Friday Talking Points -- Deficits Don't Matter, Again (Neither Moral Nor Financial)

Friday Talking Points -- Deficits Don't Matter, Again (Neither Moral Nor Financial)
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There's an easy test to see whether Republicans in Congress care about financial deficits: Is there a Democrat in the White House? If so, then deficits are so important that the situation requires threats of government shutdowns and defaulting on the national debt to fight deficit spending. However, if there's a Republican in the White House, then (as Dick Cheney so eloquently put it) "deficits don't matter." This was on full hypocritical display once again this week, as congressional Republicans voted to blow a $1.5 trillion hole in the national debt, so that the wealthy and big corporations can enjoy massive tax cuts.

We haven't seen precisely what these tax cuts will entail. But from the absolute horse manure Republicans are already spouting about it, expect it to be pretty blatantly tilted towards the upper end of the income scale. Just one single change Republicans are considering would save Donald Trump a whopping 81 percent of his own federal income taxes, although few have noticed this fact yet. This week, unconcerned with the reaction to cutting the state and local income tax deduction, Republicans pondered cutting the tax-free deduction for 401(k) plans. When questioned whether all of these changes would cause taxes to actually rise on much of the middle class, we got a world-class "Big Lie" from Kevin Brady, chairman of the tax-writing House committee:

"In about a week, you will be able to see the reforms proposed and where we are heading with it," Brady said. He said he couldn't guarantee that every American would see their taxes go down because of the changes, but he could "guarantee that every American will be better off because of a simpler tax code that lowers those rates and improves their paychecks."

To reiterate: your taxes may be going up, but you will be "better off" because the simpler tax code will have "improved" your paycheck. This is flat-out insane on the face of it. A smaller paycheck is an improved paycheck? In what universe? All so Trump can save four out of every five dollars he used to owe. Winning!

It might be helpful, at this point, to take a quick look back at how the George W. Bush tax cuts worked out (which we wrote about earlier in the week, highlighting a new study). The evidence is pretty clear:

High-income taxpayers benefited most from these tax cuts, with the top 1 percent of households receiving an average tax cut of over $570,000 between 2004-2012 (increasing their after-tax income by more than 5 percent each year). Despite promises from proponents of the tax cuts, evidence suggests that they did not improve economic growth or pay for themselves, but instead ballooned deficits and debt and contributed to a rise in income inequality.... [T]he Bush tax cuts (including those that policymakers made permanent) would add $5.6 trillion to deficits from 2001 to 2018. This means that the Bush tax cuts will be responsible for roughly one-third of the federal debt owed by 2018.

Something to keep in mind, while wading through the inevitable tsunami of false promises Republicans are about to make on the wonderfulness of trickle-down economics, over the next few weeks.

The real winners this particular week, however, were the big Wall Street banks, who successfully pushed a bill through to strip consumers' rights to enter into class action lawsuits against them. Now they will be free to screw their customers over without having to worry about big lawsuits in response. Winning!

Sexual harassment (or worse) was another all-consuming subject this week, with the list of prominent men accused by multiple women being expanded almost daily. This week saw the addition of Mark Halperin (one of the smarmiest political commentators around) and George H. W. Bush, who apparently grabs women by the ass (from his wheelchair, no less) while telling them the following "joke": "Want to know my favorite magician? David Cop-a-feel!"

You just cannot make this stuff up. And it needs to end, now.

Of course, in politics, accusations of this sort haven't had the same sort of effect they've had elsewhere, or at the very least they are applied pretty selectively. After all, Congress conveniently exempts itself from normal federal workplace rules on harassment, which isn't likely to change any time soon:

"It is not a victim-friendly process. It is an institution-protection process," said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who has unsuccessfully pushed to overhaul how harassment cases are handled [by Congress]. "I think we would find that sexual harassment is rampant in the institution. But no one wants to know, because they'd have to do something about it."

And, according to the Trump White House, every woman who has ever accused Donald Trump of bad behavior, is obviously a liar:

"Obviously, sexual harassment has been in the news," Jacqueline Alemany of CBS News asked [Sarah Huckabee] Sanders. "At least 16 women accused the president of sexually harassing them throughout the course of the campaign. Last week, during a press conference in the Rose Garden, the president called these accusations 'fake news.' Is the official White House position that all of these women are lying?"

"Yeah, we've been clear on that from the beginning, and the president's spoken on it," Sanders said, before quickly pivoting to another reporter to ask a question.

This was on top of Trump repeatedly calling a Gold Star mother a liar this week, it bears pointing out. Speaking of double standards, just imagine how Republicans would act if a Democratic president ever did such a thing! But this just fits in with the current White House's "everyone who says anything bad about Trump has to be lying" worldview. So much for all those "Support the troops!" Republicans, who have been completely silent (with the exception of a few, but we'll get to Jeff Flake in the talking points later on).

In other conspiracy-theory news, most of the final files on the assassination of John F. Kennedy were released -- although something like 300 files are still being withheld from the public. Astoundingly, this is one area where Americans widely agree -- in a remarkably bipartisan fashion -- that their government is still lying to them. It's like an adult version of the board game "Clue" -- it was the C.I.A., on the Grassy Knoll, with an umbrella gun!

In other mind-bending news, Trump finally followed through (kind of) on his two-month-old promise to declare a national emergency over the opioid crisis. Nothing like waiting two months during an emergency, eh? Trump, though, only labeled the crisis a "public health emergency" rather than a "national emergency," which means lots of federal money and resources now won't be available to fight it. The statement frees up one federal account to fight the crisis... that has less than $60,000 in it. Nancy Pelosi reacted to this news by telling Trump: "show me the money." There are even other changes to federal regulations that could easily be made, but probably make too much sense for the current Congress to even consider.

In an extraordinary mea culpa column in the Washington Post, an evangelical leader fully admits how his own reaction to the opioid crisis differs from his reaction to the 1980s crack epidemic:

So what I am struck by now is how my perspective has changed. Sure, I'm a few decades older and have learned some things, but it's worth noting what crack meant to us. It meant black street crime.

Today, what the opioid epidemic means for many of us: Whites need treatment.

This isn't from a spokesman for Black Lives Matter or anything, mind you, it is from the executive director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College. He does apologize profusely for his own past behavior -- better late than never, we guess.

Let's see, what else? An energy company with only two employees was given the exclusive $300 million contract to rebuild Puerto Rico's power grid, and the company just happens to be from the same town that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is from. What a coincidence! Nothing swamplike about that deal, right?

The National Park Service was in the news this week, first for floating the idea of hiking the entrance fees to popular parks into the stratosphere. But anyone who thinks "if the parks need more money, why not hike the fees?" should know the facts of the matter:

[I]t would take more than 161 years for that extra annual revenue to wipe out the entire $11.3 billion [parks maintenance] backlog -- to say nothing of the maintenance needs that would arise between now and then. On top of that, the fees would offset less than one-quarter of the $297 million Park Service budget cut proposed by the Trump administration.

And, sadly, the N.P.S. has denied a permit for a 45-foot statue of a nude woman to be displayed on the National Mall. Their excuse for denying the permit? She'd be too tall, by a foot or so. Our reaction was that the statue actually should have been a few feet taller, which would have made The Attack Of The 50-Foot Woman jokes so much easier to make.

Speaking of things that are sky-high, public support for marijuana legalization just reached an astounding all-time high of 64 percent. This is up four points from last year, and a whopping 52 points since Gallup first began asking the question, back in 1969. Also for the first time, even 51 percent of Republicans now favor outright legalization. The new numbers led Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon (who has been fighting against the federal War On Weed for years now) to predict: "this controversy will be over in less than five years." We certainly hope you're right, Earl.

And finally, we have to end with the cutest of the cute -- political cats online! In New Zealand, "Paddles" the cat will soon officially take office as the @FirstCatofNZ, as his owner (Labour Party leader Jacinda Ardern) will soon become prime minister. This led to congratulations from the British First Cat (@Number10cat) as well as many others. Paddles already loves to tweet, from the mundane: "hey dad. love you. please bring home some fish," to the self-promotional (accompanying a photo of Puddles being presented to the press): "Thanks Mum for bringing me out so I can speak to the press. Must give the people what they want -- and what they want is me. Prrrrp."

Prrrrp, indeed!


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

We have two Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week awards this week, one as a follow-up on the MIDOTW from last week, and one looking forward.

Last week, Senators Tim Kaine and Michael Bennet were honored for introducing their plan for "Medicare-X" (their version of "the public option") into the healthcare debate. So this week we feel honor-bound to award Senator Brian Schatz of Hawai'i his own MIDOTW. Here's the full story:

On Wednesday, Schatz unveiled the "State Public Option Act," which would allow states to create a version of Medicaid open to people shopping for insurance on their own through the Affordable Care Act's exchanges.

The coverage available through the new program would not be identical to coverage that Medicaid recipients get now. States could design plans with significant deductibles, for example, or without every single benefit that Medicaid provides. But they would have to abide by all of the ACA's standards, including an overall ceiling on out-of-pocket expenses and requirements that plans cover mental health, maternity care and other "essential" services.

The coverage would be available to everybody regardless of pre-existing conditions.

People who qualify for the ACA's tax credits could use them to help pay premiums. And for those who don't get the ACA tax credits, the law would cap premiums in the new Medicaid program at 9.5 percent of household income. That ceiling is critical, because it would help the people who struggle the most under "Obamacare" -- namely, people who are too wealthy to qualify for government subsidies but who, today, can't find private coverage without paying high, sometimes exorbitant premiums.

We're not going to get drawn into a debate over the relative merits of this plan versus the one introduced last week, or for that matter how they both stack up against Bernie Sanders's "Medicare For All" plan. Because we're more concerned with applauding all such legislative efforts.

Democrats should not try to beat Republicans next year with nothing. They need to offer something, instead -- concrete examples of what Democrats stand for, in other words. Sure, these bills will not pass a Republican-led Congress, but they might just help convince voters that their lives could improve in tangible ways if Democrats regain power on Capitol Hill.

Standing up for something always beats sitting on the sidelines and sniping at the other party. All of these healthcare efforts in the Senate achieve this goal. We can debate their relative merits and drawbacks later -- say, when Chuck Schumer is Senate Majority Leader.

Our second MIDOTW award goes to Tom Steyer, for the ad he's currently running nationwide. Steyer is a big Democratic donor, and he spent $10 million of his own money (he's a billionaire), plus "a seven-figure social media buy" to get his message across:

The ad, titled "Join Us" features Steyer as the narrator.

"[Donald Trump has] brought us to the brink of nuclear war," Steyer said in the ad, referring to heightened tensions between the U.S. and North Korea.

Steyer said Trump obstructed justice in his firing of former F.B.I. director James Comey. "And in direct violation of the Constitution he's taken money from foreign governments and threatened to shut down news organizations that report the truth."

"If that isn't the case for impeaching and removing a dangerous president, then what has our government become?" Steyer asked. "I'm Tom Steyer, and like you, I'm a citizen who knows it's up to us to do something. It's why I'm funding this effort to raise our voices together and demand that elected officials take a stand on impeachment."

"A Republican Congress once impeached a president for far less, and today people in Congress and his own administration know that this president is a clear and present danger," Steyer says in the ad, which directs viewers to a NeedToImpeach website.

Amusingly, Steyer bought ad time on Fox And Friends, which as everyone knows is one of Trump's favorite TV shows. Trump took the bait, tweeting back: "Wacky & totally unhinged Tom Steyer, who has been fighting me and my Make America Great Again agenda from beginning, never wins elections!"

Steyer has reportedly been considering tossing his own hat into the political ring, perhaps for the California governor's race or perhaps for Dianne Feinstein's Senate seat. This is, obviously, him testing the political waters.

Whether he decides to run or not, Steyer deserves the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week for the ad alone, and for putting up the money to insure that even Trump got to see it. As more and more people figure out who exactly it is who is "wacky & totally unhinged," Steyer will be seen as getting out in front of the impeachment idea.

[Contact Senator Brian Schatz on his Senate contact page, and Tom Steyer via his NeedToImpeach webpage, to let them know what you think of their actions.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

We hate to beat up on the guy by quoting right-wing news sources, but in this instance, it is deserved.

For the second week in a row, Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez is our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Steyer was trying to push an idea for how to change presidential elections, but he just flat-out got his facts wrong:

Perez made the comment while speaking at Indiana University Law School's Sixth Annual Birch Bayh Lecture. "The Electoral College is not a creation of the Constitution. It doesn't have to be there," he said. "There's a national popular vote compact in which a number of states have passed a bill that says we will allocate our vote, our electoral votes, to the person who wins the national popular vote once other states totaling 270 electoral votes do the same." Perez went on to note the first state to pass such a measure was Maryland. Contrary to Perez's claim, the U.S. Constitution establishes the Electoral College in Article II.

Ouch. While we do agree with Perez that the N.P.V. movement is worth a look, with the political position he holds he should know full well what is in the Constitution and what is not. Section 1 of Article II outlines in great detail the Electoral College's existence. It is indeed "a creation of the Constitution." He can't even make the excuse that he was confused because it was later added as an amendment or anything -- it's been right there since the beginning.

We expect better from the Democratic Party's national leader, to be blunt. If you're going to make sweeping statements in public speeches, you really need to check your facts first. Most especially when it comes to our founding documents.

[Contact Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez on his contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 459 (10/27/17)

We have two completely unrelated notes before we begin today: (1) We'd like to wish Martin Luther's 95 theses a happy 500th anniversary! Protestantism is now officially a half-millennium old. This has nothing whatsoever to do with the news of the week, but how often do we get to celebrate a quincentennial? And (2), for those of you who were expecting to see pumpkins today, we decided that our annual Hallowe'en column will be running Monday this year rather than Friday. Since the holiday falls on Tuesday night, if we had carved jack-o-lanterns for today's article, they'd be nothing but mush by the time the trick-or-treaters arrived. So you'll have that to look forward to next week.

With that out of the way, welcome to a rather unusual talking points section, because we are turning the whole thing over to contrarian Republicans this week, on the subject of moral deficits emanating from the White House. Denouncing Trump seems to be spreading, meaning the "Resist!" movement is now making serious inroads among the ranks of Republicans, in rhetoric if not in actual votes.

Before we get to the GOP senators, however, a quick preface. People in the White House just cannot seem to stop themselves from speaking about President Trump as if he were a toddler. Here's this week's example, in reaction to the news that the White House is cutting Trump's trip to Asia short rather than have him attend the East Asia Summit in the Philippines, despite it being scheduled to fit in to Trump's trip. The reason?

Multiple administration officials told me there was a lengthy debate inside the Trump administration about the summit, but officials close to Trump were concerned the president did not want to stay in the region for so long and worried he could get cranky, leading to unpredictable or undiplomatic behavior.

"Cranky"? Seriously? Maybe someone should start a #TrumpAsToddler hashtag, or something. When in all of American history have the words "worried he could get cranky" been applied to a president -- by a member of the White House staff, no less?

But that certainly wasn't the worst thing Republicans said about Trump this week. Senator Bob Corker made the rounds of the morning news shows bright and early Monday morning, to denounce Trump in as many ways as he could think of. Here's just one example out of many to choose from:

"I don't know why he lowers himself to such a low, low standard and debases our country in the way that he does, but he does," Corker said, adding that he wasn't sure Trump was a good role model for children.

Trump, of course, mean-tweeted back, mocking Corker as "liddle" once again -- less than 24 hours after Melania Trump warned children about the evils of cyberbullying. Talk about instant karma!

Corker, however, is getting better at his countertweeting: "Same untruths from an utterly untruthful president. #AlertTheDayCareStaff." Gotta love that hashtag!

This all happened before Trump had lunch with all the Republican senators, which was supposed to be (as Trump put it later) a "lovefest" for Trump. Some Republicans weren't taking this very seriously, notably Thom Tillis of North Carolina, who tweeted an image of him getting some popcorn with the text: "Ready for lunch with POTUS and @SenateGOP." With a popcorn emoji, just for good measure.

When the lunch ended, GOP senator John Kennedy of Louisiana got in another snarky dig (with a hat-tip to Dan Aykroyd): "A very positive meeting. Nobody called anybody an ignorant slut or anything."


But all of this turned out to be only the appetizers for the real anti-Trump broadside of the day. Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona rose on the Senate floor to announce he wouldn't be running for re-election, because to win his Republican primary, he'd have to run a race he would be disgusted with.

Before we get to excerpting Flake's words, though, one point needs to be made. Sure, it's fun for Democrats to see Republicans badmouth Trump and all of that. But let's keep it all in perspective. For instance, just because George W. Bush gave an anti-Trump speech last week shouldn't mean we all engage in false Bush nostalgia, since he really set the scene for much of Trump's style and substance.

Just because Jeff Flake and Bob Corker are denouncing Trump doesn't mean that they aren't just as conservative as they've always been -- for instance, both men voted for the odious bank bill this week, which strips consumers' rights to sue banks. This was a close vote, too -- Vice President Mike Pence had to cast a tie-breaking vote (Lindsey Graham and the aforementioned Aykroyd-channeling John Kennedy voted against it, to their credit). Flake and Corker have been coy about whether they'll support the Trump tax cuts or not, but in the end they'll likely vote to blow up the deficit along with all the other hypocritical Republicans. So one speech doesn't exactly equate to a profile in courage or anything.

Even so, Flake's speech was astonishingly direct. Which is why we're using the talking points to highlight exactly what he said. The following two excerpts are rather long, but we felt they were important enough to extensively quote, due to the seriousness of Flake's charges. Everyone should read Flake's speech in its entirety, in fact, but here are the things that we felt stood out:

In this century, a new phrase has entered the language to describe the accommodation of a new and undesirable order -- that phrase being "the new normal." But we must never adjust to the present coarseness of our national dialogue -- with the tone set at the top.

We must never regard as "normal" the regular and casual undermining of our democratic norms and ideals. We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country -- the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons, reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with the fortunes of the people that we have all been elected to serve.

None of these appalling features of our current politics should ever be regarded as normal. We must never allow ourselves to lapse into thinking that this is just the way things are now. If we simply become inured to this condition, thinking that this is just politics as usual, then heaven help us. Without fear of the consequences, and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal.

Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as "telling it like it is," when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified.

And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else: It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength -- because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit, and weakness.

It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, "Why didn't you do something? Why didn't you speak up?" -- what are we going to say?

. . .

A Republican president named Roosevelt had this to say about the president and a citizen's relationship to the office:

"The President is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore, it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly as necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile." President Roosevelt continued. "To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

. . .

It is clear at this moment that a traditional conservative who believes in limited government and free markets, who is devoted to free trade, and who is pro-immigration, has a narrower and narrower path to nomination in the Republican Party -- the party that for so long has defined itself by belief in those things. It is also clear to me for the moment we have given in or given up on those core principles in favor of the more viscerally satisfying anger and resentment. To be clear, the anger and resentment that the people feel at the royal mess we have created are justified. But anger and resentment are not a governing philosophy.

There is an undeniable potency to a populist appeal -- but mischaracterizing or misunderstanding our problems and giving in to the impulse to scapegoat and belittle threatens to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking people. In the case of the Republican Party, those things also threaten to turn us into a fearful, backward-looking minority party.

We were not made great as a country by indulging or even exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorying in the things which divide us, and calling fake things true and true things fake. And we did not become the beacon of freedom in the darkest corners of the world by flouting our institutions and failing to understand just how hard-won and vulnerable they are.

Flake then followed this speech up with an opinion piece he wrote for the Washington Post, where he drew a parallel to another dark time in American history.

As I contemplate the Trump presidency, I cannot help but think of Joseph Welch.

On June 9. 1954, during the Army-McCarthy hearings, Welch, who was the chief counsel for the Army, famously asked the committee chairman if he might speak on a point of personal privilege. What he said that day was so profound that it has become enshrined as a pivotal moment in defense of American values against those who would lay waste to them. Welch was the son of a small prairie town in northwest Iowa, and the plaintive quality of his flat Midwestern accent is burned into American history. After asking Sen. Joseph McCarthy for his attention and telling him to listen with both ears, Welch spoke:

"Until this moment, senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty, or your recklessness."

And then, in words that today echo from his time to ours, Welch delivered the coup de grace: "You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?"

The moral power of Welch's words ended McCarthy's rampage on American values, and effectively his career as well.

After Welch said his piece, the hearing room erupted in applause, those in attendance seemingly shocked by such bracing moral clarity in the face of a moral vandal. Someone had finally spoken up and said: Enough.

By doing so, Welch reawakened the conscience of the country. The moment was a shock to the system, a powerful dose of cure for an American democracy that was questioning its values during a time of global tumult and threat. We had temporarily forgotten who we were supposed to be.

We face just such a time now. We have again forgotten who we are supposed to be.

There is a sickness in our system -- and it is contagious.

How many more disgraceful public feuds with Gold Star families can we witness in silence before we ourselves are disgraced?

How many more times will we see moral ambiguity in the face of shocking bigotry and shrug it off?

How many more childish insults do we need to see hurled at a hostile foreign power before we acknowledge the senseless danger of it?

How much more damage to our democracy and to the institutions of American liberty do we need to witness in silence before we count ourselves as complicit in that damage?

Nine months of this administration is enough for us to stop pretending that this is somehow normal, and that we are on the verge of some sort of pivot to governing, to stability. Nine months is more than enough for us to say, loudly and clearly: Enough.

The outcome of this is in our hands. We can no longer remain silent, merely observing this train wreck, passively, as if waiting for someone else to do something. The longer we wait, the greater the damage, the harsher the judgment of history.


Chris Weigant blogs at:

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

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