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The Kinderhook Kickback

[ 12 ] March 21, 2017 |

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You may have heard about the Empire State Emolument designed to keep upstate and western New York Republicans in the fold for TrumpCare:

An amendment to the American Health Care Act that would shift county costs for Medicaid to the state that drew the ire of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration on Friday has the blessing of Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, who proposed such a plan during the 2016 campaign.

Faso said in a phone interview he worked with Collins on the amendment and supports an approach to end “New York’s 51-year-old mistake of foisting what should be the state’s share, the state’s cost of Medicaid on local property tax payers.”

Faso said the amendment has been withdrawn while members await to see if the Congressional Budget Office will score it. He said New York City would be exempted under the amendment because it has an income tax that other local governments do not have.

“It’s high time that Albany took responsibility for this program like virtually every other state does,” Faso said.

Here’s the thing — on the narrow issue, Faso is right. Medicaid should be funded entirely or almost entirely from the general state fund, and requiring counties to pick up a significant percentage of Medicaid funding is irrational. The disparities in property tax rates the policy helps to produce tend to create negative equilibria. To take the area I know best, the effective property tax rate in Saratoga County(1.6%) is somewhat lower than Albany County [city proper has a lot of poverty but mitigated by significant population in middle-class-to-tony suburbs–1.92%] and much lower than Rensselaer [gentrifying-but-still-quite poor Troy largely surrounded by rural areas–2.36%] and Schenectady [essentially a rust belt area–2.64%] Counties. Now, I suppose it’s possible that people in Saratoga Springs and Clifton Park and Loudonville and Latham care less about the quality of public schools than their counterparts across the Mohawk or Hudson. What seems much more likely is that when you replace poor people with state employees and software engineers and horse owners with pied-a-terre condos this reduces your Medicaid outlays. Most rural counties have rates similar to or higher than Schenectady because they just don’t have the tax base to pay for Medicaid expenses. And Onondaga [Syracuse], Erie [Buffalo] and Monroe [Rochester] have even higher rates than Schenectady.

Needless to say, while there’s a real problem here the Buffalo Bribe is hardly the way to deal with it. First, there’s the exclusion of New York City which is wrong — it should be made a state-funded program, period. And even worse, of course, is that it’s attached to a bill that is cyanide-laced dog vomit, not least because it would devastate Medicaid funding and put states like New York that actually want to provide health insurance to poor people in a much worse position. I mean, say this for Ben Nelson — at least he was trying to get more Medicaid money for his state.

Paying Medicaid expenses at the county level is bad policy. Electing Republicans looking to cut deals to facilitate the passage of what would be one of the worst statutes ever passed by the United States Congress is much, much worse. Collins, Faso, Stefanik, Katko and Tenney all need to be relieved of their duties in 2018, and if they vote for TrumpCare this should be front-and-center in every campaign against them whether it ultimately passes or not.

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The Further Adventures of Paul Ryan, Policy Wonk of Seriousity

[ 57 ] March 21, 2017 |

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TrumpCare represents the absolute state-of-the-art in Republican policymaking. That is, it involves using a farcically slapdash process to try to attain reprehensible substantive ends:

In an effort to blunt the disastrous impact of the American Health Care Act on older Americans, House Republican leaders are adding a provision that would set aside $75 billion to do … something unspecified.

Really. According to Politico, the new version of the bill will not say at all what to do with the $75 billion. Instead it will just “instruct the Senate” to come up with a plan to use the money to help people between the ages of 50 and 64.

This is a very unusual way to legislate and reflects House Republicans’ desperation to pass basically anything as soon as possible and pass the buck to the Senate.

[…]

But Paul Ryan is determined to have the House vote on this bill on Thursday, which means they don’t have time for any big rethink or prolonged negotiation. So what they’ve come up with instead is, apparently, this $75 billion magic asterisk. The House will pass a bill with what amounts to a blank spot, and then members can say they repealed Obamacare and toss the hot potato of working out the details to their colleagues in the Senate.

The Heritage Uncertainty Principle strikes again!

A bunch of fanatics led by a guy who’s the ultimate example that any conservative white guy who wears a suit and can complete sentences without drooling will be taken seriously producing a pathetic quasi-bill — it was hard to see this coming! The optimistic take is that having passed a useless bill that can be sold as ‘Repealing Obamacare” the House will consider its work done and let the whole thing fall apart. The attempts to blame McConnell — who, unlike Ryan, whatever his faults is a very able legislative mechanic and not just a bullshit artist “policy entrepreneur” — will be hilarious if that happens. But precisely because McConnell is competent we can’t consider TrumpCare dead yet.

Well, I’m Convinced!

[ 41 ] March 20, 2017 |

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If you can’t emulate Bill Belichick’s ability to construct an offense, you can emulate his terrible taste in presidents:

As confirmation hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch got underway Monday in Washington, D.C., noted legal scholar John Elway sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on his Broncos letterhead endorsing Gorsuch for the nation’s highest court.

This leads is to the tweet from an NFL reporter with the greatest chance of being quoted on this blog in its history:

Is Siemian the well-done steak of QBs and Paxton Lynch the vodka-flavored ketchup, or vice versa? The Denver offense was certainly more of a dead horse than a battleship.

Perhaps It’s Time to Start Treating Self-Interested Republican Assertions With Some Measure of Skepticism

[ 55 ] March 20, 2017 |

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Earlier today, I alluded to the story published in the New York Times — a couple days after it devoted 5 out of 6 above-the-fold A1 stories in two days to James Comey’s letter informing Congress that Anthony Weiner had a laptop, which might mean Hillary Clinton was a crook — dutifully repeating the claim of the anti-Clinton within the FBI that “the hacking into Democratic emails…was aimed at disrupting the presidential election rather than electing Mr. Trump.” This decision has…not held up well. Today I was reminded that Eric Lichtbau, one of the marks reporters behind the Oct. 31, was also responsible for one of this Clinton Rules Classic:

A top aide to Hillary Clinton at the State Department agreed to try to obtain a special diplomatic passport for an adviser to former President Bill Clinton in 2009, according to emails released Thursday, raising new questions about whether people tied to the Clinton Foundation received special access at the department.

Only:

It’s common at this point in the Clinton Foundation pseudo-scandal cycle for the person in my position to point out that there’s no quid pro quo and no evidence of wrongdoing, and then for the skeptics to say that corruption can take more insidious forms than a quid pro quo. But honestly, what questions does this raise?

It certainly doesn’t raise the question of whether Clinton Foundation staff got special access to passports from the State Department. It answers the question. They didn’t, as the story says.

Nor does this raise any questions about conflicts of interest with donors or use of foundation resources for private gain. Bill Clinton was doing a little statesman-like work. His staff hoped that, in light of his close personal ties to the secretary of state, he could do that work with official diplomatic credentials. They were told no.

There is no scandal. There is no question. There’s only the presumption of guilt and the Clinton Rules.

On August 9th, Lichtbau went on NPR to discuss “[t]he assertion that the people at Judicial Watch…are making is that this shows that at a minimum, her people, her top advisers seem to have kept this chain of communication open and that there were discussions about favors and access and influence.” He apparently worked on the story for a while, finding absolutely no misconduct by Clinton or any of her aides, or indeed by anybody. But rather than just admit he had been sent on a snipe hunt by anti-Clinton fanatics and either not publishing a story or publishing a story clearly stating that Clinton had done nothing wrong, he and his editors just went ahead and wrote a story with a headline and lede implying that Clinton was corrupt when the facts showed no such thing.

I feel the performance of the New York Times political desk during the 2016 campaign raises troubling questions and casts troubling shadows.

Kindly, Moderate, Nonpartisan Neil Gorsuch

[ 80 ] March 20, 2017 |

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Hmm, let’s check in on the man the president installed by the FBI and the 19th century slave power chose to nominate for a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court:

Jennifer Sisk, a Denver attorney who took a class taught by Gorsuch at University of Colorado law school, wrote to Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) claiming that Gorsuch said firms should engage in illegal and sexist hiring practices.

Gorsuch’s alleged comments arose during a class discussion involving a hypothetical about a female law student who wanted to work at a law firm and also intended to start a family with her husband. According to Sisk,

[Gorsuch] asked the class to raise their hands if they knew of a female who had used a company to get maternity benefits and then left right after having a baby. Judge Gorsuch specifically targeted females and maternity leave. This question was not about parents or men shifting priorities after having children. It was solely focused on women using their companies.

I do not remember if any students raised their hands, but it was no more than a small handful of students. At that point, Judge Gorsuch became more animated saying “C’mon guys.” He then announced that all our hands should be raised because “many” women use their companies for maternity benefits and then leave the company after the baby is born.

The judge, according to Sisk, “argued that because many women left their companies we all knew women who purposefully used their companies.” Gorsuch also allegedly “outlined how law firms, and companies in general, had to ask female interviewees about pregnancy plans in order to protect the company.”

I’m sure Hillary Clinton’s nominee would have had similar views! In what will be the first of many such links, also note that Gorsuch has other terrible views pretty much any Republican nominee will share.

As Erik says, the correct Democratic response here is not complicated: not a single vote.

Comey Comedy Classics

[ 57 ] March 20, 2017 |

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With notably rare exceptions:

The FBI director said he cannot say more “about what we are doing and whose conduct we are investigating” because the investigation is ongoing and classified.

“We just can’t do our work well or fairly if we start talking about it while we’re doing it,” Comey said.

It’s like 10,000 spoons when all you need was someone who wasn’t a Republican hack in charge of the FBI.

As you’ve probably heard, in addition to taking his standup act on the road Comey also confirmed what he was expected to confirm:

FBI Director James B. Comey acknowledged on Monday the existence of a counterintelligence investigation into the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, and said that probe extends to the nature of any links between Trump campaign associates and the Russian government.

Testifying before the House Intelligence Committee, Comey said the investigation is also exploring whether there was any coordination between the campaign and the Kremlin, and “whether any crimes were committed.”

Hmm, interesting. I’m so old I remember when the FBI was going out of its way to imply that Russia was not trying to influence the 2016 elections like it was last October.

…oh:

FBI Director James B. Comey told Congress that the FBI launched its investigation into Russian meddling in the U.S. elections nearly nine months ago.

He said the FBI started investigating the matter in July and that its work was still in the early stages.

It’s ridiculous how badly the New York Times got played, and it’s outrageous that Comey let the false impression created by the story stand while he was going out of his way to smear Clinton based on nothing.

You Are the Sucker, Appalachian Edition

[ 358 ] March 20, 2017 |

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Getting it good and hard:

During the campaign, Donald Trump billed himself as the “last shot” for coal country. He alone could save regions like Appalachia that had long suffered from poverty and dwindling coal jobs. And voters in West Virginia and eastern Kentucky believed him — choosing Trump over Hillary Clinton by wide, wide margins.

So it’s striking that President Trump’s first budget proposal would slash and burn several key programs aimed at promoting economic development in coal regions — most notably, the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Economic Development Administration. In recent years, these programs have focused on aiding communities that have been left behind as mining jobs vanished.

Even some of Trump’s staunchest allies were livid at the proposed cuts. “I am disappointed that many of the reductions and eliminations proposed in the President’s skinny budget are draconian, careless and counterproductive,” said Rep. Hal Rogers, a senior House Republican from a key coal-mining district in southeastern Kentucky.

So what gives? It’s possible Trump just didn’t put much thought into these reductions — and didn’t realize (or didn’t care) that he was backhanding his biggest supporters. Or it’s possible Trump genuinely believes he’s going to bring back coal jobs in Appalachia, as he’s promised, and hence figured there’s no need for all those other government programs.

Except Trump can’t bring back all the mining jobs that have disappeared over the past 30 years — it’s just not feasible. That’s a promise he won’t keep. And now he’s cutting the region’s safety net, too.

A lot of people are going to suffer because Republicans systematically lied to voters that believed them.

Those Thighs Won’t Rub Themselves!

[ 217 ] March 19, 2017 |

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Here’s a minor innovation in translucently-sourced HILLARY CLINTON IS TOTALLY RUNNING FOR MAYOR stories:

Earlier this week, TMZ reported that Clinton is reportedly “thinking” about a run for NYC mayor. “We’re told she was talking to people in her close circle to gauge the level of interest and support in a Clinton candidacy… Our source made it clear … judging from the meeting, so far it’s just talk,” TMZ wrote.

The rumor that Democrats and those in her inner circle were urging her to run originally surfaced in January from the conservative website NewsMax, which just so happens to be owned by a “friend and donor” to Bill Clinton’s campaign. Mainstream outlets like the New York Daily News and the New York Times picked up the story, although reporters hedged their bets that such a run would be unlikely. Either way, the hopeful buzz doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon.

“Friend and donor of Bill Clinton” is one way of describing the publisher of NewsMax. A much more accurate way of describing him would be “one of the most influential members of Donald Trump’s inner circle.” What an amazing coincidence that rumors of Clinton running all come from anti-Clinton or anti-deBlasio sources!

Anyway, isn’t this all kinda last month? I thought that Hillary Clinton was going to maintain unilateral demonic possession over the Democratic Party by leveraging Chelsea Clinton’s inevitable run for — House backbencher? Parks commissioner? Larchmont school board? Something like that there. And we know she’s running because she sent some negative tweets about Donald Trump? Frankly, I don’t know why the Democratic Party should even bother to hold primaries in 2020 when Chelsea will control the outcome from the Hastings-on-Hudson city council anyway.

Today’s Desecration of Parody’s Corpse

[ 17 ] March 18, 2017 |

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It’s hard to make fun of people who are too stupid to insult and/or too lazy to read:

There are two possible explanations for why the White House daily newsletter included my piece about the budget, a piece composed almost entirely of onomatopoeic noises (PEW PEW! GRRRRRRRR!) typed out in all caps. Either they read it and loved it, especially the part where I wrote that all schoolchildren will be taught by an F-35 in a Make America Great Again hat, or they … did not read it, but liked the headline, “Trump’s budget makes perfect sense and will fix America, and I will tell you why“!

I’m fine with either, honestly. I agree that my articles are much worse if you click on them.

This reminds me of those movie trailers that manage to cite only a single word from a review (“Extreme” LA Times) in such a way that you wonder how the word was used in context.

Good Policy Does Not Guarantee Good Political Outcomes

[ 356 ] March 18, 2017 |

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As Jason Furman observes, that’s one obvious lesson of this story:

Soon after Charla McComic’s son lost his job, his health-insurance premium dropped from $567 per month to just $88, a “blessing from God” that she believes was made possible by President Trump.

“I think it was just because of the tax credit,” said McComic, 52, a former first-grade teacher who traveled to Trump’s Wednesday night rally in Nashville from Lexington, Tenn., with her daughter, mother, aunt and cousin.

The price change was actually thanks to a subsidy made possible by former president Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which is still in place, not by the tax credits proposed by Republicans as part of the health-care bill still being considered by Congress.

[…]

Ware hopes that Trump can change this, although she says she won’t fault him if he can’t. She doesn’t believe news reports saying that 24 million people could lose their coverage under his plan.

“Nothing is in concrete yet. Give the man a chance,” she said. “Until you hear it from Donald J. Trump himself — and not the news media — then don’t even worry about it. Wait until you hear the man say it, because he will tweet it, he will Facebook it or he will go onto national television and tell everybody at the same time.”

As the story also makes clear, it would be better in policy terms if the subsidies in the ACA had been more generous, but there’s little reason to believe that this would have transformed any significant number of Republican voters into Democratic ones.

Speaking of which, a lot of people in comments have brought up Jack Meserve’s riff on an amusing rant by one of the Chapo Trap House guys about the needless complexity of the ACA exchanges. Leaving aside the flimsiness of some of the anecdotal evidence (signs touting New Deal programs good, signs touting ARRA programs bad), there’s an obvious problem with the core argument. This is from the Christman argument he quotes:

And as Rick Perlstein has talked about a lot, that’s one of the reasons that Democrats end up fucking themselves over. The reason they held Congress for 40 years after enacting Social Security is because Social Security was right in your fucking face. They could say to you, “you didn’t used to have money when you were old, now you do. Thank Democrats.” And they fucking did.

This is superficially persuasive. But there’s an obvious problem here. It’s true that Democrats mostly controlled Congress and the White House for decades after the New Deal. But this is very misleading: FDR failed in his war on the Dixiecrats in 1938, and Congress during the vast majority of this period was effectively controlled by a coalition of conservative Democrats and Republicans. The signature legislation of passed by Congress between 1940-1963 wasn’t a major liberal benefit — it was Taft-Hartley, which passed with veto-proof majorities and has more to do with Republicans controlling Congress than any tactical choices made by Democratic politicians in 2016. I mean, Democrats could still have an enduring congressional majority if southern conservatives were a major part of the coalition. Nobody wants that, but the fact that people who now vote for conservative Republicans used to vote for conservative Democrats isn’t going to make it easy to get moderate (let alone liberal or left-of-liberal) Democrats elected in those jurisdictions.

And there’s an even bigger problem here — the Great Society. Medicare is the ultimate simple in-your-face social benefit, and it was more generous than the initial iterations of Social Security and didn’t come at a horrible price in racial exclusion. And yet the result was Republican control of the White House for 28 of the next 40 years (and of the two Democratic outliers, the first accomplished very little with a Democratic Congress, and the second had better-than-Carter but disappointing results in two years of unified government and more conservative policy outcomes than liberal ones in 6 years of divided government.) Intuitively, the popularity of Medicare and Social Security shouldn’t be consistent with control of the federal government by increasingly conservative Republicans, but while it was concealed by much of the 20th century by weak partisan coalitions it’s an enduring paradox of American politics the left needs to face head-on.

To be clear, I agree entirely with Meserve and Christman that simple is better than complex in policy terms, and at the margin the clearer the benefits the easier it is to preserve the programs politically. Simplicity is often easier said than done when dealing with James Madison’s sausage-making machine, but it’s always worth keeping in mind. The story that good policy is always good politics, though, is a nice story but there’s not a lot of evidence that it’s true. The reason to do the right thing is that it’s the right thing, not because it’s guarantee of political success in a system that’s structured in many ways to favor reactionary interests.

Paul Ryan, a Serious Policy Wonk Who Cares Deeply About the Poor

[ 112 ] March 17, 2017 |

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It’s just not very much fun living in an Aaron Sorkin script:

Oh, college! It’s a time when young adults discover their professional interests, when they live alone for the first time, when many people come into their sexuality, and when youth get to explore other adult pleasures.

And, if you were House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), it was a time to dream about how, someday, you would take health care away from millions of poor people.

In a conversation with the National Review’s Rich Lowry on Friday, Ryan bragged about how conservatives now have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to take health coverage away from the most vulnerable Americans.

“So Medicaid,” Ryan told Lowry, “sending it back to the states, capping its growth rate. We’ve been dreaming of this since I’ve been around — since you and I were drinking at a keg. . . . I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a long time. We’re on the cusp of doing something we’ve long believed in.”

Ryan is 47 years old, which means that, if he started “drinking at a keg” early in his college career, he’s fantasized about all the poor people who could be stripped of health care for nearly three decades.

Our political media has failed in a lot of ways, but the fawning coverage this utterly repellent know-nothing has received (particularly when compared to knowledgeable, competent moderate liberals like Gore and Clinton) ranks near the very top.

Donald Trump, SUPERGENIUS

[ 395 ] March 17, 2017 |

Perry Anderson puts some some emerging conventional anti-wisdom into the microwave:

Taken by itself, the difference in the popular vote is arguably not much less misleading than Trump’s sweep in the Electoral College, since in a money-driven system, Clinton paid twice as much as Trump to obtain her votes, getting far less for her expenditure per dollar. This was in good part because she wasted so much time buttering up wealthy backers and flooding air-time in states like California and Illinois which she was bound to win anyway, piling up useless margins there, while Trump was concentrating on four or five decisive rustbelt states, by the end ignoring the big states—Texas, Georgia etc.—where he was safe, which could probably have generated equally pointless surpluses.

I would say that this is what happens when self-impressed public intellectuals opine on subjects they don’t really know anything about, although in fairness the analysis consistent with the cited source, the normally more reliable John Judis.

Anyway, this idea that Trump win because he was relentlessly and shrewdly focused on battleground states while Clinton was wasting huge sums of money in safe blue states is complete bullshit. One one hand, Clinton was not ignoring swing states because she was spending huge amounts of California and Illinois. But the even bigger problem is the crucial states where Trump allegedly outsmarted Clinton. This is just flatly false:

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Let’s start with Pennsylvania, where so much Wednesday morning quarterbacking founders. Clinton started spending quite heavily 15 weeks out and outspent Trump throughout that period, often by large margins. And that’s the ballgame, because without Pennsylvania Clinton loses. And, in addition, Clinton losing the state should give pause to assumptions that spending more money in other states would have shifted the result, and should given even more pause to blithe assertions that Clinton’s significant popular vote margin was the product of advertising.

What about Michigan? Again, it’s certainly not a story of Trump understanding that it was in play and Clinton failing to. With the exception of one brief spike by Trump two months before the Election Day — a let’s-try-this from a campaign that thought it was foundering, not a considered, sustained attempt to target the state — both campaigns largely ignored it until the last week. And as soon as the polls actually indicated a turn, Clinton flooded the state with money, but lost anyway. Both campaigns clearly thought Clinton had the state in the bag until the last 10 days.

As you know, I think it’s massively implausible that the wave of negative coverage generated by the Comey letter was not responsible for enough of this apparent late break for Trump to have been decisive. But let’s say arguendo that the apparent late break towards Trump is a statistical illusion and he was ahead in the key states all along. What’s relevant is that it’s simply not true that Trump saw something that Clinton didn’t and won because Clinton didn’t target swing states. At best, the narrative applies to Wisconsin, but the election didn’t turn in the state. It’s also pretty gross, from the nominal left, to use this patently erroneous analysis to handwave away the massive democratic defects of the Electoral College.

You can criticize the content of Clinton’s advertising and the precise allocation of resources, and given how close the election was perhaps different choices could have changed the result (although this kind of counterfactual is more of a “could Wolverine beat Mike Tyson?” parlor game than a serious analysis.) But the idea that Clinton was so abjectly incompetent she didn’t bother to contest swing states, or Trump had some special insight Clinton lacked, is just ludicrous.

Much of the rest of Anderson’s piece is a “Barack Obama, perfidious neoliberal” account you’ve read a million times before, and you’ll agree with it or you won’t (although his blithe declaration that most of Obama’s executive actions were ultra vires from someone with a decidedly underwhelming grasp of the details of American politics is a nice touch.) But I do want to cite this bit of rhetoric for people who want to learn the language of bullshit:

Admirers of Obama excuse the domestic failure of his Presidency to represent anything like an ‘audacity of hope’ on the grounds of Republican obstruction in Congress.

See how this works? Only an uncritical “admirer” looking to “excuse” Barack Obama could think that Republicans having control of at least one legislative veto point for 7/8ths of his presidency, control of the House for 3/4 of his presidency, and Democrats well to the right of Obama and/or the Lieberman for Connecticut Party controlling a veto point the remaining 1/8th meaningfully constrained Obama’s agenda. This allows you to imply, especially to your European readers, that Obama could have transformed the American political economy into Denmark’s but Didn’t. Even. Try, while allowing yourself some plausible deniability if someone calls you on it. Nicely done!

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