washington, dc

The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

April 22: Zombie Trumpcare Refuses To Die, But Looks Doomed

What’s that gurgling, snarling sound in the distance? Must be Zombie Trumpcare, which as I explained at New York, refuses to die.

Despite near-universal predictions of doom — either now or later, on the House floor or in the Senate — the Trump administration is pushing House Republicans hard to schedule a vote next week on the latest version of Trumpcare, a.k.a. the American Health Care Act. The president’s claim that the the plan had “gotten really, really good … and a lot of people are liking it a lot,” appears to be pure happy talk. They don’t have the votes now to move the legislation forward, and may never have the votes to get this unfortunate legislation to Trump’s desk.

The much-bruited MacArthur Amendment to the earlier bill, with its provision for state waivers to sidestep comprehensive insurance-plan requirements and protections for people with preexisting conditions, may or may not attract some additional House Freedom Caucus votes. But it is very, very unlikely to sway those among MacArthur’s fellow moderates who refused to vote for the original bill. Yes, it would allow blue states to keep something like the original Obamacare individual-health-insurance markets in place, assuming insurers were willing to go along. But it keeps in place AHCA’s quick phaseout of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, hammering those same states.

Prospects in the Senate, where Republican moderates have much more leverage due to the GOP’s narrow two-vote majority, are much worse. On top of the substantive health care policy concerns House moderates have articulated (particularly over Medicaid), there are now three GOP senators who are not necessarily onboard for the defunding of Planned Parenthood that is part of the package. And there remain real problems with the Senate rules, since the state waiver provisions that are central to the MacArthur Amendment could easily be ruled non-germane to the budget process by the Senate parliamentarian, exposing the whole bill to a Senate filibuster.

So why the rush toward an apparent abyss? From the White House point of view, it’s apparently all about Trump’s panic over not having big accomplishments to boast of when the 100-day mark of his presidency arrives, on April 29. That factor is also reportedly driving a sudden hard line in the White House position in the appropriations negotiations aimed at avoiding a government shutdown on April 29. Since a renewed furor over health care could not possibly help the atmosphere surrounding the delicate appropriations talks, Trump is in danger of a dual disaster next week.

Perhaps the best thing about racing ahead is that it might not allow the Congressional Budget Office the time to score this new version of AHCA, a process that would undoubtedly produce a terrible number in terms of the impact on health-care coverage.

You might expect Paul Ryan to tell Trump the votes aren’t there for Zombie Trumpcare, and to ask him to call off the dogs. But Ryan is undoubtedly under pressure from some members who would prefer to get the monkey off their backs and blame the Senate or Democrats for the failure to enact health-care legislation, and others who figure a second failed vote in the House would convince everyone to give up and move on to the more congenial territory of tax legislation.

It’s a horror-show for Republicans, all right.


Zombie Trumpcare Refuses To Die, But Looks Doomed

What’s that gurgling, snarling sound in the distance? Must be Zombie Trumpcare, which as I explained at New York, refuses to die.

Despite near-universal predictions of doom — either now or later, on the House floor or in the Senate — the Trump administration is pushing House Republicans hard to schedule a vote next week on the latest version of Trumpcare, a.k.a. the American Health Care Act. The president’s claim that the the plan had “gotten really, really good … and a lot of people are liking it a lot,” appears to be pure happy talk. They don’t have the votes now to move the legislation forward, and may never have the votes to get this unfortunate legislation to Trump’s desk.

The much-bruited MacArthur Amendment to the earlier bill, with its provision for state waivers to sidestep comprehensive insurance-plan requirements and protections for people with preexisting conditions, may or may not attract some additional House Freedom Caucus votes. But it is very, very unlikely to sway those among MacArthur’s fellow moderates who refused to vote for the original bill. Yes, it would allow blue states to keep something like the original Obamacare individual-health-insurance markets in place, assuming insurers were willing to go along. But it keeps in place AHCA’s quick phaseout of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, hammering those same states.

Prospects in the Senate, where Republican moderates have much more leverage due to the GOP’s narrow two-vote majority, are much worse. On top of the substantive health care policy concerns House moderates have articulated (particularly over Medicaid), there are now three GOP senators who are not necessarily onboard for the defunding of Planned Parenthood that is part of the package. And there remain real problems with the Senate rules, since the state waiver provisions that are central to the MacArthur Amendment could easily be ruled non-germane to the budget process by the Senate parliamentarian, exposing the whole bill to a Senate filibuster.

So why the rush toward an apparent abyss? From the White House point of view, it’s apparently all about Trump’s panic over not having big accomplishments to boast of when the 100-day mark of his presidency arrives, on April 29. That factor is also reportedly driving a sudden hard line in the White House position in the appropriations negotiations aimed at avoiding a government shutdown on April 29. Since a renewed furor over health care could not possibly help the atmosphere surrounding the delicate appropriations talks, Trump is in danger of a dual disaster next week.

Perhaps the best thing about racing ahead is that it might not allow the Congressional Budget Office the time to score this new version of AHCA, a process that would undoubtedly produce a terrible number in terms of the impact on health-care coverage.

You might expect Paul Ryan to tell Trump the votes aren’t there for Zombie Trumpcare, and to ask him to call off the dogs. But Ryan is undoubtedly under pressure from some members who would prefer to get the monkey off their backs and blame the Senate or Democrats for the failure to enact health-care legislation, and others who figure a second failed vote in the House would convince everyone to give up and move on to the more congenial territory of tax legislation.

It’s a horror-show for Republicans, all right.


April 21: Trump Could Yet Provoke a Government Shutdown

In what was a relatively peaceful Easter Recess for Congress, Donald Trump’s fatal pride is again causing trouble, as I explained at New York:

While everyone enjoys (and tries to exploit) the drama of an impending government shutdown, and the events of 2013 showed shutdowns can indeed happen, the deadline itself is disposable, since it is all too easy for negotiators to agree to short-term extensions of existing appropriations while talks continue. A one- or two-week extension remains the most likely scenario for next week, given the number of issues that must be resolved and the short time available after Congress returns from its Easter recess.

But there is an additional dynamic that could upset these expectations and create a higher risk of a shutdown: Donald Trump’s ego.

Like a howling feral dog on the edge of a peaceful town, Trump’s potential for havoc has haunted any and all sensitive congressional negotiations this year. CNN noted it as the “X factor” in the funding talks:

“So far the President has not issued any major controversial ultimatums – insisting on money for certain programs or barring it from others. If that changes, it could blow up the bipartisan talks.”

The reason that might happen is simple: April 29 marks the 100-day mark of the Trump presidency, and the image-conscious POTUS rather obviously hasn’t been on a winning streak.

Sure enough, Politico suggests today that the desire to show some results for the first 100 days is driving the White House toward a “harder line” in appropriations talks.

While the funding deadline can be pushed off temporarily, the 100-day milestone and the negative media assessments of the Trump presidency’s beginnings that are sure to dominate the airwaves can’t just be postponed. Thus the president’s underlings are under pressure to get some highly visible concessions in a hurry:

“The White House, under internal pressure to show legislative achievements ahead of the 100-day mark, is gearing up for a government shutdown fight to secure money for a border wall, more immigration enforcement officers and a bigger military, according to White House and congressional sources familiar with the plan.

“It is a risky gambit. With almost uniform Democratic opposition to nearly all of the Trump administration’s spending proposals, the fight could lead to a government shutdown next Friday — the day government spending expires, and right before the 100th day of Donald Trump’s presidency.

“People familiar with the negotiations say Mick Mulvaney, the budget director, and Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, are pushing congressional appropriators to include “billions” for their agenda in private conversations. The White House, one person familiar with the conversations said, has pushed for $3 billion for the border wall, and discussions have been ongoing.
Border-wall funding is one of several “poison pills” congressional Democrats have signaled might justify a Senate filibuster, gridlock, and a government shutdown. Another that involves a positive demand Democrats are making also touches on Trump’s ego: an appropriation for those Obamacare “cost sharing reduction” subsidies for insurers that the president has threatened to withhold unless Democrats help Republicans enact Obamacare repeal-and-replace legislation.”

Given the amount of time Trump spends claiming that undocumented immigrants are running wild in our cities and producing a hellish crime wave, you also have to figure budget director Mick Mulvaney’s recent demand that the funding bill include a cutoff of grants to “sanctuary cities” — still more shutdown bait — may have had its origins in the Oval Office.

All in all, if negotiators reach a tentative deal next week — or more likely, decide to kick the can down the road for a week or two — they will probably be checking their phones nervously for Twitter explosions from the man just down Pennsylvania Avenue. The president is certainly capable of pretending, as he’s already done, that his first 100 days were one long triumphal march toward unprecedented accomplishments. But if he decides he needs more trophies because his evil media enemies don’t see it, look out!


Trump Could Yet Provoke a Government Shutdown

In what was a relatively peaceful Easter Recess for Congress, Donald Trump’s fatal pride is again causing trouble, as I explained at New York:

While everyone enjoys (and tries to exploit) the drama of an impending government shutdown, and the events of 2013 showed shutdowns can indeed happen, the deadline itself is disposable, since it is all too easy for negotiators to agree to short-term extensions of existing appropriations while talks continue. A one- or two-week extension remains the most likely scenario for next week, given the number of issues that must be resolved and the short time available after Congress returns from its Easter recess.

But there is an additional dynamic that could upset these expectations and create a higher risk of a shutdown: Donald Trump’s ego.

Like a howling feral dog on the edge of a peaceful town, Trump’s potential for havoc has haunted any and all sensitive congressional negotiations this year. CNN noted it as the “X factor” in the funding talks:

“So far the President has not issued any major controversial ultimatums – insisting on money for certain programs or barring it from others. If that changes, it could blow up the bipartisan talks.”

The reason that might happen is simple: April 29 marks the 100-day mark of the Trump presidency, and the image-conscious POTUS rather obviously hasn’t been on a winning streak.

Sure enough, Politico suggests today that the desire to show some results for the first 100 days is driving the White House toward a “harder line” in appropriations talks.

While the funding deadline can be pushed off temporarily, the 100-day milestone and the negative media assessments of the Trump presidency’s beginnings that are sure to dominate the airwaves can’t just be postponed. Thus the president’s underlings are under pressure to get some highly visible concessions in a hurry:

“The White House, under internal pressure to show legislative achievements ahead of the 100-day mark, is gearing up for a government shutdown fight to secure money for a border wall, more immigration enforcement officers and a bigger military, according to White House and congressional sources familiar with the plan.

“It is a risky gambit. With almost uniform Democratic opposition to nearly all of the Trump administration’s spending proposals, the fight could lead to a government shutdown next Friday — the day government spending expires, and right before the 100th day of Donald Trump’s presidency.

“People familiar with the negotiations say Mick Mulvaney, the budget director, and Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, are pushing congressional appropriators to include “billions” for their agenda in private conversations. The White House, one person familiar with the conversations said, has pushed for $3 billion for the border wall, and discussions have been ongoing.
Border-wall funding is one of several “poison pills” congressional Democrats have signaled might justify a Senate filibuster, gridlock, and a government shutdown. Another that involves a positive demand Democrats are making also touches on Trump’s ego: an appropriation for those Obamacare “cost sharing reduction” subsidies for insurers that the president has threatened to withhold unless Democrats help Republicans enact Obamacare repeal-and-replace legislation.”

Given the amount of time Trump spends claiming that undocumented immigrants are running wild in our cities and producing a hellish crime wave, you also have to figure budget director Mick Mulvaney’s recent demand that the funding bill include a cutoff of grants to “sanctuary cities” — still more shutdown bait — may have had its origins in the Oval Office.

All in all, if negotiators reach a tentative deal next week — or more likely, decide to kick the can down the road for a week or two — they will probably be checking their phones nervously for Twitter explosions from the man just down Pennsylvania Avenue. The president is certainly capable of pretending, as he’s already done, that his first 100 days were one long triumphal march toward unprecedented accomplishments. But if he decides he needs more trophies because his evil media enemies don’t see it, look out!


April 15: Paul LePage’s Threat to the Senate

In those wonderful days before Donald Trump ran for president, the most ridiculously entertaining Republican pol in the country was often Maine governor Paul LePage. He was back in the news this week with a frightening threat, as I discussed at New York.

Per the Boston Globe:

“Maine’s Republican governor says he’s strongly considering running for the U.S. Senate, but also feels he ‘wouldn’t make a very good legislator.’’’

“Gov. Paul LePage made the comments on a radio appearance on WGAN-AM on Thursday morning. The two-term governor is termed out of his current job in 2018 and he has been the source of speculation about his next move.”

Most of said speculation has revolved around a 2018 LePage challenge to Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. He’s considering it, even though he doubts he would be good at the job and is concerned committee meetings “would be boring.”

Since he’s not that jazzed about the gig, perhaps LePage should make a Senate run conditional on someone talking Eliot Cutler into running as well — Cutler’s two independent candidacies for governor aided LePage’s election in 2010 and reelection in 2014 by pluralities.

There is possibly a different, easier route for LePage to get from Augusta to Washington: Senator Susan Collins has been openly talking about returning to Maine next year and running to succeed LePage. If she won, under current state law LePage would get to appoint someone to finish the last two years of Collins’s Senate term. He might find the most qualified candidate to be the belligerent man staring back at him from the mirror.

Yikes.


Paul LePage’s Threat to the Senate

In those wonderful days before Donald Trump ran for president, the most ridiculously entertaining Republican pol in the country was often Maine governor Paul LePage. He was back in the news this week with a frightening threat, as I discussed at New York.

Per the Boston Globe:

“Maine’s Republican governor says he’s strongly considering running for the U.S. Senate, but also feels he ‘wouldn’t make a very good legislator.’’’

“Gov. Paul LePage made the comments on a radio appearance on WGAN-AM on Thursday morning. The two-term governor is termed out of his current job in 2018 and he has been the source of speculation about his next move.”

Most of said speculation has revolved around a 2018 LePage challenge to Senator Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. He’s considering it, even though he doubts he would be good at the job and is concerned committee meetings “would be boring.”

Since he’s not that jazzed about the gig, perhaps LePage should make a Senate run conditional on someone talking Eliot Cutler into running as well — Cutler’s two independent candidacies for governor aided LePage’s election in 2010 and reelection in 2014 by pluralities.

There is possibly a different, easier route for LePage to get from Augusta to Washington: Senator Susan Collins has been openly talking about returning to Maine next year and running to succeed LePage. If she won, under current state law LePage would get to appoint someone to finish the last two years of Collins’s Senate term. He might find the most qualified candidate to be the belligerent man staring back at him from the mirror.

Yikes.


April 14: Trump’s Obamacare Squeeze Play on Democrats Backfires Spectacularly

Donald Trump probably thought he was pulling a trick out of The Art of the Deal when he tried to pressure Democrats into helping him salvage his healthcare disaster. But he tricked himself, as I explained at New York:

A heavy-handed effort by the president to take hostage insurer subsidies critical to the proper functioning of Obamacare — with the demand that Democrats cooperate to salvage Trump’s own failed health-care initiative — seems to be backfiring loudly. Soon after Trump made it clear (first via a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services, and then in his own words, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal) that he was indeed threatening to stop payment of the so-called Cost-Sharing Reduction subsidies (amounting to $7 billion in 2017 and an estimated $10 billion in 2018), congressional Democrats quickly struck back, reports The Hill:

“Congressional Democrats are demanding that key Obamacare payments be included in the next spending bill, raising the possibility of a government shutdown if they are not.”

The “spending bill” in question is the omnibus appropriations measure needed to keep the lights on in the federal government beyond April 28, the expiration date of the funding bill enacted last December. It has been the subject of extended negotiations involving the White House and both parties in Congress, aimed at removing “poison pills” that might produce a deadlock, a Senate Democratic filibuster, and a government shutdown.

Providing an appropriation for CSR payments would permanently take this particular weapon out of Trump’s hands — no matter how an underlying lawsuit, over the constitutionality of the Obama administration making the payments without such an appropriation, turns out….

Far from forcing Democrats to the table to help him pass the Obamacare repeal-and-replace legislation he cannot get with Republican votes alone, he has emboldened them to fight back. Given significant Republican support (even among House Freedom Caucus members) for keeping the CSR payments flowing to avoid an individual-insurance-market meltdown, Trump may have gone into battle with his own flanks exposed. And he has now managed to add a new complication to the already-sensitive discussions aimed at avoiding a government shutdown, for which he would inevitably bear the major responsibility.

He will likely have to back down pretty quickly. Besides the low odds of success — and the terrible optics of risking health coverage for millions of Americans because he can’t get his own party in line — there’s yet another problem: If Trump goes to the mats on this issue, he’ll have to answer to all the other powerful interests who are deferring their own demands to keep the federal government open. Is this complicated gambit on health care really more important to Trump than defunding Planned Parenthood or getting money for a border wall? That’s one of the problems with hostage-taking: All your friends will want their demands included on the ransom note.


Trump’s Obamacare Squeeze Play on Democrats Backfires Spectacularly

Donald Trump probably thought he was pulling a trick out of The Art of the Deal when he tried to pressure Democrats into helping him salvage his healthcare disaster. But he tricked himself, as I explained at New York:

A heavy-handed effort by the president to take hostage insurer subsidies critical to the proper functioning of Obamacare — with the demand that Democrats cooperate to salvage Trump’s own failed health-care initiative — seems to be backfiring loudly. Soon after Trump made it clear (first via a statement from the Department of Health and Human Services, and then in his own words, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal) that he was indeed threatening to stop payment of the so-called Cost-Sharing Reduction subsidies (amounting to $7 billion in 2017 and an estimated $10 billion in 2018), congressional Democrats quickly struck back, reports The Hill:

“Congressional Democrats are demanding that key Obamacare payments be included in the next spending bill, raising the possibility of a government shutdown if they are not.”

The “spending bill” in question is the omnibus appropriations measure needed to keep the lights on in the federal government beyond April 28, the expiration date of the funding bill enacted last December. It has been the subject of extended negotiations involving the White House and both parties in Congress, aimed at removing “poison pills” that might produce a deadlock, a Senate Democratic filibuster, and a government shutdown.

Providing an appropriation for CSR payments would permanently take this particular weapon out of Trump’s hands — no matter how an underlying lawsuit, over the constitutionality of the Obama administration making the payments without such an appropriation, turns out….

Far from forcing Democrats to the table to help him pass the Obamacare repeal-and-replace legislation he cannot get with Republican votes alone, he has emboldened them to fight back. Given significant Republican support (even among House Freedom Caucus members) for keeping the CSR payments flowing to avoid an individual-insurance-market meltdown, Trump may have gone into battle with his own flanks exposed. And he has now managed to add a new complication to the already-sensitive discussions aimed at avoiding a government shutdown, for which he would inevitably bear the major responsibility.

He will likely have to back down pretty quickly. Besides the low odds of success — and the terrible optics of risking health coverage for millions of Americans because he can’t get his own party in line — there’s yet another problem: If Trump goes to the mats on this issue, he’ll have to answer to all the other powerful interests who are deferring their own demands to keep the federal government open. Is this complicated gambit on health care really more important to Trump than defunding Planned Parenthood or getting money for a border wall? That’s one of the problems with hostage-taking: All your friends will want their demands included on the ransom note.


April 7: California Democrats Show How To Get An Infrastructure Bill Passed

You may have missed this news from California late this week, so I wrote it up at New York:

Even as Donald Trump’s proposed infrastructure investment proposal remains, as Matt Yglesias cleverly calls it, mostly “vaporware,” California Democrats led by Governor Jerry Brown just met a tight self-imposed deadline by getting their own $52 billion plan for fixing roads, highways, bridges, and some transit facilities over a two-thirds threshold for revenue increases. And in so doing they may have provided a few lessons for Trump in the “art of the deal.”

Brown and Senate president pro tem Kevin de Leon had a particularly tough time in the legislature’s upper chamber. But they did what to be done, according to the Los Angeles Times:

“Democratic Sen. Steve Glazer of Orinda voted against the bill, saying his constituents were against higher taxes as proposed by a 2-1 margin. But Brown and De León persuaded Republican Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres to vote in favor of the measure, reaching the two-thirds vote needed for passage.

“The governor and legislative leaders ended up giving nearly $1 billion to specific transportation projects in the districts of legislators who had been on the fence before voting for Senate Bill 1. Brown and De León agreed to provide $500 million for projects in Cannella’s district, including the extension of a commuter rail line from the Bay Area to Merced.

“’At the end of the day I asked for certain things and they delivered them, so I needed to vote for it,’ Cannella told reporters afterward.”

In another sign that Brown and company were paying attention to the arguments against their package, it included a call for a 2018 ballot initiative to prohibit the legislature from diverting the new revenues to other uses.

And it all got done before the legislature’s spring recess, and in time for Jerry Brown’s 79th birthday celebration today.

The man once known as “Governor Moonbeam” is pretty down to earth after all.


California Democrats Show How To Get an Infrastructure Bill Passed

You may have missed this news from California late this week, so I wrote it up at New York:

Even as Donald Trump’s proposed infrastructure investment proposal remains, as Matt Yglesias cleverly calls it, mostly “vaporware,” California Democrats led by Governor Jerry Brown just met a tight self-imposed deadline by getting their own $52 billion plan for fixing roads, highways, bridges, and some transit facilities over a two-thirds threshold for revenue increases. And in so doing they may have provided a few lessons for Trump in the “art of the deal.”

Brown and Senate president pro tem Kevin de Leon had a particularly tough time in the legislature’s upper chamber. But they did what to be done, according to the Los Angeles Times:

“Democratic Sen. Steve Glazer of Orinda voted against the bill, saying his constituents were against higher taxes as proposed by a 2-1 margin. But Brown and De León persuaded Republican Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres to vote in favor of the measure, reaching the two-thirds vote needed for passage.

“The governor and legislative leaders ended up giving nearly $1 billion to specific transportation projects in the districts of legislators who had been on the fence before voting for Senate Bill 1. Brown and De León agreed to provide $500 million for projects in Cannella’s district, including the extension of a commuter rail line from the Bay Area to Merced.

“’At the end of the day I asked for certain things and they delivered them, so I needed to vote for it,’ Cannella told reporters afterward.”

In another sign that Brown and company were paying attention to the arguments against their package, it included a call for a 2018 ballot initiative to prohibit the legislature from diverting the new revenues to other uses.

And it all got done before the legislature’s spring recess, and in time for Jerry Brown’s 79th birthday celebration today.

The man once known as “Governor Moonbeam” is pretty down to earth after all.