The Bastards Are At It Again

It’s been 51 days since Republican Senator John McCain cast the dramatic “No” vote that sunk the bill that would have sunk the Affordable Care Act. Most of us assumed that was the end of the story. Even Sen. McConnell, the evil Majority Leader, said it was time for the Republicans to “move on”.

But we were wrong. They’re making one more attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act. They have until September 30th, because the Senate rules say that’s the last day they can pass a bill with only 50 senators, plus the Vice President, voting “Yes”.

Sarah Kliff of Vox calls the latest bill, released by Sens. Bill Cassidy and Lindsey Graham on Wednesday, “the most radical” repeal effort yet:

Work on Cassidy-Graham began in the midst of the chaotic Obamacare repeal effort in July….

The senators are selling this idea as a compromise plan and say it is a way to return power to states, giving local governments more control over how they spend federal dollars….

But the plan does much more than that. The proposal would eliminate the health care law’s subsidies for private insurance and end the Medicaid expansion. States could allow for waivers that let insurers charge sick patients higher premiums and stop covering certain benefits required under the Affordable Care Act, like maternity care or prescription drugs. The health insurance marketplaces would no longer exist as they are envisioned to continue under other Republican proposals.

The federal government would convert some (but not all) of that spending into a lump-sum payment to states. States could choose to spend this money on providing insurance — or they could use it to fund high-risk pools, or do other activities to pay the bills of patients with high medical needs….

The plan hasn’t been scored by the Congressional Budget Office yet, but analysts who have studied Cassidy-Graham estimate it would cut deeply into federal funding for the health law programs, likely resulting in millions losing coverage.

Cassidy-Graham would arguably be more disruptive, not less, to the current health care system than the plans that came before it. It would let money currently spent on health insurance go toward other programs, providing no guarantee that the Affordable Care Act programs individuals rely on today would continue into the future.

Jonathan Cohn of the Huffington Post quotes Aviva Aron-Dine of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

“This bill is far more radical [than previous repeal bills] in that it envisions going back to the pre-ACA world, where the federal government wasn’t in the business of helping low-income adults or moderate-income people without employer coverage get health insurance at all… Compared to pre-ACA, there would be some extra state grant money floating around ― but it would have virtually no requirements attached to it at all and, since the funding wouldn’t adjust based on enrollment or costs, it would be hard for even well-intentioned states to use it to create an individual entitlement to coverage or help.”

Cohn continues:

Oh, and the bill would repeal the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, and do so right away ― destabilizing insurance markets and causing premiums to rise right away, according to official projections….

It’s difficult to say where this is all going. After all, the idea that repeal could get another look now, despite its unpopularity, in the form of a proposal that in some respects is more radical than its predecessors, is difficult to fathom. And yet here we are, fathoming it.

So it looks like we need to speak up again. Republican senators need to hear from their angry constituents again. Facebook and Twitter need to heat up again. Activists need to get arrested again, because this is a matter of life and death for many of our fellow citizens and nobody knows if three Republicans will still vote “No”. McCain, who provided the crucial third “No” in July, has changed his tune from day to day (he’s 81 and has a brain tumor). People are saying he might vote “Yes” this time because he and Sen. Graham are very good friends. 

In November 1932, the German government was in disarray. Hitler was demanding to be made chancellor. He had many supporters, but others feared he would immediately institute a murderous dictatorship if given the chance:

Yet it was entirely unclear who would succeed [Franz von Papen] as chancellor or whether a way out of the political crisis could be found. The only thing that was clear, [a German count named Harry Kessler] noted … was the absolute impenetrability and uncertainty of the situation: “Everything more or less depends on chance and the good or bad moods of four or five individuals”.

Hitler became chancellor two months later. 

Darkness in America

I suppose it’s possible there were some “very fine people” who chose to march with the Nazis and Klan in Charlottesville, chanting “blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us”. Perhaps they were seriously misinformed about the nature of the event. But as Chris Rock said today: “If 10 guys thinks it’s ok to hang with 1 Nazi then they just became 11 Nazis”.

The good news is that the president* sunk so low today that more of our fellow citizens will turn against him, finally seeing him for what he is. His angry defense of white supremacy even generated disgusted reactions from a few of the right-wingers on Fox (order has probably been restored by now).

Congresswoman Gwen Moore, a Democratic Congresswoman who represents Milwaukee, called for his impeachment:

“As we once again hear [the president*] defend those responsible for the deadly riot in Charlottesville and receive praise by hate groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis, the time has come for Republicans and Democrats to put aside our political differences and philosophical debates for a higher cause. For the sake of the soul of our country, we must come together to restore our national dignity that has been robbed by [his] presence in the White House. My Republican friends, I implore you to work with us within our capacity as elected officials to remove this man as our commander-in-chief and help us move forward from this dark period in our nation’s history.”

Of course, impeachment is unlikely, given the Republican majority in the House, but perhaps the House and Senate will vote to censure him. I could see our not-as-terrible-as-some Republican Congressman voting for that. 

Perhaps being censured would finally give our president* the heart attack or stroke he so richly deserves (after his new chief of staff told him what “censure” means). 

Meanwhile, the sun, earth and moon are speeding toward the locations in space that will give America a solar eclipse on Monday. The “totality – the area where the sun is completely blocked by the moon – will be 70 miles wide and will travel from Oregon in the morning to South Carolina in the afternoon. The rest of the country will see a partial eclipse. 

Vox has a cool eclipse tracker that allows you to see when the eclipse will occur in your zip code and how much of the sun will be hidden. At its peak here in New Jersey, 72% of the sun will be hidden at 2:44 p.m. I don’t plan to use the special glass or glasses you need in order to avoid permanent eye damage, but I’ll certainly take a quick look. Coincidentally, I have an appointment with our optometrist at 3 p.m. I can experience the eclipse from his parking lot and then he can tell me if I’m blind.

I’m just brainstorming here, but I wonder if someone could convince our president* that the eclipse will be a Message telling him his presidency is over. Eclipses have often made a big impression on the ignorant and/or simple-minded. Assuming he’s in Washington, however, the moon will only block 81% of the sun. That might not be enough. But the Secret Service could tell him he’s got a rally to attend in South Carolina (they like him down there) and arrange him to be outside at just the right time. It’s a long shot, but one can dream.

PS: Another Democratic Congresswoman, Jackie Speier, who represents the area south of San Francisco, has called for the president* to be removed because he is mentally unfit: “[He] is showing signs of erratic behavior and mental instability that place the country in grave danger. Time to invoke the 25th Amendment”.

Twenty-Four Later, A Few Angry Observations

Now that the legislative assault on the Affordable Care Act has ended for the time being, I’d like to take a break from thinking about politics. I hope the members of Congress feel the same way. 

I can’t move on, however, without sharing some choice words I read today. First, Paul Waldman of The Washington Post wrote “This Is What You Get When You Vote For Republicans”:

“It goes much further than their repugnant and disastrous effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but all the contemporary GOP’s pathologies could be seen there: their outright malice toward ordinary people, their indifference to the suffering of their fellow citizens, their blazing incompetence, their contempt for democratic norms, their shameless hypocrisy, their gleeful ignorance about policy, their utter dishonesty and bad faith, their pure cynicism, and their complete inability to perform anything that resembles governing. It was the perfect Republican spectacle.

It’s remarkable to consider that there was a time not too long ago when the Grand Old Party was known for being serious, sober, a little boring, but above all, responsible. They were conservative in the traditional sense: wanting to conserve what they thought was good and fearful of rapid change. You might not have agreed with them, but there were limits to the damage they could do.

The devolution from that Republican Party to the one we see today took a couple of decades and had many sources, but its fullest expression was reached with the lifting up of Donald J. Trump to the presidency, this contemptible buffoon who may have been literally the single worst prominent American they could have chosen to be their standard-bearer. I mean that seriously. Can you think of a single person who might have run for president who is more ignorant, more impulsive, more vindictive and more generally dangerous than Donald Trump? And yet they rallied around him with near-unanimity, a worried shake of the head to his endless stream of atrocious statements and actions the strongest dissent most of them could muster.”

Waldman then reviews other recent travesties I won’t bother listing. He concludes:

“I could go on and delve into the president’s plan to blow up the Iran nuclear deal, or the climate-denial initiative at the Environmental Protection Agency, or all the fossil-fuel lobbyists now staffing the Interior Department, or any of a hundred abominable policies and programs. But the point is, we’re getting just what we should have expected. Donald Trump isn’t an aberration, he’s the apotheosis of contemporary Republicanism.

Republicans don’t care about making an honest case for their priorities; Trump lies nearly every time he opens his mouth. They’re unconcerned about the details of policy; he knows less about how government works than your average sixth-grader. They’re indifferent to human suffering; he literally advocates destroying the individual health-care market so he can blame Barack Obama for the lives that wind up ruined. They advocate a mindless anti-government philosophy; he has so much contempt for governing that he puts his son-in-law in charge of everything from solving the opioid crisis to achieving Middle East peace. They whine endlessly about the liberal media; he spends hours every day watching “Fox & Friends” and takes advice from Sean Hannity. Trump is the essence of the GOP, distilled down to its depraved and odious core.

America was given a reprieve last night, saved from the Republicans’ cruelest plans by a Democratic Party that stood strong, thousands of activists and ordinary citizens who organized in opposition and the GOP’s own incompetence. But this what you get when you give today’s Republican Party complete control of the government.”

Second, Eric Levitz of New York Magazine points out a big story that isn’t getting much attention today: 

“On Friday morning, the big story is that three Republicans voted no, and spared the individual insurance market from the threat of imminent collapse. But in the long run, the more significant development may be that 49 voted yes — and kicked out another chunk of concrete from the crumbling foundation of our (sorry excuse for a) representative democracy….

[The] threat to our republic has not been quarantined in the White House.

The congressional GOP has spent most of the past six months trying to cut nearly $800 billion out of a half-century-old program that 70 million Americans rely on for basic health care. They have also worked to erode protections for people with preexisting conditions; increase the average deductible on insurance plans sold over the individual market; and drastically raise premiums for a large swath of their own base, all for the sake of maximizing the amount of tax cuts they can deliver to multi-millionaires.

They have done all this while explicitly promising their own voters that they were trying to do the opposite…. Republican lawmakers knew that their policy goals lacked the support of their own voters. But [that] merely led them to try and obscure [their goals]…. They lied and hid, and hid and lied, until, finally, their mendacious cowardice reached its tragicomic apotheosis, and three U.S. senators publicly announced that they would vote for a “disaster” bill — but disavowed all responsibility for the effects it would have if passed into law, because they officially opposed it.

Trumpcare may be dead. But the libertarian plutocrats who bankroll the Republican Party are not. The Kochs, Mercers, and their ilk are not going to stop fighting for their agenda. And so long as an overwhelming majority of Americans do not want to live in Ayn Rand’s utopia, advancing their aims will require undermining responsive government in the United States. Earlier this month, House Republicans released a “budget blueprint,” which functioned as a formal declaration of the party’s long-term fiscal goals. Those included $500 billion worth of cuts to Medicare, $1.5 trillion in cuts to Medicaid, and the utter decimation of food aid and tax credits for the working poor. Few, if any, Republicans won election by publicly touting such plans. The party’s standard-bearer won the White House by promising to protect — and expand — the welfare state. They know they aren’t going to realize their vision through the power of persuasion.

But if they can pass enough voter-suppression laws to fine-tune the electorate; sow enough fatalistic cynicism about our political system to get ordinary Americans to tune out; buy up enough local television stations to deliver conservative propaganda to 70 percent of U.S. households; supply enough campaign contributions to insulate GOP incumbents from democratic rebuke; and eliminate enough transparency from the legislative process to leave the public incapable of comprehending what their representatives do and don’t support, maybe, just maybe, they can substitute their will for the majority’s.

Last night, they came one vote short. That’s a relief. But it’s also a crisis.”

Hooray!

Sometimes the good guys win!

The fight won’t be over until the Democrats regain the presidency or at least one house of Congress, but maybe the reactionaries will finally accept that America won’t go backward.  

And then one day we’ll finally get to universal medical coverage.

In the short term, however, what we need is for the hosts of Fox and Friends to accurately explain to their most devoted viewer what the Affordable Care Act does and how it could be made better (by expanding Medicaid to every state, for example). That could make a big difference to the health and welfare of the American people. 

Sometimes it’s okay to dream, because sometimes the good guys win.

Random Roundup, or We Did Pretty Well for 230 Years

Reader alert:

You can read what I’ve written below or look at Will Bunch’s column “America’s Democracy Doomsday Clock Just Hit 11:58” at Philly.com instead. I read his column after I was almost done writing this post. To borrow a phrase from a President who doesn’t seem so bad these days: “I could refer to Bunch’s column only after you read what I wrote – I could do that – but it would be wrong”.

Or you could read both, since they don’t overlap completely!

So to begin:

The U.S. Senate, which some observers used to seriously call the “World’s Greatest Deliberative Body”, is desperately trying to find 50 Republican votes to pass something, anything, to use as a vehicle to repeal and/or replace the Affordable Care Act. If that happens this week, members of the Senate and House will then get together and discuss how best to cut taxes for the wealthy and health insurance for the non-wealthy. If they can agree on something, both houses of Congress will vote again. You can see the latest developments at The Washington Post and ThinkProgress (the latter is a “latest news first” page).

For a summary of the current healthcare “state of play”, see Paul Waldman’s excellent column: “Trump and Republicans Treat Their Voters Like Morons”. The main point he makes: 

In other words, their current position is, “We know how catastrophic this bill would be. But we got here by lying to these knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers for years, and if we don’t follow through, they’ll punish us”.

… There’s one other path open to them, which is to pass “skinny repeal” [which would only repeal a few parts of the ACA], then go to a conference committee with the House, in which an entirely new bill would be written incorporating the other things Republicans want to do. That bill could then be presented to both houses as a last chance to repeal the hated Obamacare, in the hopes that members would vote for it despite its inevitable unpopularity and cataclysmic consequences for Americans’ health care.

If and when that happens, Republicans will make that same calculation again: This thing is terrible and most everyone hates it, but we have to pass something because we fooled our base into thinking this would all be simple and we could give them everything they want. Or as Trump said during the campaign, “You’re going to have such great healthcare at a tiny fraction of the cost, and it is going to be so easy.”

That was just one of the many lies they were told, and they ate it up. 

I believe their attempt to repeal/replace the ACA is doomed, but I’m not a member of Congress. By the way, we are still being encouraged to contact Republican legislators on this issue. That’s because most members of the House and Senate are toddlers with extremely short attention spans. They need constant reinforcement in order to behave properly.

On Monday, DT (if only his middle name had been “Dennis” or “Darren”) tried to turn the Boy Scout Jamboree into a Hitler, excuse me, Drumpf Youth rally. New York Magazine has the story, including their “14 most inappropriate moments”. Digby comments:

It makes me feel like crying. The celebration of rank stupidity, the crude brutality, the incessant bragging, the whining and the lying in front of a bunch of cheering and jeering boy scouts is almost physically painful to watch. 

That’s being imprinted on this next generation as leadership. 

Meanwhile, DT is trying to get the Attorney General, old-style racist Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (aka “the nation’s top law enforcement officer”) to resign because Sessions hasn’t lied and obstructed justice enough on DT’s behalf. In itself, that wouldn’t be a bad thing. Back to Paul Waldman for a summary of the AG’s first six months in office:

Jeff Sessions is a uniquely odious figure, perhaps the most malevolent force within the Trump administration. His most visible actions as head of the Justice Department have included shutting down oversight of local police departments accused of misconduct; renewing an ’80s-style “war on drugs”; advocating for asset forfeiture programs that literally steal money and property from people who are not even accused of a crime, let alone convicted; promoting mandatory minimum sentencing that members of both parties have come to see as cruel, unjust, and counterproductive; and rolling back civil rights protections for transgender children. While some Trump appointees have been most notable for their incompetence, if he gets his way Sessions will have a profoundly malignant impact on the nation.

DT wants Sessions to fire the Special Counsel who’s investigating DT’s criminal activities. Ideally, if Sessions were to go (hooray!), Congress would keep the Special Counsel’s investigation on track, which would be easy for them to do. But again, I’m not a member of Congress. (Don’t worry: To quote a true American hero, Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman: “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected”. And he really could have been president if he’d wanted the job.)

Finally, the author of The Washington Post‘s “Right Turn” blog (“Jennifer Rubin’s take from a conservative perspective”) has a good suggestion:

A large segment of Republican voters should try turning off Fox News and allowing reality to permeate the shell they’ve constructed to keep out ideas that interfere with their prejudices and abject ignorance. Unfair? Take a look at the latest poll to suggest that Trump voters like their cult hero feel compelled to label inconvenient facts “fake news.” Morning Consult reports: “A plurality of Republicans say President Donald Trump received more of the popular vote in 2016 than his Democratic rival, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton….

The report continues: “Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University, said … Tuesday that Trump has “perfected the technique of the Big Lie” — which, as he wrote in an op-ed last fall, is to “repeat a lie loudly, over and over until people come to believe it. These results show that again that like ‘Birtherism,’ which launched Trump’s political career, the Big Lie continues to work, at least among those who want to believe it’.”

If these voters do not know or cannot accept something as simple as vote totals, do we really expect they will be amenable to reason on immigration (sorry, but illegal immigrants aren’t causing a crime wave), global warning (sorry, it’s not a hoax) or uncontroverted evidence of Russian meddling in the election? I’m sure all this makes the Trump staff and surrogates laugh uproariously as they admire their handiwork in bamboozling the angry mob. But they and the network of right-wing enablers have done real damage to our society and politics, making differences impossible to bridge and reasoned debate nearly impossible….

Democracy presupposes a minimally informed, responsible adult electorate. Right now it is clear the GOP is dominated by fact-deniers and willfully ignorant folk…

But here’s the thing: The rest of the country should empathize with their economic plight and sense of alienation, but that does not mean we should coddle them in their ignorance nor defer to judgments based on fabrication. They feel “disrespected” when fellow Americans point to reality? Trumpkins think elites are condescending when they call them “low information” voters? (It should be non-information voters.) Sorry, economic hardship does not bestow moral authority to lie, invent facts, smear opponents, blame foreigners or support lawlessness. And for elected Republicans to defer to the ignorant, beguiled voters is an abdication of their role and oaths.

However many years it’s been, 230 or 240 or some other number depending on how you count, we had a pretty good run. (Oh, sure, it can all turn around if people get out and vote, but, oh brother, this is bad.)

Update:

Brian Beutler predicts that Senate Republican will simply vote to remove the “individual mandate” portion of the Affordable Care Act, the rule that says people must buy health insurance or pay a penalty, and that the House will accept that change without further negotiation. Doing this would throw the health insurance market into chaos. Millions of relatively young or healthy Americans would decide not to pay for insurance until they needed it. As a result, millions of relatively old or sick Americans wouldn’t be able to afford coverage because of rising premiums.

It’s Getting Worse, But A Few Republicans Could Make a Big Difference

The Washington Post reported last night that the President and his henchmen have been discussing his authority to grant pardons for members of his administration, his associates, his family members and even for himself, should any of them be at risk of criminal prosecution for a Federal crime. They are also discussing ways to interfere with special counsel Robert Mueller’s criminal investigation into the President’s Russian connection. The President is especially concerned that Mueller is reportedly examining DT’s tangled finances.

In a bizarre interview with The New York Times, the President left open the possibility that he might fire the special counsel if Mueller’s investigation goes too far, even though Mueller is authorized to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump”, as well as other matters that “may arise directly from the investigation” (remember how an investigation into an Arkansas land deal led to questions about sex in the Oval Office?). 

Two observers drew the same scary conclusion from these reports. Brian Beutler of The New Republic writes:

The loud hum of chaos and spectacle engulfing the Trump administration is drowning out a creeping reality: We are on the brink of an authoritarian crisis that will make the firing of FBI Director James Comey seem quaint in hindsight.

In a more rule-bound environment, Mueller’s interest in opening Trump’s books would probably be checkmate for the president. Quite apart from the question of whether his campaign conspired with Russian intelligence to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s campaign, it is widely suspected that a peek under the hood of the Trump organization will reveal serious financial crimes. Assuming that informed speculation is correct, and assuming our system of checks hasn’t broken down, Mueller would uncover the wrongdoing and bring down a president, or Trump would fire Mueller and Congress would step in to edge Trump out.

But at the moment there are no reliable sources of accountability. None.

Republicans have given every indication over the course of the past several months that no malfeasance, no matter how naked and severe, will impel them to rein in Trump or impeach him….

Should Trump fire Mueller, with the tacit assent of Republicans in Congress and the [Department of Justice] leadership, there will be little recourse. It is feasible (though difficult) to imagine a [Republican] House and Senate passing an independent counsel statute to restore Mueller to his job; it is nearly impossible to imagine them doing so by veto-proof margins. And should Trump pardon himself and his inner circle, it is dispiritingly easy to imagine Republicans reprising their familiar refrain: The president’s power to pardon is beyond question.

If this crisis unfolds as depicted here, the country’s final hope for avoiding a terminal slide into authoritarianism would be the midterm election, contesting control of a historically gerrymandered House of Representatives. That election is 16 months away. Between now and then, Trump’s DOJ and his sham election-integrity commission will seek to disenfranchise as many Democratic voters as possible, while the president himself beseeches further foreign interference aimed at Democratic candidates. Absent the necessary sweep, everything Trump will have done to degrade our system for his own enrichment and protection will have been ratified, and a point of no return will have been crossed.

Prof. Ruth Ben-Ghiat of New York University writes for CNN that:

Just before Donald Trump took office, I argued that our new President would likely follow the “authoritarian playbook,” an approach toward governance that privileges executive power and makes the leader’s personal goals and needs the focus of his public office. Now, six months later, those predictions have come true….

warned that President Trump would escalate his attacks on the media, disregard political customs and democratic norms, and single out judges or other government employees who might challenge the legality or ethics of his actions.

He is on his way to accomplishing the most important things an authoritarian leader must do to survive over the long term. The strategies that he’s already used effectively will also guide his next phase of rule….

The most important item of the authoritarian’s playbook is this: He is in office not to serve the nation but to protect his own position of power, often enriching himself along the way….

Studies show that once political elites [such as Congressional Republicans] have concluded their deals with authoritarians and signed on publicly, they usually stick with those leaders to the bitter end.

The inauguration was six months ago today. Since then, the issue of creeping authoritarianism hasn’t been talked about much – there have been other, more immediate problems to worry about. In addition, seeing the President in action for six months has confirmed that he’s too stupid, ignorant and lazy to “seize power” in a truly authoritarian way. It seems more likely that the Trump administration will keep reversing progress and generating pain for the next 3 1/2 years, without achieving iron rule. 

But the failure of Congressional Republicans to hold the President accountable in any way is still shocking. There’s polling evidence that the Democrats could take back the House of Representatives in next year’s election, and maybe the Senate, but after reading these articles last night, I began to wonder if there could be a quicker solution. 

In fact, there is. If three Republican senators were to switch parties or declare themselves independents and vote with the Democrats, they could replace the odious Senator Turtle Face (aka Mitchell McConnell), who rules the Senate with a semi-iron hand, with a sensible Democrat. Likewise, although less likely, if 24 Republican members of the House (one-tenth of their total of 240) were to do the same, they could replace the dead-eyed granny-starver, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, with a Democratic colleague.

In fact, the Speaker of the House doesn’t even have to be a member of Congress. They could elect Joe Biden! Or The Rock! Or you! Or me! There’s no need to wait for another national election, since the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the House can be replaced at any time by a simple majority vote in their respective houses of Congress.

Just to show I’m not completely off the wall, respected journalist James Fallows posted “Everything Now Hinges on Three Republicans in the Senate” this morning:

By midnight on July 20, 2017, it seemed increasingly likely that Donald Trump will fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

Mueller embodies what is admirable in U.S. public service … Donald Trump embodies the reverse.

Yet for now Trump has the legal power, directly or indirectly, to dismiss Mueller, if the investigation gets too close to Trump’s obviously sensitive financial concerns. And Trump himself, unaware of history and oblivious to rules, norms, and constraints, has given every indication that this will be his next step.

What happens then? [Fallows then refers to Brian Beutler’s scary article above.]

There are 52 Americans who have it within their power to prove that dark assessment wrong. Really, it would take a subset of just three of those 52. With the 52-48 current party lineup in the U.S. Senate, a switch of three votes of conscience is all it would take to have this branch of government fulfill its checks-and-balances function.

With three votes, a Senate majority could issue subpoenas and compel sworn testimony from Administration officials. It could empower its own thorough investigation, even re-hiring Robert Mueller to lead it. It could compel Donald Trump to release the tax returns about which he is so evidently nervous. It could act as if America in fact possessed a system of rule-of-law, rather than whim-of-one-man.

[Fallows then lists several Republican senators who might do the right thing, since, for example, some of them won’t run for reelection again.]

It would take only three. Some—Grassley? Heller? McCain if he is able to vote?—might think: What do they have to lose? They might as well wind up with dignity. Others … are so far away from re-election that a lot will happen in the meantime. And all of them are senators, part of a body self-consciously proud of its independence, its individual judgment, its role in defending the long-term principles of governance.

A country of 300-plus million people, with the world’s largest economy and most powerful military, should not rely for its orderly stability on the decisions-of-conscience of just three people. But the United States may soon be in that situation. These names will go down in history, depending on the choices they make.  

No Smooth Sailing Ahead for the Bad Guys in Washington

There are lots of reasons why the Republicans haven’t passed any significant legislation this year (during what is supposed to be the new president’s “honeymoon” phase). The one I keep coming back to is DT’s ignorance and incompetence. He doesn’t understand the legislation he’s supposed to be in favor of, which is one reason he hasn’t been able to make any “deals”, even though making deals was supposed to be his great strength. All he can do is to say the kind of things presidents often say (“It’s the other side’s fault for not cooperating”) regardless of the situation at hand. He might as well be one of those dolls with a string out the back or a button to push, programmed to repeat random presidential phrases (“We’re working hard to help middle class families!”) and vacuous campaign promises (“Our healthcare bill is going to be wonderful!”).

But some of the things he says are so stupid, they bear repeating. The Republicans have 52 seats in the Senate vs. 48 for the Democrats. They needed 50 of those Republican senators to repeal the ACA, something they’ve been talking about doing for more than seven years. Today, DT “lamented the inability of Senate Republicans to pass their healthcare bill, but said that coming up short was still ‘pretty impressive'”:

“You had 52 people, you had 4 no’s,” [he] said during a meeting at the White House. “Now, we might have had another one, someone in there. But the vote would have been if you look at it, 48-4. That’s a pretty impressive vote by any standard.

So getting at most 48 Republicans to vote Yes, while 48 Democrats and at least four Republicans were going to vote No, was pretty impressive by any standard? How about the standard called “having enough votes to get something done”?

Now that the Republicans have failed to repeal the Affordable Care Act (for the time being), journalist Paul Waldman points out that they have other problems to deal with:

One way to interpret this failure is that Republicans were undone by an ignorant, erratic, feckless president who couldn’t be bothered to help them pass the bill. There’s some truth in that story — President Trump’s indifference and buffoonery certainly didn’t do them any favors. But the real failure belongs to Republicans in Congress, both the leadership and the rank and file. And now, as they try to salvage their agenda in what will be an unusually challenging few months, they could be undone by the same weaknesses that rendered them unable to pass their health-care bill….

The debt ceiling: 

Before Barack Obama became president, the debt ceiling was little more than a periodic opportunity for some consequence-free posturing….Members of the opposition party would give a few speeches railing against the administration’s free-spending ways, then Congress would vote to raise the ceiling, with a few of the opposition members casting protest votes against the increase. No one even considered not raising the ceiling as a serious possibility, as that would be cataclysmic — if the United States were no longer paying its debts, it could set off a worldwide financial crisis.

That is, until the tea party came to town, with a “tear it all down” philosophy and a hatred of Obama that burned with the fire of a thousand suns. So we had debt ceiling crises in 2011 and 2013 in which there was a serious possibility that the [Republicans] would refuse to increase the ceiling and the government would go into default.

Which brings us today. The debt-ceiling increase must be passed by October, but the administration can’t even decide itself whether to have a “clean” vote without strings attached…. Congress may end up fighting with itself as well, as the leadership tries to just increase the debt ceiling and avoid a catastrophe while conservative members try to use that specter as a way to extract policy concessions. What should be easy, because Republicans have total control of government, becomes excruciatingly hard.

(A side note: The fact that we have a debt ceiling at all is insane. The only other democratic country that has one is Denmark, and they set theirs so high that it’s never a problem. We should just get rid of it entirely.)

The budget: 

Today the House Budget Committee released a blueprint of the House budget, and in many ways it’s analogous to what gave them such difficulty on health care: It includes savage cuts to domestic programs that are politically perilous and will cause reservations among House moderates and threaten the bill’s chances in the Senate, yet are nonetheless decried by House conservatives as not cruel enough, all justified using unrealistic predictions about the future….

There are big cuts to programs such as Medicaid and food stamps, and this bill would even move forward on House Speaker Paul D. Ryan’s fantasy of turning Medicare into a voucher program. In other words, it provides ample targets for Democrats to charge that it’s another attack on the safety net while it helps out Wall Street (there are provisions unwinding the Dodd-Frank law in there, too) and paves the way for a tax cut for the wealthy. Which brings us to …

Tax reform: 

Because of procedural rules, Republicans need to pass the budget in order to use reconciliation for tax reform, which would enable them to pass a tax bill with only 50 votes in the Senate. But even if they pass the budget, tax reform is going to be extraordinarily difficult, because it will pit various Republican constituencies against each other, all wanting to preserve the tax breaks and loopholes their lobbyists have so painstakingly written over the years. Many Republicans say that passing tax reform will be even more difficult than passing health-care reform was. While in the past tax reform has proven so complicated that it has taken years of work and negotiations to accomplish, the Keystone Kops of this Congress want to get it done in the next few months, and they’ve barely begun working on it….

That’s not to mention that alleged priorities such as infrastructure have just disappeared in the dust cloud kicked up by Republican pratfalls. This is all a reminder that even when a party controls both Congress and the White House, success in passing meaningful legislation is anything but guaranteed. It also serves to highlight what an extraordinary job {Democrats] did in the first two years of Obama’s first term, when they passed a set of hugely consequential bills including a stimulus package, Wall Street reform, health-care reform, the auto bailout, FDA oversight of tobacco, an expansion of CHIP and many other things that most of us have forgotten.

It turns out that legislating is hard — who knew! — and in order to be successful at it, you need a number of things: an understanding of the process, skill at wrangling your members, a relatively unified caucus in both houses, a president who can intervene successfully at key moments and the support of the public for the substance of what you’re trying to do. Republicans’ failure so far to pass any major legislation is a result of their lack of some or all of those requirements. And there’s little reason to think they’re going to have an easier time from this point on.