Yesterday, Donald Trump released his 2019 proposed budget. It contains $18 billion for a wall on the Mexican border and $200 billion for an infrastructure project that is based on attracting $1.3 trillion from somewhere else. It has no chance of becoming law. Still, it gives a glimpse of Trump's (well, actually OMB Director Mick "The Knife" Mulvaney's) priorities.
Many federal departments, including the State Dept., EPA, and Interior Dept. would see big budget cuts. One of the biggest losers would be the Dept. of Health and Human Services, which would see its funding go down by 20%—in addition to cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and other health programs. Some programs, like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Community Development Block Grant program, would be terminated.
The plan also rejects the budget deal Trump signed into law last week. It contained a compromise in which military spending would increase by $195 billion over 2 years and nondefense spending would go up by $131 billion. The budget calls for nondefense spending $57 billion below what last week's bill authorized (but didn't appropriate).
So, does the budget reduce overall spending in order to make good on Trump's promise to retire the entire federal debt by the end of his second term? Actually, no. It increases federal spending by a whopping 10% over 2017 spending. So not only is Trump abandoning his plan to wipe out the federal debt, he is going to greatly increase it because he is ramping up total spending while slashing taxes.
The reaction in Congress was as expected: Republicans cheered, Democrats did not. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said: "This budget lays out a thoughtful, detailed, and responsible blueprint for achieving our shared agenda." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had other thoughts: "The budget is a statement of our values, but the President's brutal collection of broken promises and staggering cuts shows he does not value the future of seniors, children and working families."
Under the best of conditions, with a president who commands the complete loyalty of his own party and who has large majorities in both chambers of Congress, getting a budget through is a real challenge. In Trump's case, it means relatively little. Congressional leaders will use those parts of the budget that they like and throw out the rest. The sausage that comes out of the machine won't look a lot like the sausage that went into the machine. And this is making the wildly optimistic assumption that the machine is capable of producing any kind of sausage. (V)
The budget is not the only economic news today. Donald Trump announced that he would propose a "reciprocal tax" on imports this week. He didn't explain what that means. However, he did say: "We cannot continue to let people come into our country and rob us blind and charge us tremendous tariffs and taxes and we charge them nothing." Taken literally, Trump is apparently suggesting that people who enter the U.S. (immigrants?) are robbing us. He also seems to be saying that immigrants impose tariffs and taxes, which is hard to understand.
Most likely what he means is that he wants to bring back the border tax that went nowhere last year, but under a different name now. It is unlikely to do much better this time because the forces that opposed it then will oppose it now as well.
Trump also said: "When you say I'm going to charge a 10 percent or a 20 percent border tax, everyone goes crazy, because they like free trade." Yes, they do. Republicans, in particular. In fact, free trade has been one of the two most consistent pillars of the Republican platform (along with tax cuts) for 40 or 50 years. Now Trump has just decided on his own that decades of Republican orthodoxy is garbage. When Congress takes a look at this, he will quickly discover who it is that likes free trade. Turns out it is practically every Republican in Congress. (V)
The infamous Christopher Steele dossier on Donald Trump is full of tantalizing details, a few of which have been verified, many of which have been neither proven nor disproven. Former FBI investigator Anthony Ferrante is trying to get to the bottom of the matter, however, and has been working on the job for the last six months.
What is Ferrante's game? The answer: To keep cashing paychecks from the folks who hired him, namely the owners of the website Buzzfeed. And what is Buzzfeed's game? It's not to get a juicy scoop or six for the site, although that would undoubtedly be a nice bonus. No, they are being sued for libel for having printed the dossier. The suit is courtesy of Russian tech executive Aleksej Gubarev, who is named near the end of the dossier. Since truth is the ultimate defense against libel, the site is hoping to prove that everything Steele came up with is a fact. So, we may well find out one day, perhaps sooner rather than later, whether or not the Russians really have kompromat on Donald Trump. (Z)
No, not insecure, though many of them are probably that, too (small hands will do that). Unsecure, as in, struggling to get clearances to handle classified information. The revelation that Rob Porter has only an interim clearance caused the fourth estate to do some digging, and they discovered that dozens of senior White House staffers are similarly stuck with interim status.
The most significant obstacles that keep coming up are: (1) Close ties to one or more foreign governments/leaders, and (2) unflattering past incidents that could leave the individual susceptible to blackmail. Perhaps the most difficult clearance has been First Son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has had to update his paperwork numerous times to correct over 100 errors and omissions. Charles Phalen, the director of the National Background Investigations Bureau, said that he had, "never seen that level of mistakes," implying that Kushner is either incompetent or corrupt (or both). To nobody's surprise, Trump blames the FBI, and not his difficulty in finding quality people to staff his administration. (Z)
Donald Trump's controversial pick to head the 2020 census, Thomas Brunell, has withdrawn from consideration. Brunell is a registered Republican who has argued that highly partisan (i.e., gerrymandered) districts are better than competitive ones. He has also worked for state Republican legislators on congressional mapping projects (i.e., gerrymanders).
Democrats had raised a storm of protest about him. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Brian Schatz (D-HI) called him "deeply unqualified." While the head of the Census Bureau is a low-profile figure (can you name the previous one?), the job is exceedingly important, as the census determines how seats in the House are allocated, how electoral votes are allocated, and how $400 billion of federal money is apportioned among the states.
There are many decisions the head of the census must make that have major effects. For example, are prisoners and students counted as living where they are enumerated (prison and school, respectively) or are they considered residents of their home states? What about undocumented immigrants? The Constitution doesn't say that only citizens and legal residents count, so presumably they should be counted, but they tend to avoid contact with the government. How aggressive the census is about finding them is a political decision. Then there are homeless people. How does one go about counting them? Why not just do the whole census thing online and to hell with the people who don't have a computer? These are just a few of the issues facing the new head of the Census Bureau, and that's before we consider the special challenges of serving Trump and his desire for "integrity in voting" (in other words, keeping Democrats from casting ballots). One can only imagine what the President and his team might come up with. A return of the three-fifths compromise? (V)
Yesterday, we noted that Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) might be having second thoughts about his announced retirement. Or, possibly, that his colleagues were having second thoughts on his behalf. It turns out that it's more the latter, as many in the GOP are worried that the Party will lose the seat if Corker doesn't run for it. They also worry that the Senate can't afford the loss of his foreign policy expertise. The Senator is not committing to anything yet, but he's reportedly open to reconsidering.
Donald Trump won Tennessee by 26 points. One wonders if the GOP's concerns are just paranoia, or if they have good reason to believe there really is a problem here. It's true that The Donald's approval appears to have dropped by 10-12 points in the Volunteer State since the election. It's also true that the Democrats have a solid candidate in former governor Phil Bredesen, while the GOP is looking at a bloody and brutal primary between Rep. Marsha Blackburn and former representative Stephen Fincher. And finally, it's true that a recent poll by Public Opinion Strategies put Bredesen up over Blackburn (the presumptive GOP favorite) 47-45. Still, if Tennessee really is in play without Corker, then that would be pretty wild. And it would mean that there aren't many states out of play for the Democrats. (Z)
Hillary Clinton has no plans to go gentle into that good night. She's not going to run for elected office again, but she doesn't seem to want to settle back and just be a grandma, either. Her problem is that she is one of the most polarizing figures in American politics. People either love her or hate her. No one says: "She's kind of OK, I guess." She clearly would like to get back into politics, but she doesn't want to get Donald Trump's base all revved up and ready to take her on. Still, she also has star power and doesn't want to waste it.
Most likely in 2018, she will concentrate on the 23 congressional districts that she won but that are represented in the House by a Republican. If she were to campaign for the Democratic nominee there, it might get both sides excited, but in those districts (by definition), there are more of her supporters than Trump's.
What she can also do is raise money for the DNC, DSCC, DCCC, and individual Democrats in New York, California, and other places where she is popular and where there are wealthy donors (many of them her friends) to be tapped. Finally, she can appeal to specific demographic groups that like her, especially blacks and Latinos, irrespective of where they live. While she may try to stay under the radar, she is going to be out there working hard. (V)
There are few states where the GOP is in worse shape than California. The state is already very Democratic, such that the statewide officeholders are a sea of blue. The two senators are both Democrats, as are 39 of the 53 representatives. And given how wildly unpopular Trump is (29% approval), many of those 14 GOP-held seats could flip this year.
In short, in the Golden State, 'R' is the scarlet letter. So, what is a self-respecting Republican supposed to do if they hope to actually win statewide office? Pretend they're not a Republican, it would seem. Steve Poizner ran for governor on the GOP ticket in 2010, so nobody is going to buy him as a Democrat. However, "independent" is something he might pull off. So, that will be his affiliation as he takes a second shot at running for Insurance Commissioner. That's not a job that too many voters care about, and if Poizner can use his billions to cobble together a coalition of Republicans and centrist Democrats, he might finish in the top two in California's jungle primary. And from there, anything is possible. A victory still seems unlikely, but it's certainly an interesting reminder of how badly Trump has damaged the GOP brand in some parts of the country. (Z)