Wednesday, December 21, 2016

How Far Will the Plutocrats Go?

That being said, I do believe that most Americans have a great deal to lose by giving plutocracy a chance.  Most notably, their health insurance, and possibly their retirement.  I think that most Americans consciously chose to give plutocracy a chance and will support the Republicans' attempts to cut taxes at the top and gut regulations in hopes of supercharging the economy, and that there will not be any widespread opposition to attempts to do just that.  I also think that Trump's attempts to crack down on illegal immigration and pursue get-tough-on-crime policies in our inner cities will be widely popular with white voters.  And I shudder to even imagine what sort of violations of basic liberty the public will support if there is another Islamic terrorist attack.  An international crisis will benefit Trump with a rally-round-the-chief effect, even if he needlessly precipitates it, or makes it much worse than necessary by mishandling.

But any serious attempt to undo the New Deal and subsequent government programs will be another matter altogether.

Right now, Republicans have made it perfectly clear that their top priority will be to repeal Obamacare.  The effect will be to strip 20 million people of their health insurance.  Indeed, many fear that taking away the subsidies and individual mandate while leaving in the requirement that insurance companies cover preexisting conditions could bring down the individual market which covers another 10 million.  I don't think Republicans particularly mind stripping 20 million people of their health insurance, so long as they can pin the blame on Democrats.  I am confident they do not want to undermine the individual market, which (pre-Obamacare, at least) was almost entirely unregulated and therefore Good.  But the probably see it as a small price to pay for killing Obamacare.

Ordinary Americans are beginning to be alarmed at the prospect, but Republicans have made clear that nothing will sway them.  Having devoted the last six years to repealing Obamacare, Republicans would incur an intolerable loss of face if they allowed it to stand, which is presumably their primary motive.  But there may be another, hidden motive at stake.  See Obamacare is financed mostly by taxes on the top income rates.  The Republican plan will immediately repeal those taxes.  And as everyone knows, cutting taxes at the top is the absolute top Republican priority.  Republicans have agreed to delay the repeal taking effect for two or three years to give the the chance to come up with a repeal.  But thus far they don't have the slightest idea what they will do.  And the prospect of a loss of funding could bring the whole program down by the beginning of next year, if not sooner.

And it gets worse.  Since, as we all know, Republicans believe that no tax increase can ever be justified, they will have to build their replacement with the greatly reduced revenue.  That means it will be much less funded, with fewer people covered and less paid for than before, but we all knew that.  It gets worse still.  The budget will have about a third of the former revenue.  Thus Republicans will have to finance the new program with cuts elsewhere, probably in Medicare and Medicaid.  My first reaction to this was, why finance the new program at all, since it is well established that deficits only matter when there is a Democrat in the White House.  But apparently there are house rules that everything has to be paid for, or at least that no measure that permanently increases the deficit can pass the Senate by reconciliation, i.e., without the filibuster.

Of course, Republicans may try to get around this by budgetary gimmicks.  They are also trying to bring on enough Democrats to defeat a filibuster in the Senate.  Currently Republicans have a 52-48 majority in the Senate.  They will need 8 Democrats to defect to defeat the filibuster.  Minority Leader Charles Schumer vows that no Democrats will vote for a skimpier replacement.  That doesn't make a great deal of sense to me.  If the alternative is 20 million people losing their health insurance, or threats to Medicaid and Medicare, I see no choice but to acquiesce in an inadequate replacement and hope to bulk it up next time Democrats are in power.  There seems to me to be an obvious third option.  Although the filibuster has become a routine way of doing business these days, so far as I know there is no rule requiring the minority party to invoke it.  Why not just decline to invoke the filibuster and allow the legislation to pass with only Republican votes?

In the meantime, House Republicans, Trump's Secretary of Health and Human Services and his OMB Director all favor major assaults on Medicaid and Medicare.  Republican Senators think this is going too far.  And a few Republicans are even talking about cutting Social Security.  Where Trump weighs in on any of this is anyone's guess.  On the one hand, he did appoint the HHS and OMB directors who favor attacks on Medicare.  On the other hand, he made a campaign promise not to touch either program.  Most likely he hasn't made up his mind yet.

I think a lot of Republican conservatives really believe that most Americans want these changes. See for instance this National Review article, looking forward to the new conservative renaissance, but fearful that Trump may beguile the GOP from true conservatism.  Money quote:

Before he was a conservative darling with unflinching budget proposals, Ryan was a rank-and-file House Republican who voted for No Child Left Behind, Medicare Part D, and the bank bailouts. Many conservatives — including Vice President–elect Mike Pence — believe it was these betrayals of principle, as much as the Affordable Cart Act or anything Obama pursued, that inspired the Tea Party’s ascent in 2010.
To which I can only say that maybe the Tea Party was founded because of anger over Medicare Part D as much as Obamacare, but if rank-and-file members are motivated by outrage over Medicare Part D, they certainly aren't showing it.  And if the Tea Party really believes that their movement is driven by anger over Medicare Part D, why aren't they campaigning to repeal it?

I realize that the Republican donor class regards the New Deal as constitutionally and morally illegitimate and wants to roll it back as far as is politically feasible.  Yet they have had 80 years to do it and still not gotten anywhere.  And who knows, having the triple crown, maybe Republicans will actually push it through.  Maybe they will be able to cause enough damage to all government financed social insurance that all the king's horses and all the king's men cannot put Humpty together again.  Maybe they will consider the political price they pay for it well worth the cost.

But if they think they have a popular mandate for any of these, they are out of their minds.

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