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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Ed Kilgore

March 30: A Health Care Zombie Apocalypse?

Just when you thought it was safe to write a firm post mortem of GOP efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare this year, strange growling noises emerged from Congress and the White House. I wrote about them at New York.

It seems the source of this alleged reanimation may be the GOP faction most attributed as causing Trumpcare’s death — hard-core conservatives associated with the House Freedom Caucus. Just before the story broke of renewed high-level GOP meetings on health care, Representative Mo Brooks, a Republican from Alabama and a Freedom Caucus bravo who was an announced opponent of AHCA, let it be known he was filing a “discharge petition” to force a House vote on a simple Obamacare repeal (presumably similar to what Congress passed last year in the safe knowledge Barack Obama would veto it). It’s an extreme, long-shot measure to bypass the committee system and the leadership, made sensible only by the Freedom Caucus’s dogmatic belief those enslaved by Obamacare would rattle their chains and bellow their support for such a measure.

While it’s unclear whether Brooks’s determination to force health care back onto the GOP agenda had anything to do with it, something must have sent an impulse into the slowly cooling cadaver of the dead bill. According to the New York Times, there’s activity across the full spectrum of Republican opinion, with the unlikeliest ringleader of all:

“The new talks, which have been going on quietly this week, involve Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, and members of the two Republican factions that helped sink the bill last week, the hard-right Freedom Caucus and the more centrist Tuesday Group.”

It is abundantly unclear how these talks will fare any differently than earlier talks that exposed the deep divide between conservatives who thought AHCA was too generous and “moderates” who though it was too stingy, particularly since every available compromise seemed to make the disastrous coverage and cost numbers the Congressional Budget Office assigned to the legislative product even worse. Bannon’s involvement is even stranger, though obviously if he were able to pull off a legislative feat that eluded Paul Ryan, the cheering in Breitbart-land would be ear-shattering.

The story keeps getting odder. At his daily press briefing yesterday, Sean Spicer provided his usual clarity when asked about the reported revivification:

“Staff has met with individuals and listened to them….
Have we had some discussions and listened to ideas? Yes. Are we actively planning an immediate strategy? Not at this time … So there has been a discussion and I believe there will be several more.”

Paul Ryan, probably wanting to make it clear Bannon hasn’t cut him out of the picture, churned still more fog into the air:

“We want to get it right,” Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters after a GOP conference meeting Tuesday. “We’re going to keep talking to each other until we get it right. I’m not going to put a timeline on it, because this is too important to not get right and to put an artificial timeline on it.”

Meanwhile, Ryan’s Senate counterpart, Mitch McConnell, was having nothing of it:

“Mcconnell [sic] making clear Obamacare repeal efforts dead. ‘We have the existing law in place and we’ll just have to see how that works out.'”

If that’s not enough Republican confusion for you, there are fresh reports today that some GOP senators don’t agree with McConnell, and remain interested in moving their own repeal-and-replace legislation, independently from what the House is thinking about doing.

And to top it all off, the president of the United State told a bipartisan group of senators last night that enacting a health-care bill was going to be a snap:

“I know that we are all going to make a deal on health care.

“That’s such an easy one.”

All this talk had better materialize into action pretty quickly, or it may be too late. Anti-abortion activists are already eyeing the abandoned reconciliation instrument that was supposed to make passage of Trumpcare easier, and demanding that it be used for their pet cause, the defunding of Planned Parenthood, so that that item won’t wind up being filibustered by Democrats as part of a stopgap appropriations bill. For those still discussing health-care legislation, it’s use-it-or-lose-it time. The dead can’t walk much longer.


A Health Care Zombie Apocalypse?

Just when you thought it was safe to write a firm post mortem of GOP efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare this year, strange growling noises emerged from Congress and the White House. I wrote about them at New York.

It seems the source of this alleged reanimation may be the GOP faction most attributed as causing Trumpcare’s death — hard-core conservatives associated with the House Freedom Caucus. Just before the story broke of renewed high-level GOP meetings on health care, Representative Mo Brooks, a Republican from Alabama and a Freedom Caucus bravo who was an announced opponent of AHCA, let it be known he was filing a “discharge petition” to force a House vote on a simple Obamacare repeal (presumably similar to what Congress passed last year in the safe knowledge Barack Obama would veto it). It’s an extreme, long-shot measure to bypass the committee system and the leadership, made sensible only by the Freedom Caucus’s dogmatic belief those enslaved by Obamacare would rattle their chains and bellow their support for such a measure.

While it’s unclear whether Brooks’s determination to force health care back onto the GOP agenda had anything to do with it, something must have sent an impulse into the slowly cooling cadaver of the dead bill. According to the New York Times, there’s activity across the full spectrum of Republican opinion, with the unlikeliest ringleader of all:

“The new talks, which have been going on quietly this week, involve Stephen K. Bannon, the president’s chief strategist, and members of the two Republican factions that helped sink the bill last week, the hard-right Freedom Caucus and the more centrist Tuesday Group.”

It is abundantly unclear how these talks will fare any differently than earlier talks that exposed the deep divide between conservatives who thought AHCA was too generous and “moderates” who though it was too stingy, particularly since every available compromise seemed to make the disastrous coverage and cost numbers the Congressional Budget Office assigned to the legislative product even worse. Bannon’s involvement is even stranger, though obviously if he were able to pull off a legislative feat that eluded Paul Ryan, the cheering in Breitbart-land would be ear-shattering.

The story keeps getting odder. At his daily press briefing yesterday, Sean Spicer provided his usual clarity when asked about the reported revivification:

“Staff has met with individuals and listened to them….
Have we had some discussions and listened to ideas? Yes. Are we actively planning an immediate strategy? Not at this time … So there has been a discussion and I believe there will be several more.”

Paul Ryan, probably wanting to make it clear Bannon hasn’t cut him out of the picture, churned still more fog into the air:

“We want to get it right,” Speaker Paul Ryan told reporters after a GOP conference meeting Tuesday. “We’re going to keep talking to each other until we get it right. I’m not going to put a timeline on it, because this is too important to not get right and to put an artificial timeline on it.”

Meanwhile, Ryan’s Senate counterpart, Mitch McConnell, was having nothing of it:

“Mcconnell [sic] making clear Obamacare repeal efforts dead. ‘We have the existing law in place and we’ll just have to see how that works out.'”

If that’s not enough Republican confusion for you, there are fresh reports today that some GOP senators don’t agree with McConnell, and remain interested in moving their own repeal-and-replace legislation, independently from what the House is thinking about doing.

And to top it all off, the president of the United State told a bipartisan group of senators last night that enacting a health-care bill was going to be a snap:

“I know that we are all going to make a deal on health care.

“That’s such an easy one.”

All this talk had better materialize into action pretty quickly, or it may be too late. Anti-abortion activists are already eyeing the abandoned reconciliation instrument that was supposed to make passage of Trumpcare easier, and demanding that it be used for their pet cause, the defunding of Planned Parenthood, so that that item won’t wind up being filibustered by Democrats as part of a stopgap appropriations bill. For those still discussing health-care legislation, it’s use-it-or-lose-it time. The dead can’t walk much longer.


March 24: And The Next GOP Health Plan Will Be: How About Never? Does Never Work For You?

In the wake of the rapid and total collapse of the American Health Care Act today, I sat down to write at New York about the GOP’s health care policy options going forward, before realizing there might not be any. Here were my thoughts:

The good news for Republicans that nobody much appreciates right now is that there was nothing mandatory about this whole messy enterprise. Yes, if they just give up on enacting a budget-reconciliation bill for fiscal year 2017 (that’s technically what the American Health Care Act is), they will defy the “instructions” they gave themselves back on January 13 when they enacted the budget resolution that put this runaway train in motion. Yes, there are both political and fiscal consequences for just bagging it. But there’s no judge who will fine them for it. So technically, the president is right: They can “move on,” and they can “punish” the American people by letting the Affordable Care Act stay in place.

And there was certainly nothing in Speaker Paul Ryan’s press conference after the bill was pulled to suggest any present intention to go back to the drawing board and come up with another bill. He admitted repeatedly that Obamacare would be in place “for the foreseeable future.” And then Donald Trump put the lid on the coffin by repeatedly saying nothing would happen on health care until Democrats joined in after Obamacare “explodes.”

Barring some second wind for a repeal/replace effort, or the unquenchable possibility that Donald Trump will change his mind, it will probably become an agenda item that slips into the future, or at least until 2018. The possible exception, particularly if the current system of individual health insurance continues to struggle with higher premiums and the withdrawal of insurers from purchasing exchanges, would be for Republicans to ask Democrats to cooperate in some sort of “fix” that they could market as sort of repeal-and-replace on the cheap.

Is it possible Democrats would be interested in this sort of deal once they finish celebrating the implosion of Trumpcare? Probably not anytime soon. The only vehicle for a bipartisan compromise at the moment is the Cassidy-Collins proposal that lets states decide whether to stick with Obamacare (including the Medicaid expansion) or move in a more conservative direction. This might have been enticing to some blue-state governors and Members of Congress back when it looked like Republicans had the means to enact something far more draconian. But at the moment it would look like a betrayal of Democratic constituencies in red states.

What might happen instead is that Republicans, freed from the responsibility of actually enacting anything, which their trifecta and the budget reconciliation made possible, will retreat to proposing impracticable health-care legislation they know Democrats won’t support and can easily filibuster. It will be just like Obama is still president and Republicans could demagogue on health care to their hearts’ desire!

In the short term, Republicans will have to deal with some immediate challenges exacerbated by this fiasco, like the need to satisfy their anti-abortion constituents by “defunding” Planned Parenthood, pursuing a tax-cut package without the improved revenue “baseline” that AHCA would have provided, and finding a new vehicle for “reforming” Medicaid (i.e., capping federal expenditures).

From a longer perspective, Republicans now understand how Democrats felt when the Clinton Health Plan went down to defeat in 1994. If it takes them half as long as it took Democrats to take another swing for the fences on health-care policy, we won’t soon see any vindication of the doomed effort that died today.


And the Next GOP Health Plan Will Be: How About Never? Does Never Work For You?

In the wake of the rapid and total collapse of the American Health Care Act today, I sat down to write at New York about the GOP’s health care policy options going forward, before realizing there might not be any. Here were my thoughts:

The good news for Republicans that nobody much appreciates right now is that there was nothing mandatory about this whole messy enterprise. Yes, if they just give up on enacting a budget-reconciliation bill for fiscal year 2017 (that’s technically what the American Health Care Act is), they will defy the “instructions” they gave themselves back on January 13 when they enacted the budget resolution that put this runaway train in motion. Yes, there are both political and fiscal consequences for just bagging it. But there’s no judge who will fine them for it. So technically, the president is right: They can “move on,” and they can “punish” the American people by letting the Affordable Care Act stay in place.

And there was certainly nothing in Speaker Paul Ryan’s press conference after the bill was pulled to suggest any present intention to go back to the drawing board and come up with another bill. He admitted repeatedly that Obamacare would be in place “for the foreseeable future.” And then Donald Trump put the lid on the coffin by repeatedly saying nothing would happen on health care until Democrats joined in after Obamacare “explodes.”

Barring some second wind for a repeal/replace effort, or the unquenchable possibility that Donald Trump will change his mind, it will probably become an agenda item that slips into the future, or at least until 2018. The possible exception, particularly if the current system of individual health insurance continues to struggle with higher premiums and the withdrawal of insurers from purchasing exchanges, would be for Republicans to ask Democrats to cooperate in some sort of “fix” that they could market as sort of repeal-and-replace on the cheap.

Is it possible Democrats would be interested in this sort of deal once they finish celebrating the implosion of Trumpcare? Probably not anytime soon. The only vehicle for a bipartisan compromise at the moment is the Cassidy-Collins proposal that lets states decide whether to stick with Obamacare (including the Medicaid expansion) or move in a more conservative direction. This might have been enticing to some blue-state governors and Members of Congress back when it looked like Republicans had the means to enact something far more draconian. But at the moment it would look like a betrayal of Democratic constituencies in red states.

What might happen instead is that Republicans, freed from the responsibility of actually enacting anything, which their trifecta and the budget reconciliation made possible, will retreat to proposing impracticable health-care legislation they know Democrats won’t support and can easily filibuster. It will be just like Obama is still president and Republicans could demagogue on health care to their hearts’ desire!

In the short term, Republicans will have to deal with some immediate challenges exacerbated by this fiasco, like the need to satisfy their anti-abortion constituents by “defunding” Planned Parenthood, pursuing a tax-cut package without the improved revenue “baseline” that AHCA would have provided, and finding a new vehicle for “reforming” Medicaid (i.e., capping federal expenditures).

From a longer perspective, Republicans now understand how Democrats felt when the Clinton Health Plan went down to defeat in 1994. If it takes them half as long as it took Democrats to take another swing for the fences on health-care policy, we won’t soon see any vindication of the doomed effort that died today.


March 23: TrumpCare Hits Dead End, Or At Least Cul-De-Sac

Near the end of a crazy week in Washington, Republicans just postponed a House vote on their “must-pass” health care plan. I offered a quick explanation at New York.

[I]t was not terribly surprising given the news from a White House meeting earlier today between Donald Trump and members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, wherein Trump made a “final offer” and very few HFC folk bought it.

It had appeared Wednesday night that Trump and Paul Ryan might have found a way to blow this flawed bill out of the House by promising to include the repeal of Obamacare’s list of “essential benefits” heath plans needed to provide to qualify for federal subsidies (the list includes ten key categories, such as hospitalization, emergency services, and pregnancy care). That had previously been thought to be an unavailable concession thanks to Senate rules limiting budget reconciliation bills to budget-germane provisions. But those backing TrumpCare were now offering assurances (backed up by Sen. Mike Lee, a key Senate conservative who had opposed the original AHCA) the Senate parliamentarian would play ball with this broader bill. So presumably conservatives who wanted more of a complete repeal of Obamacare could, in theory, vote for the bill in the House and then vote against the final House-Senate conference report in case the reports about the parliamentarian’s flexibility were in error or just a ruse.

But the gambit backfired when HFC members meeting with Trump pocketed the “essential benefits” concession and demanded more. According to one account, they wanted even highly popular provisions like protections for people with pre-existing provisions and allowing dependents up to age 26 going on their parents’ policies to be repealed. Regardless of the exact demands, it’s clear conservatives called Trump’s and Ryan’s bluff: if all Obamacare regulations are now on the table, why stop with one or two?

Indeed, even before the vote cancellation, influential conservative commentator Ramesh Ponnuru was arguing that the new information about the parliamentarian meant Republicans should rethink the whole bill, not rush it out of the House. And if nothing shakes loose in the next few days, that may be the new GOP excuse for additional delay.

The trouble is this: even if these reports are right and Republicans don’t have to wait for some improbable second or third “prong” of regulatory or legislative action to get rid of Obamacare, GOP conservatives and “moderates” don’t agree at all on which provisions to trash and which to keep. And the search for a compromise won’t be improved by a fight over features of the bill that could easily be understood and “scored” as making life worse for real-live categories of people now benefiting from the Affordable Care Act.

For now Republicans at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue have reached a cul-de-sac on health care and need either to turn around and try a different path or pull off some sort of politically dangerous minor miracle. This very bad week for Donald Trump has gotten a lot worse, and for once Paul Ryan is his full partner in misery.

Stay tuned for more GOP health care madness.


TrumpCare Hits Dead End, Or At Least Cul-De-Sac

Near the end of a crazy week in Washington, Republicans just postponed a House vote on their “must-pass” health care plan. I offered a quick explanation at New York.

[I]t was not terribly surprising given the news from a White House meeting earlier today between Donald Trump and members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, wherein Trump made a “final offer” and very few HFC folk bought it.

It had appeared Wednesday night that Trump and Paul Ryan might have found a way to blow this flawed bill out of the House by promising to include the repeal of Obamacare’s list of “essential benefits” heath plans needed to provide to qualify for federal subsidies (the list includes ten key categories, such as hospitalization, emergency services, and pregnancy care). That had previously been thought to be an unavailable concession thanks to Senate rules limiting budget reconciliation bills to budget-germane provisions. But those backing TrumpCare were now offering assurances (backed up by Sen. Mike Lee, a key Senate conservative who had opposed the original AHCA) the Senate parliamentarian would play ball with this broader bill. So presumably conservatives who wanted more of a complete repeal of Obamacare could, in theory, vote for the bill in the House and then vote against the final House-Senate conference report in case the reports about the parliamentarian’s flexibility were in error or just a ruse.

But the gambit backfired when HFC members meeting with Trump pocketed the “essential benefits” concession and demanded more. According to one account, they wanted even highly popular provisions like protections for people with pre-existing provisions and allowing dependents up to age 26 going on their parents’ policies to be repealed. Regardless of the exact demands, it’s clear conservatives called Trump’s and Ryan’s bluff: if all Obamacare regulations are now on the table, why stop with one or two?

Indeed, even before the vote cancellation, influential conservative commentator Ramesh Ponnuru was arguing that the new information about the parliamentarian meant Republicans should rethink the whole bill, not rush it out of the House. And if nothing shakes loose in the next few days, that may be the new GOP excuse for additional delay.

The trouble is this: even if these reports are right and Republicans don’t have to wait for some improbable second or third “prong” of regulatory or legislative action to get rid of Obamacare, GOP conservatives and “moderates” don’t agree at all on which provisions to trash and which to keep. And the search for a compromise won’t be improved by a fight over features of the bill that could easily be understood and “scored” as making life worse for real-live categories of people now benefiting from the Affordable Care Act.

For now Republicans at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue have reached a cul-de-sac on health care and need either to turn around and try a different path or pull off some sort of politically dangerous minor miracle. This very bad week for Donald Trump has gotten a lot worse, and for once Paul Ryan is his full partner in misery.

Stay tuned for more GOP health care madness.


March 17: Maybe Trump Can Save Travel Ban, But It Won’t Be Easy

Having watched the legal maneuvering around the Trump administration’s first, poorly written travel ban, I was on notice for challenges to the new, improved executive order. And they did come from several directions, as I noted at New York:

[D]espite a major revision of the order to “fix” problems the courts found in the initial action, not one but two federal district judges, in two widely separated judicial circuits, have put it on hold.

Worse yet, in both cases (Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii, and Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland) the problem the judges identified was not something any revision could likely “cure”: It is the claim that the whole process is just a thinly veiled effort to implement a blatantly unconstitutional “Muslim ban,” as evidenced by Donald Trump’s own proposals during the presidential campaign.

So what’s an “America First” president to do?

The most prudent course of action might well be to forget about the temporary travel ban and move on as quickly as possible to the new system for vetting applicants for visas and for refugee status the ban was supposed to give the administration time to develop. Max Zapotsky explains:

“The administration was supposed to have been working on that review the first time around, but with a new order came new deadlines. Although it probably wants to win in court to avoid an authority-curtailing precedent …the administration could simply finish its review and implement new vetting procedures that did not impose an outright ban. That might make the litigation moot.”

This approach, of course, would involve surrender to the “so-called judges” who have stood in Trump’s way, so that is very unlikely, particularly after Trump devoted ten fiery minutes at a rally in Nashville last night attacking the “judicial overreach” and threatening to bring back the original, broader order.

That idea probably occurred to Trump (or someone in TrumpLand) because in something of a coincidence the full Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided yesterday not to vacate the earlier order on the first travel ban (issued by a three-judge panel) denying the administration a go-ahead on national-security grounds. In dissent, five judges said the courts should have deferred to the president’s national-security authority the first time around. So there is some conservative judicial support for that proposition, even on the “liberal” Ninth Circuit.

But again: These were dissenters, and the odds are very low the full Ninth Circuit or any particular three-judge panel of same will reach that conclusion if and when the administration appeals Watson’s ruling. In agreeing to make the revision, the White House was implicitly conceding it did some pretty sloppy work back in January. Though Trump’s ego might want a total vindication, it’s not likely to succeed unless the Supreme Court intervenes on his behalf after some additional judicial setbacks.

The more conventional approach would be to stick with the revision and instead go after the finding that Trump’s (and Rudy Giuliani’s) comments on the campaign trail are relevant to what he is trying to do as president. At Lawfare this morning, Peter Margulies argues the administration will eventually prevail on that point.

But it might take a while, and involve a long and winding road to the Supreme Court. Knocking down Watson’s order will take the government through the obviously not very sympathetic Ninth Circuit. And even if they succeed, there’s Chuang’s order, which applies only to the visa application portions of the travel ban (because that’s all the plaintiffs in the case were challenging). Overturning that order means going through the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Assuming the case does get to the Supreme Court, timing would be a big issue. For one thing, the Court is currently shorthanded. If, however, the administration waits to make its pitch for SCOTUS intervention until Trump’s nominee Neil Gorsuch is confirmed, that could make for additional delay. Since the official position of the White House is that terrorists are likely pouring over the borders and into the airports every moment the travel ban is not in place, a posture of accepting delays doesn’t make a lot of sense.

What we are probably facing, then, is a murky and complicated schedule of legal maneuverings punctuated occasionally by judge-bashing explosions from the president of the United States. It may not be the smartest way for him to get his way, but for a man whose main fear in life seems to be the appearance of looking “weak” (his frequently expressed concern about the travel-ban delays), it may be the only way Donald Trump can handle it.

I feel sorry for his lawyers.


Maybe Trump Can Save Travel Ban, But It Won’t Be Easy

Having watched the legal maneuvering around the Trump administration’s first, poorly written travel ban, I was on notice for challenges to the new, improved executive order. And they did come from several directions, as I noted at New York:

[D]espite a major revision of the order to “fix” problems the courts found in the initial action, not one but two federal district judges, in two widely separated judicial circuits, have put it on hold.

Worse yet, in both cases (Judge Derrick Watson in Hawaii, and Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland) the problem the judges identified was not something any revision could likely “cure”: It is the claim that the whole process is just a thinly veiled effort to implement a blatantly unconstitutional “Muslim ban,” as evidenced by Donald Trump’s own proposals during the presidential campaign.

So what’s an “America First” president to do?

The most prudent course of action might well be to forget about the temporary travel ban and move on as quickly as possible to the new system for vetting applicants for visas and for refugee status the ban was supposed to give the administration time to develop. Max Zapotsky explains:

“The administration was supposed to have been working on that review the first time around, but with a new order came new deadlines. Although it probably wants to win in court to avoid an authority-curtailing precedent …the administration could simply finish its review and implement new vetting procedures that did not impose an outright ban. That might make the litigation moot.”

This approach, of course, would involve surrender to the “so-called judges” who have stood in Trump’s way, so that is very unlikely, particularly after Trump devoted ten fiery minutes at a rally in Nashville last night attacking the “judicial overreach” and threatening to bring back the original, broader order.

That idea probably occurred to Trump (or someone in TrumpLand) because in something of a coincidence the full Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decided yesterday not to vacate the earlier order on the first travel ban (issued by a three-judge panel) denying the administration a go-ahead on national-security grounds. In dissent, five judges said the courts should have deferred to the president’s national-security authority the first time around. So there is some conservative judicial support for that proposition, even on the “liberal” Ninth Circuit.

But again: These were dissenters, and the odds are very low the full Ninth Circuit or any particular three-judge panel of same will reach that conclusion if and when the administration appeals Watson’s ruling. In agreeing to make the revision, the White House was implicitly conceding it did some pretty sloppy work back in January. Though Trump’s ego might want a total vindication, it’s not likely to succeed unless the Supreme Court intervenes on his behalf after some additional judicial setbacks.

The more conventional approach would be to stick with the revision and instead go after the finding that Trump’s (and Rudy Giuliani’s) comments on the campaign trail are relevant to what he is trying to do as president. At Lawfare this morning, Peter Margulies argues the administration will eventually prevail on that point.

But it might take a while, and involve a long and winding road to the Supreme Court. Knocking down Watson’s order will take the government through the obviously not very sympathetic Ninth Circuit. And even if they succeed, there’s Chuang’s order, which applies only to the visa application portions of the travel ban (because that’s all the plaintiffs in the case were challenging). Overturning that order means going through the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Assuming the case does get to the Supreme Court, timing would be a big issue. For one thing, the Court is currently shorthanded. If, however, the administration waits to make its pitch for SCOTUS intervention until Trump’s nominee Neil Gorsuch is confirmed, that could make for additional delay. Since the official position of the White House is that terrorists are likely pouring over the borders and into the airports every moment the travel ban is not in place, a posture of accepting delays doesn’t make a lot of sense.

What we are probably facing, then, is a murky and complicated schedule of legal maneuverings punctuated occasionally by judge-bashing explosions from the president of the United States. It may not be the smartest way for him to get his way, but for a man whose main fear in life seems to be the appearance of looking “weak” (his frequently expressed concern about the travel-ban delays), it may be the only way Donald Trump can handle it.

I feel sorry for his lawyers.


March 16: Trump Budget a Throwback

After looking at the outline released today of Donald Trump’s first budget, I kept getting a sense of deja vu. I explained why at New York.

The conservative lobbying group Heritage Action greeted Donald Trump’s first budget (really a budget outline; the full details will come later) with the headline: TRUMP’S BIG LEAGUE CONSERVATIVE BUDGET REQUEST. That’s an appropriate take, and not just because the group’s parent organization, the Heritage Foundation, has left fingerprints all over the proposal, hastily assembled by a less than complete OMB staff. It is, in many respects, a sort of “greatest hits” compilation of conservative prescriptions for paying for a big defense-spending increase with targeted and general cuts in nondefense discretionary programs — domestic spending that is not in one of the big entitlement programs.

The fact that it’s all wrapped up in the bristling “America First” language of nationalist “populism” — with a few distinctive flourishes like a truly neanderthal attack on the State Department that takes one back to the McCarthy era — should not distract from the fact that this is a very conventionally conservative budget prepared by the very conventionally conservative OMB director Mick Mulvaney.

Those who remember the budget wars of the Reagan era will find a lot of blasts from the past in the list of agencies and programs Mulvaney is proposing to shutter entirely: the Appalachian Regional Commission, Community Development Block Grants, the Economic Development Administration, the Legal Services Corporation, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation — all were surviving targets of Reagan’s first budget in 1981. Other targets are products of the later culture wars: federal funding of the arts and culture would be basically eliminated, with the closure of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. And still other programs Team Trump seeks to kill involve initiatives associated closely with Democratic presidents, such as the Corporation for National and Community Service (including Bill Clinton’s signature AmeriCorps program) and Barack Obama’s various clean-energy and climate-change initiatives.

Along with the individual constituencies affected, it’s reasonably clear state and local governments will be unhappy with the budget, as they have been unhappy with most Republican presidential budgets over the years. Again and again in Mulvaney’s document you see reductions or eliminations of small grant programs justified as being things states and localities should pay for themselves. And that’s aside from the big-ticket cuts like EPA grants and CDBG (the last significant source of general-purpose funding for local governments).

Another notable and familiar feature of the budget is what you might call cannibalization: Within major agencies Trump priorities are funded by cuts in things his people don’t know or care about. That’s how you wind up with an “America First” budget that hammers a variety of Department of Homeland Defense programs (including the Coast Guard, TSA, and FEMA) in order to shower money on the Wall and border control….

[T]he Trump budget’s fate will mostly fall to the Appropriations committees, those notoriously picky barons who tend to reject executive-branch dictation over “their” programs. It’s appropriators and their staffs who are already out there declaring Mulvaney’s handiwork “dead on arrival.”

And that’s probably okay with Team Trump, which seems to be using the whole budget exercise to send messages rather than to get anything done. Mulvaney in effect took off the green eyeshade of the budget wonk and put on his MAGA hat — maybe a military version in khaki — in describing the budget:

“It is not a soft-power budget. This is a hard-power budget, and that was done intentionally. The president very clearly wants to send a message to our allies and to our potential adversaries that this is a strong-power administration.”

Yep, it’s a Big League Conservative Budget Request, and like many others, it should be taken with a shaker of salt.


Trump Budget a Throwback

After looking at the outline released today of Donald Trump’s first budget, I kept getting a sense of deja vu. I explained why at New York.

The conservative lobbying group Heritage Action greeted Donald Trump’s first budget (really a budget outline; the full details will come later) with the headline: TRUMP’S BIG LEAGUE CONSERVATIVE BUDGET REQUEST. That’s an appropriate take, and not just because the group’s parent organization, the Heritage Foundation, has left fingerprints all over the proposal, hastily assembled by a less than complete OMB staff. It is, in many respects, a sort of “greatest hits” compilation of conservative prescriptions for paying for a big defense-spending increase with targeted and general cuts in nondefense discretionary programs — domestic spending that is not in one of the big entitlement programs.

The fact that it’s all wrapped up in the bristling “America First” language of nationalist “populism” — with a few distinctive flourishes like a truly neanderthal attack on the State Department that takes one back to the McCarthy era — should not distract from the fact that this is a very conventionally conservative budget prepared by the very conventionally conservative OMB director Mick Mulvaney.

Those who remember the budget wars of the Reagan era will find a lot of blasts from the past in the list of agencies and programs Mulvaney is proposing to shutter entirely: the Appalachian Regional Commission, Community Development Block Grants, the Economic Development Administration, the Legal Services Corporation, Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation — all were surviving targets of Reagan’s first budget in 1981. Other targets are products of the later culture wars: federal funding of the arts and culture would be basically eliminated, with the closure of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. And still other programs Team Trump seeks to kill involve initiatives associated closely with Democratic presidents, such as the Corporation for National and Community Service (including Bill Clinton’s signature AmeriCorps program) and Barack Obama’s various clean-energy and climate-change initiatives.

Along with the individual constituencies affected, it’s reasonably clear state and local governments will be unhappy with the budget, as they have been unhappy with most Republican presidential budgets over the years. Again and again in Mulvaney’s document you see reductions or eliminations of small grant programs justified as being things states and localities should pay for themselves. And that’s aside from the big-ticket cuts like EPA grants and CDBG (the last significant source of general-purpose funding for local governments).

Another notable and familiar feature of the budget is what you might call cannibalization: Within major agencies Trump priorities are funded by cuts in things his people don’t know or care about. That’s how you wind up with an “America First” budget that hammers a variety of Department of Homeland Defense programs (including the Coast Guard, TSA, and FEMA) in order to shower money on the Wall and border control….

[T]he Trump budget’s fate will mostly fall to the Appropriations committees, those notoriously picky barons who tend to reject executive-branch dictation over “their” programs. It’s appropriators and their staffs who are already out there declaring Mulvaney’s handiwork “dead on arrival.”

And that’s probably okay with Team Trump, which seems to be using the whole budget exercise to send messages rather than to get anything done. Mulvaney in effect took off the green eyeshade of the budget wonk and put on his MAGA hat — maybe a military version in khaki — in describing the budget:

“It is not a soft-power budget. This is a hard-power budget, and that was done intentionally. The president very clearly wants to send a message to our allies and to our potential adversaries that this is a strong-power administration.”

Yep, it’s a Big League Conservative Budget Request, and like many others, it should be taken with a shaker of salt.