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“Trump Is Performing A Kind Of Straddle-Pander”: Why Donald Trump Is Happily Uttering Conservative Heresies

Reince Priebus, the long-suffering chairman of the Republican National Committee, has now resorted to pleading with Donald Trump not to rewrite the party’s platform. “All that anxiety, just take it off the table,” Priebus said on a radio show Monday. “Tell people that, that you don’t want to rewrite, you appreciate and agree with the platform the way it is.” I’m sure Trump will oblige, since it’s not like he cares one way or another what’s contained in some document he’s never going to bother to read, let alone feel bound by. Meanwhile, Trump will continue to utter heresies against conservative dogma whenever the mood strikes him.

So it was that on Sunday, Trump not only said that taxes for the wealthy might go up when he’s president, but came out as minimum wage increase-curious. Don’t wait for him to actually advocate an increase in the federal minimum, though. Appearing on Meet the Press on Sunday, Trump expressed both support and opposition to an increase. “I don’t know how people make it on $7.25 an hour,” he said. “I would like to see an increase of some magnitude. But I’d rather leave it to the states. Let the states decide.”

The fact that Trump didn’t actually advocate an increase will be little comfort to Republicans watching him trod all over their cherished beliefs. Because even if he didn’t say the federal minimum should be raised, he expressed support for the idea that $7.25 an hour isn’t enough to live on, even if you aren’t in the market for solid gold toilets and faux-Versailles furnishings. That cuts against the rhetorical underpinnings of Republican opposition to an increase, which include the ideas that minimum wage jobs are only held by teenagers anyway, and the government shouldn’t be saying what is and isn’t enough for anyone to live on. Worst of all, Trump expressed sympathy for the working poor and entertained the idea that government should help them.

Saying “Let the states decide” provides no ideological safe harbor — though Trump probably doesn’t understand this. The truth is that despite their rhetoric about federalism, Republicans — just like Democrats — are fans of federal power when the federal government is doing something they want, and fans of state power when the states are doing something they want. Republicans want states to be able to slash Medicaid benefits, but don’t like it when states legalize marijuana. They talk about how the best government is closest to the people, but when a local government passes a non-discrimination ordinance or increases its minimum wage, they’ll pass a preemption law forbidding any local government in the state from creating a more liberal environment than the Republican legislature wants.

So once again, because Trump didn’t rise up through the political system and because he just doesn’t care all that much about issues, he doesn’t have a firm grasp on the combination of moral and practical arguments that provide the foundation for the conservative position on the issue at hand. It isn’t just that he doesn’t get what he’s supposed to believe, it’s that he doesn’t get why he’s supposed to believe it.

And truth be told, Republicans would rather not talk about the minimum wage at all, since this is one of the most unpopular positions they hold. Polls regularly show 70 percent of the public supporting an increase. That’s the biggest reason Democrats always bring the topic up, but it’s also an economic policy that’s simple to understand, and one where government can have a direct and immediate effect on people’s lives.

Unlike other proposals candidates might make, a minimum wage isn’t something you’d have to wait for. It’s not like the tax cuts Republicans say will eventually trickle down to ordinary people, and it’s not like the infrastructure investments Democrats say will produce more sustained economic growth in the long run. Everyone knows what it means to get a raise.

So Trump is performing a kind of straddle-pander, trying to show he’s on the right side of the issue while not actually taking a position in opposition to his party. But this comes at a time when those favoring an increase in the minimum are on the offensive. California and New York have recently passed laws hiking the minimum to $15 an hour (phased in over a period of years), and multiple states will have increases on their ballots in November. Chances are most or all of those measures will succeed (minimum wage initiatives usually do), and Republicans will be even more eager to change the subject.

Conservatives will take Trump’s squishiness on this issue as yet more proof that he isn’t a true conservative, and they’ll be right. But he also seems to have an intuitive sense, at least some of the time, of what people want to hear. Despite all the voters he’s alienated by taking Republican ideas and cranking them up to 11, Trump has also rejected some of the most unpopular positions his party has, on things like cutting Social Security or defunding Planned Parenthood.

That doesn’t mean voters will buy that he’s some kind of man of the people. But by speaking favorably about a higher minimum wage, Trump is once again making the rest of his party look bad.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect;  Contributor, The Week, May 10, 2016

May 12, 2016 Posted by | Conservatives, Donald Trump, Reince Priebus, Republican National Convention | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Political Disaster Of Unimaginable Proportions”: Why Republicans Wouldn’t Actually Repeal Obamacare

Last week, in a bold example of their governing prowess, congressional Republicans took their 62nd vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and this time they actually passed it through both houses and sent it to President Obama to be vetoed. Naturally, they were exultant at their triumph. Speaker Paul Ryan admitted that there is as yet no replacement for the ACA, but they’ll be getting around to putting one together before you know it. The fact that they’ve been promising that replacement for more than five years now might make you a bit skeptical.

What we know for sure is this: If a Republican wins the White House this November, he’ll make repeal of the ACA one of his first priorities, whether there’s a replacement ready or not. To listen to them talk, the only division between the candidates is whether they’ll do it on their first day in the Oval Office, in their first hour, or in the limo on the way back from the inauguration.

But I’ve got news for you: They aren’t going to do it, at least not in the way they’re promising. Because it would be an absolute catastrophe.

Let’s take a brief tour around the consequences of repealing the ACA. First, everyone who benefited from the expansion of Medicaid would immediately lose their health coverage. According to Charles Gaba of, who has been tracking these data as assiduously as anyone, that amounts to about nine million people. Granted, the working poor are not a group whose fate keeps too many Republicans up at night, but tossing nine million of them off their health coverage is at least bound to generate some uncomfortable headlines.

Then there’s all the people who now get their health coverage through the exchanges that the ACA set up. Remember how fake-outraged Republicans were back in the fall of 2013 because some people with crappy health plans got letters from their insurers telling them that they’d have to sign up for a plan that was compatible with the ACA’s new standards? The truth was that some of them would wind up paying more for coverage while others would pay less, but it was the subject of a thousand credulous news stories portraying them all as victims, to Republicans’ unending joy.

Now imagine that ten million people, the number signed up for private coverage through the exchanges, all had their coverage simultaneously thrown into doubt. Think that might cause some bad press for the party and the president who did it?

There’s more. The ACA also allowed young people to stay on their parents’ insurance until age 26; three million took advantage of the provision. They’d likely lose their insurance too. Oh, and if you’re a senior on Medicare? Get ready for the return of the “doughnut hole” in prescription drug coverage, which the ACA closed.

Let’s add in one more element (though there are lots of the ACA’s provisions we don’t have time to discuss). One of the central and most popular provisions of the ACA banned insurance companies from even asking about pre-existing conditions when they offer you a plan. About half of Americans have some kind of condition that in the old days would mean they either could get insurance but it wouldn’t cover that condition, or they couldn’t get covered at all. If you bought insurance in the old days, you remember what a hassle it was to document for the insurer every time you saw a doctor for years prior. You don’t have to do that now, but if Republicans succeed, we’ll be back to those bad old days. So they can look forward to lots of news stories about cancer survivors who now can’t get insurance anymore, thanks to the GOP.

But wait, they’ll say, our phantom replacement plan has a solution: high-risk pools! This is a common element of the various inchoate health-care plans Republicans have come up with. Anyone who knows anything about insurance knows why these are no solution at all. They take all the sickest people and put them together in one pool, which of course means that the premiums to insure them become incredibly high. As I’ve written elsewhere, high-risk pools are the health insurance equivalent of going to a loan shark: You might do it if you’re desperate and have no other option, but you’re going to pay through the nose. So good luck with that.

Even if Republicans could come together around a single replacement plan, that plan would still be a political disaster. The theory behind their health-care ideas is that once we inject some more market magic into health care, everything will be great. But there are a couple of important things to understand about this idea. First of all, their plans don’t even try to achieve anything like universal coverage. It just isn’t one of their goals, and as a consequence, implementing their plans is going to mean a lot more uninsured than we have now, a reversal of the progress the ACA is made, with millions or even tens of millions of people likely to lose coverage. Second, even if the market mechanisms they use were to work out how they predict—and it’s almost certain they won’t, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt for a moment—it would take a substantial amount of time.

In this, the ACA is direct. You can’t afford coverage? Here’s a subsidy, now you can afford coverage. But under Republican plans, more people shopping around for their health care is, over time, supposed to bring costs down, which will eventually translate to lower premiums. But in the meantime, while we wait for the invisible hand to perform its alchemy, millions upon millions of Americans will get screwed. Think there’s going to be a political backlash?

I suspect that many conservatives understand that, but still think that in the long term, their small-government ideas will leave us with a superior system. But that still leaves them with a political dilemma. On one hand, repealing the ACA would be spectacularly disruptive—in fact, unwinding the law will probably be more disruptive than putting it in place was, now that the entire health-care and health-insurance industries have adapted to it—and there will be millions of people victimized by repeal. It will be a political disaster of unimaginable proportions.

On the other hand, they’ve invested so much emotional, political, and rhetorical energy over the last six years into their opposition to this law that they would seemingly have no choice but to repeal it, no matter the consequences. Liberals may argue that the ACA would have been a lot better if it hadn’t worked so hard to accommodate the market-based character of the American health-care system, but Republicans have been telling their constituents that it’s the most horrific case of government oppression since the Cultural Revolution (or as Ben Carson says, “the worst thing that’s happened to this nation since slavery”). They can’t exactly turn around to the people who elected them and say, “Look, I know we said we’d repeal this thing, but that’s going to be a real mess. How about if we just make some changes to it so it works more like we’d like?”

Or maybe they could. Just look what happened to Matt Bevin, the new governor of Kentucky. He ran on a platform of purging the state of every molecule of that despicable Obamacare, but now that he’s in office, things are looking a little more complicated. That’s because Kentucky is one of the great ACA success stories, where the expansion of Medicaid brought health insurance to a half a million low-income people who didn’t have it, and the state’s health-care exchange, Kynect, was a model of success. So Bevin is now backtracking on his promise, saying that instead of just eliminating the Medicaid expansion he’s going to reform it. And Kynect may get the axe (which would mean just turning it over to the federal government), but that won’t happen for quite some time, if at all.

And that’s what I think we’d see if we actually got a Republican president and a Republican Congress forced to deal with the consequences of what they’ve been promising for so long. Once they have the ability to bring down such a health-care calamity on the public, it’s not going to seem like such a great idea. They’ll say they’re as committed to it as ever, while behind the scenes they’ll be frantically trying to figure out how to do something they can call “repeal” but that won’t actually get rid of all the things people like about the law. I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw a “repeal” bill that, in the name of an effective transition, left much of the law in place, then slowly instituted their market-driven ideas over time. Because there are limits to even what kind of damage an all-Republican government would inflict—if not on the country, then at least on their political fortunes.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect, January 10, 2016

January 14, 2016 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, Republicans | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The ‘Four Freedoms’ Under Assault”: The Dangers “From Within” Demand Our Attention

In her syndicated newspaper column on Jan. 6, 1941, Eleanor Roosevelt wrote , “America is not a pile of goods, more luxury, more comforts, a better telephone system, a greater number of cars. America is a dream of greater justice and opportunity for the average man and, if we can not obtain it, all our other achievements amount to nothing.”

That afternoon, President Franklin Roosevelt delivered his annual State of the Union address and elaborated on what America is and is not. He spoke powerfully about the fundamental values at the heart of American democracy, which he portrayed as a potent antidote to the tyranny overtaking Europe. He envisioned a world with “four essential human freedoms” at its core: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. And he proclaimed that such a world could be “attainable in our own time and generation.”

Seventy-five years later, Roosevelt’s vision is being threatened by a retrograde politics that treats freedom as the punch line of a cruel joke against the American people. On the eve of the 2012 election, I argued that Republican politicians – in their fealty to billionaire mega-donors, zealous opposition to a woman’s right to choose, callous disregard for the working poor and terrifying enthusiasm for assault weapons – had perverted the four freedoms beyond recognition. Now, as voters prepare to choose the next president, the idea of freedom is once again under stress and being tested in new ways.

Although Donald Trump is leading in the polls, the real winner of the Republican presidential primary contest has been the politics of fear. With his signature bombast and bellicosity toward immigrants and Muslims, Trump has seemingly mastered the demagogic art of fearmongering. But he is certainly not alone in cynically sowing fear and hysteria among voters. During last month’s debate on national security, for instance, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie promised to escalate an already dangerous confrontation with Russia, citing President Obama’s aversion to military aggression as evidence that he’s a “feckless weakling.” Christie then defended his bluster in a nationally televised interview the following morning, declaring, “We’re already in World War III.”

Meanwhile, in the wake of horrific attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, overheated political rhetoric and sensationalistic media coverage have contributed to an exaggerated sense of the dangers of terrorism. As Stephen Kinzer recently wrote in the Boston Globe, “Fear is becoming part of our daily lives. Yet it is not justified by reality. The true terror threat inside the United States is a fraction of what many Americans want to believe.” We are rapidly becoming, in Kinzer’s words, “the United States of Panic.”

This suspension of freedom from fear has jeopardized another of Roosevelt’s four freedoms – freedom of worship. Whereas “religious freedom” has been abused for years to justify everything from restricting access to contraception to discriminating against the LGBT community, we are now witnessing political threats against an entire religion. Trump has called for a database of American Muslims while Sen. Marco Rubio has suggested closing down “any place where radicals are being inspired,” including mosques. Sen. Ted Cruz and former Florida governor Jeb Bush have argued for a ban on refugees fleeing the Middle East unless they can prove they are Christian. Hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise. And yet, Rubio, the purported “establishment” Republican candidate, asks: “Where is there widespread evidence that we have a problem in America with discrimination against Muslims?”

Roosevelt believed that freedom from want is inseparable from freedom itself. That was the basis for his “Economic Bill of Rights,” which he introduced in 1944, saying, “True individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence.” But today’s Republican Party clearly does not share that understanding. Beyond their typically regressive tax proposals, the Republican candidates overwhelmingly support cutting Social Security benefits and raising the retirement age. Until recently, Ben Carson supported abolishing Medicare and Medicaid; Carly Fiorina opposes the federal minimum wage; and Bush claimed that Democrats appeal to African American voters with “free stuff.” Indeed, as conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru observed, Republican candidates simply have not offered “ideas that would give any direct help to families trying to make ends meet.”

And while there is nothing new about their neglect of those who are struggling, Republican politicians are increasingly hyper-attentive to the demands of billionaire donors, who fund the super PACs propping up their campaigns. Ever since the Supreme Court ruled that money equals speech, the cost of our elections has exploded, making it harder for ordinary Americans to have a say in the political process. At the same time, with the corporate media setting the parameters of legitimate debate and drowning out independent voices, dissenting opinions often do not get the public hearing they deserve. Taken together, the result is that freedom of speech applies to a privileged few more than everyone else.

In 1941, Roosevelt spoke with clarity about the serious threats to America “from without.” Today, we are facing a different kind of danger – but one that also demands our attention – from within. On the 75th anniversary of Roosevelt’s four freedoms speech, may people fight to defend the core freedoms that have animated our nation at its best. In 2016, we are not just choosing a president. We are choosing what kind of country we want to be.


By: Katrina vanden Heuvel, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, January 5, 2016

January 6, 2016 Posted by | Congressional Republicans, Donald Trump, Franklin D. Roosevelt, The Four Freedoms | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Pain For The Afflicted, Benefits For The Rich”: The Republican Party’s Top Priority Is To Raise Taxes On The Poor. Literally.

Following their convincing victory in the 2014 elections, everyone is wondering what Republicans will do with their new majority in the Senate and House. Well, their policy agenda is becoming clear. It will be unrestrained class warfare against the poor.

This priority was made apparent over the last week during the negotiation of a colossal tax cut package. Senate Democrats and Republicans had been doing some low-key negotiations to renew a slew of tax cuts for corporations and lower- and middle-income Americans, according to reporting from Brian Faler and Rachel Bade at Politico.

Then President Obama announced his executive action on immigration. Enraged Republicans promptly took vengeance on all the goodies for the working poor (as well as for clean energy), cutting them out of the deal and proposing a raft of permanent tax cuts for corporations alone worth $440 billion over 10 years. Cowed Democrats, led by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.), were about ready to go along, prompting a decidedly justified outcry from liberals. Obama then threatened a veto, and the negotiations broke down entirely.

A few takeaways from this. First, it’s yet another reminder that Republicans don’t care about the national debt. Conservative carping about the debt is 100 percent of the time a rhetorical cudgel deployed with utter cynicism against programs they dislike for other reasons. When the topic is food stamps or unemployment insurance, they demand offsets to pay for them. (Because “we’re broke,” as Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) put it in a similar context.) But when it comes to dropping planeloads of money on corporations and rich people, Republicans will casually blow a half-trillion hole in the 10-year budget without blinking.

We can safely assume that should Republicans win in 2016, they’ll take all the reduction in the budget deficit accomplished over the Obama years (at great cost and for no benefit, but that’s another story) and do the same thing that George W. Bush did: hand it immediately to the rich.

That’s not all, though. Unlike Bush, who gave his eye-wateringly regressive tax cuts a patina of democratic legitimacy by cutting the non-rich in on a small fraction of the spoils, Republicans are now firmly committed to the idea that poor people don’t pay enough in taxes. The Earned Income Tax Credit was originally a conservative alternative to the welfare state, but increasingly only Democrats support it. Republicans are convinced that the EITC is riddled with fraud, and that voting for it means giving welfare to unauthorized immigrants. (In reality, the EITC results in quite a lot of technically improper payments, but mostly as a result of unnecessary complexity.)

Massive transfers of money to the rich are one half of the Republican economic policy agenda; massive transfers of money away from poor are the other half. And the cuts would be cruel indeed:

For example, a single mother with two children working full time in a nursing home for the minimum wage and earning $14,500 would lose her entire [Child Tax Credit] of $1,725 if the CTC provision expires. [CBPP]

Apparently, cutting the income of a poor working single mother by 12 percent is good and proper conservative policymaking in 2014. Because immigration.

Finally, we see that Republicans are still incapable of the basics of political governance. They can’t maintain any sort of agenda outside of being against what Obama is for. Once the president drives them into a frenzy — which is to say, anytime he does anything at all — any negotiations on deck will be blown up as punishment. These days, divided government means constant high-stakes conflict, as everything, including tax credits for working moms, is weaponized in a naked struggle for power.

But should Republicans ever get the run of things, we now have a very good idea of what’s in store: pain for the afflicted, and benefits for the comfortable.


By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, December 3, 2014

December 4, 2014 Posted by | Poor and Low Income, Republicans, Tax Cuts | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Widening Disparities”: Maine Props Up ‘Two Americas’ With No Medicaid Expansion

The Affordable Care Act, as originally passed, holds tremendous promise to decrease health care costs and increase insurance coverage rates across rural states like Maine. But federal court opinions and repeated vetoes of Medicaid expansion are putting all that into jeopardy. Already, data is pointing to widening disparities between the states embracing health reform and those that have resisted — in the numbers of uninsured, in new health care jobs and in the finances of local hospitals.

Historically, the United States has maintained the highest health spending in the world, but it still had lower life expectancies and the highest rates of infant mortality in the developed world. Health costs have sucked up 18 percent of our gross domestic product, leaching out wage gains and damaging America’s global competitiveness.

These factors drove Congress and the president to enact health care reform. Since then, despite the fact that health care utilization typically increases as the economy recovers from recession, health care cost growth has been held in check and health economists increasingly agree that this is due to the structural reforms initiated by the ACA.

And, with federal subsidies and Medicaid expansion to help cover the working poor, the number of people who are uninsured in the country is going down. These are promising trends, but die-hard reform opponents continue to work to reverse them. Every recalcitrant governor, every contentious court decision impedes health reform from realizing its full potential, despite its proven success to date.

There are two Americas. One is prosperous, long-lived and healthy. The second comprises the working poor who are short-lived, disabled early and beset by chronic illnesses that could have been prevented — diabetes, heart failure, pulmonary disease. Those in this second America are people who have a job — maybe two — but do not earn enough to make ends meet.

We make special provisions for some of the most vulnerable in this group — children, the elderly and disabled — but millions of hard-working Americans fall through the gaps. And unfortunately, the ranks of America’s working poor are increasing, not shrinking.

An American born in one of our rural counties is likely to live a shorter life than a person in Algeria or Bangladesh. Meanwhile, Americans who live in prosperous urban regions have life expectancies that rival the healthiest places in the world. This disparity exists, and it takes money. It costs our economy, through lost worker productivity and the high price of treating people in emergency rooms when they cannot afford less expensive preventive care.

As designed, health reform aimed to erase health disparities. It pumped money into making affordable health care available to Americans in poorer, more rural states like Maine. It offered good jobs and billions in economic impact while improving the quality of care to all Americans wherever they live, whatever their income. It directed money to cost-effective primary care and dedicated scholarship funds to increase the number of doctors in rural and underserved areas, like much of Maine.

The New York Times recently reported that state-level refusal to expand Medicaid combined with the recent court ruling jeopardizing subsidies to residents of states on the federal exchange threaten to undo the national reform and create a state-by-state patchwork. This would effectively maintain the two Americas. The states that declined to expand Medicaid or design state exchanges are mostly the poorer, less healthy states. Right now, Maine is on this list.

Gov. Paul LePage has vetoed majority votes to expand Medicaid five times. If we continue in this direction, 12 percent of Mainers will continue to be uninsured while 96 percent of residents in nearby Massachusetts are insured.

Politics threaten to block health reform from fulfilling its promise: to bridge the yawning gap in health and economic potential between the two Americas. Partisan politics shouldn’t block Maine from reaping the benefits of health reform — both in better health outcomes and in expanded economic opportunity.


By: Christy Daggett, Policy Analyst, The Maine Center for Economic Policy; Published in The Bangor Daily News, August 19, 2014


August 20, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Medicaid Expansion, Paul LePage | , , , , | Leave a comment

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