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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Editor’s Corner

July 28: Not With a Bang But a Whimper

After watching CSPAN2 into the wee hours of last night, tuning out only when a bitter Mitch McConnell abruptly ajourned the Senate, I offered this immediate take for New York:

The drama on the Senate floor was palpable as the vote on Mitch McConnell’s “skinny repeal” substitute amendment neared. A previous vote was held open for more than an hour as rumors circulated among the journalists watching nearby and following on Twitter and C-Span. Was Vice-President Mike Pence in the chamber to cast the deciding vote? Was John McCain yucking it up with Democrats? Might Lisa Murkowski succumb to pressure or bribes and rejoin Team Mitch?

When the ayes and nays finally started on the “skinny repeal,” some observers figured McConnell must have gotten the 50 senators he needed; otherwise why was he forcing a vote? But in the end, Collins and Murkowski held fast against the bill, and John McCain put it down with a loud “No!” and a visible thumbs down, provoking a shocked roar among his colleagues…..

[T]he high drama of this vote provided a sharp contrast to the low comedy that led Republicans to this breaking point after so many weeks and months of efforts to enact health-care legislation. In January, they abandoned the “repeal and delay” strategy for dealing with Obamacare. In May, after a false start, they finally got a partial-repeal-and-replace bill out of the House on a wave of shady deals, and with the promise of Senate improvements. In unprecedented secrecy, Mitch McConnell tried to fine-tune the scheme of tax and Medicaid cuts and insurance deregulation known as Trumpcare. But its unpopularity steadily grew, its baleful effects were serially exposed by the Congressional Budget Office, and deal after deal lost as many senators as could be gained. Just this week, the Senate voted down both Trumpcare and a revised repeal-and-delay scheme, leaving Republicans with no real proposal to enact.

That is what brought the Senate to the “skinny repeal” idea, McConnell’s phantom legislation that was at best a deceptive means of kicking the can down the road to a House-Senate conference that might revive Trumpcare, and at worst (if, as McCain and others feared, the House simply rubber-stamped it) a nasty piece of work that would boost insurance premiums and deny 16 million Americans health coverage. For all the drama of the vote that killed “skinny repeal,” it was really a moment when the Republican drive to do something — anything — to claim a victory over Obamacare finally lost momentum and ground to a halt. To borrow a phrase from T.S. Eliot, the GOP health-care crusade ended “not with a bang but a whimper.”

In the shocked Senate chamber after the crucial vote, McConnell seemed near tears, furious at the three apostates who frustrated his Republicans-only process, and completely out of ideas. He instantly canceled the scheduled “vote-a-rama” series of amendments scheduled for the wee hours, and dispensed with any “final passage” vote; with the failure of “skinny repeal,” the only thing on the floor to pass was the House-passed American Health Care Act, the bill Donald Trump himself called “mean.” Even as he bitterly taunted Democrats to come forward with their own ideas, McConnell seemed to take one immediately critical bipartisan idea — funding Cost-Sharing Reduction subsidies to keep individual insurance markets functioning — off the table.

Moving from a failed effort to enact transparently phony legislation to the sabotaging of anything else would indeed be a logical next step for McConnell, and likely would put him in tune with the vengeful, destructive mood we can expect from Donald Trump the next time he approaches his Twitter account. But Republicans earned this defeat a long time ago, when they chose to pretend they could improve health care while denying universal coverage and restoring discrimination against the sick and the poor. They have also earned a long and bitter series of internal recriminations over their failure to bring down the Great White Whale of Obamacare. If the GOP chooses to blame it all on three senators who refused to vote for a bill no one actually wanted to see enacted, their road back to relevance on health-care policy will be very long.


July 27: GOP Burying Its Past Health Care Initiatives

As the madness surrounding the U.S. Senate’s consideration of health care legislation continued, it occurred to me Republicans are burying their own past, as explained at New York:

Amid the confusion and procedural obscurity surrounding Senate consideration of the FY 2017 budget reconciliation bill this week, something remarkable is happening that should not be missed: The Republican-controlled chamber is in the process of repudiating two solid years of GOP health-care policy.

[T]he latest version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act went down to defeat on a procedural vote with no less than nine Republican senators voting to kill it. Lest we forget, the BCRA is really just a variation of the House-passed American Health Care Act. It represents the closest thing Republicans have to a consensus repeal-and-replace plan for Obamacare.

Before the GOP made the fateful decision to develop an Obamacare “replacement,” its big plan was known as “repeal and delay,” based on the legislation Congress passed late in 2015 to simply repeal key elements of the Affordable Care Act with effective dates delayed long enough to allow for future “replacement” legislation. A replica of that 2015 legislation, now known as the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act, is up for a vote in the Senate today. It is universally expected to fail [it actually lost on a 45-55 vote], and in fact is probably only on the floor because Senator Rand Paul and other hard-core conservatives wanted to register a vote for it badly enough to make that a condition for their support of yesterday’s must-pass motion to proceed.

So in less than 24 hours, the 2015–16 and 2017 GOP plans for dealing with Obamacare will be tossed into the dustbin of history. Yes, it is possible that yet another version of BCRA/AHCA — also known as Trumpcare — will emerge from the ashes for another Senate vote or, more likely, will be adopted by a House-Senate conference if the Senate can pass anything. That’s what is behind the talk of a “skinny repeal” bill that simply kicks the can down the road and into a conference where the real decisions will be made.

It’s instructive, though, that all this misdirection and deception are necessary. For seven years Republicans behaved as though getting rid of Obamacare was a fait accompli once they won both Congress and the White House. Now the two main strategies they devised for achieving this no-brainer are going down to defeat in “their” Washington, and can only be revivified, if at all, by stealth. It’s a sign of both intellectual bankruptcy and political fecklessness that does not bode well for the rest of the GOP agenda.


July 22: From 2016 Landslide to 2018 Defeat: Why Some “Safe” House GOP Seats Really Aren’t

I ran across a fascinating analysis of House midterm elections at Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and condensed and extended it at New York:

The good news for House Republicans, according to a detailed analysis of the midterm landscape from Kyle Kondik of Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, is that 226 of the 241 GOP winners last year won by a double-digit margin, typically the definition of a “landslide.”

The bad news is that in the last three midterm elections (2006, 2010, and 2014), the average House incumbent representing the party that controlled the White House suffered a negative swing of 12 points. So even “landslide” winners in the previous cycle got quickly into hot water when the midterms rolled around.

Indeed, fully 21 House Republican incumbents won by 12 points or less in 2016. Ten of them also represent districts won by Hillary Clinton.

[E]ven if all 21 seats fell to the Democrats — and they lost none of their own — that still wouldn’t be enough to flip control of the House.

The hunt for additional pickups might begin with the 13 House incumbents who did win by more than 12 points in 2016 — but whose districts were carried by Hillary Clinton. And perhaps even more promising are open seats, as Kondik notes:

“[T]he results in open seats defended by the presidential party [in the last three midterms] saw huge swings in favor of the opposite party. In such seats, the presidential party share declined about 11 points from the presidential to the midterm elections — or 22 points in terms of margin — and the president’s party only held 25 of the 46 seats included in the study over the three midterms.”

At the moment, there is only one open GOP House seat where the Republican stepping down won by fewer than 22 points (the 27th district in South Florida, long represented by Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, which Hillary Clinton carried by nearly 20 points). But additional retirements in the next few months will produce more open GOP seats, and probably more targets.

There is no guarantee, of course, that 2018 will be an “average” midterm. But given President Trump’s persistently low approval ratings and the current high level of political engagement among Democrats, if anything, the next midterm is likely to produce an anti–White House wave that is above average. So while Republicans have done a good job via gerrymandering in making a very high percentage of their incumbents safe, the benchmark for “safety” may be higher than ever, too.


July 20: Sessions Defines Trumpism, But Russia’s More Important To the Boss

After reading the president’s remarkable interview with the New York Times, I had this to say at New York about one strange revelation:

[T]he president extensively vented his fury at Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Justice Department’s investigation of Russian involvement in the 2016 election, inquiring minds obviously wanted to know if Sessions might be stepping down. Trump had, after all, basically said he regretted his choice of Sessions and would not have made it had he known what he knows now.

But today Sessions briefly and mildly responded to questions about Trump’s comments by saying he planned to stay on in the Justice Department “as long as that appropriate,” as the Times reported.

Trump has complained about Sessions’s recusal before, though in the past his anger has been expressed behind the scenes and via intermediaries. But more generally, this is also not the first time the president has accused subordinates of fireable offenses without trying to fire them, as my colleague Olivia Nuzzi has pointed out:

“Although Trump once tried and failed to trademark the words, ‘You’re fired!’ — his catchphrase from The Apprentice — it seems that he doesn’t actually enjoy repealing and replacing the loyalists that surround him. Like so much with the president, it’s shtick designed to make him look tough. ‘At the end of the day, he’s a natural-born salesman and he likes people to like him,’ a…senior administration official said. ‘He’s a conflict-avoider. He hates firing people.'”

So long as Sessions is willing to put up with his boss’s public abuse, his job is probably secure for the time being. That is particularly true because Trump’s post-Sessions options at Justice are not good, and a Senate confirmation hearing for a subsequent nominee might not go very well.

But Sessions’s feelings aside, the optics of Trump’s tirades against the attorney general are terrible. He owes an awful lot to Jeff Sessions, his earliest real supporter on Capitol Hill. They have no significant policy disagreements that we know of. If there is such a thing as “Trumpism,” Sessions is its chief acolyte.

For Trump to ignore all that and repeatedly trash-talk his attorney general because of his prudent recusal over the Russia investigation is a pretty clear indication that the president is not just distracted by the probe, but intensely fears it. He can claim all he wants that the whole thing is “fake news” that the failed media or the loser Democrats invented, but his behavior shows otherwise.


July 15: Democratic Senators In Trump Country Looking Solid for 2018

I don’t usually pay much attention to Karl Rove’s predictable writing. But the one-time Boy Genius’ latest column just begged for a response, which I provided at New York.

[V]eteran spinner Karl Rove devoted a Wall Street Journal column to a baleful assessment of the reelection prospects of Senate Democrats running in states carried handily by Donald Trump last year.

There’s a certain dated quality to Rove’s analysis; he writes as though these senators are fresh from gazing in awe at Trump’s 2016 victory and are trying to decide whether to fight back or run for the hills. In reality, these pols have for the most part chosen to oppose every unpopular thing Trump and the congressional GOP have proposed this year, which fortunately for red-state Democrats is nearly their entire agenda. Still, the 2016 numbers are indeed daunting for some:

“The 25 Democratic senators who face re-election in 2018 are already gearing up for a fight. Their latest quarterly fundraising reports, released over the past two weeks, show impressive totals, ranging up to $3.1 million. But for the 10 Democrats from states carried by President Trump, a well-stuffed war chest may not be enough.

“This is especially true for six senators in states where Mr. Trump’s victory last November was huge. He won Joe Manchin’s West Virginia by an astonishing 42 points; Heidi Heitkamp’s North Dakota by 36 points; Jon Tester’s Montana by 20; Joe Donnelly’s Indiana and Claire McCaskill’s Missouri by 19, and Sherrod Brown’s Ohio by 8.”

Rove goes on to make a very dubious assertion that we are going to hear a lot from Republicans between now and November of 2018:

“They must all keep an eye on the president’s favorability ratings. On Election Day, Mr. Trump was viewed favorably by 37.5% of voters and unfavorably by 58.5%, according to the RealClearPolitics average. As of this Wednesday, his ratings stood at 40.4% favorable and 53.6% unfavorable.

“Mr. Trump is likely to be more popular in states he won than his national average: The larger his margin in those states last November, the better he stands now. If this trend holds through 2018, Democrats in states Mr. Trump won by double or nearly double digits could face stiff re-election contests.”

This argument ignores the rather pertinent fact that Trump was running against a rival who was almost as unpopular as he was. In 2018, Republicans won’t have the luxury of running against Hillary Clinton. Instead, they will be up against well-known Senate incumbents with their own public profiles, and in a midterm environment where there is usually a wind blowing against the party controlling the White House.

So while we should indeed “keep and eye on the president’s favorability ratings,” those of the senators in question are even more relevant. As it happens Morning Consult just released an update of its home-state favorability assessments for all 100 U.S. senators, and the very Democrats Rove thinks are in inherently deep trouble are actually doing quite well. Joe Manchin’s ratio is 57/31; Heidi Heitkamp’s is an even more impressive 60/28. Jon Tester (50/39), Joe Donnelly (53/25), and Sherrod Brown (50/29) are at or above the magic 50-percent level that often connotes future victory, with limited “unfavorables,” and Claire McCaskill (46/38) isn’t exactly plumbing the depths of unpopularity, either.

In fact, the one senator up in 2018 whose favorability numbers are underwater is a Republican, Jeff Flake of Arizona (37/45).

Another problem for the GOP is that it is struggling to find credible challengers to theoretically vulnerable Democrats in some states (as in Missouri, where consensus GOP favorite Representative Ann Wagner decided not to take on McCaskill), and is facing potentially fractious Republican primaries (as in Indiana, where Representatives Luke Messer and Todd Rokita are already attacking each other) in others.

There is plenty of time for things to change in the months ahead, and nobody on the Democratic side has any reason to feel complacent about holding onto Senate seats in one of the more lopsided landscapes in living memory. But for now, a Democratic red-state bloodbath in 2018 looks unlikely. And if congressional Republicans continue to flail around in the clumsy pursuit of an unpopular agenda, the odds of survival for Democrats in Trump Country will only go up.


July 12: Do Republicans Even Support Health Insurance?

As congressional Republicans continue to stumble around in search of a workable and politically non-toxic health care plan, it occurred to me, and not for the first time, that there’s something very old-school about their rhetoric on health insurance. I wrote up my ruminations at New York:

As Senate Republicans go through the valley of the shadow of death for their health-care plan, questions are again being raised about what they really want. Is it lower premiums for individual health insurance, particularly for the people (presumably many of them Republicans) who aren’t poor enough to qualify for Obamacare’s purchasing subsidies? Is it “entitlement reform,” focused on rolling back the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion and then capping that program’s growth forever as a government-shrinking exercise? Is all the talk about health policy really just a disguise, as many liberals suspect, for an agenda of high-end tax cuts and low-end spending cuts that have little or nothing to do with Obamacare?

The answers to these questions may be as various as the micro-factions of the GOP in Congress, and a lot of the answers most definitely lack coherence. But one policy impulse shared by some conservatives is important to understand because it encourages a very destructive attitude toward the existing health-care system. Some conservatives really just don’t like the idea of health insurance as we know it.

This has again become apparent in some of the senatorial reactions to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimates of how many Americans (22 million) would lose health insurance under the Better Care Reconciliation Act. Here’s the classic from the number-two Republican in the Senate, John Cornyn:

He wants to celebrate the “freedom” of Americans to go without health insurance, though he surely understands most of the 22 million would not “choose” this option if affordable health insurance was available.

That’s not as exotic a belief as you might imagine.

Conservatives have long believed that “third-party” health insurance — health insurance provided by employers or the government — encourages over-utilization of health services and thus is responsible for high rates of medical inflation. And many believe the only legitimate purpose of health insurance should be to cover catastrophic costs, not the routine medical services that people used to pay out-of-pocket in the days before a combination of tax subsidies, collective bargaining, and employer competition made employer-sponsored comprehensive insurance plans common.

So, unsurprisingly, most conservatives who can be coaxed into a discussion of their actual aims propose getting rid of or expanding to individuals the tax subsidy for employer-sponsored health plans, to reduce the incentive to access care whenever you think you need it. And they envision a system in which everyone pays for routine care via a tax-preferred health savings account — basically paying the doc out-of-pocket the way Americans did back in the Good Old Days of individual responsibility — and has a relatively cheap catastrophic-care policy to cover life-threatening conditions.

Whether you find this vision frightening or invigorating, it is clearly very different not only from the Obamacare status quo, but from the status quo ante long before Obamacare. This longing for really old-school health-care policy causes all sorts of political problems for the Republicans that harbor it. For one thing, it cuts against the hatred of high out-of-pocket costs that unites most middle-class folks regardless of party or ideology. And for another, as Cornyn has learned, treating comprehensive health insurance as a socialistic vice corrosive of American values just does not accord with the actual values of actual Americans.

At the moment, Republicans clearly do not have the power or the popular support to impose an early-1950s vision of health care on the country. They nonetheless fight every feature of the health-care system that involves spreading the risk — and the cost — of poor health, which is the basic function of private as well as “government” health care.


July 7: The 1996 Democratic Presidential Win Was a Lot More Complicated Than a “Move to the Center”

When former Bill/Hillary Clinton pollster and strategist Mark Penn kicked up a storm with some controversial “lessons” from a campaign many of us graphically remember, I waited for the dust to settle a bit and then weighed in at New York.

Unlike many left-of-center commentators, I do not automatically begin to froth at the mouth when the name Mark Penn comes up….

I have actually written a semi-positive review of a Mark Penn book, and don’t necessarily think he has always exuded the smell of brimstone (though his Clinton White House colleague Dick Morris most definitely did), or that he personally doomed Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign. But Penn’s trajectory into Fox Democrat hackery has been confirmed by a new op-ed [co-authored with Andrew Stein], principally because he’s now mischaracterizing the very 1996 Clinton-Gore campaign he helped engineer as the peak of his political career.

Here’s the Penn/Stein summation of what happened in 1996:

“After years of leftward drift by the Democrats culminated in Republican control of the House under Speaker Newt Gingrich, President Bill Clinton moved the party back to the center in 1995 by supporting a balanced budget, welfare reform, a crime bill that called for providing 100,000 new police officers and a step-by-step approach to broadening health care. Mr. Clinton won a resounding re-election victory in 1996 and Democrats were back.”

That is at best a massive oversimplification of what happened in 1996. For one thing, if Clinton “moved the party back to the center,” it was in 1992, when he billed himself as a “different kind of Democrat” and won a plurality victory that indeed broke a long Democratic losing streak. His “centrist” agenda alienated a lot of more-traditional Democrats, and the Donkey Party lost a historic landslide defeat in the 1994 midterms. In 1996, the Clinton-Gore campaign, as Mark Penn knows quite well, did not just “move to the center,” but fought and benefited from the GOP extremism that the “Republican Revolution” led by Newt Gingrich represented.

The signature mantra of the Clinton-Gore ’96 campaign was nicely presented by the vice-presidential candidate in a debate with his rival, Jack Kemp:

“The plan from Senator Dole and Mr. Kemp is a risky, $550-billion tax scheme that actually raises taxes on 9 million of the hardest pressed working families. It would blow a hole in the deficit, cause much deeper cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, education, and the environment.”

This mantra — Medicare, Medicaid, education, environment — was so formulaic that it was reduced, literally, to a formula: M2 E2. Perhaps the welfare-reform and community-policing initiatives helped make the election revolve around M2 E2. But the idea that this was how Democrats won is really sketchy. The more plausible theory of 1996 is that Gingrich’s Republicans overreached in attacking very popular New Deal–Great Society safety-net programs, and the Clinton-Gore campaign made them pay the price. This is exactly what the Democratic “resistance” to Donald Trump plans to do in 2018 and beyond, and it is more than a little ironic that Penn and Stein are touting the 1996 campaign in attacking them for it.

Beyond that, as many Penn/Stein critics have pointed out, a lot has changed since 1996, particularly in the Democratic Party’s own base.

But again, it’s not clear Mark Penn and Andrew Stein are really all that interested in influencing Democrats. If they offer dubious advice Democrats are sure to reject, then they are mainly recommending themselves as apostates ready to bash the donkey on conservative media. That’s a very profitable line of business, and if Mark Penn pursues it, his most adamant progressive critics will be entirely vindicated.


July 6: Toomey Reveals a Secret: GOP Didn’t Plan For a Trump Win

As Senate Republicans battled to get to 50 votes for their Obamacare repeal-and-replacement bill, a broader GOP problem suddenly appeared, as I discussed at New York:

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey offered a simple, remarkable explanation this week for why Republicans have struggled so mightily to find a way to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

“‘Look, I didn’t expect Donald Trump to win, I think most of my colleagues didn’t, so we didn’t expect to be in this situation,’the Pennsylvania Republican said Wednesday night during a meeting with voters hosted by four ABC affiliates across his state.”

According to the Washington Post’s Paul Kane, this is almost certainly why congressional Republicans agreed upon a “repeal and delay” strategy for dealing with Obamacare soon after the election: They had no real clue how to do anything else. But the lack of advance planning has also been evident in the inability of Republicans in the Executive and Legislative branches to reach any kind of agreement on how to proceed with other very basic agenda items — also achievable without Democratic votes — like “tax reform” and the federal budget. And the disarray extends beyond the legislative process:

“Perhaps nowhere did the surprise factor of Trump’s victory show its impact more than in the effort to fill top jobs inside the administration. Clinton’s campaign, fully expecting victory, was stocked with hundreds of volunteer advisers who were already angling for sub-Cabinet-level posts in key agencies including the departments of State, Justice and Defense. Many of them were current or former senior staff to congressional Democrats.

“But with Republicans, those connections were rare because few believed them to be worth the effort.”

It is hard to overstate the difference for Republicans between the “Trump wins” and “Clinton wins” scenarios. After all, the GOP had been rehearsing the politics of obstruction and enjoying the innocent pleasures of passing consequences-free legislation for six long years after Republicans retook the House in 2010 (and then the Senate in 2014). The transition from gesturing to governing was especially tough for the anti-government party, and it did not help that the new GOP president was so unorthodox, unpredictable, and inexperienced a figure. Republicans did not, as Toomey said, “expect to be in this situation,” so they did not go through the difficult process of airing their differences and putting together pre-vetted consensus plans. On issue after issue, they are doing that now, on the fly, using — as Toomey puts it— “live ammo.”

It’s not going very well.


June 30: Trump Brings Back Gingrich’s Inability To Admit He’s Trying To Cut Medicaid

When Donald Trump sent out a certain tweet about Medicaid this week, it brought back some distinct memories. I wrote about it at New York.

How does Trump justify supporting GOP health plans that violate his pledge during the campaign to oppose cuts in Medicaid spending?

It seems POTUS does not understand how Medicaid funding works, and thus what constitutes a “cut.” He appears to think if any program’s funding goes up year-to-year, it hasn’t been “cut.”

This is rarely true, actually. Even with programs that are subject to annual appropriations, providing the same services from one year to the next usually costs more, thanks to inflation and population growth. Demographic changes and economic circumstances can aggravate or ameliorate the need for more funding. But you cannot point to a rise in funding and say, “That’s not a cut,” without knowing a lot more about the program, its services, and the specific population it serves.

With an entitlement program like Medicaid, moreover, in which defined categories of people receive defined benefits automatically, annual spending increases are virtually guaranteed unless the population is shrinking or the economy is really booming. As it happens, Medicaid spending under current policies is going up significantly in the immediate future thanks to at least three factors: the expansion of eligibility 31 states have elected to pursue under the Affordable Care Act; medical inflation, which generally exceeds consumer inflation; and the rapid growth in the senior population, adding to the number of Medicaid’s most expensive beneficiaries.

You can argue, as many Republicans do, that policy makers should act to curb Medicaid’s rising costs. But you can’t claim such efforts are not “a cut.” For the Medicaid expansion population at greatest risk of losing eligibility entirely under the House and Senate health-care bills, that would definitely represent “a cut.” The same is true of any Medicaid participants who may have to deal with reduced benefits or increased “cost-sharing” requirements as states adjust to a per capita cap on federal Medicaid payments.

Since we will never entirely agree on what the “normal” or “natural” funding levels for a program like Medicaid should be, the only rational way to look at Medicaid proposals is to compare how much money it would take to finance Medicaid under current law, and how much the proposals would change those costs. That is precisely what the Congressional Budget Office — who are not “Democrats,” mind you, but hires of a Republican-controlled Congress — did in describing the Better Care Reconciliation Act as “cutting” Medicaid spending by $772 billion over ten years. That does not mean reducing Medicaid spending by that much on a year-to-year basis. But it does mean that according to CBO’s best estimates BCRA will undershoot by $772 billion what it costs to provide the same Medicaid services to the people now deemed eligible. And that’s a “cut.”

Now it is entirely possible Donald Trump understands all this and is simply hoping readers of his tweets don’t. That was the calculation his friend Newt Gingrich made back in the 1990s when he perpetually insisted in a highly publicized argument with Bill Clinton that the Medicare and Medicaid cuts he was proposing weren’t cuts at all but simply “reductions in the rate of growth.” (Indeed, Gingrich is saying the same thing now, which may be where Trump got the idea.) He did not win that argument with Clinton then, and Trump is not likely to win it now, particularly since congressional Republicans, whether or not they support their party’s health-care plans, are not buying this line. When real, live people lose things they would otherwise have, they have been “cut.” Pretending otherwise represents ignorance at best and cynical demagoguery at worst.


June 29: Democratic Unity Aided By the GOP’s Lack of a Political Strategy

Watching the continuing struggle of congressional Republicans to enact a health care bill that is increasingly unpopular with the public led me to wonder aloud at New York about their motivations:

One of the much-predicted things in politics that has not actually happened this year (so far, at least) is the defection of congressional Democrats from districts or places carried by Donald Trump. There are 12 Democratic House members who fit that description, and all of them, obviously, will face voters in 2018. And there are famously ten Democratic senators up for reelection next year who represent states carried by Trump.

While some of those senators supported Trump on Cabinet confirmations more than their blue-state counterparts (particularly when the result was not in doubt), on big votes there was more unity. Only four Democrats failed to join the filibuster against Neil Gorsuch, even though everyone knew that would trigger the “nuclear option” which would eliminate judicial filibusters, maybe forever. A smattering of House Democrats voted for resolutions repealing late Obama regulations — mostly on guns and abortion — but such actions were rare in the Senate (except for one regulation involving coal, which attracted four coal-state Democrats).

But on the big measures that are preventing all the other GOP-sponsored big measures to proceed, Democrats are holding fast. The fiscal year 2017 budget resolution that made this year’s Obamacare repeal-and-replace legislation possible passed both Houses without any Democratic votes. No House Democrats voted for the American Health Care Act. No Senate Democrats have breathed a word suggesting they might support the Better Care Reconciliation Act, however it is amended.

For those whose memories only date back to the enactment of the Affordable Care Act, this opposition-party unanimity might seem normal. But it is actually very unusual by historic standards. Last time Republicans had control of the White House and Congress, during the George W. Bush administration, a significant number of Democrats regularly crossed the aisle to support GOP priorities, from No Child Left Behind to the Medicare prescription-drug benefit to comprehensive immigration reform — not to mention the authorizations and appropriations for military action in Afghanistan and Iraq.

What’s the difference now? In part, it could be the simple result of polarization and the example set by congressional Republicans when Barack Obama was president. And in part, some credit for Democratic unity is owed to Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, not to mention the millions of progressive activists who have urged Democrats to hold the line against Trump and the GOP.

But there’s something else going on as well. During the W. years, Republican initiatives were built around Karl Rove’s swing-voter strategy for building a permanent GOP majority. Most Bush domestic initiatives were aimed at converting a segment of Democratic-leaning voters, from the seniors who were the targets of the Medicare prescription-benefit legislation to the Latinos favoring immigration reform. And the swing-voter strategy was enfolded in a more systemic (and successful) effort to mobilize Republican voters — especially conservative Evangelicals.

What’s remarkable about the very similar House and Senate health-care bills that Republicans are struggling to get to Donald Trump’s desk is that they don’t seem to be based on any particular strategy, beyond checking off the box of “repealing Obamacare,” which many conservatives don’t even believe the legislation will do. Indeed, these bills have virtually no curb appeal for swing voters, and also heavily and overtly wreak havoc on the lives of the very swing voters — particularly white working-class voters — that elected Trump and have been trending Republican for years. Here’s how Ron Brownstein puts it:

“Drafted without any Democratic input, the House and Senate legislation presents an unusually explicit statement of priorities. Tax cuts emerge clearly atop that list: The Congressional Budget Office calculates that through 2026 the House bill reduces federal revenues by an annual average of $100 billion, and the Senate bill by an average of $70 billion. In each chamber, the biggest cut is the repeal of ACA taxes on income and investment profits that apply only to individuals earning at least $200,000 or families earning at least $250,000 …

“On the other side, the cuts’ corresponding benefit reductions would hit lower-income and older workers hardest, particularly in the last years before retirement. Those are cornerstone Republican voters: Nationwide, over two-thirds of all adults ages 45 to 64 are white and Trump dominated among them.
So these bills manage to offend a sizable majority of the electorate at a time when Republicans ought to be thinking about defending their congressional majorities in 2018 and helping Trump consolidate his support for 2020.”

There’s no pressure on Democrats to cross lines and help get these bills enacted because they make no sense politically — not even for Republicans, much less for Democrats.