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A Taxing Situation for the GOP

There’s a good chance that the Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress will sooner or later pass some tax bill or another, and a certainty that President Donald Trump will make a big show of signing whatever they might come up with, but at the the moment it seems likely to prove a pyrrhic victory. All of the tax bills that are under consideration are currently polling even worse than all the repeal-and-replace-Obamacare bills that never got passed, the inevitable devils in the details spell trouble for those Republican representatives in the Democratic states, and they way that Trump and the rest of the Republicans are going about it are also problematic.
Despite all the desperate Republican attempts to deny it, there’s really no denying that all of the potential bills really do amount to that hated huge tax cut for the rich that Democrats are always accusing of them of seeking, which largely explains the bad poll numbers. As old-fashioned Republicans we’re sympathetic to the case that the rich shoulder an unfair share of tax burden and that allowing them to spend some greater amount of of their mostly hard-earned money on private sector investments, but these newfangled sorts of Republicans are ill-suited to making that case. Trump claims he’s going to take a huge hit on his taxes with any of the Republican bills, but he’s the first president in decades who hasn’t made his tax returns publicly available to prove such claims, and according to all the polls most Americans don’t believe him when he says “believe me.”
Trump also likes to brag about how well the American economy is doing since his inauguration, which undercuts the argument President Ronald Reagan persuasively used to sell the even bigger tax cut for the rich that rescued the economy from the stagflation of the ’70s, and he doesn’t seem to have the same Reagan-esque understanding of the complex theory to explain it to the American public. Even such old-fashioned Republicans as House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell seem incapable of making the time-honored arguments for a low-taxed and lightly-regulated economy, and seem to prefer desperate arguments denying that there really is a big tax cut for the rich involved. The Republicans still have a strong case for a significant cut in the world’s highest corporate tax rate, which still figures prominently in all the still viable bills, but the Democrats can rightly note that the only corporations who actually pay that rate have very bad accountants, and what with all those corporations doing so well under Trump’s leadership it’s a harder sell to the general public.
Almost all of those still-viable Republican bills would also eliminate a longstanding federal tax deduction for state and local taxes, which will wind up meaning a tax increase for many middle-and-upper-class Republican voters who find themselves residing in a high-tax Democratic state, and since those voters tend to reside in certain upper-crust Republican districts in those Democratic states that can’t help the Grand Old Party’s chances of keeping its narrow majorities in Congress. Upper-crust Republicans are already uncomfortable with the party’s recent populist turn, and if they’re going to be betrayed by their party even on such hard-core convictions as tax cuts that’s bound to a problem.
There are valid Republican arguments to be made against all of those still-viable bills, too, and Republicans being such cussedly hard-to-herd contrarians many of them are making those arguments. Some of the last die-hard deficit hawks are objecting the to projected and pretty much undeniable increases in the national debt, God bless ’em, those Republican members from those upper-crust districts in otherwise Democratic states are of course speaking out. in the Senate that nice lady from Maine has her usual liberal-leaning objections and that staunch fellow from Kentucky is suggesting none of the still-viable alternatives are nearly conservative enough, and the Republicans might yet snatch defeat from the jaws of a pyrrhic victory.
The House has already passed a badly-polling bill but has some sticking points with each of the remaining viable Senate bills, and the Senate majority is razor-thin, so of course Trump re-started a “twitter” feud with a Republican senator whose vote is badly needed. Arizona’s Sen. Jeff Flake has been a reliable vote for consensus Republican causes during his first term, but he also wrote a book critical of Trump’s combative rhetoric and more populist tendencies, and was recently caught on a live microphone saying that if the Republicans become the party of Trump and Alabama senate candidate Ray Moore it is “toast,” so Trump promptly “tweeted” that Flake — or “Flake(y)” as Trump put it — was therefore a “no vote” on any Republican bill. Our guess is that Flake will vote as usual with the consensus of Republican opinion, and since he’s already announced he won’t run for reelection given the current climate we’re sure he’ll cast his vote with concern for the political consequences, so we won’t blame him whether he hands Trump yet another legislative defeat or allows Trump a pyrrhic victory.
If the process drags out long enough it might come to down a special Senate race down in Alabama, where the aforementioned Moore seems in danger of losing that reliably Republican state’s Senate seat to a Democrat, of all people. Moore stands credibly accused by numerous woman of being that creepy guy who preys on teenaged girls, and by now many of the old-fashioned Republicans have renounced his campaign, but Trump has preferred to “tweet” about a Democratic senator’s sexual misconduct while White House spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway was on television urging Alabamans to vote for the credibly accused child molester in order to pass whatever tax bill the Republicans come up with. This might work for no, but in the long run it strikes us as an especially pyrrhic victory.
The economy will probably chug along in any case, and the national debt will just as surely swell, the inevitable reckoning will  hopefully occur after we do, and as far as we’re concerned both parties deserve whatever they get.

— Bud Norman

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Pooping the Grand Old Party

President Donald Trump had a working lunch with al; the Republican members of the Senate on Tuesday, and oh how we would have loved to have been there. Trump always goes over well with adoring audiences of the true-blue fans clad in red “Make America Great Again” ball caps, but tends to lash out at critics, so all the Republican members of the Senate made for an intriguingly mixed crowd.
Most of the Senators were willing to laugh at Trump’s jokes and indulge his boasts, even if they wouldn’t go so far as to join in the usual rally cries of “build that wall” and “lock her up,” and all were probably eager to hear his support for their mostly agreed-upon tax-cutting plans, which was the stated reason for the lunch. The president had just renewed his recent war of words with Tennessee’s Sen. Bob Corker, though, and Arizona’s Sen. Jeff Flake was about to take the Senate floor with a blistering denunciation of Trump’s rhetoric, which shortly followed Arizona Sen. John McCain’s scathing remarks to a documentarian about the bone spurs that had spared Trump service in the Vietnam War, along with other intra-party acrimony. Trump’s audience also included Alaska’s Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins, Nebraska’s Sen. Ben Sasse, and majority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, all of whom the president has also been publicly insulting lately, which is a big chunk of the Republican party’s oh-so-slight 52 members in the 100-seat Senate.
The lunch was off limits to the press, but the reporters gathered outside did get a few quotes from departing members about what Trump said. Second-ranking Republican Sen. John Cornyn said “It wasn’t a whole lot about taxes. It was about the late nine months and the success in terms of the regulatory environment, consumer confidence, the stock market, and also the need to get work done.” Given Trump’s aversion penchant for taking credit for anything people might like and his aversion to specific policy details, along with Cronyn’s generally reliable reputation for honesty, we don’t doubt a single word of it. Nobody mentioned any insults, though, and we assume the food was delicious, so the lunch seems to have gone well enough for the Trump.
It was nonetheless a tough day for Trump, though, as his Republican critics got in some pretty good shots, and the Democratic media passed them all along to their audiences with a strange new respect. Corker had once been a reluctant Trump supporter but criticized the president for praising the “good people on both sides” of a white supremacist rally in Virginia that killed a counter-protestor, questioning Trump’s temperament and stability, Trump responded with “tweets” calling him “Liddle” Bob Corker and quite falsely accusing the Senator of being for the Iranian nuclear deal he had in fact aggressively opposed, a claim the president was still “tweeting” on Tuesday, when Corker was telling the press that “I’ve seen no evolution in an upward way. In fact, it seems to be devolving.”
Flake never endorsed Trump’s candidacy nor his presidency, and wrote a book titled “Conscience of a Conservative: A Rejection of Destructive Politics and a Return to Principle” that was clearly a anti-Trump statement, so of course he was dubbed “Flake Jeff Flake” by Trump in the ensuing “tweeted” counter-punches. When he took to the Senate floor on Tuesday Flake never mentioned Trump by name, but his warning that “We must never meekly accept the daily sundering of our country — the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions; the reckless provocations, most often for the pettiest and most personal reasons,” was understood even by Trump to be talking about Trump. The president can “tweet” any insults back at “Flake” that he wants, but they only bolster Flake’s case.
Flake might have been emboldened by his state’s senior Republican senator and failed Republican presidential nominee’s longstanding feud with the Trump, who infamously scoffed at McCain’s heroic decision to endure extra years of torture in a North Vietnamese prison rather than desert the prisoners he commanded by saying “he’s only a hero because he got caught. I like a guy who didn’t get, Okay?” McCain’s comment about how Trump had avoided the war altogether because of business school deferments and a bone spur injury that somehow has never hindered his golf career also scored points, also scored some points. Arizona was once the home of failed Republican presidential nominee Sen. Barry Goldwater, who wrote the original “Conscience of a Conservative” and was among the Republicans who counseled President Richard Nixon to resign, and we guess that bolstered Flake as well.
Previous Republican President George W. Bush has also recently weighed in with a denunciation of Trump that never mentioned him by name, and along with senators Murkowski and Collins and Sasse and the majority leader we’re sure there are other Republicans in the Senate and House and down here at our grassroots level who share the same exasperation. Many of those Senators who actually would be willing to don the “MAGA” ball caps and chant the “lock her up” and “build that wall” slogans would probably be willing to shift to whatever side where the favorable winds are blowing, too, and for now the Republican party is a tough crowd.
Bush is term-limited out of public office, Corker had already announced he wouldn’t seek re-election and Flake made the same announcement to his state’s biggest newspaper just 15 minutes before that blistering speech, McCain is too old to seek re-election even if he wasn’t battling brain cancer, and the rest of those Republicans have their own reasons of principle of local politics for taking their stands against Trump’s bullying behavior. Trump has plenty of anti-establishment supporters and some well-heeled donors to drive their likes from the party, meanwhile, and although some of the candidates they’re coming up with are kooky enough lose elections even in reliably Republican states there’s a chance he’ll at least wind up with control of the once Grand Old Party.
Which will at least satisfy Trump and his supporters to the extent that it annoys both the Democrats and the equally-hated Republicans establishment, but it doesn’t seem likely to result in any legislative victories. Flake and Corker have both been reliable votes for the most cherished objectives of the Republican party, even if they’re seemingly wimpish in insulting the opposition, and for most part so have the rest of the dissidents, and the anti-establishment alternatives seem more interested in feuding with whatever establishment survives rather than finding long sought solutions, even if they do somehow get elected. The Republican party might just be passing its most cherished bills with the majorities they have in the Senate and House, and in most cases we think the president would be signing it, if not for the take-no-prisoners brand of politics that fuddy-duddy establishments have bravely decried.

— Bud Norman

Taxes and Texas and Other Disasters

The news was largely swept away by the flood waters that continue to wreak havoc on Texas and Louisiana, but the Republican party has officially commenced the tax reform part of its legislative agenda to make America great again. President Donald Trump kicked it off with a little-heard speech in Missouri, and it’s probably for the best that such an inauspicious start was largely swept away the flood waters.
We’re the old-fashioned conservative Republican types who like our taxes low and government lean, and we’ve shared to a certain wary extent in the stock market’s giddy expectation that Republican majorities in both houses of Congress and a more-or-less Republican president might nudge the economy in that direction, but for now we’re warier than ever. The speech sounded all the same populist soak-the-rich themes that Trump expounded during his burn-down-the-establishment campaign, yet seemed to promise all the usual old-fashioned conservative promises about tax cuts for the rich along with everyone else, but didn’t explain with any specificity about how they’re going to pull that off, much less while keeping all those newfangled and old-fashioned campaign promises about reducing the budget deficit and eventually even the national debt.
We doubt that any of those darned newfangled Democratic liberals with their tax-and-spend ways were swayed, even that long-established Democratic Senator from Missouri that Trump threatened by name during a strikingly partisan oration, and we are not assured that even the needed entirety of those of Congressional Republicans will be on board. It largely depends on the details that have not yet been revealed, of course, but whatever they might prove to be they’re bound to offend either the populist of or traditional wings of the Republican party, and in any case won’t please of those darned tax-and-spend Democrats.
Even in a best-case scenario a massive tax cut to whoever without similar cuts in the entitlement programs that are driving the annual deficits and mounting national debt would lead a a temporary budget shortfall, especially with all the increased defense spending that every corner of the Republican party is proposing, and the debate is lately even more complicated than that. The short term budget shortfalls the as-yet unspecified Republican proposals presumably propose assume they’d be offset by the savings they’d realized from repealing and replacing the hated Obamacare law, which somehow didn’t happen despite Republican majorities in Congress and a more-or-less Republican president, and the cost is likely to swell after the fourth-most-populous metropolitan area in the United States finds itself under even more literal water than the president’s approval ratings.
The cost of gasoline is already up by about 25 percent around here after the city that provides a fourth of America’s energy was flooded, the extra five bucks that motorists are paying per fill-up won’t be going to any of the other businesses around here, and the national economy hasn’t yet started to feel the effects of its fourth-most-populous city being underwater. Though we wish them the best all those Republicans are wading into this debate with strong headwinds and few few victories to bolster them, and we expect their allies on the stock markets will be hedging their bets on the promises that had been made to them, which also won’t help. That’s not to mention all the already complicated talk about continuing spending resolutions and debt ceiling increases and funding for crazy campaign promise about building a tall wall across the entire Mexican border, along with the rest of the bipartisan craziness of late.
There’s also all that drip-drip-drip flooding about “Russia,” the latest nuclear saber-rattling from the nutcase North Korean regime, and a general sense that we’re all in the midst of one of those one-thousand year floods. A severe cut in America’s steepest-in-the-world corporate tax rates really is a good idea, even if they do pay an effective rate that’s more-or-less competitive after all the tax exemptions that might or might not be retained under the as-yet-undisclosed Republican proposals, but that’s a pretty dry subject given all the recent floods. There’s an old-fashioned conservative Republican case to be made that cuts in the top rates that will benefit the poor folks those rich folks will wind up hiring, but Trump promised that he and his fellow billionaires would take a hit without revealing the tax returns that would prove his claim, and he’s still a poor advocate for low taxes and lean government and old-fashioned conservative Republicanism.
Those darned Democrats and their tax-and-spend ways don’t seem to have any better ideas, so for now we’re bracing for one of those occasional thousand-year disasters.

— Bud Norman

A Two-Front War of Words, For Now

President Donald Trump was waging a two-front war of words on Thursday, against both the nutcase dictatorship of North Korea and his own party’s Senate majority leader. Trump has bragged that he has all the best words, but we worry if they’re right ammunition for either conflict.
The feud with Kentucky’s Sen. Mitch McConnell is somewhat the less worrisome, as all the talk about the “nuclear option” in the Senate is merely figurative, but it’s also consequential and we don’t see it ending well for either side or the country at large.
McConnell stands accused by the president of failing to round up the necessary 51 votes out of a 52-vote Republican majority to to make good on the on the party’s longstanding and the president’s more recently embraced promise to repeal and replace the hated Obamacare law, and he’s indisputably guilty as charged. There’s a strong argument to be made that Trump also bears at least some of the responsibility as the titular leader of the party, given that he never set foot outside the White House to rally public support for any of the various bills he never seemed to fully understand, but Trump “tweeted” all the blame to McConnell. McConnell had the temerity during a Rotary Club meeting in his home state to offer the mitigating circumstances that “Now our new president has, of course, not been in this line of work before, and I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process,” so of course that escalated the war words.
Trump quickly and correctly “tweeted” back that his expectations of a quick repeal-and-replace had been fueled by the Republicans’ promises of the last seven years, then later told the press that he’ll await whether McConnell has to step down because of it, wisely not noting that was a lot longer than he’d been on the bandwagon, so he seems to have the upper hand. McConnell has long been the “establishment” bogeyman of the Grand Old Party on all the talk radio shows where most of Trump’s most loyal supporters get their news, Trump is their hero of the burn-the-establishment-down style of conservatism, and the hated liberal media aren’t likely to come to McConnell’s rescue, so Trump seems to have at least bolstered his base in their intr-party dispute.
The three lost votes were a Senator from deep blue Maine who’s about as red as you could hope for, another equally contrarian woman from contrarian Alaska who didn’t take kindly to Trump’s threats to punish her entire state for her lack of loyalty, and a dying old prisoner of war hero that the president once insulted as a guy who “got caught.” That bill they were expected to pass was polling in the mid-teens, the president who was strong-arming them was polling in the 30s, and even here in deep-red Kansas we had a Senator who cast a killing vote against one of the the various versions, and an awful lot of Republican senators seemed eager to move on, despite Trump’s “twitter” tantrums, so at this point we don’t expect Trump’s words to bully McConnell or anybody else into trying again.
Best to move on to such sensible Republican promises as corporate tax cuts and and fiscal solvency and an upright military posture, but that will likely require both Trump and McConnell working together with other poll-watching Republican votes, and we can’t see how a war of words between the two about the lost battle of Obamacare is going tho help any of that along. The rest of the Republican domestic agenda is pretty dry stuff, requiring all sorts of nuanced explanations about why it really is all pretty sensible, and Trump seems far too colorful and McConnell for too drab for either of them to do the job. What with the all the intra-party feuding, such sensible reforms seem all the less likely.
At this point we expect it will come down to another Republican argument about whom to blame. Trump’s base will hear on talk radio that it’s all the establishment’s fault, the high-brow but low-circulation establishment press will reluctantly make the case for McConnell’s mitigating circumstances, and of course the rest of the media that the rest of the country hears will delight in the in-fighting. For now the rest of the country seems predominate, and although Trump seems to be winning the intra-party battle he seems to be losing the broader.
Our patriotic instinct is to rally around any old Republican or Democrat president during a time of potential literal nuclear war, but we can’t shake a nagging suspicion that Trump isn’t trying to similarly shore up his political base. The nutcase dictatorship of North Korea has lately acquired the ability to place a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental missile that can reach strategic American soil, Trump has defiantly responded that any further further threats would be met with “fire and fury and frankly power the likes of which the world has never seen,” and that was met with the nutcase North Korean dictatorship’s explicitly-stated threat to land a missile just off Guam and some taunts from North Korean generals that Trump was “old” and “deranged” and “senile,” but for now it’s just a verbal conflagration.
Trump’s tough talk and caustic put-downs of the past four presidential administrations and the many failures of America’s intelligence as he addressed the current crisis probably shored up that that burn-down-the-establishment base, but we suspect it  played less well in Seoul and Tokyo and Beijing and the rest of the world. As much as we’re rooting for the president in a time of potential nuclear war, we’ve seen enough of the guy that we’re worried how he’ll personally he might respond to such taunts as “old” and “senile” and “golfs too much,” which might enough to provoke a literally nuclear response.,”
Back when it was just intra-party Republican politics, Trump could “tweet” with impunity about “Lyin'” Sen. Ted Cruz or Sen. Rubio “Little” Marco or a “look-at-that-face” female opponent and be assured they’d be too gentlemanly to respond by calling him “Fat” Donald or “Sleazy” Trump, but that nutcase dictatorship in North Korea seems to be playing by different rules. There’s an argument to be made for Trump’s apocalyptic hyperbole, given the undeniable failure of the last 50-plus years of establishment policies to forestall this awful moment, but we’d like to think it all run past the more seasoned foreign-policy heads and coordinated with a well-oiled machine of diplomats and public relations who were part of a coordinated strategy.
That’s what even such a stodgy and failed old Republican establishment fellow as a President McConnell would do, and that’s what we’d do our amateurish best to do, with even a damned old Democrat likely to do the same, so,we hope these competing instincts of the Republican party will somehow prevail on both fronts of this so-far-merely-war-of-words.

— Bud Norman

Kansas, Back in the Middle of the Country

The Republicans’ seven year quest to repeal and replace Obamacare is currently as dead as a proverbial door nail, and likely to remain so for a long while, so for now the party is mostly concerned with apportioning the blame. Many of the fingers are pointing at our beloved Kansas’ very own Sen. Jerry Moran, and from our wind-swept perspective here on the southern great plains that suggests the party has some hard-to-solve problems.
Moran and Sen. Mike Lee of the equally blood-red state of Utah simultaneously “tweeted” on Monday that they would vote “no” on the Senate’s repeal-and-replace bill, and with Sen. Susan Collins from deep blue Main already voting “no” because of the bill’s stinginess and Sen. Rand Paul from the hard-to-define shade of red Kentucky objecting to its largess, that that was two Republican votes too many for the bill to survive. On Tuesday Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also from that complicated Kentucky, floated the idea of simply repealing Obamacare with a promise to replace it with something so great it will make your head spin within within two years, but Collins and Sen. Lisa Murkowski of the reliably red state of Alaska and Sen. Shelley Moore Caputo of the West Virginia, which is only recently red but with all the fervor of a new convert, joined together to put the kibosh on that. All will be blamed for the party’s failure to get something passed, but we suspect that many of their colleagues are quietly grateful for the favor.

The Senate bill was polling so horribly it had actually made the hated Obamacare bill popular, which was more than President Barack Obama’s oratorical flourishes and outright obfuscations ever achieved, and every sort of Republican also had some objections. It wasn’t the root-and-branch repeal-and-replacement that the Republicans had been promising since every single member of the party had voted against the damned thing those many years ago, and retained many of the poll-tested but economically unworkable provisions of Obamacare that are currently driving up premiums in a politically potent number of states and congressional districts, so the conservative arguments were hard to refute. The bill also included significant cuts to Medicaid and other entitlement programs, and when Vice President Mike Pence tried to deny that at a governor’s conference several Republican governors politely explained he was flat wrong, and given that they and all those wary Republican congressional members are all polling much better in their home states than either President Donald Trump or his senate there’s no arguing with the political logic.
All politics is local, as the old proverb put it, and as Kansans we sympathize with how complicated that must be for Moran. Ever since the abolitionists came here to fight the Bleeding Kansas pre-civil war the state’s tended Republican, and except for the landslide elections of ’36 and ’64 it’s voted GOP in every presidential races and has only once sent a Democrat to the United States senate, but of course it’s more complicated than that. Those abolitionists were upright establishment New Englanders with high-minded ideas about good government, and of course they were also religious zealots and unabashed radicals, always facing the harsh reality of making a honest living on treeless plain, and those various forces still inform the political debate around here. They were later joined in the party by Swedes and Russians and Germans and the black Exodusters fleeing the slavery of the south, but the party remained in steadfast opposition to the Democrats and the even crazier Prairie Populists and in disagreement about everything else.
For the most part the moderate factions always prevailed, standing firmly against the most radical Democrat ideas but willing to embrace a certain amount of good government. The party generously funded the state’s schools, kept the roads between all the small towns paved, locked up the occasional mass murderers and other criminal types, paid the salaries of all the pointy-headed professors at the regent universities, and provided for widows and orphans. Kansas has always provided fertile soil for a more ruggedly individualistic style of conservatism, though, and it has also exerted an influence on the party.
When the election of President Barack Obama unleashed some of the Democratic Party’s more radical ideas back in ’08 the state was at the forefront of the “Tea Party” reaction, with pretty much the entirety of the Republican Party on board. All of the state’s congressional delegation, including then-First District Rep. Moran, voted against Obamacare and the rest of the Democratic agenda, and the conservative outrage trickled down to the rest of the state’s politics. By ’10 the Republicans in Congress and the statehouse who were deemed insufficiently rocked-ribbed faced primary challenges, the successor to Democratic-governor-turned-Obama-cabinet-secretary Kathleen Sibelius was replaced by the exceedingly rock-ribbed Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, and when some of the Republicans in the state legislature balked at his tax-and-budget-cutting proposals they were largely replaced by primary challengers.
When Brownback relinquished his Senate seat to run for governor Moran beat out the more “Tea Party” Fourth District Rep. Todd Tiahrt in a hotly contested primary, and a couple of years later the curmudgeonly conservative but by-now-establishment Sen. Pat Roberts barely survived a primary challenge from an even more curmudgeonly conservative political neophyte who was related to Obama on the Kansas side of the family tree, but the conservative and anti-establishment faction of the party was clearly in control.
Since then, however, the moderate and establishment wing of the Grand Old Party has been making a comeback. Brownback and Roberts and all the rest of the party won re-election in the nationwide Republican wave of ’14, but by then it was clear that Brownback’s theoritically-sound but admittedly radical tax-and-budget-cutting proposals weren’t spurring the economy and balancing the books as predicted, and that after so many rounds of cuts the schools and roads and prisons and the rest of the states business were bound to be affected, so suddenly the establishment moderate types were winning the primary challenges. Enough of them won in the last election that they were able to join with the Democrats to recently override Brownback’s veto of a tax increase. Tax increases are anathema to a Kansas Republican’s soul, but so are unbalanced budgets and uneducated schoolchildren and unpaved roads and unpunished criminals, and in Kansas as elsewhere politics is complicated that way.
Which is pretty much the complicated place that Moran found himself when he decided to cast a “no” vote that he surely knew would invite plenty of pointing figures, here and in the rest of the Republican precincts of the country. He and Lee shrewdly timed their announcements so that neither could be blamed as the guy who cast the fatal vote against repeal-and-replace, both reasonably explained that a “yes” vote wouldn’t have fulfilled their campaign promises of a root-and-branch repeal and replacement, and both surely have other unstated more moderate reasons that make an undeniable political logic.
Once you get outside the big bad city of Wichita and the trendy suburbs of Kansas City or the booming college town of Lawrence and the recently-recession-plagued state capital of Topeka, Kansas is mostly a scenic but sparsely populated expanse of rapidly aging small towns with a dwindling supply of rapidly aging people. In many of these locales, which are still quite charmingly all-American, the main driver of the local economy and the most crucial local institutions are the local hospitals and old folks’ homes, largely funded by Medicaid, and despite what Vice President Pence says on behalf of President Obama those Republican governors with the healthier poll numbers are probably right about the Senate bill. For all the economic harm Obamacare is doing to the healthy young hipsters of Lawrence and the family guys commuting back to the Kansas City suburbs and the factory guys here in Wichita, we can hardly blame Moran for not wanting to face the wrath of all those paid-up geezers in the rest of the state.
If Moran wants to cynically claim conservative principles to justify his more moderate political instincts, we’ll not blame him for that the next time he’s up for reelection. After a half-century of proud Kansas Republicanism, which instinctively stretches back to the abolitionist Bleeding Kansas days, we’ll not fault a guy for insisting on anything less than an root-and-branch repeal-and-replacement bill, and that a truly free market would have cared for those old folks in those charming small towns, and until then we’ll also figure we have to take care of them somehow.
All the rest of the Republican votes that killed the Republican dream probably have their own local logic. Trump won Utah by the same usual Republican margins that he won Kansas, but he finished a distant third in both state’s Republican primaries, and his polls numbers aren’t sufficient to scare Republicans in many states. The three senators who took the stand against repeal-only are all women, each of whom were excluded from the behind-closed-doors writing of the bill, which is one of the many very stupid things that McConnell did during the failed process, but we credit each of the ladies with more sensible local political reasons for their “no” votes.
Go ahead and blame them all for wrecking the Republicans’ seen-year quest, as they willingly volunteered for the finger-pointing, but from our perspective here on the southern plains there’s plenty of blame to go around. Trump arm-twisted enough House Republicans to pass a bill that he later “tweeted” was “mean” and lacking “heart,” never gave any major speeches with oratorical flourishes or outright obfuscations on behalf of the similar Senate bill, and not even such sycophants as Sean Spicer or Sean Hannity can deny that he didn’t made good on his campaign promises of universal coverage and lower costs and no cuts to Medicaid within 100 days of his inauguration. If you’re more inclined to blame McConnell and the rest of that GOP establishment that Trump vowed to burn down, well, we can’t readily think of any excuses for them.
Those treasonous turncoats might have saved the Republican Party from passing a wildly unpopular bill that set off another round of wave elections, though, and given the party a chance to go slowly according to old-fashioned good government principles and get things right, which is more than those damned Democrats ever did. That’s what we’re hoping for here in the middle of the country, at any rate.

— Bud Norman

Swimming in a Flood of News

The news comes at a fast and furious rate in the age of President Donald Trump, but Wednesday’s pace was downright discombobulating. Some bigger than usual bombshells about the Russia thing with Trump and Russia came not from anonymous sources somewhere in the bureaucracy but rather from four under-oath high level figures, here in Kansas the more conservative sort of Republican economic philosophy took a hard hit, and just to the south the University of Oklahoma’s longtime football coach unexpectedly up and quit.
The most attention was paid to the written testimony of fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, which confirmed all those previously anonymously-sourced stories that Comey says Trump had expressed a hope that the FBI would relent in its investigation of Trump’s fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, and had asked for a pledge of loyalty to the president. As far as Trump’s most strident critics are concerned that’s sufficient for an impeachable obstruction of justice charge, which seems a bit of an overreach, for now at least, and Trump’s staunchest supporters are claiming vindication by Comey’s admission that he had indeed assured Trump on three separate occasions that the president wasn’t being investigation as an individual, as Trump had noted in Comey’s termination letter, which is not likely to make anybody but other staunch Trump supporters feel good.
Comey will provide oral testimony and answer questions from Republicans and Democrats today, and Trump’s staunchest supporters should be ready with some better arguments. All of the broadcast networks will be televising the Senate hearings live, just like in the Watergate days, and the bars in Washington, D.C., are opening early and offering such specials as “covfefe cocktails” for the expected audience, and the story Comey will tell is far more fascinating than anything that’s going on in the pre-empted soap operas.
Comey’s seven pages of written testimony, apparently backed up by some very contemporaneous notes he’d written on the way home from his encounters with the president, include some novelistic but believable details.
He recalls a moment during a private presidential dinner when “the president said, ‘I need loyalty. I expect loyalty.’ I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence.” Comey later recalls that “Near the end of our dinner, the president returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others. He then said, ‘I need loyalty.’ I replied, ‘You will always get honesty from me.’ He paused and then said, ‘That’s what I want. Honest loyalty.’ I paused, and then said, ‘You will get that from me.’ As I wrote in the memo that I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase ‘honest loyalty’ differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further.”
Today’s rating-grabbing telecast will likely include further literary flourishes, along with Republicans and Democrats and Trump’s most strident critics and staunchest defenders understanding the phrase “honest loyalty” differently, but our guess is that Trump should ready himself for another bad news cycle. Comey’s recollections are apparently backed up by provably contemporaneous notes, and all the dialogue does seem to have a certain verisimilitude about it, based on what we’ve seen of Comey and Trump. Although Comey has infuriated Democrats by announcing an investigation of the Democratic nominee during the late stages of the campaign and infuriated Republicans by failing to lock her up, at least his bipartisan honesty has never been questioned, while Trump has undeniably been caught in some whoppers. Even if the public does accept Comey’s version of events it’s still an overreach to make an obstruction of justice case, given the different interpretations of “honest loyalty” and almost anything else Trump says, but it’s going to be hard to make Trump look good.
You might not have seen it floating by in the flood of news, but The Washington Post had also reported in a mostly-anonymously-sourced story that Trump had also asked a couple of other top-notch national security types to push back against that whole Russia thing with Trump and Russia, and two of them gave under-oath testimony to that pesky Senate committee. National intelligence director Dan Coats and Admiral Michael Rogers, director of the National Security Agency, both denied they had ever been asked by anyone to do anything untoward, but when the questions got more specific they declined to answer, and at one point Coats freely admitted he didn’t have any particular legal basis for not answering. Even the Republicans seemed peeved by the arguable contempt of Congress, and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, taunted by Trump as “Little Marco” during their primary duel, made some good points.
All that is obviously getting in the way of Trump’s infrastructure and health care reform and tax reform agenda, and the tax reform part of the agenda took way out here in Kansas. Enough establishment-type Republicans joined with the Democrats to override the staunchly anti-establishment Republican Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of a tax increase, which pretty much brings to an end the tax-cutting program that Trump is proposing. Economics is a complicated science, and there’s an argument to be made that the Kansas economy wouldn’t have thrived any better under the tax-and-spend schemes that have harmed so many blue states, but the Brownback tax cuts inarguably haven’t produced the economic growth that was promised and we’ve even lagged behind the Obama-era overall economy, and the state’s school and social service funding were getting down to the bare bones that alarm even such old-fashioned Kansas Republicans as ourselves, so of course even the national press is gloating. The old-fashioned establishment sorts of Republicans around here arguably acquitted themselves in the matter, but Trump shouldn’t count on them having his back in the coming news cycles.
It was such a busy day we’re still not sure why Bob Stoops relinquished control of that OU Sooners football team, which looks to have another exciting and maybe even championship season coming up. Over the years he’s infuriated Sooners fans with some inexcusable bowl game losses and then delighted them with some chapionship-trophy-hoisting upsets, but he’s got Kansas State ties and seems a decent sort of fellow and after 18 years he’s leaving his successor a much better team than the one he inherited, so we wish him well in his future endeavors.
As for all the rest of these characters in the news these days, we’re wishing all them and all the rest of us our best.

— Bud Norman

The Sunflower State’s Momentarily Embarrassing Moment in the Sun

The national media usually pay no attention to what’s going on in Kansas, which is fine by most Kansans, but they have taken notice of the state’s recent budget problems. Our state government’s revenue collections are once again short of projections, this time around by $350 million or so, and although the sum must seem quaint to a New York or Washington newspaper editor they can’t resist the angle of a cautionary tale about Republicans and their crazy economic schemes out here on the prairie.
There’s no denying the angle has some validity, and the hook for the latest stories is that even the Republican-dominated legislature came up just three votes short of overriding a Republican governor’s veto of tax hike bill, which is the sort of internecine Republican squabbling that always draws national media to even the most remote portions of the country. Although it pains our old-fashioned Kansas Republican souls to admit, there’s also no denying that all that tax-cutting that started about six years ago has not yet kept all the extravagant promises that were made. Even after six years there’s still a plausible argument to be made for patience, and the dismal science of economics cannot prove for certain that higher taxes would have proved a boon to the Kansas economy, and we can think of some tax-and-spend states that also have newsworthy budget problems, but for now there’s no denying the $350 million shortfall or any of the fun the press is having with it.
The tax cuts are the creation of our ultra-Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, who of course has long been hated by Democrats everywhere since his days in the United States Senate for his unapologetic anti-abortion and pro-free market beliefs. Although he has a bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University’s world-class agricultural economics department and a law degree from the University of Kansas and is married into the family that owned the newspaper chain that owned The Topeka Capitol-Journal and served in the United States Senate and has been in politics since he became national president of the Future Farmers of America and the KSU student council, Brownback is still considered an anti-establishment type, so he’s also been a controversial figure even within his own party. Starting with all those high-minded New England abolitionists who poured into the state for the Bleeding Kansas battles that presaged the Civil War, the Kansas Republican Party has always been the establishment around here and long fended off the scruffier sorts of populists. Even with the help of the Emporia Gazette’s great William Allen White they had to resort to firearms to expel the Prairie Populists who gained a brief majority in the statehouse on a program of nationalizing everything and coining endless free silver and all sorts of other craziness, and they only kept the notorious quack and shrewd showman “Doc” Brinkley from becoming governor by not counting all the misspelled or imprecise write-in votes that were cast, but for the most part they’ve kept a steady course down the middle of the road over the many years, and at first they balked at Brownback’s admittedly radical fiscal policies.
Despite the intra-party resisters and their unified allies among the Democratic minority Brownback got most of what he wanted, and then he egged on the anti-establishment sentiment that was taking hold among Republicans in every state, and saw many of his longterm Republican adversaries ousted from office by more hard-core primary challengers, and then he got the rest of it. It was all very acrimonious and much mud was slung and it was not at all the sort of thing that Kansas Republicans like, and the Democrats everywhere greatly enjoyed it until the saw which side had won, and of course it didn’t end there. With like-minded Republicans firmly in control of both sides of the capitol building Brownback surely knew he would be due all the credit or blame that might accrue in the aftermath of his policies, and at the moment that’s a $350 million shortfall.
The notion that lower taxes are more conducive to economic activity than higher taxes has long been generally accepted by all sorts of Republicans, from the country clubs to the union halls, and although you might not find it in Kansas at the moment there is plenty of evidence to support that notion. The doubling of federal revenues that followed Reagan’s admittedly radical tax cuts is one example, and despite our doubts about this Trump fellow he might yet provide more proof. We can hardly blame those back east newspapers focusing their attention on Kansas, and we’ll give them some credit for acknowledging deep into their stories that it’s all very complicated. There are any number of reasons why the Kansas economy hasn’t outpaced even the sluggish growth of the nation at large over the past six years, many of which can plausibly be blamed on the policies of the D.C. Democrats and the eight years of Democratic governors who preceded Brownback, one of whom was that Kathleen Sibelius woman who got kicked out of the Obama administration for bungling the the Obamacare rollout, and the dismal science of economics being what it is there’s always that very real possibility things could have been worse.
There’s also an argument to be made that Kansas had the right idea but went about it the wrong way. Tax policy is mind-numbingly arcane, and all the newspapers in the state are pretty much broke and nobody’s paying us to wade through all that stuff anymore, but so far as we can tell the bill that Brownback vetoed would have rescinded a previous measure that nearly eliminated taxes on income from certain legal entities used by small businesses, which is apparently known as “pass-through income.” This sounds like the sort of pro-Mom-and-Pop policy that every variety of Republican can support, but apparently some 330,000 Kansas businesses started passing all their income through those certain legal entities, and in a state of only 2.5 million people that’s a lot of Moms and Pops and probably enough to make a dent in a $350 million shortfall, and apparently that particular lower tax rate does yield to the usually reliable Laffer Curve.
After the first couple of shortfalls happened the establishment sorts of Republicans started winning primary challenges against the newly-minted anti-establishment types, and the paleolithic Sen. Pat Roberts won re-election despite an anti-establishment challenger that all the talk radio hosts loved, Brownback won re-election against one of those crazy tax-and-spend Democrats by a slighter margin, and the Kansas Republican party largely returned to its stodgy budget-balancing and non-boat-rocking ways. With help from the unified Democrats it came within three votes in the Senate from overriding the veto, and when everything’s up for grabs in Kansas’ off-year elections two years hence we won’t be betting on that pass-through exemption lasting long. The first rounds of shortfalls were met with spending cuts, which struck us as entirely reasonable after eight years of spendthrift Democratic administrations, but there are roads to be paved and bridges to be buttressed and kids to be educated in the state, and the biggest chunk of the state budget is obligated by the feds, so after the first few rounds of plucking there got be some squawking in even in the most Republican precincts. We read there’s a similar exemption included in the much speculated-about tax proposals from President Donald Trump, who won the state’s electoral votes just like every Republican does but finished a dismal third in the state’s Republican caucus, and we wonder how many Grand Old Party establishment types will be around to raise any objections to that.
We really don’t want to be ragging on Sam, as we call him, because we do like the guy. It’s an annoying stereotype about Kansans that we’re all supposed to know one another, but we have known Brownback since our teenaged days as interns with the famously Kansas Republican Sen. Bob Dole, and we’d run into him on the KSU campus where he was king and the Kansas State Fairs that he ran as Kansas Agricultural Commissioner and along his endless campaign stops, and we’ve always known him to be a very nice guy with a good enough sense of humor that he got our jokes. We also remain steadfast in our old-fashioned Kansas Republican belief that lower taxes are indeed generally more conducive to economic activity than higher ones, but we’re the old-fashioned sort of Kansas Republican who would prefer to get things right enough to balance the budget. Tax policy is arcane stuff, but if you delve deep enough into you’ll find that some tax cuts are better than others, and that sensible policies elsewhere would make it all less important, and that it’s all very complicated, and sometimes you have to pay at the bottom line. We rather like that some stodgy budget-balancing Republicanism is still afoot in the country, too, and hope that the old adage about lower taxes and economic activity will survive. May God have mercy on our souls, but we also hope they can work something out with those damned Democrats.

— Bud Norman

Questioning Camelot

Our favorite gag by the late Johnny Carson always followed his occasional failed monologue jokes about Abraham Lincoln., when he would exaggeratedly grimace at the audience’s silence and then turn to Ed McMahon to say “Too soon.”
The old show-biz admonition to allow a considerate pause between tragedy and comedy is very much on our mind as we approach Friday’s 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Kennedy. A half-century is still too soon to be jocular about something so tragic as a presidential assassination, but neither are we inclined to join in the incessant hagiography that has become a cottage industry since Kennedy’s death.
It is altogether fitting and proper that the coverage of the anniversary should be respectful, but it should also be true. Most of the media can be expected to take full advantage of the opportunity to trot out all of the left’s most cherished myths about St. Kennedy of Camelot, which will be presented anew to the gullible generations too young to recall the reality of his presidency and too incurious to have learned about it, and there will be the usual efforts to cast the light of this revisionist history on current events. A more truthful account, as usual, would be more useful.
Kennedy will be recalled as a charismatic exemplar of modern liberalism, a sort of paler ‘60s prototype of President Barack Obama without all the computer glitches, but many of his policies would be anathema to today’s Democrats. Perhaps Kennedy’s brightest idea was a massive tax cut, which not only drastically lowered rates for businesses but also dropped the now-hated top 1 percent’s rates from the confiscatory 91 percent that had last through the allegedly right-wing Eisenhower administration to a still-exorbitant 70 percent, and it set off such an economic boom in the ensuing decade that the country could afford hippies. Some of his policies reflected the traditional Democratic enthusiasm for busy-body big government, but on the whole the bootlegger’s son seemed to have a natural affinity for capitalism.
The peaceniks in the Democratic party should also be reminded by that Kennedy ran as a stauncher cold warrior than the world champion commie-baiter Richard Nixon, and cultivated a very masculine image based largely on his war exploits. He vowed at his inaugural to “pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty,” which is hard to imagine Obama ever uttering, and was true enough to the words to incur the wrath of at least one Castro-loving left-winger with Marine marksmanship training. After failing to pay any price or bear any burden during the ill-fated Bay of Pigs attack in Cuba, and an unimpressive summit in Vienna, Kennedy made less of an impression on the Soviet leadership, leading to the Berlin Wall crisis and the Cuban missile crisis and a widespread uneasiness that the world was about to go up in a nuclear mushroom cloud, but the response was least more muscular than the modern Democrats would be comfortable with.
There’s no way of proving or disproving the left’s holy writ that Kennedy would not have further involved America in the Vietnam War, which is the basis of all the more creative conspiracy theories regarding his assassination, but there is cause for doubt. It should be noted that Kennedy did increase the number of military advisors in the country, that President Lyndon Johnson further escalated the war with combat troops on the advice of the same “best and brightest” advisors that Kennedy had chosen, and with the same “pay any price, bear any burden” rhetoric of his predecessor, and that Kennedy had been sufficiently interested in Vietnam’s civil war to tacitly green-light a coup that led to the assassination of South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem. Kennedy’s father had seen his own presidential ambitions devastated by a defeatist isolationism prior to World War II, and his brief years in office suggest he had learned well not to pass on a war that might prove popular. Liberals are still entitled to their Gnostic faith that no Castro-loving left-winger would have ever shot Kennedy, we suppose, but the enduring theory that the Great Society and the War on Poverty and the Civil Rights Act and the rest of the Johnson administration was a right-wing conspiracy strikes us as highly implausible.
Kennedy wasn’t so liberal as Johnson, but he wasn’t nearly conservative enough that the right should embrace his legacy. His initial wobbliness on foreign affairs was almost Obamaian, he had the same rhetorical tendency as his Democratic successors to ink of his countrymen as a collective rather than individuals, and of course there was the reckless and dangerous womanizing that liberals were obliged to defend during the Clinton years. Most of the blame for the disastrous social engineering efforts of the ‘60s falls on Johnson, but almost all of it was sold as an idea that the sainted Kennedy had vaguely proposed in one of his bleeding heart speeches. That Kennedy remains such an iconic figure on the left is sufficient reason to question his legacy thoroughly.

— Bud Norman

The Chicken Run to the Fiscal Cliff

Those who share our fondness for the cinema of long ago might recall a certain scene in “Rebel Without a Cause.” James Dean’s crazy mixed-up kid character was challenged by a snooty rich guy to a “chicken run,” a test of teenage bravado in which the contestants hurtle their parents’ automobiles toward a cliff at top speed and whichever driver hits the brakes or bails out first is deemed the lose, and the result was predictably tragic.
That harrowing contest is brought to mind whenever we read about the “fiscal cliff” that has lately dominated the economic news. The tax rates enacted during the George W. Bush administration are set to expire early next year, and barring action by the congress and the president the country will revert to higher rates for nearly every taxpayer while a slew of automatic budget cuts simultaneously go into effect. Although most economists agree that the results would be catastrophic an agreement is by no means a certainty, as the Republicans who control the House of Representatives are adamant that the tax cuts be retained for everyone while the Democratic president and his allies who control the Senate are just as determined that the top 2 percent of be hit with the old higher rates. Both sides have indicated they are willing to drive over the fiscal cliff rather than relent to the opposition.
The Republicans have the better argument. Sticking the top 2 percent with the higher rate will only add $22.35 billion to the federal coffers next year, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, and that’s a hopeful projection based on the assumption that the hike won’t have any effect on economic activity, so it won’t make a dent in the projected $1.1 trillion deficit, much less than $16 trillion of accumulated debt. Sucking that same amount of money out of the moribund private sector, especially through the investing class, will likely make a bigger dent in economic growth, and even if there were no economic consequences at all we would still prefer to start making cuts from an ever-expanding government that treads ever further upon the liberties of the people.
Alas, the better argument often has little to do with the way things are done in Washington. It certainly has little effect on the Democrats, who regard it as a matter of sacred principle that the government should take money away from rich people regardless of the economic consequences. Liberals we know are so embittered about the current tax rates for the rich, and the hated Bush administration that brought them about, that we have no doubt about their willingness to inflict a massive recession on the country rather than endure them further. There is no reason to believe that Obama and the Democrats in the Senate are any less reckless, and they have every reason to believe that they will not be held accountable if the country does go over the cliff.
Many conservative commentators have been urging that the House Republicans refuse to relent on the matter, but we prefer that at some point just before the fiscal cliff they be willing to hit the brakes. As much as we hate to see anybody’s taxes increased, even a wealthy class that for some reason or another voted mostly for Obama, tactical retreat is probably the best option. No matter how harmful the tax hikes on the rich might be, the effects of a tax increase for the rich and everybody else would certainly be far worse, and the Democrats’ intransigence does not permit the best solution. Worse still, the Republicans would be widely blamed for the resulting recession and less effective in staving off the inevitable further attempts for more taxation and spending.
Some pundits cite polls showing that a majority of Americans do not wish to impose taxes on any of their fellow citizens, even the rich ones, but those polls don’t reflect the choice most Americans would make between a severe recession and “asking the rich to give a little more.” That it is the Democrats who are forcing that choice will be overwhelmed by all the same media noise that has so successfully obscured their role in all of the nation’s economic woes, and any Republicans who doubt this would be advised to check the recent election results. What’s left of the establishment media will still be able to portray the Republicans as the snooty rich guy who wound up going over the cliff in “Rebel Without a Cause,” and Obama can be typecast as the crazy mixed-up kid who bailed out of the car just in time and became the epitome of cool.
Even if the inevitable debt crisis brings the American economy to its knees within the next four years, the Democrats and their media allies will argue that it was all the Republicans for hobbling the country with low tax rates and preventing Obama from spending even more. The Republican party will need to be standing strong enough to refute such nonsense, and they won’t be able to make that stand from the bottom of a cliff.

— Bud Norman