Republicans on Fire

Here in Southern California the fires kept burning:

After a brief respite from the relentless gusts that have driven the deadly Thomas fire for more than two weeks, powerful winds are expected to return, adding to the challenges facing firefighters working to contain the mammoth blaze.

The fire, which began near Santa Paula in the foothills above Thomas Aquinas College on Dec. 4, has burned through 272,000 acres as of Tuesday evening, making it the second-largest wildfire in modern California history…

Forecasters predict a new blast of Santa Barbara’s notorious sundowner winds, which blow down the canyons to the coast, late Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning.

This one will never end – or so it seems – but these things happen. Raymond Chandler wrote about this long ago:

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

And all the hills catch fire, fire that never seems to end, and every booze party does end in a fight, and meek little wives do contemplate murder. Raymond Chandler understood what happens when those inevitable winds blow in. Things go bad, and this was the night when those inevitable Republican winds blew into Washington:

Republicans are on the verge of passing the most significant overhaul of the tax code since 1986, with the Senate preparing to pass the GOP plan Tuesday night and the House ready to send the measure to President Trump on Wednesday morning.

The sprawling measure would cut the corporate tax rate dramatically, and the vast majority of households would see their income taxes go down in 2018, with the largest savings going to the wealthy. The bill also proposes revising nearly every part of the tax system by restructuring income tax rates and expanding some popular deductions while paring back others.

Everyone knows what’s coming. The rich get richer. The poor get poorer. Those in the middle get slightly poorer, over time, but the Republicans had to do something, so they did something.

They did something awful, but there was a hitch:

House Republicans thought they had finished their work when they passed a version of the tax bill Tuesday afternoon. The measure passed 227 to 203, with all but 12 Republicans voting for the bill. No Democrats supported it.

But the plan hit a snag Tuesday afternoon when the Senate parliamentarian ruled that three of its provisions violated that chamber’s Byrd Rule – guidelines on what types of legislation can pass with a simple 50-vote majority. Senate Republicans now aim to pass the measure with a series of minor revisions Tuesday night, with the House following Wednesday morning. None of the changes are expected to cost the plan any GOP support.

The Republicans rewrote the bill on the fly, dropping what needed to be dropped, and meek little Democrats contemplated murder, and fights broke out:

Of the 12 Republicans in the House who voted against the bill, 11 represent districts in New York, New Jersey or California. Those states are expected to be hit hard by the bill’s reduction of the state and local tax deduction, which helps those in high-tax states.

“Many in my area could face higher taxes under this plan,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif), one of the no votes, said in a statement before the vote. “Californians have entrusted me to fight for them. I will not make the incredible tax burden they already endure even worse.”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) said “This bill remains a geographic redistribution of wealth, taking extra money from a place like New York to pay for deeper tax cuts elsewhere. New York is a net contributor that now will be contributing even more.”

That didn’t matter, because the Republicans had more than enough other votes to get this done, so there was only this:

The vote itself was chaotic, with a handful of activists sitting in the public gallery repeatedly interrupting Republicans as they introduced the tax measure. Several of them were escorted out by Capitol Police officers.

At one point, an activist yelled, “You are lying to yourselves!” and told House Republicans they needed to go back to school to learn math, which elicited laughter among the Democrats on the floor.

A woman in a wheelchair chanted, “Shame! Shame!” as she was removed from the gallery.

That hardly mattered either:

Democrats unanimously oppose the plan but lack the votes to block it in either chamber. The sidelined minority’s members have spent months bashing the plan as a giveaway to corporations and the wealthy.

“It’s disgusting smash-and-grab. It’s an all-out looting of America, a wholesale robbery of the middle class,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said after the vote. “The GOP tax scam will go down, again, as one of the worst, most scandalous acts of plutocracy in our history.”

So what? The fires burned on:

Polling suggests that the public is broadly skeptical of the plan. A CNN poll released Tuesday found that only 33 percent of Americans support it, with 66 percent of the country thinking it does more for the wealthy than for the middle class.

But Ryan said he had “no concerns whatsoever” about the bill’s polling, arguing that public support would swing in favor of the package once taxpayers see their after-tax incomes rise.

Perhaps so, or perhaps not, but the Washington Post’s Heather Long points to the larger issues:

The Republican overhaul of the tax code sets the stage for years of politically fraught debate over what the government should provide for its citizens and how much it should demand in taxes.

President Trump and Republicans in Congress are celebrating the $1.5 trillion legislation as a big tax cut for workers and businesses. And for the time being, it is that – 80 percent of the country will pay lower taxes next year.

But the short-term gains come with a cost: the legislation also makes the country’s debt problem even worse, in all likelihood forcing policymakers in coming years to make difficult decisions about spending cuts, tax increases or both.

The debate could touch on some of the most value-laden questions facing the nation – what type of financial security to provide the elderly, what safety net services should be offered to the poor, and how much the government should try to shrink economic inequality.

That’s what this is really about, and why those meek little Democrats may be contemplating murder, because the Republicans are contemplating something like that:

Republicans are already previewing how they intend to address the debt. They say they are looking as soon as next year to begin an overhaul of the entitlement system – Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security – in hopes of limiting spending.

They are also seeking to target the safety net, pledging to curb eligibility in an effort to encourage people to seek work instead of relying on government assistance.

“We are going to focus next year on people. On getting people from welfare to work,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said Tuesday on the House floor.

With one caveat:

The GOP is not unified on these questions. Trump promised not to touch Medicare and Social Security, two programs that are popular among his base of working-class white voters.

That is a problem, but the Republican fire burns hot:

“The bill is very consistent with Republican ideology that the solutions are all in the private sector,” said William Gale, co-director of the Tax Policy Center and former staff economist at the Council for Economic Advisors under President George H. W. Bush. “Businesses, corporations and pass-throughs are getting big breaks at the ultimate expense of the government’s ability to address any of the pressing social or domestic issues.”

There’s widespread agreement that in the short term, the tax bill will grow the economy a bit faster, perhaps eclipsing a rate of 4 percent for a quarter or two. The question is what happens after the initial bounce.

What happens next is a government that chooses not to address any of the pressing social or domestic issues, and Matthew Yglesias says we’re witnessing the wholesale looting of America:

Politicians are making decisions to enrich their donors – and at times themselves personally – with a reckless disregard for any kind of objective policy analysis or consideration of public opinion.

A businessman president who promised – repeatedly – that he would not personally benefit from his own tax proposals is poised to sign into law a bill that’s full of provisions that benefit him and his family. Congressional Republicans who spent years insisting that “dynamic scoring” would capture the deficit-reducing power of tax cuts are now plowing ahead with a bill so fast that they don’t have time to get any dynamic scoring done, because it turns out they can’t be bothered to meet their own targets.

Meanwhile, in the background an incredible flurry of regulatory activity is happening out of public view – much of it contrary to free market principles but all of it lucrative for big business and Trump cronies.

Heather Long was right. This is about what sort of country Americans want this to be, but the smoke in the air is too thick to see that clearly:

While Americans are fascinated by major legislative drama, endless sexual abuse scandals, endless Trump-Russia scandals, and countless inappropriate presidential Twitter outbursts, key regulators – almost uniformly drawn from the ranks of corporate America – are doling out favors at a pace that boggles the mind.

Most people know about the Federal Communications Commission rescinding network neutrality rules, for example. But they’re also rescinding rules on overconcentration in the broadcast television industry, while Congress has moved to let ISPs sell their users’ private browsing data.

Trump’s Labor Department has been working overtime by making it easier for employers to steal servers’ tips but harder for workers to organize against chain restaurants. They’ve made it easier for employers to get away with not paying overtime, and while stories like Trump’s effort to destroy the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or his unprecedented shrinkage of protected national monuments at least garnered a couple of days of coverage, most of this labor stuff has passed in the night.

Some of this is dictated by free market ideology, of course. But the coal industry bailout Rick Perry is pushing doesn’t fit that bill, nor does the Transportation Department’s drive to reduce transparency in airline fees.

And while it’s unlikely that the famously detail-averse president is actually paying attention to the nuts and bolts of Department of Transportation rulemaking, he is absolutely setting the tone from the top.

So the fire rages on:

Trump’s victory, rather than inspiring a bipartisan movement to check the new president’s worst impulses, caused the Republican Party to snap, with as many factions as possible reaching to toss a rock and grab what they can as long as the party lasts.

The country is left only to hope that it doesn’t last too long.

That’s what Californians hope about fires out here too, but that’s only hope – not worth much – even with this:

With the House of Representatives set to vote on the Republican tax reform bill Tuesday before sending it to the Senate and then the President’s desk for signing on Wednesday, the plan faces growing opposition and a widespread perception that it will benefit the wealthy more than the middle class, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS.

Opposition to the bill has grown 10 points since early November, and 55% now oppose it. Just 33% say they favor the GOP’s proposals to reform the nation’s tax code.

Two-thirds see the bill as doing more to benefit the wealthy than the middle class (66%, vs. 27% who say it’ll do more to benefit the middle class) and almost four in 10 (37%) say that if the bill becomes law, their own family will be worse off. That’s grown five points since early November. Just 21% say they’ll be better off if the bill becomes law.

And there’s this:

President Donald Trump, the bill’s salesperson-in-chief, lands at an overall 35% approval rating in this poll, his worst mark yet in CNN polling by one point. Trump’s approval ratings continue to be the lowest for any modern president at this point in his presidency. As of December of their first year in office, all first-time elected presidents back to Eisenhower have approval ratings of 49% or higher except for Trump.

So what? There’s no putting out this particular fire, but Frank Bruni has an interesting perspective on this, arguing that those meek little Democrats are the new Republicans:

Family values. How long have we been subjected to that subjective phrase, championed by Republicans who equated it with heterosexuality, fecundity and Christian piety – and who appointed themselves the custodians of those?

Well, they lost any remaining claim to that mantle by embracing Donald Trump and then Roy Moore. Neither won the support of all Republicans, but both won the backing or complicity of enough of them to confirm just how hollow and hypocritical the party’s attachment to conservative morality always was. Quote the Bible. Denounce abortion. Congratulations: You’re upholding family values! No questions asked about the number of your marriages, the extent of your infidelities or the scope of your sexual predation.

And then there’s fiscal responsibility:

How loudly have Republicans harangued us about that? It’s a worthy harangue – or at least it would be if there were an iota of integrity and consistency behind it.

But Republicans are poised to enact a sweeping overhaul of the tax code that will add nearly $1.5 trillion to federal deficits over the next decade. In all the news coverage of their need to finesse the math so that they don’t exceed that amount, the fact that they’re plunging the country so much deeper into the red in the first place almost gets lost.

This, mind you, is the same political party that fetishized balanced budgets and browbeat Democrats about being the foolishly, fatally profligate ones. Republicans’ actions routinely contradicted their words, and their tax reform is a contradiction on steroids. Where’s the fiscal responsibility in legislation with such budgetary hocus-pocus as the expiration of individual rate cuts that the bill’s authors fully expect other lawmakers to preserve down the road?

That makes everything backwards now:

Democrats are the party of family values because they promote the creation of more families. They did precisely that with their advocacy of marriage equality, which didn’t tug the country away from convention but toward it, by encouraging gay and lesbian Americans to live in the sorts of arrangements that conservatives in fact extol. Democrats also want to give families the flexibility and security that help keep them afloat and maybe intact. That’s what making the work force more hospitable to women and increasing the number of Americans with health insurance do. And Republicans lag behind Democrats on both fronts…

Democrats are the party of fiscal responsibility because they don’t pretend that they can afford grand government commitments – whether distant wars or domestic programs – without collecting the revenue for them.

And there are five more reversals:

Democrats are the party of patriotism, because they’re doing something infinitely more urgent and substantive than berating football players who kneel during the national anthem. They’re recognizing that a hostile foreign power tried to change the course of an American presidential election. They’re pressing for a full accounting of that. They’re looking for fixes, so that we can know with confidence that we control our own destiny going forward. The president, meanwhile, plays down the threat, and Republicans prop him up.

Democrats are the party of national security. They don’t taunt and get into Twitter wars with the rulers of countries that just might send nuclear warheads our way. They don’t alienate longtime allies by flashing contradictory signals about their commitment to NATO. The leader of the Republican Party does all of that and more, denying the GOP any pretense to stewardship of a stable world order.

Democrats are the law-and-order party. While many Republicans and their media mouthpiece, Fox News, labor to delegitimize the FBI and thus inoculate Trump, Democrats put faith in prosecutors, agents and the system.

Democrats are the party of decency and modesty. None of their highest leaders uses the public arena to bully private citizens in the way that the Republican president does. None advances his or her financial interests as brazenly or brags as extravagantly.

Democrats are the party of tradition, if it’s interpreted – and it should be – to mean a news media that operates without fear of government interference, an internet to which access isn’t tiered, judicial appointees who have a modicum of fluency in trial law.

Bruni is actually arguing that Democrats are the real Americans here:

Who among us doesn’t care about family values, defined justly and embraced honestly? Who doesn’t see the good in patriotism, tradition and decency? They’re neither hokey words nor musty concepts, and that’s why Republicans have been using (and misusing) them. But in the age of Trump, they constitute a language that Democrats can more credibly speak.

This really is about what sort of country Americans want this to be, but there’re nothing new here. In 2012, arguing that Obama should be reelected, Andrew Sullivan offered this:

I view conservatism as the practical engagement with policy and political institutions to adapt modestly and incrementally to social and economic change with the goal of maintaining the coherence and stability of a polity and a culture. It is a philosophy of moderation and balance, constantly alert to the manifold ways in which societies can, over time, lose their equilibrium. It is defined, along Burke’s foundational lines, as an opposition to ideological and theological politics in every form. And so it is a perfectly admirable conservative idea to respond to capitalism’s modern mercilessness by trying to support, encourage and help the traditional family structure and traditional religious practice. The point is a pragmatic response to contingent events that threaten social coherence. But it is equally conservative to note that a group in society – openly gay people – have emerged as a force and are best integrated within an existing institution – civil marriage – than by continued ostracism or new institutions like “civil unions” that have not stood the test of time.

On that pragmatic, non-ideological definition of conservatism, on a wide array of issues, Obama wins hands down.

So, Obama was already a moderate Republican:

The GOP is stuck in the 1984 of its own fetid imagination, incapable of acknowledging the real failures of the last Republican administration or the new, actual, vital questions we have to answer in this millennium: How do we make our healthcare system much more efficient? How do we best mitigate climate change? How do we tackle the problem of economic hyper-inequality? How do we advance US interests in a time of upheaval and revolution in the Arab world? How do we make government solvent?

The reason Romney’s campaign is vague on so many of these questions is that it has little to offer on these practical issues but ideological stridency. It is brain-dead. And zombie-conservatism is not conservatism. It is the violent twitching of a political corpse. This election is a chance to bury that corpse and start over. We should be grateful a de facto moderate Republican is president while conservatism has a chance to regroup.

Conservatives didn’t regroup. They opted, once again, for ideological stridency, and that might explain this:

The balance of power in Virginia’s legislature turned on a single vote in a recount Tuesday that flipped a seat in the House of Delegates from Republican to Democratic, leaving control of the lower chamber evenly split.

The outcome, which reverberated across Virginia, ends 17 years of GOP control of the House and forces Republicans into a rare episode of power sharing with Democrats that will refashion the political landscape in Richmond.

It was the culmination of last month’s Democratic wave that had diminished Republican power in purple Virginia.

No one expected this:

It’s a dramatic shift that caught even top Democrats by surprise. Republicans have controlled the 100-seat House since 2000; even outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), a cheerleader for his party, had thought the Republican edge was insurmountable…

But Democrats fired up by the election of Donald Trump as president turned out in big numbers on Election Day and ran as candidates in districts that hadn’t seen Democratic challengers in years.

It seems that Frank Bruni was right. Who among us doesn’t care about family values, defined justly and embraced honestly? Who doesn’t see the good in patriotism, tradition and decency? In the age of Trump, voters in Virginia voted for all that. Democrats can credibly voice those values that Republicans used to voice, before they went up in flames. That doesn’t make them Republicans, of course. That just makes them good people, who will now have to clean up after the massive fires that seemed as if they would never end. But the winds die down eventually. All fires end.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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