Dem 49
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GOP 51
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Trump Gives Up on Eliminating Deficit

During the campaign, Donald Trump suggested that eliminating the United States' budget deficit would be easy for a businessman like him, and he even suggested that retiring the entire national debt was potentially doable by the time he leaves office. In a shocking turn of events, it turns out that budget-balancing is hard, not unlike repealing Obamacare or bringing peace to the Middle East. It's particularly hard when one hands out a multi-trillion dollar tax break, and then tops that off with a $300 billion increase in spending. So, the administration is now acknowledging that eliminating the deficit does not look like it's going to happen.

The Washington Post is describing this as a "big reversal," but it's not. First of all, Trump has spent his entire adult life living on credit, and that carried over into his political program. There was no chance that he could live up to all of his proposals—tax cuts, Mexican wall, more money for the military, infrastructure improvements, etc.—and also eliminate the deficit. George H. W. Bush once described similar, mutually exclusive promises from Ronald Reagan as "voodoo economics"; Trump's platform was voodoo economics on steroids.

Beyond that, while the GOP has often presented itself as the party of budget austerity, it has rarely lived up to such promises. Here is a chart of budget deficits, as a percentage of GDP, in every year since World War II. It is ordered from largest budget deficit, by percentage, to smallest, with each line colored in terms of which party held the White House that year (or for most of that year):

Year Deficit/GDP
2009 9.80%
2010 8.60%
2011 8.30%
1946 7.00%
2012 6.70%
1983 5.60%
1985 4.80%
1986 4.80%
1984 4.50%
1992 4.40%
1991 4.30%
2013 4.10%
Year Deficit/GDP
1977 3.90%
1982 3.80%
1990 3.70%
1993 3.70%
2017 3.40%
2004 3.30%
2003 3.20%
1976 3.10%
1987 3.10%
2008 3.10%
2016 3.10%
1988 2.90%
Year Deficit/GDP
1994 2.80%
2014 2.80%
1989 2.70%
1968 2.60%
1980 2.60%
1978 2.50%
1959 2.40%
1981 2.40%
2005 2.40%
2015 2.40%
1995 2.10%
1971 1.90%
Year Deficit/GDP
1972 1.90%
1973 1.80%
2006 1.80%
1953 1.70%
1979 1.50%
2002 1.40%
1996 1.30%
1962 1.20%
2007 1.10%
1950 1.00%
1967 1.00%
1974 1.00%
Year Deficit/GDP
1964 0.90%
1955 0.70%
1963 0.70%
1958 0.60%
1961 0.60%
1952 0.40%
1966 0.40%
1975 0.40%
1954 0.30%
1970 0.30%
1997 0.30%
1965 0.20%
Year Deficit/GDP
1960 -0.10%
1949 -0.20%
1969 -0.30%
1957 -0.70%
1998 -0.80%
1956 -0.90%
2001 -1.20%
1999 -1.30%
1947 -1.60%
1951 -1.70%
2000 -2.30%
1948 -4.20%

Two things are immediately evident from an examination of this data. The first is that both parties are more than happy to run big deficits. Leaders on both sides of the aisle have learned, as the Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin points out, that voters might say they care about the deficit and/or the national debt, but they don't vote that way. If politicians are rewarded for handing out piles of cash (whether in the form of pork, or investment in social programs, or military spending, or whatever), and are not punished for letting the deficit balloon, then their behavior is hardly surprising.

The other thing that the table above shows us, however, is that the U.S. has generally run the biggest deficits during recessions (with 1946, when war spending was still ratcheted up, the major outlier). At the same time, nearly all of the lowest deficits were in boom times. This is basic Keynesian economics: The government gets out the credit card when the economy needs priming, and puts it away when it does not. And this is why, beyond its "spend another trillion dollars" scope, the administration's current fiscal policy is so irresponsible, as the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget observes. Not only is the national debt going to grow at an unprecedented rate, but the GOP's actions are likely to lead to (more) stock market instability, and greater disparity between haves and have nots. The budget will also hinder private investment in things like infrastructure and corporate expansion. There's only so much money available for borrowing, and if the government is sucking much of that money up, then it means less capital available for private entities (and at higher rates of interest). All of these downsides will be borne for the "benefit" of an economy that was already humming along just fine.

The Democrats, of course, are not blameless here. Cowed by polls that showed they would take some damage if the federal government shut down, they—well, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY)—cut the best deal they thought was available, and put PR above fiscal responsibility. Admittedly, it is not easy to play your hand when you're the minority party, but it's not impossible, as the GOP showed us during the Obama years. Inasmuch as the GOP clearly has no interest in keeping the nation's financial house in order, it will fall on the Democrats whenever they retake the reins of power. The first thing that they will need to do is kill the tax cut and the odds are good that, if that is their intention, they will have to use budget reconciliation to do it. All of this will require a great deal of intestinal fortitude, and a willingness to take a PR hit, maybe even a big one. Thus far, unfortunately, the blue team has not shown that kind of spine, to name another body part. (Z)

White House Is Proposing an Immigration Plan

The administration is floating a plan to deal with the dreamers, but it is not known if Donald Trump agrees with it, or even knows about it. People in the White House are working with the Senate to hammer out details. The plan would grant a path to citizenship for all 1.8 million dreamers and would also clear the backlog of 4 million sponsored relatives who have applied for family reunification visas. After that one-time round, immigration each year would decline precipitously, by hundreds of thousands per year. The plan has something in it for everyone: Dreamers get to stay and legal immigration in the future is curtailed. Whether this will fly in the Senate remains to be seen, though. The House is even less likely to go along, however, since the Freedom Caucus sees allowing the dreamers to stay as amnesty, which it hates. (V)

Trump to Unveil Infrastructure Plan Today

It's hard to say if this is "news" or not, since Donald Trump has been promising an infrastructure plan for months, but keeps putting off the actual unveiling. Further, he's already made clear what the plan—whenever it happens to drop—will contain. Nonetheless, as of Sunday night, the administration was indicating that an actual plan is coming on Monday.

As he has done before, Trump is going to present the plan as a "$1.5 trillion infrastructure overhaul." Looking at the fine print, however, the federal government is going to come up with only $200 billion, and is going to expect states and localities to come up with the rest. Looking at the even finer print, there are at least three things that are going to minimize the impact of the Trump plan even more. First, it is entirely likely that much of the money will be claimed for existing projects that states and cities already intended to build. Second, the administration apparently plans to allow some taxes and other levies already imposed for infrastructure to count towards states' and cities' contributions. Third, the administration may move some money already earmarked for infrastructure projects around in order to create the $200 billion pot. In technical terms, this is known as "robbing Peter to pay Paul." Adding it all up, the Trump plan may encourage some very creative accounting, but it's not going to increase actual infrastructure spending much at all. (Z)

Will Trump Fire Mueller?

No one knows whether Donald Trump will fire special counsel Robert Mueller, but the resignation of Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand makes that easier since Trump can now install an AAG who will take orders from him, and then can follow that by firing Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein. Although history rarely repeats itself in exactly the same form, Watergate reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein have just written a concise review of the events that led to the Saturday Night Massacre during Richard Nixon's presidency. What is scary about it is how close Nixon came to getting away with it.

What not everyone knows is that after special prosecutor Archibald Cox demanded nine of Nixon's tapes of Oval Office conversations, Nixon made multiple attempts at partially complying. He offered to have a transcript made and then have a (partially deaf) Democratic senator, John Stennis, verify that the transcripts were accurate. The deal was the prosecutor would get the transcripts but not the tapes. There was a lot of back and forth on the details. Nixon's lawyers were involved as well as the Attorney General Eliot Richardson.

In some of Nixon's proposals, Cox would not be fired. Richardson was actually on board with some of the proposals, such as the-transcripts-verified-by-Stennis plan, but at the last minute the White House added new demands, including no new subpoenas for anything else. That was too much for Richardson, and he prepared a letter tendering his resignation and put it in his pocket on Friday, Oct. 19, 1973, when he went to the White House but he was still hopeful a deal could be made. But Nixon wouldn't budge: He didn't want any more subpoenas and had Chief of Staff Al Haig order Richardson to fire Cox. The next evening, the Saturday Night Massacre took place. Hopefully, Rosenstein and Mueller will read the Woodward and Bernstein piece to refresh their memories on how this played out, hour by hour, last time. (V)

Trump Thinks Porter is Guilty While Defending Him in Public

Four sources that have spoken directly with Donald Trump told Axios' Jonathan Swan that privately Trump thinks former White House Secretary Rob Porter is guilty of beating his former wives. His remarks were brutal, the sources say, and Trump views Porter the same way he views child molesters. But in public, Trump has strongly defended Porter. The message here is that Trump will never attack any man accused of violently attacking women, even when he actually believes the man to be guilty. In public, Trump has defended Porter—and before him, Roy Moore, who was actually accused of being a child molester. The only exception is Democrats, like Al Franken.

At least Trump is being consistent: Any (Republican) man accused of harming women or children is innocent, no matter how many photos or witnesses there are showing that the accused is guilty. The reason is clear, of course. Trump himself has been accused by a dozen women of sexual misconduct and once he starts attacking men who have misbehaved, the fingers will quickly start pointing at him. (V)

Republicans Turn to Adelson

Although the RNC outraised the DNC last quarter, if you add up all the funding for all the committees and candidates, the Democrats are outraising the Republicans right now. So, top Republicans traveled to Las Vegas to the megadonor Sheldon Adelson's annual Republican Jewish Coalition conference to praise Adelson and get him to fill the gap. Only Adelson wasn't there; he was in Israel for the funeral of a close friend. Still, many of Adelson's top aides were present to hear their boss being praised to the moon and beyond. If big donors like Adelson and the Koch brothers come up with hundreds of millions of dollars for an advertising blitz the likes of which has never been seen before, Republicans may be able to counteract the energy on the Democratic side. Otherwise, not so much. While donors hate parting with large sums of money, they also realize that their precious tax cuts will vanish like the morning dew on a hot day if the Democrats ever take back the whole government, so when Adelson gets back home, he is likely to reach for his checkbook. (V)

Jordan Warns Ryan

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) is one of the leaders of the House Freedom Caucus. He cares about the national debt, and about deficits. Not enough to vote against the $1.5 trillion tax bill, mind you, but enough to vote against the $300 billion in additional spending that Congress just agreed to for next year. Because of this $300 billion, Jordan is irritated with Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), declaring that "he's got problems."

We have, of course, seen this exact same drama play out before. The last speaker before Ryan to face this kind of internal dissension was...the last speaker before Ryan. John Boehner tried to keep his caucus together, and then discovered that made it impossible to govern. So, he got behind a bipartisan deal to keep the government open and to increase spending by $80 billion. The furious Freedom Caucusers demanded Boehner's head on a pole, and he gave it to them, making clear he was tired of dealing with them.

Ryan, at this point, would seem to have three options. The first is to continue trying to keep the Republicans in the House on the same page. We're getting to the point that he may no longer have the power to do so, and even if he does, the legislation that gets passed without Democratic support can't make it through the Senate. The second is to pivot to the center (or, even more to the center), and to start trying to get things done with a coalition of moderate-to-centrist Republicans and Democrats. This is probably more viable, though not a lot more so, as few Democrats will be eager to give the GOP victories heading into the midterms. The third option is to resign and hand this whole headache over to someone else. Any of these three possibilities seems about equally likely. (Z)

Corker May Be Having Second Thoughts about Retiring

Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) is exasperated about the state of affairs in Washington these days. He does not much care for Donald Trump, and he also fondly remembers the days when Congress tried to do things like govern. So, in the midst of a spat with the President, he threw in the towel and said he was not going to run for re-election. Now, there are reports that he may be suffering a case of quitter's remorse.

It is unclear exactly how serious Corker's second thoughts actually are. He may just be talking idly, and may not actually be entertaining the thought of re-entering the race. It's not even clear that he is the one initiating such conversations; it's possible his colleagues are the ones trying to convince him to reconsider. The only thing that is certain is that such conversations are definitely being had.

If Corker does decide to run again, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and former representative Stephen Fincher will be none too pleased, since they have been campaigning aggressively for months. Their donors won't be too happy, either—both raised over $1 million in Q4 of 2017 alone, which puts them at the front of the pack for Republicans running in 2018 (not including Michigan businessman Sandy Pensler, who collected a $5 million donation from himself). Corker has a middling approval rating in Tennessee (a shade below 50%), and GOP voters there are not thrilled about his feuds with the President. They may also be aggravated about his "I'm not running, or maybe I am" flip-flopping. Adding it all up, and it's hard to see how Corker can summon the enthusiasm for another campaign and term now when he could not do so three months ago. Still, we won't be 100% sure until April 5, which is the filing deadline. (Z)

Meet the New Pennsylvania Map, Same as the Old Pennsylvania Map

Last month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the state's electoral map was politically gerrymandered, and in violation of the state constitution. Consequently, the Republican-dominated legislature was ordered to redraw the map to be more fair. They tried to dig in their heels, and appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but were rebuffed. Left with no alternatives, the legislators got their pencils out, and began drawing.

The new map is done, and ready to be submitted to Gov. Tom Wolf (D) for approval. On one hand, the new boundaries appear much more reasonable from a visual perspective. In other words, no more Goofy kicking Donald Duck. On the other hand, the new map is just as gerrymandered as the old one. The state is 48% Democratic and 38% Republican, roughly speaking. That would suggest that the Democrats should be in the majority in 10 of the state's 18 congressional districts. Under the old map, they are actually in the majority in six. Under the new map, that number is...still six.

Inasmuch as Tom Wolf is not stupid, and is capable of counting to six and to eighteen, he will surely reject the new map. At that point, the task will be taken out of the hands of the legislature, and given over to independent redistricting expert Nathaniel Persily of Stanford University. Either the Pennsylvania GOP thought they had nothing to lose with a just-as-gerrymandered map, or they plan to attack Wolf for being "undemocratic," or both. Whatever the case may be, the odds are good that about four districts in the Keystone State are about to shift from Republican-leaning to Democratic-leaning. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb11 Trump Spends Saturday Pointing Fingers
Feb11 Civics 101 with Donald Trump
Feb11 The Campaign Against Rosenstein Has Begun
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Feb10 Kelly's Account of Portergate Contradicts Kelly's Account of Portergate
Feb10 Trump Is Considering Possible Replacements for Kelly
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Feb10 Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand Will Resign
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Feb10 Fight Brewing Over Federal Reserve Governors
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Feb09 Democrats Slam Republicans over Corporate Stock Buybacks
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Feb09 John Kelly's Credibility Takes Another Hit
Feb09 Charlie Cook Moves 21 House Races Toward the Democrats
Feb09 George W. Bush: Russia Meddled in the Election
Feb09 Navy SEAL Who Killed Bin Laden Scoffs at Trump's Military Parade
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Feb08 White House Aide Resigns after Former Wives Accuse Him of Abuse
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Feb07 California Sues Trump, and Guess Who the Judge Will Be?
Feb07 Trump Is Dragging Down California Republican Representatives
Feb07 Ohio Approves Referendum That Would End Gerrymandering
Feb07 Pot is the New Gay Marriage
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Feb06 House Intelligence Committee Votes to Release Schiff Memo
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Feb06 Supreme Court Requires New Map of Pennsylvania Congressional Districts
Feb06 GOP Is Panicking in PA-18
Feb06 Trump Is Eager to Hit the Campaign Trail
Feb06 Bachmann Won't Run for Franken's Seat
Feb05 Four House Republicans Dismiss the Idea that Nunes' Memo Undermines Mueller
Feb05 State Legislatures around the Country Will Be Battlegrounds
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