• House Budget Committee Approves ACA Replacement
• Senate Intelligence Committee Also Finds No Evidence of Wiretapping
• Trump Sidelines the Grown-Ups
• Congressman Wants to Know if Trump Knew Flynn Took Russian Money
Donald Trump released his first budget yesterday to a chorus of boos. Rep. Hal Rogers (R-KY), the former chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and several others called it "pie in the sky." Other Republicans in Congress weren't too worried about the proposed budget though, saying "Presidents propose, Congress disposes." In other words, Congress is going to make major changes to the budget before passing it.
A large piece of the problem is the $54 billion defense spending hike, which is paid for by decimating many other programs and agencies. Some of the cuts are dramatic. Some of the biggest cuts hit the EPA (-31%), State Dept. (-29%), Agriculture Dept. (-21%), Labor Dept. (-21%), Justice Dept. (-20%), HHS (-16%), Commerce Dept. (-16%), and Education Dept. (-14%). The only other winners besides the Defense Dept. are Veterans Affairs (+6%), and Homeland Security (+7%). The New York Times has a good rundown of the budget cuts.
The budget is especially hard on low-income Americans, cutting programs that help with affordable housing, banking, weatherizing homes, job training, paying heating bills, and obtaining legal counsel in civil matters. Trump views most of the programs that help lower-income Americans as "waste," which needs to be eliminated.
A substantial number of agencies would be closed entirely. These include:
- The Public Broadcasting Corporation
- The National Endowment for the Arts
- The National Endowment for the Humanities
- The Appalachian Regional Commission
- The Chemical Safety Board
- The Corporation for National Community Service
- The African Development Foundation
None of these are a done deal, of course, and the lobbying will be furious as the heads of these and other agencies marked for extinction try to get Congress to save them. (V)
Speaker Paul Ryan's AHCA bill moved a step closer to a vote on the floor of House yesterday when the House Budget Committee approved it by a 19 to 17 vote. Three Republicans voted against it: Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC), and Rep. Gary Palmer (R-AL). All three are members of the House Freedom Caucus, whose members object to creating a new entitlement.
Once the bill reaches the House floor, which could be as early as next week, it will be showered with amendments. The Republican Study Committee, for example, wants to freeze Medicaid enrollment as of Jan. 1, 2018 rather than 2020, in order to prevent as many people as possible from enrolling. This change will be exceedingly unpopular in the Senate and if the bill reaches the Senate, will surely be struck there, leaving it to the conference to determine if the cutoff is 2018 or 2020 (Hint: 2019, anyone?).
Currently, about 15 House Republicans are leaning against the bill. If Ryan can keep that number under 22, he can still pass the bill. But everything he adds to it to make conservatives happier only makes it harder to pass the Senate. One strategy that he surely is thinking of is to make the bill fairly conservative to get it through the House. Then the Senate will take a meat axe to it and come up with a less harsh bill. At that point, a House-Senate conference committee will have to split the difference and come up with a single bill. That bill would then be subject to an up-or-down vote in both chambers. Republicans would be told: "Take it or leave it. If this bill fails, ObamaCare stays in effect permanently." That might be enough to get recalcitrant representatives and senators to vote for a bill they really don't like much.
Increasingly many Republican senators are hoping it never gets to the point where Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is holding a gun to their heads. They are not-so-quietly rooting that the bill never makes it out of the House so they don't have to vote on it. However, this puts them at odds with Ryan, who is determined to pass a bill, no matter what it takes. (V)
Wednesday the House Intelligence Committee said there was no evidence that Barack Obama wiretapped then-candidate Donald Trump's phone during the campaign. Yesterday the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) , said the same thing. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) also said that he hadn't seen any evidence of a wiretap. Rebukes by three senior Republicans in Congress, back to back, indicates that Republicans are starting to get tired of Trump just making up wild accusations and then tweeting them with no basis in fact. The investigations are continuing, with FBI Director James Comey scheduled to testify before the House panel on March 20.
Yesterday Trump reiterated his claim that Obama tapped his phone during the campaign, despite two congressional committee chairmen saying otherwise. This follows the usual Trump pattern of never, ever admitting that he was wrong, no matter how much evidence there is suggesting that he was. Trump sees an admission that he was wrong as a sign of weakness. Facts don't matter much, but weakness matters enormously. In Trumpland, the weak are eaten.
Accusations like the one Trump made have Steve Bannon's fingerprints all over them. Bannon could care less if anything Trump says is true. What he is interested in is keeping Trump's base engaged and angry and if Democrats or the New York Times don't like it, well that's their problem. However, if Republican leaders start saying more or less openly that Trump is lying, it could become his problem. (V)
While some members of the Trump administration have few, if any qualifications for their job other than loyalty to Donald Trump (yes, Ben Carson, we're looking at you), others are highly qualified and would be an asset to any Republican administration. in particular, national security adviser Lt. Gen Herbert McMaster and Secretary of Defense James Mattis are universally regarded as highly qualified. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has no foreign policy experience, but he is an experienced manager and at least knows how to run a big organization. It is increasingly apparent that all three of these "grown-ups" are being sidelined and effectively being made to report to Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, even if that is not the formal chain of command.
What is most telling is that none of them are free to pick their own subordinates. McMaster wanted to get rid of some of the people picked by his predecessor, Michael Flynn, especially Fox News commentator K.T. McFarland, who has zero national security experience, and the 30-year-old NSC intelligence director, Ezra Cohen-Watnick, also a Flynn holdover. Bannon and Kushner overruled him. Lieutenant generals know they can be overruled, but they expect that to come from full generals, not from people who know nothing about military or national security matters.
James Mattis is a 4-star general, but he isn't doing much better. His choice for undersecretary was also vetoed by Bannon and Kushner. He has been fuming ever since. To make it even worse, it isn't that Trump wants to choose his own people. In fact, Trump hasn't filled a single second- or third-tier official in the Defense Dept.
The State Dept is just as bad. Tillerson's choice for the #2 slot, Elliott Abrams, who served in the George W. Bush and Reagan administrations, was vetoed. The position is still empty along with all the other deputy secretary, undersecretary, and assistant secretary positions. Tillerson is basically presiding over a department with no senior leadership. He flies around the world without aides and without the press corps, while Trump and Bannon meet with foreign leaders in the White House.
All three are trapped. They have little power and no assistants. They don't know the ways of Washington politics. When they took their jobs, they probably thought they would help contain Trump but now it seems he is containing them. (V)
Lt. Gen Michael Flynn (ret.) took over $50,000 from Russian companies with close ties to the Russian government, including $46,000 for one speech at an event honoring the Kremlin's propaganda outlet, Russia Today. Now Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) wants to know if Donald Trump knew about this when he hired Flynn to be national security adviser. In a letter to Trump, Cummings wrote:
I cannot recall any time in our nation's history when the president selected as his national security adviser someone who violated the Constitution by accepting tens of thousands of dollars from an agent of a global adversary that attacked our democracy.
Cummings also demanded that the Defense Dept. take steps to recover the money from Flynn, which he said violated Pentagon regulations for retired officers.
Russia wasn't Flynn's only source of income lately. He also received $530,000 last year from a Turkish businessman. Cummings also wanted to know whether Flynn had fully disclosed his contacts with Russian, Turkish, and other foreign agents when he was vetted for national security adviser. (V)Email a link to a friend or share:
---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar16 Lessons from the ACA Battles that Republicans Haven't Learned
Mar16 Healthcare Bill Is Needed to Make Tax-cut Bill Work
Mar16 Graham to Start Investigating Trump
Mar16 Nunes Says There is Zero Evidence that Trump's Phone Was Tapped
Mar16 List of Trump-Russia Connections Fills Up 118 Pages
Mar16 Paranoia Runs Rampant in the White House
Mar16 Dutch Voters: Populism? No Thanks
Mar15 Fifty Republicans Skeptical of Ryan's Healthcare Bill
Mar15 White House Analysis of Ryan's Healthcare Plan Foresees 26 Million Newly Uninsured
Mar15 Two More Pages of Trump Taxes Leak
Mar15 Sessions' Purge of the U.S. Attorneys Could Come Back to Haunt the Republicans
Mar15 Democrats' Unity in the Senate is Holding
Mar15 Is Trumpism an Export Product?
Mar15 "There's No Global Warming" May Soon Become Official U.S. Government Policy
Mar15 Justice Department to Go After Russians...For Hacking Yahoo
Mar14 CBO Concludes that 24 Million Fewer People Will Have Insurance Under Ryan's Plan
Mar14 Can GOP Win on Healthcare Bill?
Mar14 Trump Drops Obama Wiretap Claim...Or Maybe Not
Mar14 Economic Populism May Not Help the Democrats
Mar14 Steve King Goes Full White Supremacist
Mar14 Schumer Threatens a Government Shutdown in April
Mar14 Congressional Democrats to Propose Bill Banning LGBT Discrimination
Mar14 Kushners Get $400 Million from Chinese Firm
Mar14 Top Science Jobs in the Administration Are Nearly All Unfilled
Mar13 Republicans Are Brawling in Public over the New Health Care Bill
Mar13 CMS May Issue Report in Addition to CBO Report
Mar13 Merkel To Visit Trump Tomorrow with Some Bad News
Mar13 Trump Turns Out to Be No Pacifist
Mar13 ACLU Has Raised $80 Million Since the Election
Mar13 McCain to Trump: Put Up or Shut Up
Mar13 Time to Change the Voting Age?
Mar13 Place Your Trump-Related Bets
Mar12 Trump Fires Prosecutor Preet Bharara
Mar12 It's Getting Harder to Gerrymander
Mar12 Major Insurance Company Supports ACA Replacement
Mar12 Trump Supporters Will Be Hit the Hardest by the AHCA
Mar12 Ads Targeting the New Health-Care Plan Have Started Already
Mar12 Mar-a-Lago Is a Spy's Paradise
Mar12 "Deep State" Conspiracy Theories Getting Wilder
Mar12 Cuomo Prepping to Throw His Hat into the Ring
Mar12 Dueling Bestsellers on Amazon
Mar11 Sessions Asks All Obama-appointed U.S. Attorneys to Resign Immediately
Mar11 "Deep State" Is Going Mainstream
Mar11 Transition Team Knew Flynn Should Have Registered as a Foreign Agent
Mar11 Every Day Brings More Russia Intrigue
Mar11 Trump: Jobs Numbers Aren't Fake Any More
Mar11 Congressional Budget Office Won't Pull Its Punches
Mar11 Nobody Wants His Name on GOP Healthcare Bill
Mar11 Why Jon Huntsman?