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The Art of the Budget Deal

The good news is that President Donald and the Republican and Democratic leaders have reached a deal, expected to be voted on and signed by the end of the week, which will avert a governmental default and the economic cataclysm that would surely follow. The bad news is that deal adds another couple trillion dollars to a national debt that sooner or later will be just as catastrophic.
For now, though, no one seems to care. The Democrats remain the party of big government, and realize that for the two years of the budget deal they are unlikely to get the big tax increases they want to address the deficit, and the agreement gives them a few hundred billion dollars more to spread around to their voters. The Republicans are no longer the party of fiscal responsibility but rather the party of Trump, the self-proclaimed “king of debt,” who told reporters on Monday that “We are, I think, doing very well on debt, if you look at debt limit, however you want to define that, but we’re doing very well on that and I think we’re doing well on a budget.”
We’ll leave it to Trump’s die-hard supporters to explain exactly what the heck that means, as they seem to speak his language better than we do, but the gist of it seems to be that he’s quite comfortable about another couple of years of trillion dollar deficits, and maybe four more after that if he gets reelected. He and his die-hard supporters will probably revert to the old-fashioned Republican outrage about fiscal irresponsibility as soon as another Democrat occupies the White House, but for now they’ll talk about the great deal he got.
The Democrats agreed to another big hike in defense spending, and Trump told reporters “Very important we take care of our military, our military was depleted and in the past two-and-a-half years we’ve undepleted it, okay, to put it mildly,” adding another Trump neologism to the language at no cost to the taxpayer. There’s no money for the big beautiful border wall that Trump the Mexicans pay for, but neither is there anything to prevent Trump from diverting funds from the military budget to build a mile or two. The Democratic leaders also gave oral assurances they wouldn’t complicate future budget negotiations with with any “riders” regarding abortion or other controversial issues, although it’s not clear how Trump will hold them to that.
The deal does allow a few hundred billion dollars more of discretionary spending, but for at least two years and maybe six that Democrats won’t have much say in how it’s spent, so a lot of Democratic congress members are publicly fuming, especially those newcomers that Trump has lately been urging to back where they came from.
The last of the old-school Republicans who really believed all that talk about limited government and fiscal responsibility and the looming were also disgruntled, with the president of the Committee for a Responsible Budget saying “It may end up being the worst budget agreement in our nation’s history.”
Despite all the grumbling on both sides of the aisle we expect the deal will be sealed by week’s end, when Congress takes it annual summer vacation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer retain a fairly tight rein on their caucus, hardly anyone in the Republican party dales challenge Trump on anything, the entire political class seems to realize that few of us still care about about the looming debt catastrophe, and absolutely no believes that anyone in Washington, D.C., can come up with solution before vacation time.
The deal at least kicks the can of crisis a bit further down the road, and no one’s likely to have to run for reelection a year from next November explaining what they did the the global economic Armageddon happened, and they can all hope they’ll be dead or retired with a sufficient stash of gold and guns and canned food when the reckoning does come.
Addressing America’s debt will require tough talk and harsh medicine for the American people. The Democrats will have to acknowledge that their utopian dreams are for now too expensive, the Republicans will probably have to forgo another round of their beloved tax cuts, and both parties will have make unpopular changes in such popular programs as Social Security and Medicare and even our recently undepleted military. That kind of political courage is scarce these days in either party, though, and far scarcer than the deficit dollars the Fed will keep printing.

— Bud Norman

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The Art of No Deal

President Donald Trump ran for office on a promise that his unsurpassed negotiating skills would deliver to a grateful America the best infrastructure bill that anyone’s ever seen. It hasn’t happened yet, and after an especially weird Wednesday in Washington, D.C., it seems unlikely to ever happen.
Trump had scheduled a morning meeting on the subject with Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several other Democratic members of Congress, but according to everyone in the room he arrived 15 minutes late, didn’t shake any hands or take a seat, and left after saying there would be no deal on infrastructure or anything else until the Democrats called off all of their numerous investigations of him. After that he went to the White House rose garden for a 12 minute rant before the television cameras that was splenetic and boastful and untruthful even by Trump standards, and he reiterated his rhyming State of the Union threat that Congress couldn’t legislate until it ceased to investigate.
Schumer and Pelosi unsurprisingly made clear in their own statements to the media that they have no intention of halting the investigations, even if it means Trump doesn’t get to claim credit for the best infrastructure bill that anyone’s ever seen, and they seemed to mean it. Trump will run for reelection on the argument that he would have signed the best infrastructure bill that anyone’s ever seen if not for those darned Democrats’ stubborn insistence on their constitutional oversight rights, but Pelosi and Schumer were clearly unconcerned about that. In the two years that Trump had Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress nothing to do with infrastructure was passed, and the Democratic majority in the House and sizable Democratic minority in the Senate have far less incentive to give Trump something to boast about.
Which might be for the best, given the sort of godawful pork-laden and budget-busting monstrosity of a bill that the combined imaginations of Trump and Schumer and Pelosi probably would have concocted. On the other hand, America’s roads and bridges and airports and electric grids and telecommunications systems and all the rest of it are as always in need of repairs and upgrades, and even such old-fashioned laissez faire Republicans as ourselves have to admit that some federal assistance will be required.
There are other pressing problems that we must begrudgingly admit probably require federal solutions, too, but they’ll also have to await the results of the 2020 elections. In the meantime there are upcoming budget deadlines and the potential for a global economy-wrecking federal default on the nation’s financial obligations, and although one side or the other has always caved in just in time over the past many occasions this round could be different.
At this point both sides only care who will get the blame for whatever calamity that occurs, and each has reason to believe it will be the other side. Trump can be confident that his die-hard supporters will buy the sales pitch that he would have wrought Utopia if only those darned Democrats had stopped picking on him and acceded to all his demands, while the Democrats can rightly assume that the rest of the country will be more skeptical. Trump will rally the faithful by defying congressional attempts to subpoena his tax returns and bank records and the testimony of several former administration officials and family members, while the Democrats can endlessly and insidiously and reasonably speculate about what the president is trying so hard to conceal.
Our guess is that the Democrats will eventually get the best of it, with some help from a judicial branch that so far seems to be on their side, but we’ve occasionally been wrong about these things. By now we know better than to underestimate Trump’s wiliness, nor the gullibility of his die-hard supporters, nor the political ineptitude of the Democratic party.
So for now we’ll hope that the next bridge we cross will hold up, that the local efforts at flood control will suffice, our next airplane trip will be uneventful, and the lights and internet connection stay on here at the home office. We’ll also hold out fainter hope that whatever it is Trump wants to keep in the dark will eventually be brought to light, the Democrats don’t go too far crazy left with their next nominee, ┬áthe government eventually gets back to its usual ham-fisted attempts to address the nation’s more pressing problems, and the rest of a nation of free markets and free minds continues to muddle its way toward progress.

— Bud Norman

Bad Times for the Democrats, Too

The trade deficit and the national debt are at record levels, there are the usual number of new developments regarding various political scandals, as well as other stories embarrassing to President Donald Trump, but we also notice that the damned Democrats have their own problems.
The Democrats’ majority in the House of Representatives is currently squabbling over what to do about one of their two Muslim members’ “tweets” are undeniably anti-Israel and quite arguably anti-Jewish, and the party writ large is debating whether to veer slowly to the left or to hold hands and hit the pedal and hurl off like “Thelma and Louise” over the far-left cliff. So far the center-left holds the rhetorical advantage and all the positions of power, but we’re talking about the likes House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, and there’s a palpable sense of worry in the party that it could lose yet again to the likes of Trump.
The flap about Rep. Ilhan Omar’s “tweets” won’t help the cause. Omar is from a Somali refugee family and represents a Minnesota district that has a surprising number of Somali-American voters along with the usual assortment of Minnesota liberals, and she holds the expected Muslim and liberal views about foreign policy, and the Republicans would understandably and dearly love to make the soft face peering out from chador the face of the Democratic party. The Democrats can’t quite bring themselves to rebuke Omar, but they’d dearly and understandably prefer some other face.
By now most Democrats either endorse or don’t much mind Omar’s anti-Israel stands, but when she “tweeted” that the American-Israeli Political Action Committee was buying Congressional support with “the Benjamins — a reference to the guy on the $100 bill, not the Old Testament figure — that seemed too much an ancient Jewish stereotype even for many modern day Democrats. Pelosi “signaled a willingness to advance a softly worded resolution related to anti-Semitism,” The Washington Post reports, but it was scuttled by opposition from New York Representative and left-wing daring Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the other Muslim congresswoman and the rest of the off–the-cliff left wing of the party, and “now leaders are cobbling together a broader draft that would oppose many forms of offensive actions.” With further embarrassment, the Post’s correspondent noted that “It may seem trivial — a nonbonding resolution expressing opposition intolerance of all kinds — but this a critical test for leadership to bring the caucus back together.”
So far Pelosi and Schumer have been successful in keeping their party in its usual lockstep, to a point that Trump is openly envious, but this seems a tough test for even better leadership to pass. For decades the Democratic party rightly prided itself on its steadfast support fo the Jewish people, and President Harry Truman was the first world leader to recognize the state of Israel and Sen. Bobby Kennedy was shot down for his steadfast support of the Jewish state, but since then things have gotten complicated. After Israel somehow won a series of wars against the combined might of its more populous Islamic neighbors in the late ’60s and early ’70s the Democrats’ instinctive favoritism for the underdog naturally shifted to the Islamic victims of western colonialism, while on the home front the party shifted its attention from the Jews to a far bigger black voting bloc that often feuded with Jewish interests in the all-important big cities and had more of that old-fashioned southern anti-Semitism that polite people will admit.
The Democrats could get plenty of Republicans to join with them in voting for some vaguely worded non-binding resolution in favor of tolerance for all religious views, but these days that seems unlikely. Vague language about “All religious views” might be construed to include some Baptist who doesn’t want to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage, or some Muslim or Jew or Hindu with similar traditional convictions, and with sexual issues overriding religious issues these days the modern Democrat can only be so tolerant. Some day in the near future historians will wonder why so many of the last few church-going and Bible-believing Christians in America voted for a thrice-married and six-times-bankrupt casino-and-strip-club mogul, and we can only advise them to look at what he was running against.
The off-the-far-left-cliff wing of the Democratic party makes Trump’s economic policies look pretty good, too. Although it would take some doing they’d probably swell the budget deficits even more than Trump has, and their tax hikes would make even worse than Trump’s tax cuts have, and they same to have same absurd protectionist instincts as Trump. Their “Green New Deal”is almost as stupid as Trump makes it out to be, and their socialist utopia would probably look a lot more like Venezuela than Scandinavia. If future historians ever have to wonder why America would re-elect the likes of Trump we’d advise them to take a look at who he was running against.

— Bud Norman

On the Ongoing Border War

There’s little in the news these days except the debate over a border wall and its resulting partial government shutdown, which might or might not be good for President Donald Trump. The upside for Trump is that no one’s paying much attention to the latest developments in the “Russia thing,” or talking about what Trump’s longtime lawyer will soon tell an open congressional hearing on his way to federal prison, and Trump’s die-hard fans can console themselves that at least he fights, which they seem to find quite consoling. The downside is pretty much everything else.
Despite the best efforts of Trump and his talk radio apologists, the president is taking a beating on the public relations front.
Past partial government shutdowns have been short-lived and gone largely unnoticed, but this time around is far longer and harsher than usual. The “fake news” media have come up with some all-too-real sob stories about the 800,000 or so federal workers who won’t be getting paid today, scary tales about air traffic controllers and airport security officers calling in sick to protest their lack of pay, and trash and human feces piling up at America’s national parks. There are few more hundred thousand employees of government contractors who also aren’t getting paid, too, and plenty of footage of farmers who are having trouble getting the subsidy checks they were promised when commodity prices dropped in the wake of Trump’s trade wars.
Both sides always play the blame game during these partial government shutdowns, but Trump pretty much gave that away when he invited all the cameras from the “fake news” to record him telling Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and now-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “I will be proud to shutdown the government for border security.” By “border security” Trump clearly meant the big and beautiful border wall he promised he would build along the entire southern border, but the public seems to have figured out that America can have border security without a wall, and that even the biggest and most beautiful wall won’t secure the country’s borders.
Trump has resorted to some easily disproved falsehoods about how all the past American presidents supported a sea-to-shining-sea border wall, and even Fox News has challenged his administration’s claims about the number Islamist terrorists crossing the southern border. He’s bragged about his magnanimity as he’s back downed from previous promises of a concrete to a mere American-made steel fence, and he’s been forced to say that he never really it meant it when he said that Mexico would gladly pay for it. Trump still insists that Mexico is indirectly paying for it by the great yet unratified trade deal that he has so brilliantly negotiated, but even it does raise enough federal revenue to pay for a wall it’s still money that could have been spent elsewhere if Mexico had actually paid for Trump’s big and beautiful border wall.
The objections aren’t just coming from those damned open borders Democrats, who we have to admit have offered billions for all sorts of border security efforts that don’t involve a big and beautiful wall along the entire border, but also some Republicans with old-fashioned pre-Trump conservative notions. The remaining Republicans in the House representing districts along the border are opposed to the idea, as many of their constituents own border land and don’t want a wall on it. Along most of the border Americans have happy and profitable relations with their neighbors to the south, and Trump should note that at one point a golf course would be cut in half, and that pre-Trump conservatism takes a dim view of eminent domain seizures of private property.
Trump is now threatening to use his presidential powers to declare a national emergency and divert funds from the defense budget or money appropriated for disaster relief and efforts to prevent further hurricane damage in Puerto Rico and Texas, but the few remaining pre-Trump conservatives will object on on old-fashioned constitutional grounds, and everyone in the country but the die-hard fans probably won’t buy into that. On Thursday’s photo-op at the southern border Trump riffed about how the wheel proceeded the wall back in the Medieval Age, and he looked even more ridiculous in his white “Make America Great Again” baseball cap and national emergency windbreaker and white slacks, and he seemed to realize the photo-op was a waste of time, as he’d already predicted to some reporters who leaked the off-the-record comment.
Trump is losing the argument in all the opinion polls, that awful but undeniably shrewd Pelosi woman clearly understands her advantage, but Trump can’t back down for fear of what the talk radio hosts might say, so those hundreds of thousands of government employees and government contract employees going without paychecks and the local business that depend on their patronage should probably hunker down for the long haul. Despite Trump’s claim that he’s backed by the entirety of the Republican there are already some dissenting votes, and of course all of those damned Democrats are against anything he wants, and although we have to admit that at least Trump fights he seems to be losing another round, and he won’t keep that “Russia thing” out of the news forever.

— Bud Norman

Watching the Sausage Get Made

There’s a wise old saying, apocryphally attributed to Otto Von Bismarck, that “Laws are like sausages, it is better not see them being made.” In this reality show age of politics and food shows the gruesome spectacles are always on display, however, so Tuesday brought the live-on-television opening round of negotiations between President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer over an upcoming spending bill. Suffice to say it provided more melodrama than anything the competing soap operas had to offer.
To sum up the episode up in a TV Guide-sized synopsis, Trump insists any spending bill include at least $5 billion for a big and beautiful wall across America’s entire southern border, Pelosi and Schumer don’t want want to give it to him, and Trump is threatening a partial government shutdown if they don’t. Most followers of the ongoing political saga already have a rooting interest in either Trump or Pelosi and Schumer, and will cheer their heroes and boo their villains accordingly, but for those of us worriedly watching from the sidelines it just seems a damned mess. At this point in the plot our best is guess is that there won’t be any significant funding for a wall, there will be a partial government shutdown of unknown duration, and no one comes out of it looking good.
Nobody looked at all good on Tuesday. Trump and Pelosi and Schumer each played their reality show parts to their usual hilts, and their discussion of the nation’s pressing issues was as full of sound and fury signifying nothing as a typical cable news show’s panel debates or one of those pro wrestling skits Trump used to participate in, with both sides asserting their dominance rather than making rational arguments based on agreed facts.
As far as that went, we’d have to say that awful Pelosi woman and that awful Schumer guy got the better of the power play than that awful Trump fellow. Trump boasted live-on-air that for the next few days he can muster the votes in House of Representatives to give funding for his border wall, but he also admitted that because of the 60-vote rule for spending bills he didn’t have the needed votes in the Senate, and Pelosi could rightly note that when a sizable Democratic majority is installed in the House early next month he won’t get any border wall funding there. The Democrats clearly have the stronger hand, to borrow a poker metaphor, and even after seeing all his casinos go bankrupt Trump still doesn’t seem to know when to cash in.
Trump can rightfully boast he somehow how has the powers of the presidency, including the veto power that would lead to a partial government showdown, but we can’t see how that does him much good. Even partial government shutdowns are always unpopular, and Trump once “tweeted” back during the Obama that they were proof of a failure of presidential leadership, now he’s boastfully threatening one, and although that big beautiful border wall is always an applause line at Trump’s rallies it also doesn’t poll well. Pelosi and Schumer are more veteran players of politics, which is still mostly played by the constitutional and legal and traditional rules Trump is still learning, so we don’t see them folding to a president who has preemptively claimed credit for an unpopular government shutdown over an unpopular wall.
A more objective and deliberative consideration of government and border security would be welcome, but both sides would be still look bad. Those damned Democrats are far too weak on border enforcement for our tastes, and some of them are downright crazy about despite Pelosi’s and Schumer’s assurances, but Trump’s longstanding pledge of a big and beautiful border wall has always struck as one of the most cockamamie campaign promises ever made. Even if Trump could keep somehow keep his even more cockamamie campaign promise to have Mexico happily pay for it, which he no longer mentions, the wall is opposed by most Americans residing near the southern border and all of their Republican and Democratic representatives, its cost would surely exceed Trump’s pie-in-the-sky budget estimates just in court expenses for eminent domain seizures that offend our old-fashioned conservative sensibilities, and the money could surely be better spent on high-tech surveillance, border walls at a few essential points, and cracking down on the vast majority of illegal immigrants who arrived via airplane and outstayed their visas.
A smart and fair and vigorous enforcement of America’s border laws would surely round up several employees of Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses, and probably cause some Democrats much embarrassment along the way, so we don’t see that happening. Instead we expect a prolonged partial government shutdown and legislative gridlock, plenty of booing and hissing according to partisan preferences, and that separate subplot about the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” proceeding apace to its cataclysmic conclusion.
Oh well, at least it could be worse if either side were to win.

— Bud Norman

The Second Day of the Comey Firing

Tuesday’s big story about President Donald Trump firing Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey inevitably led to a lot more stories on Wednesday. None of them made anyone look very good, but on the whole Trump seems to have had the worst of it.
There’s a strong case to be made for the firing of Comey, whose erratic performance over the course of a crazy election year outraged Democrats and then Republicans and then Democrats again, but that was lost in the blizzard of new bulletins. The New York Times reported that Comey’s firing came shortly after he requested more resources for an ongoing investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election and its possible collusion with Trump’s campaign, The Washington Post reported that Trump was furious that Comey hadn’t corroborated his “tweeted” claim that President Barack Obama had tapped the phones at Trump Tower, and everybody was reporting that some prominent Republicans were also declining to come to Trump’s defense.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration struggled to amount a defense of its own. White House press secretary Sean Spicer was spotted hiding from reporters behind some bushes before offering a few answers that suggested he hadn’t been expecting Tuesday’s announcement or Wednesday’s revelations, deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attributed Comey’s firing to the “atrocities” he’d committed while investigating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices, and occasional spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway’s first response to a montage of candidate’s Trump’s effusive campaign trail praise for how nicely Comey had handled the matter was to remind her questioner that Trump won Michigan. They all rightly noted that most Democrats were eager for Comey to be fired until Trump did it, but it’s hard to believe that Trump did it for the reasons the Democrats wanted, and at this point there seems plenty of hypocrisy to go around.
Trump himself, who only had an ill-timed meeting with a high-ranking Russian official on the daily schedule, spent much of Wednesday “tweeting” schoolyard taunts against his Democratic critics. He responded to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer by “tweeting” that “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer stated recently, ‘I do not have confidence in him (James Comey) any longer.’ Then acts so indignant.” After Democratic Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal appeared on a cable news show offering his own criticisms, Trump responded that “‘Richie’ devised one of the greatest military frauds in U.S. history. For years, as a pol in Connecticut, Blumenthal would talk of his great bravery and conquests in Vietnam — except he was never there. When caught, he cried like a baby and begged for forgiveness … and now he is judge & jury. He should be the one who is investigated for his acts.”
Trump is inarguably right about Schumer’s past criticisms of Comey, but Schumer is surely entitled to “tweet” back a taunt about Trump’s past praise, although we’d advise to him avoid any insulting nicknames. Trump’s also inarguably right that Comey was caught lying about his service record seven years ago, and although we don’t recall him “crying like a baby” he did indeed offer an apology that the voters of his state apparently accepted, and as much as we also dislike the guy we can’t see why a further investigation is now warranted. In any case, making these Democrats look bad doesn’t Trump or his decision to fire Comey look any better. The only “tweet” that made an affirmative case for firing said “Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Democrat and Republican alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me.”

That’s not a bad summation of the case, which requires more characters than “tweeting” allows to be persuasively made, but it’s hard to imagine when things might calm down over the next four years or anytime in the coming millennia when everyone will be thanking Trump for anything. Trump’s most die-hard supporters will dismiss anything from “The New York Slimes,” but the paper’s report has four on-the-record congressional sources, including a Republican, hasn’t been denied by anyone at the White House, and anyone who isn’t a die-hard Trump supporters will likely find that it raises some interesting questions that Trump and his spokespeople will have trouble answering. The talk radio hosts and their listeners will dismiss anything from “The Washington Compost,” but even they won’t believe that Trump wasn’t angry about Comey not going along with wiretapping claim, or mind if that was a reason for firing, and everyone else will note that nobody has come forward to corroborate those damning “tweets.” Some of the Republicans who are distancing themselves from the matter are running for re-election in jurisdictions where Trump is not popular, and given the latest national polls more are likely to follow.
Still, Trump was inarguably within his legal rights to fire Comey, and did have reasons for doing so that all those Democrats had previously agreed with, and it might yet work out for the best, and it’s also possible that Trump or someone speaking on his behalf will effectively make those arguments. If he thought the decision would be immediately met with bipartisan praise he was clearly wrong, though, and if he thought it would put an end to all that chatter about the Russians meddling in the election and the Trump campaign being somehow involved he was even more wrong. The next news cycle is going to involve a lot of explaining, and the one after that will also be troublesome.
Up next is Trump’s nominee to replace Comey, and whoever that turns out to be is going to be subjected to such severe scrutiny he or she is unlikely to come out of it looking pristine. If he or she seems the least bit interested in revisiting Clinton’s e-mail practices or entirely dismissive of the idea that Trump’s campaign might have been involved in Russia’s role in the past election that’s going to be a public relations problem for Trump, and if they aren’t that’s yet another problem. All those questions about Russia won’t go away until they’re definitively answered, which will require answers from someone who’s somehow untainted by all of this and has been given access to all the tax returns and financial disclosures and immunity-granted testimony that might involved, and at this point we can’t imagine who that person might be.

— Bud Norman