Partisan gridlock reigns in DC
03/11/19 Filed in: Political System
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After assuming control of the House in January, Democrats wasted no time in making their presence felt. They are executing an aggressive game plan, with two primary thrusts – (A) endless investigations of the president and everyone connected to him, and (B) a barrage of loony legislative proposals.
Will this approach pay off politically? Time will tell, but it doesn’t augur for any constructive action on policy issues before the 2020 elections. Discussion follows.
A. Investigations - The Trump administration has been under investigation by the government since before the 2016 elections, or for nearly 3 years at this point. The FBI started the investigation based on claims that then candidate Donald Trump and/or his campaign had colluded with attempted Russian interference in the election. After FBI Director James Comey was fired in May 2017, the investigation was taken over by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
The Mueller probe has resulted in charges against various Trump supporters for lying to the FBI, tax fraud, etc., but to date there has been no corroboration of the Russian collusion claims. Mueller’s final report (to Attorney General William Barr, who will then be responsible for determining which portions of the report – if any – will be made available to Congress and the public) is thought to be imminent. Indeed, the report is available for pre-order on Amazon, including a foreword to be written by former Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, with an indicated release date of March 26.
Predictions about the Mueller report are speculative, but the majority view is that people who were expecting the special counsel to recommend charges against the president will be disappointed. In preparation, House Democrats are already launching new inquiries re alleged obstruction of justice, conflicts of interest, contacts with Russian entities, unethical business conduct, and who knows what else.
Thus, for example, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), has sent out scores of letters (to be followed by subpoenas if necessary) in search of evidence of wrongdoing by the president. House Democrats’ Trump probe expands with sweeping demands for documents, Billy House & Bloomberg, fortune.com, 3/4/19.
•The panel asked for documents from 81 individuals, agencies and entities, including the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, and the publisher of the National Enquirer, David Pecker, who is accused of killing unflattering news stories about Trump during his candidacy.
•Nadler’s document requests ensure that the probe of Trump, his family and his inner circle will continue for months if not years, even if Mueller’s findings — which Trump has branded a “witch hunt” — don’t find evidence of collusion with Russia by those around Trump or obstruction of justice by the president.
Other committee chairs are planning similar efforts, including Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), House Intelligence Committee (Moscow Trump Tower meeting, alleged involvement of the Trump organization in international money laundering); Rep. Elijah Cummings, House Oversight Committee (granting of high level security clearances, e.g., for Jared Kushner, and follow-up on Michael Cohen testimony); Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA), Ways and Means Committee (demand for Trump tax returns).
The apparent goal of all this activity is to set the stage for impeachment proceedings against the president. Many observers believe this decision has already been made, with the only question mark being the perceived state of public opinion. Consider this rather revealing statement by Rep. Jerrold Nadler during a recent ABC interview. House Democrats send message: Impeachment is on, Byron York, Washington Examiner, 3/4/19.
"We have to — we have to do the investigations and get all this," Nadler said. "We do not now have the evidence all sorted out and everything to do — to do an impeachment. Before you impeach somebody, you have to persuade the American public that it ought to happen. You have to persuade enough of the — of the opposition party voters, Trump voters, that you're not just trying to ... that you're not just trying to steal the last — to reverse the results of the last election."
The White House reaction to the foregoing inquiries has been along the lines that they aren’t necessary or appropriate. The president labels them “presidential harassment,” and his press secretary says the House leadership should be embarrassed for spending their time attacking the president rather than solving national problems. Sarah Sanders rebukes Democratic congressional investigation, Saagar Enjeti, dailycaller.com, 3/6/19.
“It is an absolute embarrassment members of Congress are using all their time and resources into attacking the president when they should look to try to solve problems this country has like the president is doing,” Sanders said nearly right out the gate, adding that this “expedition that you’re seeing led by chairman Nadler is truly an embarrassment to Congress and it is hurting our country.”
Still open is how the inquiries should be handled, i.e., will the administration continue to respond cooperatively – as it has done throughout the Mueller probe – or start dragging its feet on grounds that “enough is enough”? One defense attorney suggested that all 81 recipients of Nadler’s letters, and most especially Trump family members, should decline to answer questions rather than allowing themselves to be put into a “perjury trap” when they haven’t done anything wrong. Joe DiGenova has advice for all 81 targets, Tom Tillison, bizpacreview.com, 3/5/19.
No one should talk to this committee. Everyone should take the 5th and if everyone takes the 5th, the American people will understand that this isn’t a legitimate investigation. It’s political theater and disgraceful conduct approved of by the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
Democrats say they aren’t doing anything out of the ordinary, i.e., are simply exercising “oversight” just as Republicans did when they controlled the House and were issuing subpoenas re Benghazi, Fast and Furious, etc. At the time, GOP diligence in these inquiries seemed justifiable to us – but perhaps this “they did it too” argument should not be dismissed too quickly.
As for the claim that Democrats must not have much of a positive nature to contribute given all the time they are putting into investigations, the basic Democratic response is that “we can walk and chew gum at the same time – and here’s our policy agenda to prove it.”
B. Loony legislation – There have been a barrage of legislative proposals, which might gratify the Democratic base but make little sense from a policy standpoint and have no serious chance of passage. In addition, there has been a notable failure to engage with Republicans in areas where legislation is needed and it might be possible to find some common ground.
The basic goal seems to be making a statement as to Democratic policies and energizing the party faithful for the 2020 elections, not passing legislation in the current session of Congress. Here are some key pieces in the puzzle:
#GREEN NEW DEAL (H. Res. 109, S. Res. 59) – Sweeping changes in energy policies would be mandated based on claims that there are only 12 years left to avert catastrophic global warming, e.g., a virtually complete substitution of renewable energy (wind and solar) for fossil fuels, energy-efficient retrofitting of every building in the country, etc. with cost dismissed as irrelevant on grounds that the challenges involved are equivalent to those that the US faced in fighting World War II. Seeking middle ground on MMGWT, 1/28/19.
Further, H. Res. 109 would use the alleged global warming threat as justification for a complete transformation of the US economy/ society See excerpts below. And because it’s drafted as a resolution rather than a bill, the troublesome details can be left to the reader’s imagination.
(4) to achieve the Green New Deal goals and mobilization, a Green New Deal will require the following goals and projects—
(A) providing and leveraging, in a way that ensures that the public receives appropriate ownership stakes and returns on investment, adequate capital (including through community grants, public banks, and other public financing), technical expertise, supporting policies, and other forms of assistance to communities, organizations, Federal, State, and local government agencies, and businesses working on the Green New Deal mobilization; ***
(C) providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States, with a focus on frontline and vulnerable communities, so that all people of the United States may be full and equal participants in the Green New Deal mobilization;
(D) making public investments in the research and development of new clean and renewable energy technologies and industries; ***
(H) guaranteeing a job with a family-sustaining wage, adequate family and medical leave, paid vacations, and retirement security to all people of the United States; ***
(M) obtaining the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples for all decisions that affect indigenous peoples and their traditional territories, honoring all treaties and agreements with indigenous peoples, and protecting and enforcing the sovereignty and land rights of indigenous peoples;
(N) ensuring a commercial environment where every businessperson is free from unfair competition and domination by domestic or international monopolies; and
(O) providing all people of the United States with— (i) high-quality health care; (ii) affordable, safe, and adequate housing; (iii) economic security; and (iv) clean water, clean air, healthy and affordable food, and access to nature.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has offered assurances that a vote on the resolution will be taken – which is in contrast to his usual line of not allocating floor time to legislation that isn’t likely to pass. Senate to vote on Green New Deal, Susan Cornwell (Reuters), msn.com, 3/6/18.
Senate Democrats have called the idea of voting on the GND resolution “a stunt” and indicated that they would probably vote “present.” It’s also been suggested that if Republicans don’t agree with the proposals for fighting global warming they should offer their own ideas. Democrats seek to evade GOP trap on Green New Deal vote, Anthony Adragna, politico.com, 3/6/19.
Given the dubious evidence of imminent climate catastrophe, we don’t see the need for proposing alternative (and expensive) solutions for what appears to be a non-problem. Remember that previous deadlines have passed without catastrophe, as for example a 6/29/89 AP dispatch quoting a senior UN environmental official to the effect that “entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000.” Wall Street Journal, 3/7/19.
See also this overview of the science involved by an eminent climatologist who believes that the warming effect of rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere has been greatly exaggerated. It’s not about the climate – It never was, Dr. David Legates, townhall.com, 3/1/19.
The Green New Deal is not about stopping climate change. Climate always changes and always will. The United States has cut back on greenhouse gas emissions by about 13% since 2005 to virtually no effect on the Earth’s climate. The net effect of reducing the United States’ carbon dioxide emissions by 80% by 2050 would be negligible.
#MEDICARE FOR ALL (HR 1384) – According to supporters of the Medicare for All bill, (1) healthcare costs are substantially higher in the US than in other developed countries, and (2) the differential is not justified by the higher quality of healthcare services provided here. MFA (basically single payer healthcare) is seen as a way to reboot the US system so as to bring our healthcare costs in line.
As far as the problem goes, SAFE agrees, but we differ as to the solution. US healthcare costs have more than tripled versus Gross Domestic Product since 1960, during a period when the government has played a growing role in directing the healthcare system, and we see no reason to believe that giving the government even more control would improve matters. Even if healthcare costs were subdued, moreover, this result would probably be based on de facto healthcare rationing versus improvements in system efficiencies. What to make of Medicare for All, 3/4/19.
Implementation of MFA would scrap existing arrangements for private healthcare insurance (HCI) in this country, consolidate most government healthcare programs (VA would be an exception) into one omnibus program, and necessitate substantial tax increases (say $2-3 trillion per year) to cover higher government outlays.
According to a “financing options” paper from Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the tax increases might include a new 7.5% payroll premium tax; a 4% household income tax; the repeal of tax breaks for job-based healthcare insurance; and an array of new taxes on upper incomes, including capital gains and dividends, estate, wealth, and corporate income taxes.
Americans would be relieved of healthcare outlays (insurance premiums, deductibles, co-pays, etc.) that they currently cover, as the government would assume full responsibility. But barring extensive de facto healthcare rationing, most people would probably wind up paying more on healthcare than they do at present – while having less say about their usage of the system.
Polling indicates most Americans would like to pay less for their healthcare, but there is no apparent groundswell for giving up the private HCI coverage that is currently in effect for a majority of the working population and paying higher taxes so the government can take over.
Our conclusion: Republicans should be in a good position to push for a market-based approach to healthcare reform, with more competition and patient choices, versus an increasingly government-run system. It’s too bad the GOP failed to repeal and replace GovCare, but they need to regroup and offer a new proposal instead of ceding the initiative to the other side.
#FOR THE PEOPLE (HR 1) – There was a rash of voting count disputes after the mid-term elections, which seemed related to the steady erosion of voting in person on Election Day as the predominant mode of voting in this country (90% in 1996, down to 60% by 2016).
State experiments with early voting, absentee ballots based on convenience versus necessity, voting by mail, etc. appear to be creating new opportunities for vote fraud, with no clear-cut benefits. Also, there have been bitter disputes over electoral district line drawing, which may lead to courts getting involved in challenging political gerrymandering as opposed to sticking to protecting the rights of minority voters. Our electoral system is faltering, 12/10/18.
Liberals support the policy changes that have been going on. They claim that voting fraud is a remote risk, and that the big danger is voter suppression resulting from precautionary measures such as photo ID for voters, voter registration before Election Day, and efforts to maintain accurate voting rolls by eliminating the names of voters who have died or moved.
Conservatives maintain that voter fraud is a serious and growing problem, which may very well be deciding outcomes in close elections, with a growing risk of widespread voting by illegal immigrants. They favor photo ID requirements and other control measures to minimize exposure to voting fraud.
Now the plot thickens, as House Democrats have proposed the For the People Act, which would basically nationalize the voting system (traditionally established and regulated at the state level). All the easy voting measures referred to above would be federally endorsed, – plus a few new ones such as on-line voter registration. Voter ID requirements would be gutted by permitting would-be voters to sign a statement that they are who they claim to be without presenting ID. And state legislatures would be required to delegate the drawing of election district lines to independent commissions, plus which illegal immigrants could not be excluded in this process even though they are not legally entitled to vote. Recap of HR 1, heritage.org, 2/1/19.
It’s hard to view this legislative package as seriously intended to improve the troubled electoral system. But HR 1 would clearly serve the partisan interests of the Democratic Party, and it sailed through the House last Friday on a party line vote. Republicans have made clear that the measure will die in the Senate, however, so it remains simply a way of making a political statement. House passes voting rights bill, Susan Ferrechio, Washington Examiner, 3/8/19.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has labeled the measure the “Democrat Politician Protection Act,” and said he won’t be bringing it up for a vote.
#BORDER SECURITY (no relevant bills) – The battle over funding to upgrade and extend security barriers on the southern border led to a partial government shutdown and much bitter political invective – but no action to stem the tide of illegal immigration. Government reopens for 3 weeks, 2/4/19.
The president made his final pitch for border security funding in the State of the Union address, and when the deadline arrived without action he opted to declare a national emergency as justification for reallocating billions that had been authorized for other purposes to border security construction. This decision is currently being challenged by a proposed congressional resolution of disapproval, which passed the House handily and is expected to be voted on by the Senate this week.
Expectations are that Senate will pass the resolution of disapproval, the president will veto it, and supporters of the measure will then fall short of a 2/3 veto override bill in the House and/or Senate. If that’s the outcome, the desired amount of security barrier construction will presumably get done, although Democrats will continue to insist that the border crisis was either fabricated or a humanitarian crisis as opposed to a security threat.
Realistically, the border security issue has grown increasingly serious. The number of families and in some cases unaccompanied children trying to enter the United States are at record levels; most of these new arrivals are being released because there is no accepted way of deporting them or detaining them on a long-term basis under the existing immigration laws. New awful data shows that border invasion is worse than ever, Daniel Horowitz, conservativereview.com, 3/5/19.
A record 76,325 apprehensions for one month [February] is truly staggering, not only because it’s the single worst month at the border since fiscal year 2008, but because almost all of these people get to stay on our dime. Projected for the whole year, this pace would result in 916,000 apprehensions. But the pace is growing every month, because the catch-and-release expands. As the Washington Post observes, “The number of migrants taken into custody last year jumped 39 percent from February to March, and a similar increase this month would push levels to 100,000 detentions or more.” That would be an annual pace of 1.2 million.
If Democrats had chosen to play a more constructive role in this matter, disagreements over the funding issue could probably have been resolved by broadening the discussions to include doing something for the “dreamers” (participants in the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals or DACA program) who are currently living in legal limbo. Democrats could at least have chosen to test the president’s willingness to negotiate on this issue instead of stonewalling Republican overtures.
The Left will do anything and everything in their power to take this country into Socialism; anything less just won’t satisfy them. Their ultimate goal, I suspect, is World Government. – SAFE member (DE)