Category Archives: Public Policy and Governance

Shamelessness And The Tax Bill

Jennifer Rubin is a conservative columnist. Like many of the pundits on the political Right–and unlike most GOP members of Congress– she is intellectually honest. (Here in Indiana, Paul Ogden falls into that category; I often disagree with his conclusions, but I have a high degree of respect for his intellectual integrity.)

Rubin doesn’t mince words about the GOP’s single legislative “accomplishment.”

Republicans will knock a giant hole in the budget with a tax cut of $1.5 trillion, most of which goes to the rich and corporations. Rather than acknowledge their hypocrisy on the debt, they choose to misrepresent the facts.

She then provides a couple of examples, one an exchange between George Stephanopolous and  Mitch McConnell, and one between Senator Susan Collins–ostensibly the Senate’s only GOP moderate–and Chuck Todd on Meet the Press. Forgive the length of this quote, but I think it is important not to summarize or characterize.

CHUCK TODD: Alright, if the debt is unsustainable at $14 trillion, how do you, how did you make yourself comfortable voting for something that’s going to increase the deficit? This tax bill we’re at 20.6 trillion now and the best estimates saying it’s going to even the best estimates of dynamic scoring that we could still find still add half a trillion dollars to the deficit.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Economic growth produces more revenue and that will help to offset this tax cut and actually lower the debt.

CHUCK TODD: Where’s the evidence? Where, explain to me. Find a, find a study that actually says what you’re claiming.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Let me–

CHUCK TODD: It doesn’t exist.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Let me do that. First of all if you take the C.B.O.’s formula and apply it four to four tenths of one percent increase in the GDP generates revenues of a trillion dollars, a trillion dollars. Even the joint committee on taxation has projected that the tax bill would stimulate the economy to produce hundreds of billions of additional revenue. I’ve talked four economists, including the Dean of the Columbia School of Business and former chairs of the councils of economic advisors and they believe that it will have this impact. So I think if we can stimulate the economy, create more jobs that that does generate more revenue.

CHUCK TODD: But why isn’t there a single study? I’m going to show you three studies that we have, sort of a liberal one, a centrist one, and a conservative one right up there. The most conservative one, the most pro-economic growth argument, still adds $516 billion to the deficit over ten years.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS: Well, talk to economists like Glenn Hubbard and Larry Lindsey and Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who used to be head of the C.B.O. And they will tell you otherwise. So I think you will find that economists just don’t agree on this.

Jennifer Rubin then did what credible reporters do; she contacted the quoted economists, who told her that they had not made the statements Collins attributed to them. Both Hubbard and Holtz-Eakin said they’d told Collins that the measures would “offset but not eliminate the static budget loss.”

After confirming that even conservative Republican economists deny that the tax cuts will come close to paying for themselves, Rubin writes

This raises the question as to whether Collins and McConnell misunderstand the advice they get, choose to cherry-pick what they are given or simply don’t want to fess up that they’ve abandoned fiscal sanity in search of a political win and to soothe donors. The most generous interpretation is that they are operating with unsupportable optimism that these cuts will do something no other tax cuts have ever done– pay for themselves.

They didn’t “misunderstand.” They’re shameless and they’re lying. As Talking Points Memo reports, economists and former government officials all predict the bill will drive up the federal deficit, shrink and destabilize the health care market, make our already historic income inequality worse, and–worst of all–give Congress cover to do what Paul Ryan and his ilk have long wanted to do:  make deep cuts to the social safety net and government programs.

I’ve said it before: I don’t know how these people sleep at night.

 

 

 

Give Them Credit For Consistency….

Apparently, GOP lawmakers don’t have grandchildren.

It’s hard to say it more succinctly and accurately than a recent article in the Guardian:

The parallels between the Republican Party positions on taxes and climate change are striking. Both are morally appalling and reject the available evidence and expert opinion.

According to the article, 96% of economic experts who were asked about the GOP tax plan opined that it would not generate nearly enough economic growth to cover the shortfall in revenue it will cause. This same economic consensus has been reported by a number of other outlets, and the economists surveyed have included conservatives, moderates and liberals. There is 100% consensus that the tax package will grow the national debt.

Those numbers are quite similar to the 97% consensus among climate scientists that humans are driving global warming and the 95% consensus among economists that the US should cut its carbon pollution.

Oh, but what do “experts” know? (I wonder whether our intrepid Congress-critters take their chest pains to faith healers; they certainly substitute faith for knowledge in the policy arena.)

The author of the Guardian article– in an effort to figure out why Republicans passed the tax bill, and why they are unwilling to move environmental legislation–comes to the same conclusion: faith over fact.

The tax cut plan, which by design will increase the US national debt by $1.5tn, is also incompatible with Republican opposition to increased deficits. Just last year the Republican National Committee was warning of “an unsustainable path toward crippling debt.”

Again, the consistency with climate change denial is striking.

These Republican economic contradictions make no sense, but they’re familiar to those of us who follow climate change news. The only consistency in climate denial is in its contradictions – deniers claim global warming isn’t happening, but it’s a natural ocean cycle, and caused by the sun, and galactic cosmic rays, and Jupiter’s orbital cycles, and it’s really just a Chinese hoax, and in any case it’s not bad.

The author attributes the GOP’s faith-based approach to “intellectual rot,” and references an August 2017 Gallup poll, in which just 33% of Republicans expressed confidence in higher education, and the fact that the tax bill penalizes American graduate students. (Of course, it also wages war on public education overall. How it does that is a subject for yet another blog rant…Obviously, this tax bill will provide fodder for blog posts for the foreseeable future…)

Explanations of the intellectual vacuum that characterizes today’s GOP inevitably include  the influence of right-wing media.

A 2012 survey found that Americans who only watch Fox News are less informed than Americans who watch no news at all. At the time, 55% of Americans including 75% of Republicans reported watching Fox News. The network is powerful – a recent study found that Fox News might have enough influence to tip American elections – and on the whole it prioritizes ideological messaging over factual accuracy.

Trump’s attacks on the so-called “fake news” media have further eroded Republicans’ trust of news sources that lack a conservative bias. As David Roberts wrote for Vox:

The US is experiencing a deep epistemic breach, a split not just in what we value or want, but in who we trust, how we come to know things, and what we believe we know — what we believe exists, is true, has happened and is happening … the right has created its own parallel set of institutions, most notably its own media ecosystem … “conservative media is more partisan and more insular than the left.”

All true. All interesting to consider and discuss from a sociological perspective.

But I do have grandchildren, so my question is more urgent: what can rational people do? Voting these Neanderthals out is obvious, but we’ll still have to deal with that “epistemic breach,” if my grandchildren are going to inherit breathable air and a viable economy.

 

How Bad Is It?

Two of the most clear-eyed and knowledgable observers of the American legislature have once again weighed in on the disaster that is the current Congress.

In the New York Times Sunday Review, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein explained how the Republicans “broke Congress.”

In the past three days, Republican leaders in the Senate scrambled to corral votes for a tax bill that the Joint Committee on Taxation said would add $1 trillion to the deficit — without holding any meaningful committee hearings. Worse, Republican leaders have been blunt about their motivation: to deliver on their promises to wealthy donors, and down the road, to use the leverage of huge deficits to cut and privatize Medicare and Social Security

Eleven years ago, we published a book called “The Broken Branch,” which we subtitled “How Congress Is Failing America and How to Get It Back on Track.” Embedded in that subtitle were two assumptions: first, that Congress as an institution — which is to say, both parties, equally — is at fault; and second, that the solution is readily at hand. In 2017, the Republicans’ scandalous tax bill is only the latest proof that both assumptions are wrong.

Mann and Ornstein are blunt: today’s Republicans are to blame for destroying Congressional integrity and credibility. They point to three tactics that have brought us to this point: the constant demonization of government and the norms of lawmaking; the so-called “Obama effect”; and the use of the right-wing media echo chamber to keep their “troops” enraged.

As they described the “Obama effect”

When Mr. Bush became president, Democrats worked with him to enact sweeping education reform early on and provided the key votes to pass his top priority, tax cuts. With President Barack Obama, it was different. While many argued that the problem was that Mr. Obama failed to schmooze enough with Republicans in Congress, we saw a deliberate Republican strategy to oppose all of his initiatives and frame his attempts to compromise as weak or inauthentic. The Senate under the majority leader Mitch McConnell weaponized the filibuster to obstruct legislation, block judges and upend the policy process. The Obama effect had an ominous twist, an undercurrent of racism that was itself embodied in the “birther” movement led by Donald Trump.

My only quibble with this analysis is the use of the term “undercurrent.” From my vantage point, the racism was anything but subtle. And as numerous people have pointed out, Trump’s only discernible agenda is to reverse anything and everything his black predecessor did. Unlike many observers, however, Mann and Ornstein do not see Trumpism as a deviation from past GOP priorities and practices:

Mr. Trump’s election and behavior during his first 10 months in office represent not a break with the past but an extreme acceleration of a process that was long underway in conservative politics. The Republican Party is now rationalizing and enabling Mr. Trump’s autocratic, kleptocratic, dangerous and downright embarrassing behavior in hopes of salvaging key elements of its ideological agenda: cutting taxes for the wealthy (as part of possibly the worst tax bill in American history), hobbling the regulatory regime, gutting core government functions and repealing Obamacare without any reasonable plan to replace it.

Perhaps the most important point they make is that the chaos and incompetence of this White House, and the elimination or reduction of important government functions by disastrous cabinet and agency appointments, is being encouraged and enabled by Congressional Republicans.

The failure of Republican members of Congress to resist the anti-democratic behavior of President Trump — including holding not a single hearing on his and his team’s kleptocracy — is cringe-worthy. A few Republican senators have spoken up, but occasional words have not been matched by any meaningful deeds. Only conservative intellectuals have acknowledged the bankruptcy of the Republican Party.

We have never suggested that Democrats are angels and Republicans devils. Parties exist to win elections and organize government, and they are shaped by the interests, ideas and donors that constitute their coalitions. Neither party is immune from a pull to the extreme.

But the imbalance today is striking, and frightening. Our democracy requires vigorous competition between two serious and ideologically distinct parties, both of which operate in the realm of truth, see governing as an essential and ennobling responsibility, and believe that the acceptance of republican institutions and democratic values define what it is to be an American. The Republican Party must reclaim its purpose.

What Mann and Ornstein didn’t do in this hard-hitting and absolutely accurate article is tell readers how they are supposed to make the GOP “reclaim its purpose.” For my part, I can only see one way: the GOP must be crushed at the polls in November of 2018. Only a truly massive rejection by American voters will get the message across.

They don’t just need to be beaten; they need to be crushed. And then we all have to pray that democratic and constitutional norms and rational public policies can be salvaged.

If Jobs Were Really What Mattered….

I’m one of the people who watched with disbelief as the GOP tax “reform” bill was loaded up with provisions that any sentient human would know to be counterproductive. There are two possible explanations why lawmakers might support this disastrous legislation, and they are not necessarily incompatible: the sponsors of this piece of excrement really believe–in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary–that it will spur economic growth, or they are obeying the demands of their donors/masters.

I say the two explanations aren’t necessarily incompatible because humans have an infinite capacity for self-delusion. It is entirely plausible that our elected Representatives and Senators prefer not to acknowledge, even to themselves, that they have been bought and paid for, and instead have convinced themselves of the merits of policies that have ushered in disaster every time they’ve  been tried.

In fact, as I have watched members of a once-responsible political party disintegrate into delusion and corruption, I’ve noticed their growing preference for make-believe rhetoric over reality. Ryan and McConnell, especially, have been displaying a decidedly Trump-like belief that assertions can shape reality–that saying it will make it so.

Increasingly, Republicans in both the legislature and Administration live in La La Land.

Case in point: the repeated Republican refrain about job creation. Listening to the rhetoric, you’d think that the retention and creation of jobs was really an important focus of GOP policy. (Of course, if you’d been listening to Republican rhetoric since well before Reagan, you’d have thought deficits were a concern– in the wake of the tax bill, we can see how bogus that was.)

So–how’s that “jobs focus” thing working out?

Well, here in Indiana, Carrier Corporation is continuing its move to Mexico, despite Trump’s boasts about preventing the move, and despite the company’s extraction of some seven million dollars in “economic development” money from the state.

And from The Hill, we learn

An analysis of Labor Department data by the labor coalition Good Jobs Nation found that more than 93,000 U.S. jobs have been eliminated since Trump’s election due to foreign trade.

That’s roughly on par with the previous five years, which saw an average of 87,500 jobs per year eliminated.

The coalition’s analysis also found that the number of jobs outsourced by federal contractors has actually risen since Trump was elected. Since November 2016, some of the biggest federal contractors have offshored some 10,269 jobs, making up 11 percent of trade-related layoffs, compared to 4 percent in the previous five years.

It is becoming more apparent by the day that Trump’s loyal core–around 30% of the electorate–desperately wants to believe even his most obvious and embarrassing lies. They’re like the boyfriend who really does realize that his lover is cheating, but who nevertheless talks himself into believing her increasingly unlikely alibis. Trump loyalists desperately want to believe that this pathetic buffoon can reverse global realities, make “great deals” in which business enterprises and other countries will miraculously ignore their own interests, and–most important of all– take the country back to a coal-fired past in which white Christian males were dominant (and could grab p**sy with impunity).
Just like that boyfriend, they want him to keep lying to them.

Jerusalem

From climate deniers who base their rejection of science on biblical passages, to the “pastors” who excuse Roy Moore by pointing out that Joseph was older than Mary (I am not making that up), to bakery owners who defend bigotry as “sincere religious belief,” America is awash with zealots who debase both authentic religion and core American values.

Which brings me to the Evangelical Christian Zionists who represent a disproportionate percentage of Trump supporters.

It is tempting to see Trump’s decision to move America’s embassy to Jerusalem, a break with decades of American Middle-East policy, as a gift to the Evangelicals who believe that, in order to bring on the Rapture, Jews must be gathered in a secure Holy Land. (Lest anyone mistake this belief for pro-Jewish sentiment, they also believe that Jews who do not accept Jesus will burn in hell for eternity.)

However, The Brookings Institution has a different explanation.

A University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll (among a national sample of 2,000 American adults, fielded by Nielsen Scarborough November 1-6 and released at the Brookings Institution last Friday) found that 59 percent of Americans said they preferred that Trump lean toward neither side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In contrast, 57 percent of Americans, including most Republicans, said he is in fact leaning toward Israel. Our poll also shows that 63 percent of all Americans oppose moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, including 44 percent of Republicans.

Furthermore, Evangelicals aren’t all of the “Christian Zionist” variety.

Two-thirds of Evangelicals say Trump’s policy is already leaning toward Israel—a proportion that’s even higher than that of the rest of the population. Even on moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, the support is hardly overwhelming: While 53 percent of Evangelicals support the move, 40 percent oppose it.

So why is he taking a step that knowledgable advisors like Mattis are said to oppose, a step certain to destabilize one of the world’s most dangerous regions? Why take a step that will make his (ridiculous) promise of a “deal of the century” bringing lasting peace to the Middle East impossible?

From the outset, most experts understood that the “deal of the century” was most likely beyond reach and that its collapse may lead to President Trump lashing out with such moves as moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and giving the green light to expand Israeli settlement in the West Bank. The fact that the White House may take a controversial step on Jerusalem now, before he even has a chance to unveil his plan, means one of two things.

The first is that his advisers live in their own bubble, reinforced by unprecedented inexperience. In fact, this is already a public fear. Despite deep partisanship on almost every issue, Americans come together on this issue: 81 percent of all Americans, including 71 percent of Republicans, prefer Trump relying on experts in his Middle East diplomacy, not on inexperienced family members and personal lawyers.

But there is a second possibility: That the Trump administration has already given up on its “deal of the century” and is looking for ways to pin the blame on someone else.

CNN agrees.

The ramifications of an embassy move would be felt far outside of Jerusalem. It would overturn 70 years of international consensus, and, many argue, would effectively signal the end of moves to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

The status of Jerusalem is an issue that was supposed to be left to negotiations between the parties, as part of a peace agreement. Moving the embassy is seen as America pre-judging that delicate issue. The obvious wisdom of leaving the issue open is why 86 countries have embassies in Tel Aviv–and none have embassies in Jerusalem.

In 1995, in response to intense lobbying by “pro-Israel” interests (including those Christian Zionists),  Congress passed a law requiring America to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Every President since then, Republican or Democrat, has refused to move the embassy, citing national security interests. Every six months, each of those Presidents has used a presidential waiver to circumvent the embassy move.

 

A number of American Jewish organizations have criticized Trump’s decision, accusing the President of ignorance and of ‘irresponsible’ decision-making. Polls show only 20% of American Jews supporting this decision.

The eruptions throughout the Arab world that have already occurred as a result of Trump’s rash, uninformed announcement–and likely future reactions that will endanger Israel and trigger more violence– are among the many negative consequences of electing a profoundly unfit, uninformed, mentally-incompetent narcissist to the Presidency.