Feb. 26

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New Senate: DEM 49             GOP 51

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

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Conservative Booed at CPAC

CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference, is the high point of the year for conservative activists. Thousands of them get together to catch the packets of red meat right-wing Republican speakers throw at them. One of the speakers yesterday was Mona Charen, a well-known and well-respected conservative author and speaker. She was on a panel and the moderator asked her what gets her blood boiling. She immediately lit into Donald Trump, calling him a sexual harasser and abuser of women who brags about his extramarital affairs. She also scolded the audience by saying "because he happens to have an 'R' next to his name we look the other way."

The audience was stunned, but she went on, saying: "This is a party that endorsed Roy Moore for the Senate in the state of Alabama even though he was a credibly accused child molester." The audience began booing and jeering and the moderator tried to stop her, but she wouldn't be stopped. She got louder and more aggressive. She noted that a few days earlier a woman named Marion Le Pen spoke at CPAC. Charen asked the rhetorical question: "Why was she here?" Charen then answered the question herself: Le Pen was there because her grandfather [French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen] was a racist and a Nazi, she said. She then condemned CPAC for inviting Le Pen. At that point the audience began screaming that Charen was a disgrace.

The takeaway is that the old Republican Party of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan is no more. Modern Republican activists have little use for the Gipper, except as a symbol, and think racism is fine. In a straw poll, nine out of ten attendees said they support Trump and approve of how he is doing his job. While it is impossible to predict the future, it seems safe to say that the old-style conservative Republican Party is not coming back any time soon, if ever.

The bad news for the GOP is that the United States once had a party made up of white people, particularly from the South and the Midwest, who felt the world had crapped on them, who were suspicious of government power, and who embraced racism and xenophobia. That party was the Democrats, from the mid-1850s to the early 1900s (this is known as the Third Party System). The Republicans might want to examine how much success that the blue team had on the national level during that time (Hint: not much). (V & Z)

Poll: Trump's Approval Is Down Again, to 35%

After the tax bill passed, Donald Trump's approval rating went up for a while. In some polls he even managed to break the magic 40% barrier (in previous administrations the magic barrier was 60%, but Trump is a beginner in politics, so he gets a lower magic barrier). A new CNN/SSRS poll puts Trump's approval down five points from last month, to 35%. However, 80% of Republicans approve of him, so CPAC attendees are not out of step with Republican voters nationally. No other modern president has polled so low at this point in his term. Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter were the worst until now, at 47% each.

The poll shows that the country is still bitterly divided along gender, race, and age lines. Among women, only 29% approve of Trump. Among Americans under 35, only 22% approve of him. His main source of support is from older, white men. (V)

Tax Law Is Full of Glitches

There are a large number of very smart accountants and attorneys whose job is to find loopholes in the tax code. And so, whenever Congress does an overhaul, there are always unexpected issues. This problem is necessarily going to be heightened when a massive overhaul is slapped together in, quite literally, just a few hours. Already some very big glitches are already presenting themselves, some granting inadvertent advantages to taxpayers and businesses, others imposing inadvertent disadvantages.

In the former category, for example, there is a badly-written passage that was intended to excuse C corporations (like Apple and Ford) from certain provisions of the new tax law, but is vague enough that it might also apply to S corporations (aka "pass-throughs"). That could allow certain taxpayers—Donald Trump, for one—to avoid millions in tax liabilities. Similarly, there is another provision that might allow farmers who sell grain to cooperatives to skip out on their entire tax bills. The so-called "grain glitch" was noted even before the law was passed, but several senators insisted that the provision be included. Now, nearly 100 members of the House have signed a letter calling for the issue to be addressed.

In the latter category, meanwhile, there is an apparent typo in the passage governing businesses' write-offs for improvements to non-residential real estate. In the past, those expenses could be written off immediately, but as the tax code now stands they have to amortize those costs...over the next 39 years. Another apparent error in the law is the portion that declares that it takes effect for taxable years that end after Dec. 31, 2017. Apparently, the intention was that it take effect for taxable years beginning after Dec. 31, 2017. This matters a lot, because corporate fiscal years generally don't line up with the solar calendar. This means that most corporations either were, or were not, subject to the new tax rules for most of 2017, and nobody is entirely sure which it is. And given that publicly-traded corporations must account for their tax liabilities in quarterly earnings statements, the clock is ticking.

Naturally, Congressional Republicans would like to fix these problems. Or some of the problems, at least. However, they will need some Democratic votes in the Senate to get it done, and those votes may not be forthcoming. The members of the blue team have long memories, and they recall that the GOP refused to let them fix glitches in Obamacare. They are also sore over the manner in which the obviously-flawed tax bill was rammed through Congress. If the Democrats do play ball, they are going to want some concessions—perhaps on taxes, or perhaps on something else like DACA, or maybe even fixes to the ACA. This may cause Republicans, weary of this issue and potentially unwilling to re-open up this can of worms too widely, to give up and allow the glitches to stand for some future Congress to deal with. (Z)

California Democrats Do Not Endorse Feinstein

The California Democratic Party met this past weekend and decided not to endorse its own senator, Dianne Feinstein. She has represented the state in the Senate since 1992, which is actually a big part of the problem. She's 84 and many Californians think it is time for new blood. Getting some is actually an option, since she is being challenged in the primary by Kevin de Léon (51), president pro tem of the California state Senate. De Léon is pushing the age thing, of course, but he is far more liberal than she is, and in California, that could be a big plus. It is quite unusual for a party convention to refrain from endorsing its own long-time incumbent, but Feinstein is not paying any attention and is going to continue running.

Given California's jungle primary, this could end up with some interesting permutations for the general election. It could be the liberal De Léon vs. the more moderate Feinstein on November 6. In that case, Feinstein would likely win on the strength of votes from older Democrats and "lesser-of-two-evils" Republicans. It could be Feinstein vs. a Republican. In that case, Feinstein would certainly win, unless it came out that out she was dating Roy Moore when she was in her 20s. Or, it could be De Léon vs. a Republican. If that is what happens, and the Republican happens to be moderate enough, it could possibly put the seat in play. The good news for the Democrats is that the GOP bench is pretty thin in the state, no serious candidate has stepped forward, and the prominent Republicans most likely to make a race of it—San Diego mayor Kevin Faulconer, former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger—have already bowed out. (V & Z)

Democrats Have a New Healthcare Plan

Democrats are moving away from the Affordable Care Act and toward something more radical. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has introduced a bill that would convert the entire U.S. healthcare system to a single-payer model, like that of Canada. Some Senate Democrats have endorsed BernieCare, but others are skeptical. Now a second alternative, called Medicare Extra for All, is on the table, and may get greater support. Basically, it would provide a government-run insurance system in addition to (not instead of) the private one that many people use now. To start with, MEFA would roll Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, and the VA system into the new system, so it would start out with over 150 million members. Then individuals who wanted to join could do so, with premiums depending on their income. The system would cover medical, hospital, dental, and vision care, as well as medicine, preventive and rehabilitative care.

This scheme solves one problem that has always plagued single-payer: How to pay for it? Sanders' plan does not address how to pay for services that amount to one-sixth of the economy. Numerous polls have shown that people don't want to pay higher taxes, which a single-payer plan needs in order to work. The MEFA plan solves this by (1) being voluntary, so people who don't like it or don't want to pay for it don't have to, and (2) charging income-based premiums to people who opt in. That money would finance much of the system, with the government covering the rest (just as it does now with Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, and the VA system). MEFA would hold down costs by using the government's enormous buying power to drive a hard bargain with drug companies, hospitals, and doctors.

There is every indication that health care is going to be a big item in the midterms, and Democrats now have three choices: Keep the ACA, single payer, and MEFA. In contrast, the Republicans still don't have a coherent message on health care, other than killing ObamaCare. They have no serious proposals about what to do after it's gone, and Democrats will hammer them on that. (V)

All-Star Team of Lawyers Says Electoral College is Unconstitutional

Superlawyer David Boies, best known for representing Al Gore in Bush v. Gore, is back in the headlines. He, joined by a consortium of high-powered law firms and well-known law professors, has filed four lawsuits claiming that the Electoral College's winner-take-all system violates the Constitution, and should be declared illegal.

There is, of course, no question that the Electoral College itself is constitutional, since it's right there in Art. II, Sec. 1.:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

What Boies, et al., are focusing upon is the process by which states choose electors. They believe that the winner-take-all system in use in 48 states (Maine and Nebraska being the exceptions) violates the First Amendment (it curtails the right of political expression), the Fourteenth Amendment (it abrogates the principle of "one person, one vote"), and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (it discriminates against minority voters).

Clearly, a lot of prominent lawyers and scholars think there's some merit here, but this certainly feels like a Hail Mary pass. Surely, when the founding parents wrote the Constitution, they foresaw that the Electoral College would have the effect of negating many people's votes. And that doesn't even include all the folks—women, people of color—who were not even worthy of a vote in their eyes. Point is, it will be hard to convince SCOTUS or any other court that the intention of the Constitution has been subverted, and even harder to convince them to toss out 200 years of tradition and precedent. (Z)

Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Trumpo?

There is a billionaire provocateur and media darling who decided to try his hand at politics. He was able, against all odds, to be elected the leader of his country, running on a populist platform. Despite being roundly—and with good cause—attacked for being a strongman, for being corrupt, and for behaving as if the law did not apply to him, he held onto power by keeping his base satisfied. This included embracing far-right, racist elements within the country more and more closely as time went on, as more mainstream right-wingers jumped ship. This man, of course, is former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, and The Guardian (UK) has a good long-read piece on the alliance he developed with Italy's neo-fascist movement CasaPound, such that they became the second-largest part of his governing coalition.

Berlusconi is out of power now, having been convicted of tax fraud and sentenced to prison (later converted to a year of unpaid volunteer work). He is theoretically unable to serve in office again for five more years, so his long political career may be over, but with him you never know. In any event, even though he's gone, his embrace of CasaPound has served to legitimize and embolden them in a way that they never dreamed possible before his premiership. Now, instead of the more modest goal of "acceptance," they want to demolish anti-fascism entirely and to return Benito Mussolini to a place of honor among the pantheon of great Italians. Given the strong parallels between Berlusconi and Donald Trump, it certainly suggests that good, the bad, and the ugly of The Donald's time in office, especially the bad and the ugly, will live on long after he's gone. (Z)

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