Mitch McConnell

A New Trump?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 18/09/2017 - 11:16pm in

This post originally appeared at Project Syndicate.

It’s generally agreed in Washington, DC, that President Donald Trump’s presidency is entering a new phase. Defining that phase is proving to be problematic.

The widespread expectation was that the removal of Stephen Bannon — the former White House chief adviser and resident avatar of white American nationalism — would make the administration run more smoothly, mitigate (though not eliminate) infighting, and reduce the number of leaks. The internal warfare may be quieter since John Kelly took over as White House chief of staff and imposed more order in the West Wing. But so long as Trump is president, orderliness will not be the White House’s chief characteristic. In fact, Trump remains in frequent contact with Bannon, who is back in charge at Breitbart News.

So long as Trump is president, orderliness will not be the White House’s chief characteristic.

Inevitably, by early September, after Kelly had been on the job for all of five weeks, Trump was chafing under his new chief of staff’s restrictions. Kelly has imposed tight controls over who may enter the Oval Office, listens in on most of Trump’s phone calls during office hours, and controls what pieces of paper reach the president’s desk, thus eliminating the highly ideological screeds that some staff members used to slip him.

The problem is that Trump likes disorder; that’s how he had run his business, and he doesn’t take well to being managed. He liked having favored people wandering into his office as they chose, and it’s been his managerial creed to play people off each other. Nor does he bother to control his temper when dealing with aides. Even Kelly, an ex-Marine Corps general, has come under the lash of Trump’s tongue. Observers now take bets on when Kelly will decide he’s had enough.

I’ve never known a White House where so much depends on who has incurred the president’s ire. Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs president and chief operating officer who serves as Trump’s chief economic adviser, is the latest to be frozen out. Cohn’s sin was to let it be known publicly that he almost resigned following the violence last month in Charlottesville, Virginia, when Trump equated white supremacist and neo-Nazi demonstrators, many of them armed, with those who opposed them.

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Actually, one can have some sympathy for a president with an aide who wants to have it both ways, as Cohn did — letting his apparent anguish be known without acting on it. But there can be problems when a president chooses to disregard his chief economic adviser. Cohn has been seen as one of the administration’s more moderate voices, and he has wanted to succeed Janet Yellen as chair of the US Federal Reserve.

Speculation about the possibility of a “new Trump” peaked in early September, when the president suddenly cut a deal with Democratic congressional leaders. Trump agreed with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, and her Senate counterpart, Chuck Schumer, on how to increase the federal debt limit, which Congress must raise each year as spending increases, and extend appropriations to keep the government running (because Congress routinely fails to write appropriations bills on time). Both items were tied to a special appropriation in the wake of Hurricane Harvey to pay for recovery efforts. (The larger Hurricane Irma hadn’t yet hit.)

In the midst of the discussion at the Oval Office meeting with Pelosi and Schumer, Trump interrupted Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin as he was defending the Republicans’ position that these issues should be put off for 18 months, until after the 2018 congressional elections. The Democrats had argued that the increase in the debt ceiling and extension of appropriations should last for only three months, thus forcing the Republicans to take electorally risky votes before the 2018 elections.

Before the meeting, House Speaker Paul Ryan had adamantly rejected the Democrats’ proposal. But suddenly, without notifying even his own aides, Trump went for it. The author of The Art of the Deal had accepted the Democrats’ opening position.

Commentators went into overdrive, imbuing the episode with broad significance: Trump was now not a Republican but an independent. He might start a third party. His move marked the beginning of a new way of governing.

In fact, Trump merely saw an opportunity and took it. With no real legislative achievements to claim, he did something. The Republican congressional leaders, Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, had been in bad odor with Trump for a while, because they had been unable to deliver on his legislative agenda. He was embarrassed and angered at their failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. (Trump didn’t recognize his own contributions to the debacle.) On many issues, Trump lacks a governing majority in the Senate.

Overlooked in all the excitement over Trump’s lining up with Democratic leaders was that the issue at hand concerned legislative timing, not substance. And the subsequent fevered discussions about Trump’s core beliefs — maybe he was a crypto-Democrat, who had, after all, donated to Democratic candidates at one time and sympathized with Democratic positions (such as on abortion) — missed the point. Trump harbors no particular political philosophy; he’s an opportunist who craves publicity and praise.

But his maverick behavior might turn out to be self-perpetuating. For all his contempt for the “dishonest media,” Trump was ecstatic about the positive press coverage his bipartisan move received. And that might lure him to try for more.

(Copyright Project Syndicate, 2017)

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Cartoon of the day

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 30/08/2017 - 9:00pm in

The Grand Old Party’s Over. Make Way for the Trump Party.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 12/08/2017 - 2:22am in

You’ve probably heard the story. It’s said that in ancient Rome, the emperor had a member of the Praetorian Guard who, amid all the pomp and all the accolades, would stand behind him and murmur: “Remember, Caesar, thou art mortal.”

Sadly, the Little Caesar who currently rules the United States from the nearest Trump golf course is instead surrounded by guards who murmur enthusiastically, “Anything you say, boss. You’re a genius!”

The new chief of staff, Marine vet John Kelly, allegedly was supposed to rein this kind of stuff in, but while the meetings now may run more smoothly, his boss continues tweeting any nonsense he hears from Fox & Friends, declares himself pretty much the greatest president ever and casually threatens to start lobbing missiles at North Korea because he seems to think it would be cool to see what a thermonuclear fireball looks like. Locked and loaded indeed.

VICE News reported on Tuesday, “Twice a day since the beginning of the Trump administration, a special folder is prepared for the president…

These sensitive papers, described to VICE News by three current and former White House officials, don’t contain top-secret intelligence or updates on legislative initiatives. Instead, the folders are filled with screenshots of positive cable news chyrons (those lower-third headlines and crawls), admiring tweets, transcripts of fawning TV interviews, praise-filled news stories, and sometimes just pictures of Trump on TV looking powerful.

You can’t make this stuff up. One glimmer of hope in all this pandemonium is that more and more, some Republican members of Congress finally seem willing to challenge their misbegotten king. Witness, for example, the three GOP senators standing up against the health care travesty, the opposition to rumors of Trump firing Attorney General Sessions or special counsel Mueller and the overwhelming passage of new sanctions against Russia — legislation Trump was forced to sign although it clearly gave him a conniption.

Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that staunchest of company men, told the crowd at a Rotary Club meeting back home in Kentucky this week that he thinks Trump doesn’t understand how Congress works, and “had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process, and so part of the reason I think people feel we’re underperforming is because of too many kind of artificial deadlines unrelated to the reality of the complexity of legislating.”

This quickly prompted belligerent comments from Trump and a volley of poison pen tweets taunting the Senate’s inability to repeal Obamacare, starting with this one:

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported over the weekend that “President Trump’s first term is ostensibly just warming up, but luminaries in his own party have begun what amounts to a shadow campaign for 2020 — as if the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. weren’t involved.

The would-be candidates are cultivating some of the party’s most prominent donors, courting conservative interest groups and carefully enhancing their profiles. Mr. Trump has given no indication that he will decline to seek a second term.

The “sheer disarray surrounding the presidency” has “prompted Republican officeholders to take steps unheard of so soon into a new administration.” That includes Vice President Mike Pence, who The Times notes already has set up a fundraising committee and hired a new chief of staff with more experience running campaigns than governing.

The Times piece created such a stir that Pence immediately denounced it as “disgraceful and offensive to me, my family, and our entire team,” prompting The Washington Post to ask, why did the story make the vice president so hot and bothered? What is he so touchy about? Hmmm…

The catastrophe that the Republican Party has brought down on itself with this president is of such a magnitude that it may never recover, even if Mike Pence ends up taking over ahead of schedule.

The fact is, the catastrophe that the Republican Party has brought down on itself with this president is of such a magnitude that it may never recover, even if Mike Pence ends up taking over ahead of schedule. Party leaders are looking at Trump’s poll numbers (plus a Real Clear Politics generic poll that shows Americans now favoring a Democratic Party-controlled Congress by almost 9 points). And they’re experiencing the genuine dysfunction at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

So far, the few GOP higher-ups who publicly have expressed concern about all this seem to have done so more out of frustration and expedience than principle. The one exception would appear to be Arizona’s US Sen. Jeff Flake, who made a splash the last couple of weeks with his book, Conscience of a Conservative, a title appropriated from a famous tome by Barry Goldwater back in the ’60s.

“Never has a party so quickly or easily abandoned its core principles as my party did in the course of the 2016 campaign,” Flake writes.

And when you suddenly decide that you don’t believe what had recently been your most deeply held beliefs, then you open yourself to believing anything — or maybe nothing at all. Following the lead of a candidate who had a special skill for identifying problems, if not for solving them, we lurched like a tranquilized elephant from a broad consensus on economic philosophy and free trade that had held for generations to an incoherent and often untrue mash of back-of-the-envelope populist slogans.

The choice of Trump as candidate and president was a “Faustian bargain,” Flake declares:

We have given in to the politics of anger — the belief that riling up the base can make up for failed attempts to broaden the electorate. These are the spasms of a dying party. Anger and resentment and blaming groups of people for our problems might work politically in the short term, but it’s a dangerous impulse in a pluralistic society, and we know from history that it’s an impulse that, once acted upon, never ends well.

Yet as Esquire’s Charlie Pierce and others have pointed out, despite Flake’s rhetoric, he has voted with the Trump agenda, such as it is, 95 percent of the time.

But that doesn’t wash with this president; Flake has mouthed off and now must sleep with the fishes (remember, too, that Flake refused to endorse Trump’s candidacy).

The president has encouraged a primary challenge to Flake and met with three contenders. What’s more, Robert Mercer, the hedge fund billionaire who contributed heavily to the Trump campaign, is giving $300,000 to a super PAC backing Flake opponent Kelli Ward.

(You’ll recall that Dr. Ward recently suggested that cancer-stricken John McCain, to whom she lost a 2016 primary, should “step away as quickly as possible” and resign from the Senate. She added that she hoped the governor would consider appointing her to fill out McCain’s term. Classy.)

Republicans should forget about any White House loyalty to the party, especially now that Reince Priebus is gone. Trump has none — witness not only his attacks on incumbent senators Flake and McConnell but on any Republican not toeing the line or groveling in his general direction. Also note how he refers to Republicans as “they” and “them,” not “we.”

Plus, there’s a set of poll numbers he sees, too — as unpopular as he is, voters like Congress even less. According to a new CNN poll, “only about a quarter of all Americans (24 percent) judge the Republican Congress a success so far. President Trump gets the approval of 38 percent of Americans.”

Even as he mocks them, most of Republican leadership continues to grovel at the Trump shrine as they hope to continue the “sugar high,” as Jeff Flake calls it, that carried them to victory last year and which they keep thinking will advance their moribund agenda. But Trump’s base may not be buying it and already is turning on them. Trump sees this and will seize upon it as any opportunistic creature does with easy prey. Add to this lust for self-preservation an ego the size of a planet that takes credit for everything and blame for nothing.

And so, this scenario: Within months, Donald Trump has so riven the GOP that there is no unity left among Republicans except for those who see him as the second coming. Party members who attempt to field a Never Trump movement are as hapless as they were in 2016 and provide only token opposition to the careening Trump steamroller, despite its ever-expanding catalogue of catastrophe. If he hasn’t been drummed out of office, the Donald abides.

But Trump has no use for Republicans anymore, even if they provide him cover on Capitol Hill and a network of connections to deep pockets. He will announce the creation of a third party that will drumbeat for the re-election of Trump/Pence, incite the base and field its own slate of congressional candidates in 2020, perhaps even as soon as 2018.

It will, of course, be called the Trump Party.

You’ve been warned.

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Cartoon of the day

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 01/08/2017 - 9:00pm in

The Wayward Ways of John McCain

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 28/07/2017 - 4:50am in

Update, Friday, July 28: Just past 1:30 this morning, ET, “skinny repeal” was narrowly rejected by the US Senate, with, yes, John McCain casting the deciding vote against. I’m grateful to be proven wrong… mw


John McCain, we sincerely are sorry for your illness and wish you solace and peace. We value and honor your distinguished career in public service, both as heroic Navy pilot and a member of Congress.

But who can believe a word you say?

Actions speak louder than words, even when those words are delivered with such seeming sincerity as you displayed on the Senate floor on Tuesday afternoon. “Let’s trust each other,” you told your colleagues and the rest of the country.

“Let’s return to regular order. We’ve been spinning our wheels on too many important issues because we keep trying to find a way to win without help from across the aisle. That’s an approach that’s been employed by both sides, mandating legislation from the top down, without any support from the other side, with all the parliamentary maneuvers that requires.”

And yet there you were, John McCain, flying to Washington from your Arizona convalescence at the behest of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, voting to open debate on a bill to eviscerate Obamacare.

You didn’t have to do it, Sen. McCain. You would not be up for re-election until 2022, and a vote against the move to proceed would have shown you meant what you said when you declared you know a bad piece of lawmaking when you see one. Once again, you would have been a hero.

In the mad dash to destroy anything associated with the previous president, that bill — whatever it finally turns out to be — is a confusing and entangled mess, conceived in mystery behind closed doors and dedicated to no one but the fat cats salivating at the prospect of hundreds of millions in tax cuts and profits.

You didn’t have to do it, Senator McCain. You would not be up for re-election until 2022, and a vote against the move to proceed would have shown you meant what you said when you declared you know a bad piece of lawmaking when you see one. Once again, you would have been a hero.

The irony, of course, as Daniel Marans and Igor Bobic at HuffPost observed, is that “McCain’s cancer was detected thanks to his taxpayer-provided health insurance. He left his sick bed ahead of treatment to clear an obstacle to a bill that, even with major changes, would deprive millions of Americans access to health insurance.”

This cannot have escaped John McCain, and yet once again he speaks of principle but gives priority and obeisance to his party.

There was a time when McCain was perceived as “The Maverick,” rubbing against the grain of his GOP pals and speaking of tolerance and bipartisanship, words that sounded like heresy to right-wing ears. But while he talks a good game and is idealized by the media for it, he then doubles down on his loyalty to party orthodoxy and the Trump agenda.

(Sadly and lest we forget, in 2008, McCain paved the way for Donald Trump’s idiocracy by picking his own chucklehead for the national ticket — Sarah Palin, whom he would have put one heartbeat away, as the old cliché goes, from the Oval Office.)

All of this comes as the magazine Vanity Fair features in its current issue an article by Sarah Ellison headlined “The Enablers” and subtitled “Profiles in Cowardice.” In it, she briefly talks about six men in Washington who should know better, men who are making Trump’s improbable reign possible.

They are, she writes:

“… [S]eemingly rational politicians who knew exactly what Trump was like: who had cause to loathe and distrust him; who understood firsthand that he knew nothing about government and did not care to know anything; who could see clearly that he was dangerous, brutal, and corrupt; and who nonetheless decided, after occasional protests, to help him achieve and hold power.”

Despite being belittled and mocked by Trump, these men have not only declined to stand in his way but continue to prop him up — “for reasons that range from ambition and fear to denial and moral blindness.”

They are Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Mike Pence, Lindsey Graham, Reince Priebus… and John McCain.

McCain understands what McConnell is doing.

Ellison reviews the litany of insults that Trump bestowed on McCain. “Graduated last in his class at Annapolis — dummy!” said Trump. Referring to McCain’s failed 2008 bid for the presidency against Barack Obama, Trump complained: “I raised a million dollars for him — that’s a lot of money. I supported him. He lost; he let us down. But he lost and I never liked him much after that ‘cause I don’t like losers… He’s not a war hero.”

When the public responded in anger to the insult, Trump thuggishly made it worse: “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK?”

On CBS’ Face the Nation, after news came that Trump had asked FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn’s Russian connections, McCain said he thought the scandal was “reaching a point where it’s of Watergate size and scale.” Yet when McCain had the opportunity to question Comey directly at recent Senate hearings, he “displayed a knee-jerk defense of Trump.”

When all is said and done, it seems Trump and Mitch McConnell may get a “skinny” repeal bill, a stripped-down version they will send to a conference between the House and Senate where the conferees will go for the meanest, ugliest version. And still it may fail.

McCain knows this. He understands what McConnell is doing. The majority leader intends for GOP incumbents up for re-election next year to have one mantra: I VOTED TO END OBAMACARE. He and Trump will nod approvingly and the windfall of campaign contributions from the rich and mighty will cascade down upon the anointed whilst anyone who has gone against them will be punished.

But all may not go as planned. This repeal over which they have so obsessed may backfire. The base may be pleased, the contributors may be elated, but in the process they may have awakened and angered the vast majority of Americans who think repeal is a sham.

In her article, Sarah Ellison concludes:

“Donald Trump will suffer his own grim fate in the eyes of historians, but it will come with an asterisk: He is a profoundly damaged human being with no true understanding of his capacities, his emotions, his ignorance, his job or the fundamentals of human decency.

“His enablers will get no asterisk. They will be treated with the special contempt reserved for those who acted knowingly and cravenly, with eyes wide open.”

John McCain, is this how you want to be remembered?

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‘Skinny Repeal Bill’ — A Trojan Horse for Broader ACA Repeal and Deep Medicaid Cuts

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 28/07/2017 - 1:59am in

This post originally appeared at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

Senate Republican leaders have tried and failed this week to pass two measures to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — a modified version of their “repeal-and-replace” bill and a straight ACA repeal bill. Both measures, like all previous versions of ACA repeal that Congress has considered, would cause tens of millions of people to lose their health coverage and millions more to pay much more, get skimpier coverage or both.

Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is promoting a new version, referred to as a “skinny repeal” or a “least common denominator” bill. It reportedly would repeal the ACA’s individual and employer mandates, along with its medical device tax.

But no one should be fooled. As Senate Republican leaders have made clear, their goal in advancing the “skinny repeal” is simply to pass something that will advance health legislation to a conference with the House, which passed its own repeal-and-replace bill in May. That way, a House-Senate conference committee could produce a modified version of repeal-and-replace legislation for final votes in the House and Senate this fall.

GOP leaders would craft that version behind closed doors during Congress’ August recess and in early September. They would then present it to the House and Senate for final votes later in September, with limited debate and no amendments allowed — and with GOP leaders applying maximum pressure on Republican senators and House members to fall in line.

The “skinny repeal” bill is a Trojan horse designed to resuscitate the effort to repeal large parts of the ACA and impose big Medicaid cuts that would jeopardize coverage for millions of the nation’s neediest people.

In short, the “skinny repeal” bill is a Trojan horse designed to resuscitate the effort to repeal large parts of the ACA and impose big Medicaid cuts that would jeopardize coverage for millions of the nation’s neediest people. Indeed, when asked today whether Medicaid cuts would be in the “skinny repeal” bill, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn replied, “No, I think people understand we’ll address the Medicaid issue when we conference with the House.”

Sen. John McCain called yesterday for a return to “regular order,” with hearings and a bipartisan process on health reform. But a vote for Sen. McConnell’s “skinny repeal” bill is a vote to quash such a process — indeed, to move further away from it. Under the course that Sen. McConnell wants the Senate to embark on now, the most consequential piece of domestic legislation in years — with a strong potential to hurt tens of millions of people and destabilize the nation’s health insurance markets — would almost certainly be written in secret by Republican leaders and sprung on rank-and-file members in September. GOP leaders would then undoubtedly tell Republican senators and House members that if they had the temerity to vote no, they should expect to be pummeled for months (or years) for enshrining Obamacare as a permanent piece of law — and to expect to face well-funded primary challengers.

By contrast, if the Senate rejects the “skinny repeal” gambit this week, the bipartisan process that McCain and various governors and members of Congress of both parties are advocating could finally commence.

“Skinny Repeal” Considered

To be sure, a “skinny repeal” itself would be a very damaging piece of legislation if enacted. Based on prior Congressional Budget Office analyses, repealing the individual and employer mandates would likely trigger an extensive disruption of insurance markets, add millions to the ranks of the uninsured and cause premiums to rise sharply. But that’s not where Republican congressional leaders want the process to end up.

Under the strategy that Senate leaders are clearly pursuing, House and Senate leaders would officially appoint a conference committee, but the full conference committee — including its Democratic members — would virtually never meet.

Instead, under the strategy that Senate leaders are clearly pursuing, House and Senate leaders would officially appoint a conference committee, but the full conference committee — including its Democratic members — would virtually never meet. Instead, House and Senate GOP leaders (and those they would hand-pick) would meet in secret to craft a new repeal-and-replace bill, without hearings and without making the drafts of their legislation available for public scrutiny and review by health care experts. And in doing so, they almost certainly would use the House’s harsh bill as their starting point. As Sen. Cornyn said this morning, “We [would] use the template of the House bill that addresses all of these issues and come up with the best of the ideas we’ve developed…”

The bill that emerges from this process almost certainly would include the major structural features that every version of repeal-and-replace bills in the House and Senate to date has included: effectively ending the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, which has extended coverage to 11 million low-income adults; imposing a “per-capita” cap that would fundamentally alter Medicaid’s financing structure and fuel hundreds of billions of dollars in Medicaid cuts and cost shifts to the states, with the cuts growing deeper with each passing year and ultimately jeopardizing coverage for many seniors, people with disabilities and children; making stiff cuts in financial assistance to help consumers with modest incomes buy coverage and meet deductibles and copayments in the individual insurance market; and weakening important consumer protections, such as protections for older Americans and those with pre-existing conditions. Because every repeal-and-replace bill has included these features, they won’t suddenly vanish in the closed-door GOP bill-drafting sessions that will ensue if the Senate approves “skinny repeal” this week.

Finally, the process of writing a repeal-and-replace bill in secret and unveiling it in September for a final up-or-down vote would give Republican leaders added leverage to muscle the legislation through Congress. Yesterday’s Senate vote on the “motion to proceed” (allowing the Senate to begin debate on health care legislation) showed how leaders can apply pressure on both moderate and conservative dissenters to vote for measures they might otherwise oppose.  And the conference process that Senator McConnell now would use would only strengthen his hand. A conference report on a reconciliation bill (which the final health legislation would constitute) receives only ten hours of debate and — most important — is not open for amendment. House members and senators would have only two choices: vote yes or vote no. The threats that leaders and outside groups would level at Republicans who were considering voting no would almost certainly exceed anything we have seen to date.

Thus, everyone should see the “skinny repeal” proposal for what it is. It’s not a serious policy proposal, but a clever device to move to the next step of the ongoing effort to undo the ACA — one that would give GOP leaders their maximum leverage. Senators who vote for the “skinny repeal” proposal would be creating the conditions for deep cuts that aren’t in the “skinny” bill itself but would emerge from the conference.

For senators concerned about the potential impacts on hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of their constituents with low or modest incomes or pre-existing conditions, the appropriate path now is not to support a maneuver to open the door for enacting legislation in September that would harm their constituents.  Instead, those concerned about the millions of Americans whose health coverage is at risk should bring this reconciliation process to a close — and, instead, pursue an open, bipartisan approach to strengthening the nation’s health care system.

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Mitch McConnell Wants You to Be Confused

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 27/07/2017 - 3:06am in

This post first appeared at The Nation.

Sen. John McCain, in the middle of treatment by some of the country’s best health professionals, flew across the country to vote on a process that, if successful, will deny that same health care to millions of Americans. The Senate “motion to proceed” passed, with the help of a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Mike Pence, even though neither McCain nor his 49 Republican colleagues who voted for the motion have any idea what is being proceeded to. McConnell cajoled his caucus into beginning a debate without revealing the text of all the bills that will be considered. Whatever the bills are — and there will be several — we can be sure they will not have passed through a single hearing, a single committee markup, and in most cases nobody yet knows what the Congressional Budget Office will say about them. That didn’t stop McCain from giving a long speech right after his vote about how the Senate must return to its procedural norms.

The pure absurdity of this situation is largely by design. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell needs confusion to get an Obamacare repeal over the line: confusion about what’s being voted for, who is supporting what and what the legislation will do to people.

The pure absurdity of this situation is largely by design. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell needs confusion to get an Obamacare repeal over the line: confusion about what’s being voted for, who is supporting what and what the legislation will do to people. (The House of Representatives is already moving to gut the CBO and replace it with a small agency that will simply aggregate the findings of DC think tanks, many of which are funded by deeply ideological conservative interests.) McConnell also needs to rely on procedural radicalism — this level of chicanery and deceit has never been seen before in the Senate.

Constant contradictions and confusion, attacks on authority and naked power grabs are the hallmarks of the Trump era, and they have many stepchildren: the campaign against “fake news,” which the president has dubbed the “enemy of the American people”; a mushrooming campaign to reduce voting rights under the pretense that millions of illegal votes were cast for Hillary Clinton; and this health care process, among others.

To thwart McConnell and his colleagues in the House, clarity is needed about what his plan really is and how it will proceed. So let’s spell it out. Over the next several days, the Senate will hold several health care votes, reportedly on the House health care bill (the AHCA); some version of the Senate health care bill (the BCRA) with changes pushed by Sen. Ted Cruz; a straight repeal vote; and then finally a “skinny repeal” bill — the new term of art for a very pared-down repeal bill that eliminates some of the least popular provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

That will probably include eliminating the individual mandate and the medical-device tax, among other provisions, but the details don’t really matter — the goal is just to get anything, a piece of paper, that McConnell can then send to a joint House-Senate conference that will produce final legislation. The series of Senate votes over the next few days, before that happens, will allow vulnerable Republican senators to make a show of voting against various proposals and claim they opposed such and such cruel repeal plan — but McConnell doesn’t care. He just needs that final “skinny repeal” piece of paper.

It will be important in this process to hold Republican senators accountable: They can’t be for it before they were against it. By engaging in this process, they are ultimately buying into whatever the final product is, and that’s true of every senator who voted to proceed on Tuesday.

If the Senate manages to pass something, once again there will be massive secrecy. A small group of negotiators will hammer out a bill that will be their best attempt to bridge the divide between what House and Senate Republicans want to see.

Once that legislation is produced, it will barrel through Congress — conference reports cannot be amended and only get 10 hours of debate in the Senate. There will be more deliberate confusion about what the bill does, and House Speaker Paul Ryan and McConnell will try to bludgeon their caucuses into supporting it in such a short window that the American people will barely have enough time to understand what’s being passed.

The strategy is deeply radical and, in the end, probably unlikely to work — it’s hard to see how the differences in the Republican caucus about the extent to which Medicaid should be cut, and how much of Obamacare should be repealed, can ultimately be bridged. But to defeat it, activists will have to understand exactly what McConnell and Ryan are up to, and they have done their best to keep that obscured.

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Cartoon of the day

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 17/07/2017 - 10:00pm in