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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Tax Plan Underwhelms
      •  GOP Unveils Obamacare Replacement v2.0
      •  Trump to Pull out of NAFTA...or Not
      •  Net Neutrality Getting Closer to Being a Memory
      •  Trump 100-Day Mark Approval Rating Will Be Lowest Recorded
      •  Trump Unveils Anti-Immigrant Phone Line, Gets Trolled

Trump Tax Plan Underwhelms

The Trump administration unveiled its much-ballyhooed tax plan on Wednesday. Apropos to something that could remake the entire American economy, and have trillions of dollars in impact, it took up almost an entire sheet of paper (though some of that was the snazzy-looking bullet points).

The centerpiece of the plan is the already-leaked tax cut to 15% for corporations. Other proposed changes include fewer individual tax brackets, tax breaks for people who pay (a lot) for child care, getting rid of some taxes that mostly affect wealthy people (like the estate and alternative minimum taxes), and eliminating most deductions, with only mortgage interest and charitable donations spared. In short, it is the optimal setup if you happen to be, for example, the Trump Organization, or perhaps Donald Trump, or even Ivanka Trump.

If Trump was hoping for an enthusiastic reception, he didn't get it. Congressional Democrats hate the plan, though that goes without saying. Congressional Republicans are none too happy either. Though Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and other GOP leaders put on a brave face, there was much sniping behind the scenes about how unrealistic the plan is. "It's not tax reform," said one senior GOP aide. "Not even close." Others complained about the fact that, once again, the White House kept Congress out of the loop. "We get that they want make a big show of leading the way on this," said another unnamed Republican aide, "but that's not how this is supposed to work."

But Wall Street was happy, right? Not so much. Early in the day, before the plan was released, the Dow surged by as much as 240 points. But after the details were announced, the gain was erased, and the Dow actually closed slightly down on the day. One hedge fund manager put his finger on the problem: "There is really not much new here and there still is no clear path to getting this through Congress. There is little chance of this being introduced in Congress anywhere near the context in which it's been proposed today given the likely deficit unfriendly implications. There will be heated opposition including from some quarters within Trump's own party."

In short, there was every reason to believe that changing the tax code might even be more difficult than healthcare reform. And now we're seeing that those suspicions were right on target. (Z)

GOP Unveils Obamacare Replacement v2.0

While Donald Trump tilts at the tax code windmill, Congressional Republicans have gone back to tilting at the Obamacare windmill. On Wednesday, they too had an unveiling, officially announcing the details of their new plan to kill Obamacare. Actually, the new plan is more like half a plan, and is called the MacArthur Amendment, after moderate Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ). The Amendment would allow states to request waivers to certain Obamacare provisions, like the requirement that insurers cover pre-existing conditions.

If the MacArthur Amendment becomes law, it would effectively crash Obamacare. This is exactly what the Freedom Caucus wants, so they have endorsed the plan. Anyone who has been following American politics for more than 20 minutes should be able to guess what happened next. Any plan severe enough to please the Freedom Caucusers is going to be a bridge too far for the moderate Republicans, even if one of their own did negotiate the deal. And so, not long after the Freedom Caucus gave its blessing, leaders of the moderate Tuesday Group announced that they were not happy with the MacArthur Amendment. And, of course, there's still the nearly-insurmountable Senate hill to climb. So, the GOP is really no closer to replacing Obamacare today than they were last week or last month. (Z)

Trump to Pull out of NAFTA...or Not

Donald Trump regularly slammed NAFTA while on the campaign trail. He slammed the agreement again last week, telling a crowd in Wisconsin that, "NAFTA's been very, very bad for our country." On Tuesday, Trump announced that he was considering an order to withdraw from the pact. On Wednesday morning, Trump said his staff was drafting the withdrawal paperwork. So naturally, on Wednesday afternoon, Trump told President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada that NAFTA could stay, at least "for now," and that renegotiation discussions would begin soon.

What happened here? There are a number of plausible explanations, any or all of which could be correct:

  • Trump may have been playing a game of chicken with Trudeau and Peña Nieto, to gain the upper hand in the soon-to-commence negotiations. Certainly, the moment he began threatening, they were both on the phone asking him to reconsider.

  • Trump likes to send signals to his base—it's possible he thinks that merely threatening NAFTA will count as "getting tough" and "doing something" as far as they are concerned. He may be right about this.

  • Someone may have persuaded Trump that he's playing with fire. There's the risk of trade wars with Mexico and Canada, of course. But there's also the possibility that some other nation will swoop in and tell one country or the other that they would be delighted to trade on "most favored nation" terms. For example, Chinese wire conducts electricity just as well as American wire.

  • If Trump pulled out of NAFTA, his own party would have been furious. Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) opined that, "Scrapping NAFTA would be a disastrously bad idea... Risking trade wars is reckless, not wise." Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), John Cornyn (R-TX), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) expressed similar views in urging the administration to keep NAFTA.

Add it all up, and the odds are good that after some negotiations—something that both Mexico and Canada also want—the trade pact will remain in effect for the foreseeable future. (Z)

Net Neutrality Getting Closer to Being a Memory

NAFTA, Obamacare, and the current tax code all seem to be in good shape for now. Net Neutrality, by contrast, is on life support, and the priest is on his way to deliver the last rites. FCC chair Ajit Pai spoke at the Newseum on Wednesday, and laid out his blueprint for allowing broadband providers to sell preferential access to some websites. Broadband companies were thrilled, of course, since this means more money for them. Prominent GOP members of Congress, including Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD); House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR); Senate Communications, Technology and the Internet Subcommittee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS); and House Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) were also pretty happy, issuing a joint statement in which they declared, "Consumers want an open Internet that doesn't discriminate on content and protects free speech and consumer privacy." It's unclear if that is wild spin, or if they don't understand what they are talking about, since eliminating net neutrality—by definition—means discriminating on content.

Pai's proposal will be voted on by the full FCC on May 18, and will presumably pass, since the commission is majority Republican. Then it will be open to public comment, which will be ugly, since more than 80% of Americans prefer net neutrality, and many of them feel very strongly about it. Perhaps the angry commenters will somehow impress the FCC, or maybe they will somehow persuade members of Congress to step in and do something. Most likely, however, Pai will take all the negative comments, throw them in the circular file, and then do what he wants. (Z)

Trump 100-Day Mark Approval Rating Will Be Lowest Recorded

It's only a couple of days until Donald Trump hits the 100-day mark, and he's currently pulling a 44% approval rating. That will make him the first president to be underwater at this point in his term since approval ratings have been collected (the practice started with Dwight D. Eisenhower). In fact, not only will Trump be underwater, he will be far below the next-worst 100-day president on the list—Bill Clinton, who was 11 points higher when he hit the century mark.

At this point, it's very difficult to envision how Trump ever improves on his rating in a meaningful way. Anything is possible, of course, but if he can't pull a 50 or 55 during his "honeymoon" period, then when can he do it? Further, it's not like he's just spent the last few months at this level—he was in the low- to mid-40s throughout the entire campaign. At some point, the data say what they say. (Z)

Trump Unveils Anti-Immigrant Phone Line, Gets Trolled

As part of his ongoing effort to "deal" with the undocumented immigrant problem (non-wall category), the White House unveiled a new hotline on Wednesday to allow victims or witnesses to easily report criminal incidents involving undocumented immigrants. Perhaps Trump is unclear that such a hotline already exists, a little thing called 911. And with 911 you don't even have to try and guess someone's immigration status, which is useful, since non-immigrants commit violent crimes at a considerably greater rate than do undocumented immigrants.

In any case, what happened next was entirely predictable. News of the new hotline spread like wildfire on Twitter, accompanied by the tag #AlienDay. And the system was quickly brought to its knees by thousands and thousands of people calling to lodge complaints about alien invasions—of the sort that originate on Mars. Whatever else one might say about the President, he's really inspiring protesters to see how creative they can truly be. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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