Thursday, June 01, 2017

Trump is the pied piper for the GOP on the debate over health care

Remember how the DNC and Hillary Clinton's campaign elevated Trump and a few other candidates as "pied piper" candidates? Politico documented their effort in great detail here, quoting a campaign memo:
“The variety of candidates is a positive here, and many of the lesser known can serve as a cudgel to move the more established candidates further to the right. In this scenario, we don’t want to marginalize the more extreme candidates, but make them more ‘Pied Piper’ candidates who actually represent the mainstream of the Republican Party,” read the memo.
“Pied Piper candidates include, but aren’t limited to:
• Ted Cruz
• Donald Trump
• Ben Carson
"We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to [take] them seriously."
Who remembers the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin? I happened upon the Pied Piper story a few months ago while reading bedtime stories to my kids. As you will see below, that story kind of stuck in my head and it took me some time to put two and two together.

The story goes that a town was infested with rodents (just think elite GOP for this article) everywhere and no one knew how to get rid of them. Then one day a man with a pipe showed up and offered to remove the rats for a certain fee. The town council, in their excitement at the prospect, offered 1000 gold pieces even though they did not have it.

The pied piper played his music and walked. The rodents followed him as he played. Then he stopped at the side of a river where the mesmerized rodents made a turn into the river where they all promptly drowned.

Could Trump be that kind of man for the GOP? I think so. Consider that for the duration of their quixotic quest to repeal Obamacare, members of the GOP have returned home to conduct town halls only to face angry, hostile and frightened constituents. Most of that anxiety stems from uncertainty about health care, and more specifically, Obamacare.

The GOP has been having a hell of a time trying to figure out how to repeal it with very little luck behind them and ahead of them. Trump has told all of us that unwinding Obamacare is incredibly complex. From the New York Times:
President Trump, meeting with the nation’s governors, conceded Monday that he had not been aware of the complexities of health care policy-making: “I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”
This is an open admission that repealing Obamacare is going to take a lot more time and effort than Trump anticipated. It gets better from here. Governors from around the country want to avoid losing coverage for the people that have already found it under Obamacare, further adding to the complexity. Even Ohio Governor John Kasich has little enthusiasm for the repeal effort. They know that if they lose coverage, they lose votes.

And then Trump said that Congress must deal with Obamacare first before they can go after tax reform. From the same NYT article cited above:
Because of the intricate procedures that govern budget legislation and the inherent complexity of health care, Republicans appear unlikely to undo the health law as quickly as they had hoped. Mr. Trump said Congress must tackle the Affordable Care Act before it can overhaul the tax code, also a high priority for Republicans. And those delays could slow work on other priorities like a trillion-dollar infrastructure push.
Trump has been creating a legislative logjam for enthusiastic Republicans in Congress who can't wait to "do the people's business". To get to what they really want to do though, they're going to have to repeal and replace Obamacare without losing any coverage for the people who have it (though lately, Trump appears to waiver on letting people lose coverage). Trump is clear that he also wants to shift spending priorities to the military, also from The New York Times:
President Trump put both political parties on notice Monday that he intends to slash spending on many of the federal government’s most politically sensitive programs — relating to education, the environment, science and poverty — to protect the economic security of retirees and to shift billions more to the armed forces.
This will further restrict the ability of the GOP to grow the economy. What Trump is pursuing for cuts are peanuts compared to the military and social safety net programs, which are funded by their own distinct taxes. An obscure economist who goes by the name of "Dean Baker" provided some interesting analysis of the same NYT article including this nice tidbit:
The claim that Paul Ryan is concerned that these programs would "swallow the bulk of government spending" directly contradicts everything Paul Ryan has been explicitly advocating for years. Ryan has repeatedly put forward budgets that would reduce the size of the federal government to zero outside of the military, Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. (See Table 2 in the Congressional Budget Office's analysis.) It is difficult to understand how a major newspaper can so completely misrepresent a strongly and repeatedly stated view of one of the country's most important political figures.
So Ryan wants to reduce the federal government to nothing but the military and and the most popular social programs? What a surprise. So do many other Republicans. Suppose Trump let's them have their way? I can just imagine the blowback from Main Street America on the spending cuts alone. And the really odd thing is this: no amount of tax cuts are going to grow the economy. We've tried it. During the last decade, taxes were at their lowest ebb in modern history and we still got the Great Recession.

Trump seems to be dramatizing his role as president. Whatever he does, it's going to be extreme or make him appear stupid or incompetent, or to contradict himself. Whether it be cuts to social programs, or how he conducts himself with other leaders, I see the liberal press painting Trump as a buffoon. Here is a short list of recent fumbles on the part of Trump that have been offered by the press to confirm their narrative:
He touched an orb in Saudi Arabia [Trump criticized Obama for the same thing], met the Pope and became a meme, got snubbed by Macron and pushed aside the Prime Minister of Montenegro.
...
The other six world leaders managed to play nicely posing for a group photo in front of their respective flags after a brief walk.
Trump was late - because he couldn't manage to walk 700 yards (that's about a third of a mile or 640 metres) to take the photo.
From foreign policy fumbles to domestic gaffes, Trump is proving to be one of the most unpopular presidents of modern times, and now its starting to show in the polls. The debate over health care has been a major case in point. Millions of Americans across the political spectrum are filled with anxiety to the point of agitation, and they are now starting to mobilize for single payer health care, according to In These Times:
In early April, a public radio program in the Rust Belt city of Rochester, N.Y., spent an hour discussing healthcare—but not, as you might expect, the GOP’s attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare. It focused instead on the brightening prospects for a single-payer healthcare system. The guests included a Trump voter and small-business owner, Tim Schiefen, and the co-chair of the Rochester chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Karen Vitale. What was remarkable was how little they disagreed. 
Asked his opinion of single-payer, Schiefen responded that it was worth exploring. “The problem is putting the foxes in charge of the henhouse,” he said. “Why are we allowing these gross, overspending health insurance companies … to administer this stuff?” 
Increasingly, the single-payer solution is generating that sort of consensus across ideological and party affiliations. In early April, an Economist/ YouGov poll showed that 60 percent of respondents supported a “Medicare for all” system, including 43 percent of people who identified as conservative and 40 percent of Trump voters. 
The energy behind single payer is partly a result of the GOP’s success in pointing out the flaws in Obamacare, then failing to offer a workable alternative. Vitale believes that, in a paradoxical way, it’s also driven by Trump. 
“I think Trump broke open a lot of things,” says Vitale, who grew up in a rural small town an hour south of Rochester. She says that the Trump voters she knows trusted his populist pitch— and “now they’re activated, and they’re acting from a place of self-interest. You can’t put them back in the box.” When Trump breaks campaign promises, she predicts, “They’re going to notice really quickly. They noticed with Trumpcare.” 
Takeaway: In the state of New York, a member of the Democratic Socialists Party of America and a conservative business owner who voted for Trump both agree on single payer health care. And they both agree that Trump has made a promise to enact a replacement for Obamacare that doesn't lose coverage. Both are mindful of this promise and both want a solution that works for everybody. And both will take action if Trump breaks his promise.

Trump may not be able to keep his promise if plaintiffs in a court challenge to Obamacare subsidies prevails. If the plaintiffs prevail, the subsidies will be lost and the costs of individual insurance plans will rise by 19% or more next year. According to CNBC:
A federal district court judge had previously ruled in favor of House Republicans, who in 2014 sued over billions of dollars in payments to insurance companies under the Affordable Care Act because they had not been granted via a congressional appropriation. The Obama administration appealed the case, and the Trump administration asked to put the case on hold while it established its position on the matter.
The matter is now in appeals court and while the Obama Administration sought to defend the subsidies, Trump appears to be changing course. Note here that House Republicans sued to have the subsidies declared illegal for lack of a Congressional appropriation. They may be right, but it might cost them dearly in 2018 when people go to the polls to decide if Congress represents their interests.

Even if Obamacare is not repealed, the mobilization of voters will get serious if voters who use Obamacare find their bills went up because of Republican indifference to their cause. There is a high probability that insurance companies will sense the unease and raise prices for everyone else, too. We're already starting to see signs of that mobilization in local races here and there. Progressive Democrats are starting to win in jurisdictions where Trump won. The UK Independent has taken notice of a small race in New York:
In the 9th Assembly District, mere miles from Mr Trump’s birthplace in Queens, New York, Republicans hold a 13-point registration advantage over Democrats. But Ms Pellegrino – who served as a delegate for Bernie Sanders at the Democratic National Convention – pulled off a striking upset this week, beating her Republican challenger 58 to 42 per cent.
“We worked hard. I don’t know what happened,” her competitor, conservative Tom Gargiulo, said.
How did they do it?
“Bold populism that puts working families’ issues front and center,” Bill Lipton, state director of the Working Families Party, said on Tuesday. “This is how we win in Trump country. This is the lesson for Democrats around the country.” 
There is another part to the story of the Pied Piper. After he lured the rats out of town and to their untimely demise, he asked to be paid, as I would expect of Trump. When the piper came calling, the town could not pay, so the piper played again to take the children of the town with him.

This is about to happen to Trump, but probably not in the way that he had planned. Polling analysis by Salon.com shows that Millennials are very unhappy with Trump and they are organizing, too. Millennials perceive Trump as an illegitimate president by a wide margin and they show little if any love for our two party system, so blithely assumed to be a "democracy":
Overall, only 22 percent of young adults approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 62 percent disapprove. GenForward polls further show that across all racial and ethnic groups the majority of millennials disapprove of Trump. With 71 percent of African-Americans and even 55 percent of whites against him. They are overwhelmingly negative on his policies and his demeanor.
Those who study millennials knew that even if Trump pulled out a win in 2016 “his insular appeal to his preponderantly white coalition has exposed the party to a clear long-term risk.” As the Atlantic reported before the 2016 vote, “Win or lose, all evidence suggests Trump is further alienating a Millennial generation that is already cool to the GOP — and is poised to become the electorate’s largest cohort in 2020.”
Trump may have been the Pied Piper for the GOP, but he may also become the Pied Piper for the Millennials who are not happy about their prospects as a result of the "I, Me, Mine" generation that voted for the Reagan Revolution.

Lest Democrats get too happy about their prospects resulting a Trump presidency and a GOP gone wild, they had best prepare for campaigns based on “Bold populism that puts working families’ issues front and center". If Democrats fail to heed the message, they may find themselves facing a progressive insurgency the likes of which they have never seen before, with the largest voting demographic behind it, the Millennials.
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