Oct. 15

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New Senate: DEM 48             GOP 52

New polls:  
Dem pickups: (None)
GOP pickups: (None)

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Fight Over Obamacare Subsidies is Going to Get Ugly

Now that Donald Trump has killed the subsidies that allow many poor people to afford healthcare, various stakeholders are gearing up for a protracted struggle. To start, Congress—in case they didn't have enough on their "to do" list—will take a look at the matter. While Democrats will, of course, be happy to extend the subsidies, GOP members are in something of a bind. If they keep the money flowing, they will be helping to salvage a program they promised over and over to kill. If they keep the purse strings closed, then millions of people will lose their insurance, and Republicans would be left holding the bag heading into the 2018 midterms. Complicating things is that a compromise may be worked out in the Senate, only to be scotched by the more conservative House. On the other hand, the insurance industry—for obvious reasons—would like the subsidies to continue, and has made their views very clear. They tend to lavish money on members who do their bidding, and withhold it from members who do not, which could influence some wavering Republicans' decisions.

Meanwhile, as the legislature wrestles with the matter, the lawsuits are coming. Nineteen state-level attorneys general will ask for an injunction against the president's decision, and then will ask the courts to force the federal government to continue the payments. Their argument is rooted in a flaw in the original Obamacare legislation, which actually requires the government to pay the subsidies, but doesn't appropriate the money to do so. Once this defect was noticed, the Obama administration negotiated the passage of a second law appropriating the money, one that requires the President to give approval for the funding each month. The question, then, will be if the funding implied by the original bill is automatic, rendering the second bill moot. It is expected to take years to answer this question, with all the various appeals that will eventually be made. And if that is not enough, the insurance companies are expected to file suit as well, essentially claiming breach of contract. The upshot is that this whole mess is going to make the fight over the Muslim travel bans look like child's play. (Z)

Bannon Struts

Despite the fact that he got fired from the White House due to his big mouth and failure to achieve anything, Steve Bannon is feeling pretty good about himself these days. After helping power the ultra-conservative Roy Moore to victory in the GOP Senate primaries in Alabama, the Breitbart publisher is providing an object lesson in bluster, using a Saturday address at the Values Voter Summit to declare a "season of war" on the GOP establishment. If that were not enough, Bannon also predicted that Donald Trump will not only win re-election, but that he will clear 400 electoral votes.

It is pretty much Bannon's job to be a bomb thrower, so his war against the GOP establishment is just par for the course. However, before he spends too much more time puffing out his chest, he might want to recall that Alabama is very conservative, Moore's opponent was dogged by serious corruption allegations, and Moore hasn't actually won anything yet. As to the 400 electoral votes, presumably that was just silly hyperbole. Trump would have to take all the states he won in 2016, plus all the swing states, plus all the smallish blue states (like Vermont). Even then, he'd be at only 390, so he would also have to take at least one of these to pass 400: California, New York, Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon, or Connecticut. Any of those six states voting for Trump is roughly as likely as Texas, Alabama, or Mississippi voting for Hillary Clinton. Indeed, for Trump to get to 400 would almost certainly be counterproductive, since that would be taken as overwhelming evidence of Russian involvement in the election. So, Bannon may want to keep that prediction to himself from here on out. After all, when was the last time anyone listened to what Karl "Romney will win in a landslide" Rove had to say? (Z)

Collins to Remain in the Senate

Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) would probably be happier in the Maine governor's mansion, since she prefers living at home rather than in Washington, and since she might actually get something done as opposed to having a front-row seat for the gridlock that has consumed Congress for years. On the other hand, she would not be a shoo-in to win a gubernatorial election in Maine, and her party might lose her Senate seat if she leaves. After spending months pondering these pros and cons, Collins finally announced that she will stay put.

In addition to reinforcing the small, and quite delicate, moderate GOP faction in the Senate, Collins' decision has one other impact. Gov. Paul LePage (R-ME) is term-limited, and might have taken a shot at Collins' seat if it was available. Now, it isn't, which leaves him with relatively limited options for continuing his political career. Given that LePage and Collins loathe each other, surely that just breaks the Senator's heart. (Z)

Gillespie Keeps Trump at Arm's Length

In the last 10 polls taken of the Virginia governor's race, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has gone 9-0-1, with an average margin of 6.8 points. His Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie, could use a shot in the arm, then. And that shot may have come on Saturday, in the form of an endorsement from President Trump. There is one small problem, though: Gillespie apparently does not want Trump's endorsement. The candidate has made no mention of the endorsement on his website, has not mentioned the endorsement on the campaign trail, and avoids talking about Trump unless specifically asked about the President.

Midterm elections usually go against the party that holds the White House, but the (admittedly limited) data we have so far suggests that Trump is going to have an unusually limited ability to bend outcomes to his will. In red states, Republicans like Roy Moore apparently do not need the President's endorsement (since Trump supported Moore's opponent, Luther Strange). In purple states, Republicans like Ed Gillespie apparently do not want the President's endorsement. And in blue states, the President's endorsement will be the last nail in the coffin for Republican candidates. It's certainly looking like the only Congressional races where The Donald will matter will be the ones where voters send a Democrat to Washington as a rebuke to the President. (Z)

Government Wants to Keep Comey Memos Secret

At this point, it is well known that former FBI Director James Comey wrote a series of memos describing his meetings with Donald Trump, at which Trump tried to exert pressure intended to curtail the Russiagate investigation. CNN and several other media outlets would like to see those memos, and so filed a FOIA request. The government's lawyers would prefer that the memos remain secret, and have asked to be allowed to make their arguments in secret as well. Their broad concern is that revealing the content of the memos will interfere with the Russia investigation.

It is not clear exactly whose interests the DoJ lawyers are representing: the Trump administration's, or special counsel Robert Mueller's, or both. Either way, though, this would seem to imply bad news for the President, since there would presumably be no need to keep the memos hidden if there wasn't something problematic in them. Unless Comey wrote the memos, and then added "P.S., As long as I am at it, here are some random state secrets." (Z)

Top Republican Predicts Santa Won't Be the Only One Working Christmas Eve

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) is the House GOP chief deputy whip, which means he has a pretty important role to play functionally when the lower chamber gets ready to vote on controversial legislation. And in his expert opinion, Republican efforts to change the tax code before the new year begins are going to come right down to the line, only concluding on Christmas Eve.

One wonders how much stock to put in this prediction. Will the members really be able to reach an agreement? Particularly one that only comes together when they are under the gun? Do they really believe that something like changing the tax code should be done on a deadline, and perhaps at the last minute, rather than taking all the time necessary to explore options and implications thoroughly? A decision made at the 11th hour and then not subject to discussion, or to review by policy experts, or to scoring from the CBO, seems likely to blow up in Congress' face. After all, tax attorneys and accountants are awfully good at finding loopholes.

Indeed, for McHenry to make such a precise prediction, 2-1/2 months out, seems a little suspicious. Fridays and Saturdays may be good nights for a news dump, but they surely pale in comparison to Christmas Eve. Congress could make a controversial decision official while people are distracted by Christmas, then their vacation week, then New Year's and college football. By the time the voters are refocused, the new tax rules are a fait accompli, and week-old news. Maybe on that first day back at work (January 2), the President even tosses out a few wild tweets about "Rocket Man" or the NFL to further muddy up the waters. If the GOP really does come up with something, and really does claim to have concluded their negotiations on December 24, it is probably wise to be skeptical. (Z)

Zinke's In the House

There appears to be a competition among the members of Donald Trump's cabinet to see who can behave the most outrageously. Fly on expensive chartered planes needlessly? Or, borrow a government jet to get a better view of the solar eclipse? Call the boss a fu**ing moron? Suggesting that segregation was a form of "school choice"? Describe slaves as "immigrants"? Check, check, check, check, and check.

Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is, it would seem, doing his best to claim the #1 spot on the list. He rode a horse to his office on the first day of work, for example. He has decorated his office with the heads of the animals he's killed, and also had a handsome collection of hunting knives next to his desk until it was pointed out that those just may be a security risk. Most interesting, however, is Zinke's requirement that whenever he is at Interior Department headquarters, the official flag of the Secretary of the Interior be run up the flag pole. His chief deputy gets the same treatment. That extends the list of people honored in this way, worldwide, to three: Zinke, his deputy, and the Queen of England.

When an administration is popular and successful, some of these kinds of behaviors are perceived charming or quirky or, at very least, tolerable. When the opposite is the case, however, they are grating and potentially even fatal (ask Tom Price). One is reminded of Gen. George S. Patton, whose pearl-handled revolvers were alternately "eccentric" or "vulgar" depending on whether or not he was in favor at any given time. Any of the other 44 presidents would likely have issued a general directive to his staff to dial it down, but dialing it down is not exactly Trump's style. (Z)

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