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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

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.


April 6: GOP Getting Worried About “Safe” Kansas U.S. House Seat

We all know there’s a red-hot special congressional election in Georgia April 18. But a week earlier, Kansans go to the polls in another “special” that was supposed to be a snoozer. Now Republicans are getting jittery, as I discussed at New York:

It’s an old story by now that Republicans are jittery about holding onto the Georgia U.S. House seat once held by Newt Gingrich and Johnny Isakson, and mostly recently by HHS Secretary Tom Price, in an April 18 special election. But it’s another thing altogether to learn that Republicans are worried about a special election a week earlier in Kansas to replace CIA director Mike Pompeo. Here’s the news from Politico:

“The NRCC is pouring money into a last-minute TV ad buy in Kansas ahead of a Tuesday special election, seeking to pump up Republican enthusiasm and turnout in a district that President Donald Trump carried by 27 percentage points just a few months ago.

“The late independent expenditure seeks to boost Republican state Treasurer Ron Estes …. Kansas Republicans are fretting that Estes’ margin is closer than expected in his race against Democrat James Thompson, an attorney.

“’Kansas should not be in play, but Kansas is in play,’ said one Kansas Republican consultant.”

Yikes.

Just last month the authoritative Cook Political Report rated this race “Safe Republican.” And no wonder: Aside from Trump’s margin in the 4th district of Kansas, Pompeo won it two-to-one last November, and it hasn’t gone Democratic in a presidential or House election since 1992….

[M]aybe GOPers are just getting jumpy, or maybe they are seeing something in Kansas and elsewhere in their own ranks that suggests underwhelming turnout. The NRCC ad, which basically calls Thompson an enthusiastic baby-killer, is about as subtle as an electric cattle prod plunged into the bathwater of GOP base voters.

If the idea is that Republicans need to beat expectations in all these special elections to avoid a buzzkill for the troops or a Twitter screed from the White House, the NRCC going medieval on Thompson makes some sense. But if they’re really worried about losing KS-4, that should terrify Elephant-Party people everywhere.


GOP Getting Worried About “Safe” Kansas U.S. House Seat

We all know there’s a red-hot special congressional election in Georgia April 18. But a week earlier, Kansans go to the polls in another “special” that was supposed to be a snoozer. Now Republicans are getting jittery, as I discussed at New York:

It’s an old story by now that Republicans are jittery about holding onto the Georgia U.S. House seat once held by Newt Gingrich and Johnny Isakson, and mostly recently by HHS Secretary Tom Price, in an April 18 special election. But it’s another thing altogether to learn that Republicans are worried about a special election a week earlier in Kansas to replace CIA director Mike Pompeo. Here’s the news from Politico:

“The NRCC is pouring money into a last-minute TV ad buy in Kansas ahead of a Tuesday special election, seeking to pump up Republican enthusiasm and turnout in a district that President Donald Trump carried by 27 percentage points just a few months ago.

“The late independent expenditure seeks to boost Republican state Treasurer Ron Estes …. Kansas Republicans are fretting that Estes’ margin is closer than expected in his race against Democrat James Thompson, an attorney.

“’Kansas should not be in play, but Kansas is in play,’ said one Kansas Republican consultant.”

Yikes.

Just last month the authoritative Cook Political Report rated this race “Safe Republican.” And no wonder: Aside from Trump’s margin in the 4th district of Kansas, Pompeo won it two-to-one last November, and it hasn’t gone Democratic in a presidential or House election since 1992….

[M]aybe GOPers are just getting jumpy, or maybe they are seeing something in Kansas and elsewhere in their own ranks that suggests underwhelming turnout. The NRCC ad, which basically calls Thompson an enthusiastic baby-killer, is about as subtle as an electric cattle prod plunged into the bathwater of GOP base voters.

If the idea is that Republicans need to beat expectations in all these special elections to avoid a buzzkill for the troops or a Twitter screed from the White House, the NRCC going medieval on Thompson makes some sense. But if they’re really worried about losing KS-4, that should terrify Elephant-Party people everywhere.


March 31: Opposition to Medicaid Expansion: It’s Not the Money, It’s the Ideology

There was a brief flurry of excitement this week about the possibility of more states accepting the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. I poured some cold water on the idea at New York:

The train wreck involving the American Health Care Act in the U.S. House last week offered a burst of fresh hope to those in the 19 states that have not yet accepted the Medicaid expansion authorized by the Affordable Care Act and made optional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Most versions of GOP health legislation have canceled the expansion and its generous federal funding with variations in terms of speed and ferocity. The version of AHCA that slipped and fell while approaching the House floor contained a flat prohibition on any new expansions, reportedly at the behest of the House Freedom Caucus.

Coincidentally or not, early this week a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Kansas legislature sent conservative governor Sam Brownback a bill designed to make that state the 32nd to expand Medicaid eligibility to poor people without children or disabilities…. But alas for any sense of momentum for Medicaid expansions, Brownback promptly vetoed the legislation, with a message that should remind everyone that rejection of the expansion has often been about ideology rather than money:

“I am vetoing this expansion of ObamaCare because it fails to serve the truly vulnerable before the able-bodied, lacks work requirements to help able-bodied Kansans escape poverty, and burdens the state budget with unrestrainable entitlement costs.

“Most grievously, this legislation funnels more taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry. From its infancy, the state of Kansas has affirmed the dignity and equality of each human life. I will not support this legislation that continues to fund organizations that undermine a culture of life.”

Alrighty then!

Vox has just conducted a quick survey of the non-expansion states and didn’t find much new activity despite some optimistic talk from expansion proponents. Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe has launched a new Medicaid-expansion campaign, but unless Democrats make gains in the legislature he will continue to be blocked. In Maine a ballot initiative has already been certified for November of this year to force an expansion that Governor Paul LePage has bitterly opposed.

There’s some mysterious talk in Georgia about Governor Nathan Deal’s administration approaching former Georgia congressman and now HHS Secretary Tom Price for “major changes” to the Medicaid program. Under HHS’ previous management, this might have been an allusion to one of those deals the Obama administration encouraged whereby states were given waivers to conduct conservative policy experiments with the entire Medicaid program in exchange for grudgingly accepting expansion and the massive federal funding that accompanied it. Since the Trump administration doesn’t support the expansion in the first place, it’s unlikely that it will be interested in bribing additional states into going along. It’s more likely Georgia will seek and perhaps receive permission to do unpleasant things to the existing Medicaid population.

All in all, the AHCA fiasco removed a big new disincentive to additional Medicaid expansions. But it didn’t remove the determination of conservatives in many states to reject free money to achieve better health coverage on grounds that it would benefit the undeserving, or make government too popular. That’s a forever thing.


Opposition to Medicaid Expansion: It’s Not the Money, It’s the Ideology

There was a brief flurry of excitement this week about the possibility of more states accepting the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion. I poured some cold water on the idea at New York:

The train wreck involving the American Health Care Act in the U.S. House last week offered a burst of fresh hope to those in the 19 states that have not yet accepted the Medicaid expansion authorized by the Affordable Care Act and made optional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Most versions of GOP health legislation have canceled the expansion and its generous federal funding with variations in terms of speed and ferocity. The version of AHCA that slipped and fell while approaching the House floor contained a flat prohibition on any new expansions, reportedly at the behest of the House Freedom Caucus.

Coincidentally or not, early this week a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Kansas legislature sent conservative governor Sam Brownback a bill designed to make that state the 32nd to expand Medicaid eligibility to poor people without children or disabilities…. But alas for any sense of momentum for Medicaid expansions, Brownback promptly vetoed the legislation, with a message that should remind everyone that rejection of the expansion has often been about ideology rather than money:

“I am vetoing this expansion of ObamaCare because it fails to serve the truly vulnerable before the able-bodied, lacks work requirements to help able-bodied Kansans escape poverty, and burdens the state budget with unrestrainable entitlement costs.

“Most grievously, this legislation funnels more taxpayer dollars to Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry. From its infancy, the state of Kansas has affirmed the dignity and equality of each human life. I will not support this legislation that continues to fund organizations that undermine a culture of life.”

Alrighty then!

Vox has just conducted a quick survey of the non-expansion states and didn’t find much new activity despite some optimistic talk from expansion proponents. Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe has launched a new Medicaid-expansion campaign, but unless Democrats make gains in the legislature he will continue to be blocked. In Maine a ballot initiative has already been certified for November of this year to force an expansion that Governor Paul LePage has bitterly opposed.

There’s some mysterious talk in Georgia about Governor Nathan Deal’s administration approaching former Georgia congressman and now HHS Secretary Tom Price for “major changes” to the Medicaid program. Under HHS’ previous management, this might have been an allusion to one of those deals the Obama administration encouraged whereby states were given waivers to conduct conservative policy experiments with the entire Medicaid program in exchange for grudgingly accepting expansion and the massive federal funding that accompanied it. Since the Trump administration doesn’t support the expansion in the first place, it’s unlikely that it will be interested in bribing additional states into going along. It’s more likely Georgia will seek and perhaps receive permission to do unpleasant things to the existing Medicaid population.

All in all, the AHCA fiasco removed a big new disincentive to additional Medicaid expansions. But it didn’t remove the determination of conservatives in many states to reject free money to achieve better health coverage on grounds that it would benefit the undeserving, or make government too popular. That’s a forever thing.