Thursday, July 20, 2017

Presidential agenda-setting and presidential stupidity

In yesterday's post, I referred to Mitch McConnell's attempt to return to the "repeal-and-delay" strategy as an attempt to sell a dead parrot, like Michael Palin in Monty Python.  Let's just watch that whole sketch, shall we?

Today, we are all an exasperated John Cleese as Donald Trump tries to tell us that repeal-and-replace isn't dead, it's just sleeping, has lovely plumage, etc.

Yesterday's meeting was just surreal, but rather than comment on the meeting itself, I'll comment on the political science implications.

Presidents have few legislative powers.  They have the veto, but mostly they have the informal power to set the agenda broadly.  When presidents talk about an issue, that is the issue that Congress addresses, generally.  See, for example, the work of George Edwards (I often assign a nice little piece he did with Andrew Barrett in an edited volume called Polarized Politics).  If a president tries to get Congress to focus on a set of issues, those are the issues that Congress will address, all other things being equal, particularly if the president's party controls Congress.  That doesn't mean Congress will pass anything-- it just means that is how they will focus.

So, a couple of things to consider.  First, can Trump focus?  The man is not known for his ability to focus.  After all, he flips back and forth from day to day on whether he is going to keep working on healthcare or try to sabotage it.  That's not a good way to motivate Congress...  What do we expect?  This is Trump-- the most incompetent person ever to occupy the Oval Office.  Second, given that Republicans' healthcare efforts are a dead parrot, what do they sacrifice by continuing to focus on healthcare rather than, say, taxes, as Paul Ryan says the House will now start to address?  Keep in mind, the chances of true tax reform are zero, but they can get tax cuts done.  I'll come back to that, but this is important, given time constraints.  It is July.  The midterm election is in 16 months.  The clock is ticking.  Finally, even if Trump tries to get Congress to keep working on healthcare because he is embarrassed about losing, will they abide, or shut him down, further embarrassing him?  Some in the Senate clearly see what is going on, but the fact that McConnell dredged back up the repeal-and-delay idea shows that there's some serious brain atrophy in the party.

Anyway, those are just some questions to keep in mind.

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