Saturday, December 23, 2017

The tax cut and presidential accomplishments

One of the more interesting little tidbits floating around in the news yesterday was that Trump wanted to do a press conference to bask in praise over the passage of the tax cut because of course.  Trump needs constant praise.  We know this about him.  His advisors, though, quashed the idea because Trump can't handle questions, particularly if they turn towards Russia.  Even on taxes, though, he doesn't know jack shit about what's in the deal because he doesn't know anything about anything.

And that brings me to today's post.  Presidential accomplishments.  As we close out the year, what has Trump, as President, accomplished?  He hasn't blown up the planet.  This is a good thing, and I say in all seriousness that this wasn't a sure thing.  I'm not being facetious.  For Trump, this is an accomplishment, in the same way that it is an accomplishment when I get through an entire lecture without making a joke so calloused and tasteless that it would get me fired if I didn't have tenure.  The point is that it should be a low bar, but Trump is just such a nincompoop that getting over that bar, for him, that's an accomplishment.  And we should be grateful for it.

In policy-terms, though, Trump really hasn't done anything difficult.  The appointment of Neil Plagiarist Gorsuch?  Mitch McConnell did some despicable shit, back when Obama was President.  He blockaded Scalia's seat to prevent a Democrat from appointing a replacement.  That wasn't Trump, that was McConnell.  Gorsuch himself is a)  a fucking plagiarist piece of fucking shit, and b) a name handed to Trump by the Federalist Society, so he is neither a good pick by any intellectual standard, nor could any credit be given to Trump for whatever intellectual merit Gorsuch has.

Other than that, Trump has issued executive orders, which are... not accomplishments.  He has faced the embarrassment of having some critical ones blocked by the courts, and the ones that haven't been are not difficult to issue.

Trump has touted the number of bills signed into law, but in political science, we don't look at raw numbers.  Why not?  Because a lot of those bills are just petty, little nothing bills.  When we study lawmaking, we use methods like David Mayhew's from Divided We Govern.  Mayhew was interested in the difference between productivity in unified versus divided government, so he used a count of significant pieces of legislation.

By that measure, there hasn't been much productivity.  That's why the tax bill is so important.  It's really the only truly important piece of legislation Congress has passed since Trump's inauguration.

And it is really, really, really important.

So, Trump wanted to bask in the glory of massive praise for Trump's greatness.  Obviously, he is the greatest great thing that ever grated on us.  Aren't you grateful?

Which brings me to the issue of how much credit (blame) Trump deserves for this law.  Yes, law now.  We're not going to do that shitty thing that Republicans did with Obamacare where they kept calling it a "bill" after it was passed into law.

For most of it, he deserves nothing.  When the GOP gets control, they cut taxes.  Period.  When George W. Bush had unified control, they used budget reconciliation to cut taxes.  George H.W. Bush didn't have either chamber of Congress.  No tax cuts.  Reagan had the Senate, and a bunch of conservative, Southern Democrats.  Tax cuts.  And that's basically the start of the modern GOP.  Going back before Reagan, you have such a fundamentally different party in economic terms that the comparison doesn't work.

Let's put this another way.  In social science, we use "the counterfactual," as in, counter to fact.  What if the world were otherwise?  What if the GOP had nominated and elected a candidate whose wits were virgin, as in, not completely fucked?  Was there a single GOP candidate in that field who, as president, would have failed to pass a tax cut?  Can we even imagine a Republican president with this Congress who would have failed to pass a tax cut?

No.  That's the point.

Then, let's look at Trump's specific actions, legislatively.  What... did Trump do to help Ryan and McConnell pass this thing?

Um...

Uh...

He... well... he... uh...  there was that...

Yeah.  He didn't do jack fucking shit.  Who did all of the hard work here?  Mitch McConnell.  You want to know who gets the credit here?  Give it to Mitch McConnell.  Paul Ryan had the marginally difficult task of managing the House Freedom Caucus, which is difficult on anything except cutting taxes, but give them a tax cut and they're happy, little campers.  Short version:  Speaker of the House is a powerful position, and while Paul Ryan isn't nearly as smart as Mitch McConnell, the power given to the Speaker compensates for his comparative lack of intelligence.  Combine that with the House Freedom Caucus's willingness to shut the fuck up and take their tax cuts, and Paul Ryan had a much easier task.

The hard job fell to Mitch McConnell.  The Senate Majority Leader doesn't have as much power as the Speaker, and McConnell could only lose two votes.  Much of what McConnell had to do was just ignore and pacify the "Drama Club," as I call them (conservative whiners like Ron Johnson and Rand Paul, who just like to posture), but some of what he had to do was hard.  Figure out how to either manage or work around Corker, McCain's fickleness, the manipulable stupidity of Susan Collins, the bribable weirdness of Lisa Murkowski, and McConnell just didn't have much room to spare.

McConnell is to professional ethics as Donald Trump is to sexual consent.  He will violate every rule, brag about his ability to get away with it, and then turn around and get indignant about others when they cross some line that he obliterated.  McConnell insisted that there be no open hearings, no open debate or amendment process, no serious study of the policies under consideration, and simply worked tirelessly to secure each individual vote in backroom deals.

In the first round, he couldn't get Corker, but he didn't need Corker.  Fine.  Corker eventually conceded anyway, like the hypocritical, standard-issue Republican I asserted him to be from the beginning anyway.  Flake was full of shit, and when McConnell understood that he could get Flake for a bullshit promise on DACA, nothing else was necessary.  He gave Flake nothing.  McCain was wishy-washy, but even if he voted with Corker, it wasn't going to matter because... he pulled the wool completely over Susan Collins's eyes.  After all of her posturing about the individual health insurance markets and Trump's sabotage, and voting against "skinny repeal," McConnell promised her movement of Alexander-Murray (the bipartisan plan to restore the cost-sharing subsidies that Trump cut off in a temper tantrum) after the tax bill passed.  And, since Collins is... not the sharpest knife in the drawer, she took the deal.  Knowing that the individual markets, sans individual mandate and sans cost-sharing subsidies, are in real danger, she took the deal.

Alexander-Murray ain't goin' nowhere.  Susan Collins got conned.  How much of this is that Mitch McConnell is a master con artist, and how much of it is Susan Collins's gullibility?  I don't know.  I've never really had any true respect for "moderates."  That's just something pundits love to praise.  Anyway, that's McConnell, not Trump.  McConnell got her.

Murkowski?  Way smarter than Collins.  She got something out of the deal.  She got a provision that opened up drilling in ANWR.  If you are reading a weirdo political science professor's blog, you probably don't think that's a good thing, but she wanted it.  And she got it.  That's a little thing called, "negotiation."  She got something.  Could she have gotten it anyway?  Maybe.  Possibly.  Probably.  Then again, it has been a long, hard slog, so the point is that there was something in the deal for her.

Collins?  Nope.  She got a promise that won't be fulfilled.

Now, Collins has been going around telling people that anyone who criticizes her for her vote, or who challenges her for taking a bad deal on these terms is being sexist.

Um... no.  You don't get to pull that shit.  Notice:  two women.  Collins and Murkowski.  I am praising the negotiation skills of one, and ripping on the negotiation skills of the other.  Both are women.  What's the difference?  Murkowski got something.  Collins didn't.  Both are women.  I look at results.  Quit your bullshit whining about victimhood, Susan.  Murkowski is smarter.  She played her hand.

Notice, too, how hard I have been on Corker and McCain.  And the Drama Club.

No, Susan, this isn't sexism.  Alexander-Murray isn't going anywhere, and you got conned.

What should she have done?  If she had been serious about this, she should have demanded the passage of Alexander-Murray before they passed the tax deal.  And, if McConnell had said they can't work that fast, well... look at how fast they passed the tax deal!

McConnell knew just how to manipulate her.

Wait a minute.  Wasn't I supposed to be writing about Trump?  Um... you see my point.  Trump had nothing to do with any of this.  This was Mitch McConnell.  Mitch McConnell is damned good at his job.  There are a bunch of ultra-conservative idiots who want McConnell removed, and try to position themselves as purer-than-thou by taking positions against him, but... the stupidity of that beggars belief.  McConnell is the only one in the GOP right now with a strategic brain.  (They ran Boehner out town on a rail.)

There is, however, one point on which Trump may deserve some "credit" (blame):  the inclusion of the individual mandate repeal.  After the failure of "skinny repeal," Trump kept pushing for this.  One of the things we know from research on the presidency is that presidents are good at one thing: putting an issue on the legislative agenda.  Trump wanted this, and as I wrote as soon as the idea of including the provision in the bill popped up within the Senate, it became a done-deal.  This is tremendously stupid policy, but you actually can give Trump some credit-blame for that.

And yet, the press conference idea had to be scrapped.  Why?  Because Trump loses his shit if he isn't being constantly praised and can't answer basic policy questions, so it would have been a disaster.

So... Year 1 is nearly over.  The world hasn't blown up.  Yay (?)

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