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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Connects Irma with Taxes
      •  Trump Willing to Get Rid of Debt Ceiling
      •  DOJ Won't Prosecute Lois Lerner
      •  Ryan Being Savaged on All Sides
      •  Pastor Declares Trump's Religiosity
      •  What Should Hillary Clinton Do Now?
      •  Two Congressmen Apparently Like the Gerrymander

Trump Connects Irma with Taxes

Hurricane Irma is on its way, having already made landfall in the far Southern portion of Florida as of Saturday night. During the day, as he did with Harvey, President Trump marveled at the size of the hurricane, declaring that, "We've never seen anything like this." He also tried to use the hurricane to rally support for changing the tax code:

I think now, with what's happened with the hurricane, I'm gonna ask for a speed up. I wanted a speed up anyway, but now we need it even more so. So we need to simplify the tax code, reduce taxes very substantially on the middle class, and make our business tax more globally competitive. We're the highest anywhere in the world right now.

Needless to say, there is zero relationship between the hurricane and taxes, particularly corporate taxes. If we imagine that the government spends $15 billion on Irma relief, as it did with Harvey, that is 0.4% of the federal budget—a relative drop in the bucket. It's also worth noting that Trump's declaration about taxes is misleading enough such that it is more false than it is true. While the U.S. does have the highest corporate tax rates, it also has many varied and generous deductions. Once those are factored in, U.S corporations pay a little less than their brethren in the UK and Japan, and a little more than their fellows in Germany and India. Put another way, the biggest capitalist economies in the world are all effectively within a few percentage points of one another when it comes to corporate taxation.

In any case, the main story here is not that Trump fibbed. That's a "dog bites man" kind of story, these days. No, the main story is that, although he did pretty well with empathy during Houston visit 2.0, Trump is back to being Trump. Marveling at the size of Irma is tone deaf, and trying to use it to advance his political agenda is both cheap and crass. Of course, blowing it in red, red Texas is not likely to hurt the President too much in 2018 or 2020. Blowing it in purple Florida, on the other hand, could be a different matter entirely. (Z)

Trump Willing to Get Rid of Debt Ceiling

Donald Trump, fresh off a deal with the Democrats to raise the debt ceiling far enough to get the country through three more months, said on Saturday he's willing to consider getting rid of it entirely. "For many years people have been talking about getting rid of debt ceiling altogether and there are a lot of good reasons to do that," he declared. "So certainly that is something that could be discussed. We even discussed it at the meeting we had yesterday."

For a guy who is ostensibly a member of the conservative political party, he's doing an awfully good job of pushing their buttons lately, as nearly all support for the continuance of the debt ceiling comes from that side of the aisle. There are really only two purposes that the ceiling theoretically fulfills. The first, envisioned when the rule was first created 100 years ago, is to encourage fiscal austerity by making it harder for the government to spend money it doesn't have. The second, which has only become apparent recently, is that the debt ceiling can be used as a political football by minority factions of Congress (ahem, the Freedom Caucus) who want to create some leverage by holding the government (and its credit rating) hostage.

Even if these two "advantages" are considered desirable, however, things have never worked out that way. The ceiling does not encourage austerity, as a quick look at the national debt tells us. And holding the government hostage tends to rebound on the partisans who do it, rather than allowing them to advance their legislative agenda. So, the century-old rule really doesn't have any positive impacts in reality. Meanwhile, the continued existence of the debt ceiling puts the government at risk of wasting hundreds of millions of dollars in interest payments, as happened on the two occasions where the government defaulted (2011) or almost defaulted (1973). For all of these reasons, more than 90% of economists would like to see the policy abolished.

Fundamentally, the debt ceiling law is a crude attempt to repeal arithmentic. If Congress passes laws to spend $3.7 trillion and other laws to raise $3.2 trillion in taxes, then the government has to borrow $500 billion to make up the shortfall. Having a debt-ceiling law saying the government can't borrow that much makes no sense. (Actually, it is the cumulative amounts that are at issue, but it is easier to understand one year at a time).

There are not too many things where Donald Trump and the Democrats agree, but this appears to be one of them. When the issue comes up again in December, it's within the realm of possibility that a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans decide to make a move and to abolish the ceiling once and for all. That would give the President another WIN, and would lead Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to tear their hair out, assuming they have any left by then. (Z)

DOJ Won't Prosecute Lois Lerner

Lois Lerner used to work for the IRS, and part of her responsibilities involved ruling on applications for non-profit status. During her time in that role, she turned down a lot of conservative groups, in particular a fair number affiliated with the tea party. Conservatives decided that her actions were a conspiracy against them, and demanded justice. The DOJ looked into the matter, and on Friday announced they would not be bringing charges. This sent the conservative blogosphere into an absolute tizzy, and they began lashing out at anyone and everyone, including President Trump, AG Jeff Sessions, and Congress.

Needless to say, the conservatives' vitriol isn't terribly rational. Trump, Sessions, et al. would undoubtedly love to prosecute Lerner if at all possible, as she ties several conservative bugaboos (taxes, liberals, bureaucrats) into a nice, tidy package. But "we kinda think she's unfair" is not the basis of a legal case, and proving this kind of conspiracy takes mountains of evidence (e.g., the amount that Robert Mueller is gathering). Still, rational or not, that's politics. And developments like this are only going to serve to fracture the Republican coalition even further. (Z)

Ryan Being Savaged on All Sides

Although it is Donald Trump who is most responsible for his party's recent woes, it is Paul Ryan who is reaping the whirlwind. Ryan will be forced to deal with DACA, after Trump punted the issue, not to mention trying to craft a budget that can somehow get through the House and the Senate. If that's not enough, the debt ceiling, the border wall, health care reform, and tax reform are also on his desk, to a greater or lesser extent. He's being slammed from all sides by the members of his own party, who are frustrated that they aren't getting things done despite being in the majority, who fear what 2018 will bring, and who worry that they will "lose" battles to other factions in the party. This is what felled Ryan's predecessor, John Boehner, and Boehner didn't even have to contend with Hurricane Donald on a daily basis.

So, can Ryan weather the storm better than Boehner did? To answer that, it is also worth recalling a pointed question we've asked before: What exactly is the basis for the notion that Paul Ryan is a skilled politician or legislator? Yes, he's been elected to Congress eight times, but in a very red district (WI-01), which means that after the first victory he was a shoo-in. His vice-presidential candidacy came primarily from the fact that he checked a lot of the right boxes: Mitt Romney needed someone young, Midwestern, and with strong "fiscal conservative" credentials. The high-profile that came from the Veep run led the GOP members—in some cases grudgingly—to make him Speaker. Since then, Ryan has been unable to influence a president from the other party, the members from the other party, a president from his own party, or the unruly members of his own party (i.e., the Freedom Caucusers). It's no trick to herd the cows that already agree with you; what separates the wheat from the chaff in Washington is an ability to herd the cats that don't agree with you. Point is, those investing in political futures at PredictIt might want to avoid the Speaker. There's little evidence that his long-term prospects are good, and lots of evidence that they are not. In the next six months, Paul could follow John out the door, which would presumably leave Congressional Republicans to search for a speaker named George or Ringo. (Z)

Pastor Declares Trump's Religiosity

In a development reminiscent of the odd letter affirming—nay, celebrating—Donald Trump's supposedly excellent health, the President's apparent spiritual adviser, Paula White, used a public appearance on Saturday to announce to the world how very Christian the President is. "Our president 100 percent is a Christian who understands receiving faith by the grace of the lord, Jesus," she said. "He understands repentance, and I've seen him on many occasions in private and even in public."

Like just about everything Team Trump does, this is meant for the base. Many of them, most obviously the evangelicals, desperately want to believe that he's actually religious. White's words may help to assuage them, a bit, but the odds are good that—to paraphrase Trump himself—he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York, and they would persuade themselves that this is what Jesus would have done. So White's declaration probably wasn't necessary, especially since it's laughable. It's very hard to accept that Trump is actually a believer, what with his frequent disregard for about half the Commandments, his lack of familiarity with the Bible, and his 50-year habit of not attending church, which only changed (a little) when he became a politician. And even if we can't be 100% certain what's in a man's heart, we can certainly count up the times he's "repented" publicly. We can do so with one hand, and have most of our fingers left, and perhaps also the thumb. The reporters present attempted to grill White on this point, and in an oxymoron, she said she couldn't discuss the cases where Trump had repented publicly, because they are "private." The good pastor might want to review the portions of the Bible that address false witness, because that is something the Lord feels pretty bigly about. (Z)

What Should Hillary Clinton Do Now?

Get ready to hear a lot about and from Hillary Clinton in the next couple of weeks. Her new book about the 2016 election is out, and the accompanying publicity tour is getting underway. Already, the book has generated some controversy, as readers and reviewers alike have accused Clinton of looking backwards rather than forwards, of re-litigating the 2016 election, and of being unduly harsh toward Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Certainly, there is some truth to the criticism. Neither of the Clintons is great at taking their lumps and being frank about their errors (though, of course, they pale in comparison to Donald Trump in that category; more above). We saw this with the email server, where Hillary slowly but surely began to accept culpability, but never quite got to the place where she owned it fully. But with this said, we should also not let the passing of nine months or so to allow us to forget that Clinton has many foes, who are going to be reflexively critical of her regardless of what she says or does. That includes an enormous number of Republicans, and a fair number of the Sanders Democrats.

To put a finer point on this, the New York Times commissioned an interesting poll in which they asked respondents what Clinton should do in the next chapter of her career. Here are the results:


As we can see, there are no proposed activities that 2/3 of respondents can get behind, and only two proposed activities that even a majority can get behind. It's also clear that about a quarter of respondents are actively hoping that she goes away, and has no further public presence.

As if on cue, to underscore the vitriol that some people have and will always have for Clinton, former FBI agent James Gagliano penned an editorial for The Hill in which he called for an independent prosecutor to look guessed it, the email server. This is simply laughable, tantamount to someone writing an editorial calling for Dick Cheney to be prosecuted for war crimes. Someone needs to tell Gagliano that this is 2017, not 2015, and perhaps to explain to him the meaning of "that ship has sailed." Clinton has already been exonerated, and even if she hadn't been, there is no clear public good that would come from such an investigation. But as they say, "haters gonna hate." (Z)

Two Congressmen Apparently Like the Gerrymander

Last week, a number of high-profile Republicans, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Gov. John Kasich (R-OH), and former Senators Bob Dole and Alan Simpson, filed amicus briefs in the case of Gill v. Whitford, which seeks to put an end to partisan gerrymandering (as distinct from racial or ethnic gerrymandering). Among the signatories were Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) and Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC). The former's inclusion was particularly surprising, since he's chair of the Freedom Caucus and so—pretty much by definition—an adherent of Machiavelli's notion that the ends justify the means. Few things in American politics are more Machiavellian, and more beneficial to the GOP, than the gerrymander.

Late Friday, the two representatives announced that they don't support the amicus brief after all, and their names were put on it by accident. This makes more sense, though it means that they are now in the uncomfortable position of being on the record as pro-gerrymander. Like being pro-white supremacist, this is something a politician generally prefers to imply, not to state outright. Meanwhile, this is a very strange mistake. Meadows' "support" should have raised a red flag with McCain, et al., and one would think they would double- and triple-check before including his name. Either they were sloppy, or Reps. Meadows and Jones did a poor job of playing both sides of the street. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Sep09 Three Moderate House Republicans Are Retiring
Sep09 Baucus Comes Out in Favor of Single-Payer Healthcare
Sep09 Mueller Wants to Talk to Six Top Trump Staffers
Sep09 Former DHS Secretary Sues DHS
Sep09 Trump-Schumer-Pelosi Plan Is Now the Law of the Land
Sep09 Trump's Relationship with Congressional Republicans Goes from Bad to Worse
Sep09 Trump Can't Decide How Strong the U.S. Military Is
Sep09 Another Friday, Another White House Departure
Sep08 Trump Raves about the News Coverage of His Deal with the Democrats
Sep08 Conservatives Don't Care about the Coverage, Hate the Deal
Sep08 Hillary Clinton Wants to Continue the 2016 Democratic Primary
Sep08 Steve Bannon Behaving like Steve Bannon
Sep08 Cohn on Thin Ice
Sep08 Donald Trump Jr. Interviewed by Senate Staffers
Sep08 Mueller Leaving No Stone Unturned
Sep07 Trump Takes Democrats' First Offer on Debt Limit
Sep07 Members of Both Parties Want to Know More about Trump Tower Moscow
Sep07 Red-State Democrats Now Support DACA
Sep07 Fifteen States Sue Trump on DACA
Sep07 Gerrymandering Case Gets Some Unlikely Support
Sep07 Irma Visits Donald
Sep07 Menendez's Trial Began Yesterday
Sep07 Protests, By the Numbers
Sep06 Trump Tells Sessions to End DACA in 6 Months
Sep06 Trump Shoots the Hostages
Sep06 Republicans Have Good Reason to Fear 2018
Sep06 Franken Won't Turn in His Blue Slip
Sep06 Trump Kompromat, Pence Obstruction?
Sep06 Manafort Trying to Keep His Testimony Secret
Sep05 Situation in Korea Is Already Escalating
Sep05 If Trump Ends DACA, at Least Two States Will Sue Him
Sep05 Lots of People Will Be Angry if DACA Is Killed
Sep05 For Trump, the Rubber is About to Meet the Road
Sep05 Breitbart Is Putting Trump In a Quandary
Sep05 Harvey and the Debt Limit
Sep05 Clarke Expected to Take a Job in Trump Administration
Sep04 Trump Notes North Korea's Nuclear Test and Attacks South Korea
Sep04 Trump Likely to Announce End of DACA This Week
Sep04 Trump Is Playing Only to His Base
Sep04 Is Donald Trump...Suicidal?
Sep04 Democrats Have a 10-Point Lead on the Generic House Ballot
Sep04 Trump Nominations Could Mean Two More Special Elections
Sep04 States Struggle to Fix Voting Security
Sep04 Elizabeth Warren is Religious
Sep04 Do the Democrats Need a Kennedy to Save Them?
Sep03 Justice Dept.: Trump Tower Wasn't Wiretapped
Sep03 Trump Wants to Kill Trade Deal with South Korea
Sep03 How John Kelly Has Changed the White House
Sep03 Trump Does Better in Hurricane Harvey Visit v2.0
Sep03 Texas Republicans Have No Answers When it Comes to Hurricane Harvey