Advertisements

A Mixed Bag of Policy, Politics, and that Tax Bill

President Donald Trump at long last got a major piece of legislation to sign into law Wednesday, after the Republicans in congress rammed through a massive tax cut bill, but it remains to be seen if it will eventually count as a win. Trump and all those congressional Republicans are expecting the public will come to love the law, but for now it’s polling horribly and the Democrats are scoring the political points.
The bill runs more than 500 pages, and from our on-the-side-lines perspective it’s a rather mixed bag. Our guess is that the overall effect on the economy will be salutary, although not to the extent that the Republicans are hoping for, and that as usual the benefits won’t be equably distributed across the country, although not so inequitably as the Democrats are urging people to fear. Both parties should probably be hoping that it’s all largely forgotten by the time the next votes are cast in the mid-term elections.
The main feature of the bill is a slashing of the corporate tax rate from a world’s highest 35 percent to a more-typical-by-world-standards 21 percent, as  frankly and ill-advisedly admitted during a celebratory meeting with the congressional Republicans at the White House. Until then Trump had peddled the obvious fiction that the bill’s main feature is a big beautiful Christmas gift to America’s middle class, and he might come to wish he’d told the truth from the outset.
Although the Democrats were quite right to argue that few corporations pay that highest-in-the-world rate, it’s still true that all those deductions merely whittled that rate down and still left American corporations at a disadvantage in the competitive world market, and although it’s not likely to benefit the overall economy to the extent Republicans are hoping it won’t hurt and bit and will surely do some good. The stock markets had a slight downturn on Wednesday, but that’s because investors had already added in the anticipated passage of the bill during its recent record-setting runs, and we’ve no doubt there would have been a bloodbath of red if the bill hadn’t passed.
There’s a certain segment of the Democratic party and the more general left that resent anything that benefits corporations, but even such Democrats as President Barack Obama recognized that the economy can’t do without them for now and were also on board with a corporate tax cut. If that had been touted as the main feature of the bill, the Republicans might have coaxed a few votes from Democratic representatives and senators in districts and states where corporations are major employers and majors donors, which would have given some bipartisan cover in case things go wrong.
The bill also delivers some tax cuts to the middle class, although not all of it, and even many of the beneficiaries might conclude that it’s not as big and beautiful a Christmas gift as was promised. Despite all the populist rhetoric on both the left and the right the hate top 1 percent pay bear about half the country’s tax burden, the top 20 percent pick up 85 percent of the tab, and a full 60 percent pay either no federal income taxes or so little that any further cuts would only amount to little. If you’re in that 50-to-80 percent segment of the population that is paying you might get a notable if not princely amount each year until the cuts expire, but if you live in a nice house in a high-tax state or haven’t gotten around to having children or are paying rather receiving alimony or have other certain circumstances it might just turn out to be a tax hike.
How that turns out in the overall mid-term voting remains to be seen, but we will hazard a guess that those Republicans holding crucial House seats in such states as California and New York and Illinois are going to regret getting  rid of the state and local property tax deductions. The sorts of Republicans you find in those well-heeled districts with high-priced houses are already inclined to abhor the boorishness of Trump and his burn-it-down populism, and without a stake in a party-line Republican tax bill they won’t have any reason to support the party.
In those less well-heeled and more reliably Democratic districts the law is likely to further enflame the ever-raging fires of class resentment, no matter how salutary the overall economic consequences. All of those congressional Republicans have always denied that the law delivers a far bigger tax cut to the rich than it does the middle class, and Trump has assured his true believers that he’s going to take a huge hit because of it, but these arguments not only verifiably but also obviously untrue. The expert analyses of the bill vary wildly, and you can believe whichever you want based on how they share your ideological leanings until you complete your tax forms, but all of them agree that someone richer than you is going to reap bigger benefits than you.
That doesn’t bother us, as we’re the penurious but Republican sorts who harbor no class resentments, and we still hold out hope of snatching some small benefit from any overall salutary effect on the economy, but we do wish that Trump and all those congressional Republicans hadn’t so brazenly lied about it. The arguments for income inequality are complex and hard to make, but President Ronald Reagan persuasively made it during a longer and more thorough debate for his even bigger tax cut bill, and they always work better than a bald-faced lie. Trump’s lie that all the businesses he scandalously hasn’t divested himself of won’t benefit is particularly galling, and we can’t begrudge the Democrats the political points they’ll score because of that.
The law also repeals the provision of the “Obamacare” law that requires citizens to purchase not only health coverage but health care coverage of a certain type that may or may not be needed, which was the part we most hated about that hated law, but that’s also a mixed bag. Trump brags that he’s kept a campaign promise to repeal Obamacare, which is true enough because eliminating it’s individual mandate will ultimately sink the whole project, but because he hasn’t kept his campaign promise to replace Obamacare with something big and beautiful that will cover everyone at at a far lower cost it’s likely to end up with a lot of people losing coverage and many people more for what they’ve still got.
We do expect the effect on gross domestic product and unemployment numbers will be salutary, though, and hold out hope that some better health care policy will ensue from the coming calamity, so the Grand Old Party might yet survive all the public disapproval of the moment. During their big celebration party at the White House the congressional Republicans took turns lavishing praise on Trump in terms so obsequious they would have embarrassed a North Korean general, on the other, and in the long run the party will suffer consequences for such brazen lies as that.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

A Mish-Mash of a Monday News Cycle

Monday was chockfull of news, most of it involving President Donald Trump, and it was a decidedly mixed bag.
Trump traveled to Utah to announce that he’s reducing the size of two national monuments in the state by a combined 1.9 million acres, which is a very big number. Some of the local Indian tribes and all of the environmental groups and a few tourism and sporting goods businesses were aghast at the reduction, but there are such sound conservatives arguments for the move that most conservatives were pleased. That’s a big chunk of Utah that was being run by the federal bureaucracy rather than Utah or Utahans, and there’s still more than an ample 1.2 million combined acres of the Bears Ears and  Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments left for the Indians and nature lovers, so we’ll give Trump a rare thumbs up.
Court challenges have already been filed, of course, but Trump’s contested restrictions on travel from some Muslim-majority countries won a victory that should cheer him. The matter is still slogging its way through the lower courts, but the Supreme Court has decided that the restrictions can be fully enforced until it eventually arrives at a final decision. For sound conservative reasons too complicated to recount here, that’s also fine with us.
The rest of the legal news, though, was more troublesome. It wouldn’t be a news day these days with some “twitter” controversy, and the latest was about Trump’s statement that he fired former national security advisor Mike Flynn because “he lied to the vice president and the FBI” about contacts with Russian officials. Flynn has recently pleaded guilty to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and apparently because isn’t facing prosecution on several other serious charges because he’s cooperating with the special counsel investigation into Russia’s interference in the past election, but various journalists and legal analysts found the “tweet” self-incriminating for Trump. The problem is that it implies he knew Flynn had lied to the the FBI before he asked the bureau’s director to drop the investigation — according to the sworn of testimony of the director, who was fired after he declined the arrest — and therefore bolsters a case for obstruction of justice.
The arguments raged all day on all the political shows, with plausible points made on both sides, but even if Trump’s prevail it’s still another example of how “tweeting” causes unnecessary and unhelpful controversies. Any good lawyer would tell any client that it’s best to avoid “tweeting” anything about an ongoing criminal investigation, and any good client would heed that advice, but one of the lawyers Trump hired step forward to claim that he had written the “tweet” and used the president’s account to transmit it without the president’s knowledge. Either that’s a disbarment sort of lie, which is our best guess, or it’s a glaring example of the kind of legal representation you wind up with if you have a reputation for not paying your bills in full and being a bad client, and in any case it’s not helpful.
By the end of the day Trump’s legal team was arguing that “collusion” isn’t even a crime and that a president cannot obstruct justice or be indicted on any charge, which are arguments that most presidents would prefer not to have to make. It’s true enough that the word “collusion” isn’t found in any relevant statute, but the law is rife with its synonym “conspiracy,” and if it’s not illegal for a candidate to abet a hostile foreign efforts interference in an American election most Americans are likely to conclude it should be. As is so often the case with Trump’s unprecedented presidency, there are few precedents regarding a president’s obstruction of justice or indictment on some other crime, but those few precedents are not promising. Nixon wound up resigning after a bill of impeachment charged obstruction of justice, Clinton was disbarred and disgraced and barely survived an impeachment trial on the same charge, numerous high-ranking officials of other administrations wound up doing prison time, and Nixon’s famous argument to David Frost that “It’s not illegal when the President of the United States does it” has not fared well in the court of public opinion.
Trump’s one-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort was back in the news with accusations by federal prosecutors that he had violated the terms of his house arrest while awaiting trial a variety of money-laundering and tax evasion charges, which looks bad. The feds claim he was working with one of his contacts in the Russian intelligence community to pen an editorial Manafort hoped to sell defending his work on behalf of a Russia-friendly Ukrainian political party, which looks worse. Trump’s original claims that none of his people ever had anything to do with the Russians isn’t looking good these days, what with all those disclosed e-mails and revised clearance forms and corrected testimonies, and it remains to be seen if there’s a a better argument than it’s no big deal even if the worst is true.
There’s also that Southern Gothic novel of Senatorial race down in Alabama, where Republican nominee and quite credibly accused child molester Ray Moore is running against some got-durned liberal, and of course Trump was part of that story. He’s now fully in support of the Republican nominee and credibly accused child molester, whereas previously he had only been fully against the got-durned liberal, and much of the Republican establishment has meekly backed away from its previous criticisms and will even be sending some campaign ad money through the party’s congressional committee. This comes on a day when one of Moore’s accusers offered proof that Moore did at least know her, despite his denial, and another woman came forward to accuse Trump of forcing unwanted kisses on her, just as he boasted about frequently doing on that “Access Hollywood” case. All charges are open to argument, as always, but it’s not helpful.
Oh, there’s also that tax bill Trump might yet get to sign soon. All the details still have to be worked out in a conference committee, but already it’s clearly another mixed bag of news and too complicated to explain here.

— Bud Norman