell was broken and his power was over.  He launched no more investigations.  He destroyed no one else.  His day was done, and he and his supporters were thrown down.  His name became a pejorative.

We don't know the hour or the day.  It might not happen with some grand confrontation or speech.  This time, there might not be a handful of brave heroes... there might be millions.

But it will happen.  After all, this has happened before.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Listen: our opponents are this White House and our own exhaustion, so make sure you fight both.

We have two opponents.  The first one is an insular group of amoral or immoral Republican legislators, funded by the dark money of the corrupt and the small donations of their victims.

The second one is exhaustion.

In the past two weeks -- that's fourteen days, folks! -- we have been assaulted with a flood of insanity:

  • Attorney-General Jeff Sessions has announced his office intends to ramp up the drug war once more and will be reviewing and rejecting many of the Obama-era attempts at police reform.  This shift in priorities is happening after years of hard-fought progress, when the Department of Justice worked with police departments all over the country to establish consent decrees -- agreements that can credibly compel reform.  It's happening when some of the first reforms (the use of body cameras) is starting to pay dividends, exposing blatant discrimination and abuse.  This incident, where officers drive-stunned a handcuffed man because they didn't like his mild protests of innocence, is one example.
  • It has been revealed that the president spoke in private to his FBI Director, James Comey, to say in regards to former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go."  Then when Comey declined, Trump fired him -- and has publicly admitted that it was at least partially because of that "phony" investigation!  And in a final shocking twist tonight, the relatively new Deputy Attorney-General, Ron Rosenstein, has appointed a special counsel to investigate the whole thing -- and that special counsel is the unimpeachable Robert Mueller!  The only thing I would have thought less likely than the president publicly admitted to obstruction of justice would be his administration's appointment of a superlative and steadfast man to investigate the matter!  Rosenstein reportedly didn't ask permission from his boss, Sessions, or the president-- indeed, he only gave them a half-hour's notice!
  • President Trump invited President Erdogan of Turkey to the White House, a man who is literally at the moment consolidating authoritarian power in a country that was once a free democracy, and has said nothing after Erdogan's private security force attacked and beat American protesters outside the Turkish embassy.
  • Two weeks ago, the House Republicans managed to wrangle enough deals to inch the American Health Care Act (AHCA, or Trumpcare, or Ryancare) out of their corner and into the Senate.  After managing to pass this bill -- a bill so wildly unpopular that it has actually doubled the nation's approval Obamacare to a majority! -- they then went and posed for a picture with the president.
This is the short list.  Off the top of my head, I can think of twenty more incidents in the past two weeks that would each have consumed a week of news cycles in calmer times.

These events and all others have taken their toll on American views of Donald Trump.  When politicians are openly and casually discussing the numbers on possible impeachment, and his own party is sizing up possible staffing positions in the future presidency of Mike Pence, it's no wonder his approval rating has cratered back down to a low point.

It's also taken a toll on all of us.  Activist energy has waned after a spike of outrage after the passage of the AHCA, and now it's as though we're all stunned -- either with dismay about this tidal wave of craziness or hope about a possible conclusive end to it.  Many of those in the Resistance have begun to think that the light at the end of the tunnel is right around the corner... or that it may never come.

And both groups are wrong.

Impeachment (that is to say, actual removal from office) isn't going to happen, not based on what we know right now.  And to be frank: we shouldn't hope for it to happen.

I'm sorry, and this may frustrate you, but it's true.  The numbers aren't there, first of all.  To remove a president from office, the House needs to pass articles of impeachment by a majority, and then the Senate must approve one or more of them by a 2/3 majority.  That means that, assuming every single Democrat voted as a bloc (a safe assumption), you'd need 25 Republicans in the House and 20 Republicans in the Senate to vote for impeachment.

The brute facts are these: it would take a level of heroic selflessness for Republicans to turn against their own party in such numbers, and there is virtually no evidence that they will do so.  With a handful of exceptions, very few Republicans have done more than say that they're "troubled" by the latest allegations, or that they want a "full investigation" before they make a judgment.  And even those few exceptions, like Congressman Justin Amash (R-MI), have a record of saying they're bothered by something and then voting for it anyway.

Republicans will call for investigations, call for a "course correction," call for advisers to be fired, call for a focus on legislation, and so on.  But when push comes to shove, they keep backing the president.  They will continue to do so long after the truth is obvious, especially now that they can say, "I'll wait to see what the special counsel has to say when his investigation is done" (i.e. in a year or two).

As Upton Sinclair once said, 'It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

This makes political sense.  There would be no escaping a Democratic tidal wave in 2018 and 2020 if the president were impeached and removed for malfeasance in a historical first.  Even if it weren't a matter of simple party identification, there's also the fact that these legislators have been working with Trump for months.  That picture of the whole Republican House caucus laughing together with Trump in the Rose Garden after passing the AHCA?  The video of Trump laughing and glad-handing with them after his "presidential" speech?  The ads would be crushing and simple and obvious: this guy is buddies with the corrupt monster we just kicked out, so kick him out too.

Indeed, there's only one reason I can imagine Speaker Paul Ryan and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell acting to impeach Trump: if they want Pence.  It is conceivable that they could make the decision that the massive hit they'll take from Trump will be worth it, if only they can do it quickly enough to put Pence in place and then start passing some legislation.  Paul Ryan would beat his own mother with a brick if it resulted in tax cuts for the wealthy, and he earnestly seems to believe they will help the country and result in rewards at the polls.  But the timing is so tricky as to be almost impossible.

And that means we're left with the long slog.  It's disheartening.  There's a special prosecutor: his work will take years.  There are special elections: to actually flip Congress we must wait 537 days.  They haven't passed a single piece of major legislation: they have a year in which to do so and hurt the country.

Thus, we have two opponents: the corrupt administration and our own weariness.

You know how to fight the former.  March, call, write, protest.  How do we fight our own exhaustion?

  • Self-care.  Take the time to take care of yourself.  If you run yourself ragged, you won't be ready when we need to bring the fight.  Take a nap in the shade with a magazine and a glass of wine.  Play video games for an hour with your son, and hit him in the back of the head with a pillow when he tries to cheat.  Watch a silly movie with your partner.  Sometimes, you need to give yourself permission to bolster your own strength.
  • Find something with a quick payoff.  It's hard to always work towards a distant goal, so find something you can do that will let you accomplish something in the short term.  Canvass for voter registration in a swing district, so you can come home with sore feet and a clipboard full of new names.  Find an issue that bothers you and a bill that might help fix it, and start pushing your representatives to support that bill.
  • Take a break.  If you go to an activist meeting every week or every other week, make a commitment to ignore the news for a while and to skip the next meeting -- but also to go back to the meeting after that!  A firm and discrete commitment to take a break will help you give yourself a little vacation, and you won't be at risk of just letting the whole enterprise slide away.
If you don't take the time to salve your own wounds, you won't be able to stay in the fight.  I promise you that.  You'll burn out, you'll become jaded, you'll give up.  Don't let that happen.

Take care of yourself, so you can help take care of everyone else.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Listen: update on Trump's approval and reversion to the mean.

A month ago, I wrote about how Trump's approval ratings were likely to go up, and that this shouldn't surprise anyone or be over-interpreted.
As far as I see it, then, the bottom line is this: the partisan reflex and cognitive dissonance in Trump's initial supporters is strong enough to suggest that his numbers will bounce back a little.  Particularly at a time when he's taking highly visible and Extremely Presidential actions such as bombing the Middle East (a perennial favorite past-time of American presidents), there's a lot of potential for President Trump to bolster his support among marginal supporters and the disillusioned.  His current levels of support are at extreme lows for this time in a presidency, and so we should expect some reversion to the mean of partisanship -- particularly when he still has some cards to play.

So when Trump's approval rating increases somewhat, don't be surprised or dismayed.  We should expect it and plan for it, and none of the underlying dynamics are likely to change.
Here's how it played out, so far:

My post arrived near the beginning of a four-point swing in the president's approval, which rose in the unsophisticated RealClearPolitics average a total of four points over the next month.  This nearly wiped out all of the losses sustained during a month of mistakes and brutal coverage.

It would have been very tempting, I'm sure, to start to panic during that period -- to wonder if the nation was suddenly starting to like their president.  But hopefully you remembered the likelihood of a reversion to the mean and the noisiness of polling.

And hopefully now you notice that, overall, his numbers remain in decline, and have dropped back down almost to those record-setting lows of April.  Stay skeptical and pay attention to context, and there will seldom be a reason to panic.

Listen: Trump and the power of appearances.

Who are you going to trust?  Me, or your lying eyes?
 -- Chico Marx in Duck Soup

The president does not appear to know much about policy.  With few exceptions -- most notably real estate and construction, for understandable reasons -- he seems to be wholly ignorant.  Even worse, he doesn't seem to care about his ignorance, believing that everything boils down to his nebulous skill of "deal-making."  To Trump, every disagreement comes down to the displays of dominance that guide his approach to conflict.  Why bother learning anything if everything is the same?

In other words, outcomes don't seem to actually matter to the president.  Only appearances matter.  The question is only: how true is this for the rest of America?

The ignorance has been obvious from the start, of course, even to Trump's supporters.  Unwilling or unable to study the basics facts of foreign policy or domestic policy, he spoke throughout the campaign in broad generalities.  He relied on bluster and the charity of others to muddle through.  His health care policy was always some formulation of we're going to get rid of the lines around the states and we're doing to do great deals.  Challenged on specifics, like the inherent problems of selling insurance across state lines (an immediate race to the regulatory bottom), Trump would just scoff and assert that it would be so easy to come up with better care for less money.  And sure enough, the Trump White House has proven not to have any actual position on healthcare -- they just let the House write out without offering any input, and endorsed the result.

What is he going to do about NAFTA?  Well, he's going to make a great deal.  What about infrastructure?  It'll be a great deal.  A huge, massive, great deal.  And then he segues into complaints about poor negotiators from years past, or obstruction, or the "mess" he was left, or distracts by talking about something unrelated.

Obviously, his strategy has often worked.  It got him elected, after all (in addition to unscrupulous attacks on Hillary Clinton, James Comey's poor judgment, hyperpartisanship, and the intervention of a foreign power).  Many folks are entirely willing to fill in the gaps for themselves, or to assume that there's substance behind Trump's bluster, or just not informed enough to see the problem.  But where is the limit?  How far can it take him?

This is one of the big things that has worried me this year.  It's a fascinating question, really: is it possible for an administration to convince its supporters to accept their narrative instead of the reality around them?

The economy is the most prominent example.  Presidents are capable of badly damaging the economy, but any positive contributions are minimal and long-term.  It's pretty easy to screw the economy up, and pretty hard to boost it.  But after spending years attacking the "fake" unemployment numbers and job growth during the Obama administration, this president is forced to abide by his own fiction.  Thus, a sudden reversal: the White House extravagantly praised the February jobs numbers, when the economy added 235,000 jobs, even after scorning an even higher number in December of 2012.

Reporters laughed.  Democrats cried hypocrisy (and also pointed out that these numbers couldn't conceivably be the result of any Trump policy).  But Trump supporters... "GREAT AGAIN! February Jobs Gains Rocket to 235,000 as Unemployment Ticked Down."

This has been a serious concern of mine.  I have always thought that it will all be okay, but Trump would be able to do significant damage if he just managed to hold his base -- and blithe falsehood might be the way to do it, especially when combined with showmanship.  Turning on a dime and claiming that the exact same mediocre economy is suddenly doing well is hypocritical, but your own tribe can turn a blind eye.  Dropping a very big bomb and bragging about it is play-acting machismo, but machismo does impress some people.  Bullying one company into keeping its factory in America might not stem the slow ebb of manufacturing in the country, but it's very flashy.

Can it work?  Can style win over substance in this country?

Comfortingly, the early evidence seems to indicate that it will not succeed.  I had hoped that the divergence between reality and spin would become too great to ignore, even for Trump's supporters, but I worried that the process might take years.  Instead, it's taken months.

Example #1: The American Health Care Act (AHCA) is a terrible bill.  It also directly contradicts some key campaign promises by the administration, since it cuts Medicaid, endangers people with pre-existing conditions, and has no hope of lowering the actual cost of care.  The administration put all of its weight behind the bill and tried to sell it as "terrific" and a "great bill" that would "take care of everybody."  And it didn't work.  The AHCA remained unpopular with Democrats and Republicans.  It's still unpopular today, even after its passage through the House.  The blustering ignorance that led Trump to endorse such nonsense was not able to overwhelm the reality of the bill or the threat it poses.

Example #2: The president's termination of FBI Director James Comey was a horrific breach of ethical norms (even though he deserved it) since it took place during an investigation of the administration, especially since even the president has admitted that his desire to curtail the investigation was a factor.  But more than half of Americans -- 54% -- think it was inappropriate.  That number must include a sizable chunk of Trump voters who aren't buying the administration's incompetent spin.  The attempt to control appearances and make this look like decisive dominance is overwhelmed by the facts about the context.

Most Americans are not buying the style, but instead are looking at the substance -- and they are making these judgments in such numbers that it is apparent that even some of the Trump base are peeling away.  The showmanship isn't working.  People have their eyes open and are looking at reality.

And folks, let me tell you something: reality is not Trump's friend.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Listen: It's rarely this easy to identify the bad guys. It's a moment of clarity.

Politics, like life, is usually pretty complicated.  It might not always seem that way, of course.  Especially if you're passionately devoted to a particular view of the world, people might seem to be clearly sorted out into good and evil.  But that's not really the case.  There are very few villains.  Most of the time the world is a mushy scrum of misinformed -- or self-interested -- folks... plus the many muddlers that get in the way.

Politics is the same.  Most of the time, politicians, staffers, and intellectuals are some uncertain combination of good intentions, ignorance, experience, principles, and selfishness.  Combine these sorts of traits in different proportions and you can get the recipe for just about anyone in politics.

Senator John McCain: a cup of good intentions and a cup of principles, topped with a heaping scoop of selfishness.  Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: equal parts selfishness, experience, and good intentions, stored in a cool, dark place.  Senator Ted Cruz: a cup of selfishness and a dusting of experience, garnished with a child's tears.

Politicians usually don't do things that they believe are foolish or evil.  They usually do them because they think that those things are a necessary sacrifice, or because everyone else just doesn't understand the real truth, or because they're trying to represent their voters above all.

You're a Montana legislator voting to require licenses and 2,000 hours of training just to braid hair?  Well, braiding hair is a lot like other trades like hair removal or massage, and it's not like it ever hurt anyone to have high requirements for the healthcare industry, right?

You're a Texas governor ignoring the appeal of a man on death row, even though there are some good arguments for why the condemned man is innocent?  Well, that man received a fair trial, and then other courts heard his appeals, and then there was a clemency board that also turned him down... who are you to over-rule them all?

You're a New Jersey senator who's interceding with some federal agencies to help out a friend -- a friend who's often generous with very friendly gifts?  Well, you would have done that for anyone, gifts or not -- and since when is it a crime to make a few calls to try to get a visa rushed?

Life is muddy, and so is politics.  It's rare to find anyone completely clean or completely vile.

And that is why this moment is so important, because the 2016 election and its aftermath have been a moment of clarity.

For the first time in a long time, there's nowhere to hide.

This is how history gets made.  Moments like these come along -- moments when the thunder has died down and the rain has stopped, the storm clearing away, and for one tense instant the world has become clear and bright.  Sharp-edged shadows, and no shade to be found.

The Trump administration tried to block all refugees from some of the most desperate places on Earth to fulfill an odious pledge to ban Muslim immigration.  If you are a politician or pundit or person who supports that decision, there's no ambiguity.  You are willing to harm the defenseless because it is politically expedient.  We see you.

The Trump administration has worked to push a healthcare bill that would causing suffering for millions and mean the death of thousands -- and they've done it not because they believe it's a good bill (no one honestly thinks that), but because they want some sort of "win."  If you are the sort of legislator who votes for that bill for that reason, there's no passable excuse to hide behind.  You are willing to cause pain and death to the vulnerable because you place your party ahead of your country.  We see you.

The Trump administration disdains the idea of objective reality or truth, preferring comforting lies about crowd sizes or ethical lapses or transparency or scandal, since they care more about perceptions than performance.  If you defend them from investigations, delete data, or lie to reporters to hide the truth, there's no cover story that will work.  You are willing to destroy traditions and norms that protect us all because your team has achieved a moment's ascendancy.  We see you.

It's a moment of clarity.  We see the bad guys.  And we see more:

A busy woman pulls into the parking lot before her next meeting.  She's listening to a story on the radio, and they're talking about the Medicaid cuts in the latest Republican healthcare bill.  She's tired and she has a dozen things to do today, but she still takes five minutes in that parking lot to call her representative -- to thank them or scold them.  We see her, too.

A young man hears about the Muslim ban and he's gone, he's off, getting into his car before he even really has time to think about it and driving to the airport, and when he gets there he's astonished to learn that others had the same idea -- hundreds of them, maybe a thousand -- and no one there knows what to do but they know that they can't let this happen silently.  We see him, too.

A teenage girl watches her president say something cruel.  She knows it isn't true.  She thinks someone should do something.  She thinks maybe it should be her.  She googles "local elections."  We see her, too.

A thousand thousand women and men, laughing and cheering, flood the streets of every city with pink hats and signs.  They fill the trains, they fill the alleys, they fill the city.  They cannot march because they are a merry ocean and the shores are already brimming with their joy.  We see them, too.

It's not a good thing that we're here.  There are people who might get hurt.  There are people who might die.  And every minute spent on the vaudeville villainy of this government's misdeeds is a minute that we're not spending on real solutions to our real problems.

But we're here, and it's sun-bright in America.  No honest politician can fool themselves into thinking they can hide in fog or shadow.  Good intentions, ignorance, experience, principles, selfishness... it doesn't matter how they're made, it matters how they act.

After this year, we'll know where every leader in the country stands.

Where do you stand?  What are you made of?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Listen and Do: we can still save healthcare.

Today, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act.  It's a pretty terrible bill, and everyone knows it.  So what is going to happen, and what can you do to help save lives?

Let's take the last part first.  If you want to help save American lives by protecting Obamacare, then you do not want to start calling senators or congresspeople who don't represent you.  They don't care and that won't help.  You want to punish the people who did this, to scare senators who might consider voting for anything similar.

No Democrats voted for this thing.  If you're represented by a Republican, you should already be out there fighting.  If you're in a blue district, you have two options if you really want to make a difference:

  • Give your time and volunteer to help the closest swing district, as identified by SwingLeft.  For me, it's NY-19 and its Congressperson, John Faso.  Make them pay by making them lose their seat.
  • Give your money specifically to support the eventual opponent of those who voted for this thing.  Help make this a big number by chipping in $5 or target vulnerable representative Darrell Issa directly here, whichever feels more satisfying to you.

So now that you've committed your time or money, what's going to happen next?

Well, the AHCA is past the House.  But it's not a law.  Now it goes to the Senate.  They debate and vote their own version (since they won't pass this one, flat out), and then both bills go to a conference between the two groups.  They work out a compromise, and then that compromise is agreed-upon in the House and Senate a second time.  Then it goes to the president.

So we're closer to Obamacare repeal than we were yesterday, but still pretty far off.

What's likely to happen?

Well, first of all, it turns out that the Senate isn't even going to touch this bill.  In fact, they're saying they won't take it up at all.  Instead, they've been meeting for a while now to work on their own bill which may have some elements of the AHCA.  The Senate is much more loathe to make big and nasty changes, so they're taking their time.
A Senate proposal is now being developed by a 12-member working group. It will attempt to incorporate elements of the House bill, senators said, but will not take up the House bill as a starting point and change it through the amendment process.
"The safest thing to say is there will be a Senate bill, but it will look at what the House has done and see how much of that we can incorporate in a product that works for us in reconciliation," said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
"We are going to draft a Senate bill," added Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. "That is what I've been told."
There's no stated timeline, but it would be very ambitious for them to produce anything this month.  The Senate is much more deliberative, a fact that senators take distinct pride in, and so they won't rush.

As they work, other things will happen.  Congress is going on break again this week.  That's going to be a week of town halls and protests and reaction to fill the news.  Hopefully we'll also get some big fundraising numbers to target vulnerable House members.  A lot of vulnerable representatives were asked to vote for this, even though it's going to hurt them badly to pass such an unpopular bill.

Making this break even worse for them is that the CBO score will be released next week.  The CBO score, as you remember, works as an official estimate of the consequences of major legislation.  The last one found the original bill would have been disastrous.  The next one won't be much better (which is why they rushed this vote through, even though many representatives admitted they hadn't had time to read the amended bill).

One possible version of events: the Senate passes their own bill that's somewhat similar, then it goes to both houses of Congress.  They feel pressure to vote for it, since they already approved an earlier version, and so they do.  Trump wants to claim it as a win, so he signs it.

Along the way, here are things that could go wrong:

  • The Senate may find it very hard to come up with a version of a similar bill that can get 51 votes.  Talks might break down and they might find an excuse to let this quietly die.  The more scared they are of the consequences, the more likely they slow-walk this and let it waste away.  Perhaps a 30% chance of happening.
  • The conference might be unable to turn up with a bill that will pass muster in both houses.  This is less likely than you think, since what usually happens is that the Senate drives the bus and the House passes whatever they get.  That's what happened with Obamacare, after all!  Perhaps a 10% chance of happening, fleshed out to that number by virtue of how many other factors might get in the way.
  • Trump hears so much about how the bill cuts Medicaid (which he swore not to do) and doesn't protect pre-existing conditions (which he swore to do) that he decides he won't sign it.  This is very unlikely -- perhaps a 5% chance of happening, I think.
The end number is about a 45% chance this still gets derailed somewhere along the way, which seems about right to me.

Now, right about now you are saying, "What the hell?  You told me Obamacare would be fine!  That's 55% odds it dies!"

And that's true.  But I'm still right.

This was a big hurdle, make no mistake, and it's now more likely than not that Obamacare will be repealed.  There are a lot of things that might go wrong, but I have committed not to lie or sugar-coat things on this blog.  It's close to even odds that they get something to the president and he signs it.  (Even though it might, in all honesty, just be fiddling around the margins so they can claim a victory).

But repeal of Obamacare would not be the end, since as I wrote in February, there's no going back to the time before it passed.  The law has fundamentally and forever changed the entire way we regulate healthcare.  It is no longer acceptable to allow insurance companies to not cover people with pre-existing conditions, for example.  It is now widely believed that the government should be involved in making sure everyone has insurance.  That's not changing.  And to the extent that Trumpcare fails in those regards -- and it will fail -- then it will not be the end of the story.

So I'm going to throw another number at you:


I think that those are the odds that, in ten years, we have a healthcare system that allows insurers to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions.  And that's being pessimistic -- I initially wrote 0%, before I came to my sense and tried to think skeptically.

This is the last war, folks.  This is the one that Republicans already lost.  They're fighting battles over this territory, but it's like the Battle of Palmito Ranch during the Civil War: it's terrible and the outcome is important, but the war is over.

Be outraged, but don't be afraid.  They're wasting our time and our money, and they might hurt a lot of people as they do it... but they'll lose.  As long as we march and sing and vote, they'll lose.

Here are those Do items again:

  • Give your time and volunteer to help the closest swing district, as identified by SwingLeft.  Make them pay.
  • Give your money specifically to support the eventual opponent of those who voted for this thing.  Help make this a big number by chipping in $5 or target vulnerable representative Darrell Issa directly here.  Make them afraid.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Listen: the budget deal released last night is okay. (updated)

Last night, Congressional leaders released a budget deal (PDF here, breakdowns here) to fund the government through to September.  And it's kind of astonishing... but it looks okay!  Not great -- not even good -- but okay.

The deal looks almost nothing like the proposed Trump budget.  Gone are the huge slashes to every department.  The EPA keeps almost all of its funding (less than a 1% cut).  Planned Parenthood will still be reimbursed for their work.  There's no money for any deportation force, and not only is there no money for a wall, there's even specific language to prevent the administration from using existing funds to start on a wall (as they'd planned).  There's no attempt to hurt sanctuary cities.  There's extra money for the opioid crisis, and the Biden "moonshot" cancer research program got an additional $2 billion, rather than the proposed $1.2 billion in cuts that the administration demanded.  There's funding to help Puerto Rico and there's funding to permanently fund coal miner pensions (as a bipartisan group of representatives have been demanding).

To be honest, this is very similar to an Obama compromise budget from 2014 or 2015 than the Trump proposal.  The administration got virtually nothing they wanted, except an increase in military funding (half of their request) and more money for border security (wasteful in this climate, but whatever).  And this spending bill isn't a short-term continuing resolution, like last week: it funds the government through September and it represents the first significant bipartisan bill out of Congress so far.

So what could happen with this?  There's still some uncertainty, since this bill is only an agreement among the leadership.  It still needs to pass the House and the Senate, and then get signed by the president, before it becomes law.  I think it's pretty likely it passes Congress (it would be very embarrassing for Ryan and McConnell if it fails!), but I'm less sure of the White House; it's possible that the White House decides to flex its muscles and veto the bill as a flashy show of strength.

The most likely thing is that they pass the bill and then engage in some frenzied spin, proclaiming it a victory, and then push for a more Trumpy budget next year.  And if this does get vetoed, it certainly won't help with the appearance of chaos at the White House -- and given how successful Pelosi and Schumer have already been at the bargaining table, Trump might want to take this and call it a win.

UPDATE: The president, asked about the deal by Bloomberg News, said, "we're very happy with it."  So it looks like it's getting passed and signed.

And by the way, I forgot to mention a few things, and have been reminded by Politico:
  • Funding for the arts was preserved at current levels.
  • Language was included in the bill, as with previous budgets, that would stop Attorney-General Sessions from enforcement of federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized it.
  • Billions of dollars in defense spending won't be released until Trump presents an actual plan to fight ISIS.  A plan is also demanded for dealing with the Assad regime.  And the bill repeatedly asserts that no further expansion of existing conflicts (like Iraq) is permitted without authorization by Congress.  This is excellent.
Wow.  I know the expectation from the White House is that they will negotiate and win money for all of their priorities in five months, when this bill runs out... but it's hard to see how such a comprehensive loss makes victory easier in the future.