Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Cassidy-Graham and GOP Hypocrisy

Matthew Yglesias details the dishonesty and hypocrisy of Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) on vox.com.

Bill Cassidy, a Republican senator holding a safe seat in Louisiana, could easily have spent the past six months imitating his state’s other senator by basically lying low and voting for whichever health care bills leadership puts in front of him. But Cassidy was a medical doctor before he was a politician, his state has gained enormously from Medicaid expansion, and in the early days of the Affordable Care Act repeal process he made a name for himself as a rare GOP coverage hawk.

The legislation he co-authored with Maine Republican Susan Collins would essentially have allowed state governments that like their Obamacare to keep it. And he vocally touted what he termed the “Jimmy Kimmel test” for health care policy.

“Coverage does not have to have bells and whistles,” he told Business Insider’s Bob Bryan on May 14, “but does the coverage cover a tragedy that could occur in someone's health or to a loved one?”

Around this time, his colleague Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was expressing concern about the rushed process and hasty drafting of Paul Ryan’s American Health Care Act. Four months later, Cassidy and Graham are the lead authors of what’s become the GOP’s final stab at repealing Obamacare. Their bill brazenly casts aside all of their previous doubts, featuring the most slipshod legislative process yet and no guarantees of adequate coverage whatsoever. And neither of them has bothered to explain to anyone why they changed their minds.

The Congressional Budget Office has done no analysis at all of Cassidy-Graham, and it’s entirely the fault of Graham and Cassidy personally, who didn’t bother to turn their half-baked policy idea into legislative text until it was way too late. Now the Senate will vote on legislation without “estimates of the effects on the deficit, health insurance coverage, or premiums.”

But it gets worse. House members told reporters back in May that they were voting to move the process forward but counting on the Senate to improve the bill. That was a fairly lame excuse. But at least they had an excuse. Because the Senate’s reconciliation instructions expire on September 30, whatever they pass will be set in stone when it’s sent over to the House for an up-or-down vote in which there will be enormous pressure on House Republicans to vote yes. There’s no chance to amend or fix any aspect of a bill that’s had no real committee hearings, markup, or formal analysis.

All we know is people will get less health care.

Neither Cassidy nor Graham nor a few dozen other Senate Republicans appear to have given this any thought or bothered to do any analysis of how it will play out. And for the few dozen, that’s not surprising even if it is shocking. Replacement-level Senate Republicans have never taken an interest in health policy or cared much about process. This bill repeals Obamacare and cuts spending, and that’s all they need to know.

But Cassidy and Graham both went out of their way to brand themselves as more concerned about such matters.

They didn’t need to do that. They aren’t representing purple states or otherwise facing electoral vulnerability. Unlike Dean Heller or Jeff Flake or many of their House colleagues, they won’t personally pay an electoral price for destabilizing the American health care system. They just used to believe it would be a mistake to do so — that it would be wrong, morally speaking, to massively imperil Americans’ health insurance coverage via a slipshod legislative process. So they said so.

And then, for some reason, they changed their minds.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Lessons of GOP Failure

Former Reagan staffer Bruce Bartlett takes stock of the failure of Republicans to govern in the New York Daily News.

Politics is supposed to be the art of the possible, whereby politicians negotiate the issues of the day and arrive at compromises. Neither party gets all that they want, but each gets something.

In America, that ideal has been dead for some time. I’m not sure when it died, but it is indisputably dead today. The parties are extremely polarized, bipartisanship is a distant dream, moderates in both parties are alienated from their party’s base and pressing national problems fester.

The conventional wisdom says both sides are to blame. This is a fallacy. Everyone knows that the Republican Party started us down this road when it won control of Congress in 1994. That said, in politics as in physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So Republican extremism has tended to force Democrats to become more extreme in the process.

President Obama often said that he thought that Republican extremism would burn itself out eventually; the fever would break. But first Republicans must be convinced that they had a fair chance to implement their policies, otherwise they will continue to insist that if only we had followed their advice, we would be living in Utopia — with rapid economic growth, a greatly reduced terror threat, minimal illegal immigration, low inflation, low unemployment, two cars in every garage and a chicken in every pot.

These are precisely the kinds of promises Donald Trump routinely made when he ran for President. You remember: We’ll win so much, you’ll get tired of winning.

Well, it’s put up or shut up time. Republicans control both houses of Congress and, arguably, the Supreme Court as well. Despite sometimes talking like an independent, Trump is the most right-wing President in our history — and I say that as someone who worked for Ronald Reagan.

The GOP has been telling us for years that Obama’s veto pen was the only thing standing in the way of a replacement for the Affordable Care Act that would improve access and lower costs; tax reform that will improve fairness and juice growth; an impenetrable wall across the Mexican border, and a proud and consistent foreign policy that will defeat terrorism.

It’s now obvious that these were lies. Republicans have no idea how to accomplish those things, and the media gave them a pass for years by not forcing them to produce detailed plans for how to achieve them. This fact has not yet fully penetrated the public consciousness, but is slowly sinking in even among the Republican base. Many Republicans simply cannot understand why, with complete control of the federal government, all of their leaders’ promises are still unfulfilled.

The reality is that Republicans cannot govern. The party functions best in opposition, with no responsibility for its actions. In their heart of hearts, every Republican in Congress would much rather be investigating Hillary Clinton’s emails, Benghazi and a dozen other “scandals.”

Trump would much rather be on Trump TV blasting away at “Crooked Hillary” and insisting that he had great plans, the best plans ever conceived for fixing the problems of the day. The last thing any Republican wants to be doing is raising the debt limit.

So as painful as it may be, the Trump-led Republican government is something we must endure at least until the next Congress convenes in 2019. I’m not predicting Democrats will get control of the House or Senate, but at least it is within the realm of possibility. Another 14 months like the last eight could give them both at the rate Trump’s and the GOP’s polls are collapsing.

I think in 2018 and 2020, enough Americans may be fed up with the Republican clown show to put adults back in charge. And even many hard-core conservatives may conclude that if they can’t implement their program with Trump and both houses of Congress, then it is hopeless. Best to stock up on supplies for the inevitable collapse than waste their time on a system that makes the achievement of their goals impossible, many may conclude as they walk away from any political involvement at all, including voting.

It would be nice to think that this process could have been avoided, but sometimes only real-world experience will teach people the lessons in life they must learn. Failure is a brutal but effective teacher. Republicans are learning that the hard way.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Trump's Presidency: Predictable Train Wreck

Josh Marshall sums up this completely predictable train wreck of a Presidency on Talking Points Memo.

Everything we are seeing stems almost inevitably from the decisions the country made, collectively, last November. We elected a President driven by white racial grievance. That is the fulcrum and driving force of his politics. It’s no surprise that a big outbreak of white supremacist violence would lead us to a moment like this. We also elected a President who is an abuser and a predator. I’ve analogized him before to an abusive man in an abused household – only his house is now the country, now with all the cumulative exhaustion, warped perceptions and damage that are the common lot of people living with and trapped with violent predators, addicts or people with certain profound mental illnesses.

As things get worse, as more people turn against him, Trump gets more wild and unbridled. He lashes out more aggressively. There’s no kill switch on this escalating aggression. It only builds. This morning he’s tearing into senators who’ve dared to criticize him and essentially declared war on one who is key to preserving the GOP’s senate majority next year. He compensates for ebbing support by redoubled aggression. It’s a self-reinforcing, self-accelerating cycle. Vicious people can be helpful in a cynical way. But vicious and self-destructive people are dangerous to everyone around them.

Trump will clearly, happily destroy the GOP if he feels the party has proven disloyal to him. Given what’s happened, it would be richly deserved. But Trump’s greatest powers are not as head of the GOP but as head of state of the country. He would happily destroy the country too to sate his own anguished feelings of betrayal. Sound hyperbolic? Why would the pattern be any different written on so large a canvass?

When I say I’m not surprised, I don’t say this pretending to any great insight. Lots of people aren’t surprised. Millions of people aren’t surprised. The best analogy I can think of is if you build the bomb and attach the fuse and light the fuse, the bomb will go off. The concussion is still loud and jarring. But the bomb was going to go off. That was inevitable when the bomb was built and the fuse lit.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Robert E. Lee: Setting the Historical Record Straight

Josh Marshall, who earned a PhD in history before becoming a journalist, tells the real story on Robert E. Lee's place in American history on Talking Points Memo.

What is Robert E. Lee known for? This is what I mean by the margins of the debate. Lee is known for one thing: being the key military leader in a violent rebellion against the United States and leading that rebellion to protect slavery. That’s it. Absent his decision to participate in the rebellion he’d be all but unknown to history. He outlived the war by only five years. There’s simply no positive side of the ledger to make it a tough call. The only logic to honoring Lee is to honor treason and treason in the worst possible cause.

Even this though leaves the full squalidness of Lee’s legacy not quite told. There is the Lee of the Civil War and then the mythic Lee of later decades. Today the battle over Lee’s legacy is mainly played out over the various statues depicting Lee which still stand across the South. The notional focus of this weekend’s tragic events in Charlottesville was a protest over plans to remove a Lee statue. But those statues don’t date to the Civil War or the years just after the Civil War. In most cases, they date to decades later.

The historical chronology is important to understand. Reconstruction is generally dated from 1865 to 1877 when the federal government withdrew federal troops and allowed the restoration of so-called ‘home rule’ in the South. But black political power and biracial political coalitions didn’t disappear overnight. Though the sheet anchor protecting black citizenship was withdrawn, it took the better part of a generation for what we now recognize as the Jim Crow system to become firmly entrenched throughout the South. To note but one example, the judicial cornerstone of Jim Crow, ‘separate but equal’, only became the law of the land with Plessy v Ferguson in 1896.

The statuary which is only beginning to come down in our day dates largely from this era and constituted a celebration and affirmation of this victory. Not the victory of the Civil War, which was of course a defeat, but the sectional victory to define the post-war settlement.

Consider some dates: Lee Circle in New Orleans, 1884; Lee Statue on Monument Avenue, Richmond, Virginia, 1890; Robert E. Lee Monument (Marianna, Arkansas), 1910; the Robert Edward Lee sculpture in Emancipation Park, Charlottesville, Virginia, commissioned 1917, erected 1924. All of these statues date not from the Civil War Era but from the decades of the establishment of Jim Crow, to celebrate the South’s success establishing an apartheid system on the ruins of the Antebellum slave South. A statue of Lee in uniform, mounted on a horse in a southern town square has only ever had one meaning: white supremacy. These statues didn’t come to be associated with racism and Jim Crow only after the Civil War had receded into memory. They were created, from the start, to mark and celebrate the foundations of Jim Crow, uncontested white rule. More mythically, but to the same end, they were built to glorify a vision of the South in which her black citizens had no place.

It has always been a canard to claim that anyone is banishing history with these changes. But public memory isn’t simply history. It is a public recitation, often written onto the landscape, about what we revere and what we regret about who we are and what we come from. None of this is to say that Lee’s battles aren’t of interest. Nor is it to say what Lee was like as a private person.  But neither is why he is celebrated in cast metal statuary across the South. There’s one reason. And by any measure for us today it is a bad reason. It is not even close.