Dem 48
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GOP 52
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Tax Bill Is Not Quite a Done Deal Yet

While the House and Senate have come up with a bill that the conferees from both chambers have agreed to, its passage is not entirely assured quite yet. For one thing, the current bill is going to add more than $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years, so new revenue need to be found or some tax cuts reduced. That is always a sticky and painful process. Also, Sen. Mario Rubio (R-FL) is being difficult. He wants the child tax credit expanded (which costs even more money). If he doesn't get that he wants, he threatened to vote "no." On the initial Senate vote, the bill got 51 votes, so if no other senator defects, somebody would have to call President of the Senate Mike Pence and tell him to grab a cab and come over fast to break the tie. Pence already has an inkling that his services may be needed, though, as he postponed a planned trip to the Middle East. After all, if the only thing you are being paid $230,700 a year to do is to vote in the Senate once in a blue moon, you'd hate to miss the vote just because you were busy doing Jared Kushner's job of bringing peace to the Middle East, wouldn't you?

Rubio isn't the only problem. Besides Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN), who is a definite "no" vote, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) is unhappy with the bill's de facto elimination of the ACA's requirement for everyone to buy health insurance. She voted "yes" on the Senate bill under the condition that two other bills that would shore up the ACA would be passed this year. But the House Freedom Caucus said they wouldn't vote for those bills, so she could either demand stronger guarantees or risk getting get rolled when she votes "yes," the tax bill passes, and the other bills die. She is under a lot of pressure from constituents to vote "no," but ultimately it is her call.

Healthcare could also complicate the bill. Not healthcare in the sense of killing the individual mandate, but the healthcare that two senators are currently receiving. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is in the hospital (see below) and Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) is not well. If two of the three among Corker, Rubio, and Collins vote "no," these votes would be critical. Indeed, a non-vote from either of the ill senators, in that case, would be just as bad as a "no," vote, because that would leave it 50-49 against the bill, and Mike Pence would have canceled his trip for nothing.

Further, if the Senate can't take care of business before the end of the year, then things get worse for the GOP because Luther Strange (R-AL) will be ceding his seat to Senator-elect Doug Jones (D-AL). Unless, of course, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) gets her way, and Jones is seated as soon as his election is certified. Her argument, which has considerable merit, is that the GOP insisted on seating Republican Scott Brown for the vote on the ACA after he scored a surprise win in Massachusetts in 2010. What's good for the goose is good for the gander, is Warren's view. The GOP is not too likely to buy this argument, given their desperate circumstances, but you can expect the Democrats to point out the inconsistency during next year's campaign. And 2020's, for that matter. It's not easy for the Republican leadership these days. (V & Z)

FCC Votes to Kill Net Neutrality

When Ajit Pai became chair of the FCC, he made clear that he wanted to kill net neutrality, a policy by which all Internet traffic must be treated the same by service providers. When Pai opened up the legally-mandated public comment process, he made clear that he wanted to kill net neutrality. When millions of commenters opposed the plan, Pai made clear that he still wanted to kill net neutrality. Now, by a 3-2 vote along party lines, the FCC has killed net neutrality.

Pai has done little to explain or justify his position thus far, but in anticipation of Thursday's vote, he did post a heavily-produced video to the conservative website The Daily Caller. Many found it to be offensive that he would make light of such an important subject, with one site going so far as to call it a "bag of s**t." From where we sit, "bizarre" is probably a better descriptor. The video lists seven things users will still be able to do on a non-neutral net, with Pai "performing" each of the seven. For example, you can still "take selfies with your pets" and you can still "drive memes into the ground." As Pai emphasizes the latter point, he dances with Martina Markota, who was a key proponent of the false DC-pizza-parlor-as-front-for-child-sex-ring urban legend. In any event, presumably the purpose of the video was to soft-pedal the new policy while making Pai look like a good, fun guy. What it really does, however, is remind us that there hasn't been a Republican officeholder who is actually funny since Ronald Reagan.

And Pai wasn't the only person who had people rolling their eyes on Thursday. Donald Trump Jr. emerged from wherever he has been hiding from Congress so that he could issue this tweet:

The irony is thick when Trump Jr. laments others' ignorance, and yet does not appear to know that it was his father who appointed Pai. As one Twitterer wondered, "Isn't Eric supposed to be the idiot?"

In any event, this decision is remarkably bad politics, in exactly the same way the tax bill is. In both cases, we have a giveaway to corporate types at the expense of the average citizen. Assuming that the decision stands, which is not a given, then voters will notice the impact and will not be happy. Democrats will then ride that resentment back into power and will overturn the policies. The big difference between the tax bill and the FCC's decision, of course, is that killing the tax bill will require a bunch of Democratic members of Congress to get on the same page. As we have seen, that is sometimes easier said than done. With net neutrality, on the other hand, it will just take one person to flip the policy the other way. Given the 90-day commenting period required before any change is made, there is a chance that net neutrality makes its triumphant return sometime around April 20, 2021. (Z)

McCain Is in the Hospital

John McCain, who has an aggressive form of brain cancer and who has acknowledged that his prognosis is poor, has been hospitalized at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. His office said it was just a routine hospitalization, but when you have an aggressive form of brain cancer and a poor prognosis, going to a hospital is never a minor event. Two close friends of his said he had no plans to resign from the Senate. However, it would be foolish for anyone to expect a quick or full recovery. The days of one of the giants of the Senate are clearly numbered. (V)

Trump Breaks the Record for Appellate Judges Confirmed in First Year

Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Texas conservative James Ho to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. This confirmation breaks the record for most appellate judges confirmed in a president's first year in office. Trump has now gotten 12 judges confirmed. The previous record was 11, held jointly by John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon.

Although Trump is having difficulty getting legislation through Congress, one way his legacy will last for decades is appointing very conservative judges to the district and appellate courts. He is intentionally choosing young judges (Ho is 43) so they can serve for 30 years or more. He is also picking picking people with a clear track record of being very conservative. For example, Ho served in George W. Bush's Justice Dept., where he wrote a memo justifying the government's use of torture. In the Senate vote, no Republican present and voting opposed him, but all Democrats but three opposed him. The three Democrats who voted for him all come from red states and are facing uphill battles in 2018, namely Sens. Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), and Claire McCaskill (MO). (V)

Has Ryan Had It?

Being Speaker of the House is like herding 435 cats. Paul Ryan (R-WI) didn't even want the job when John Boehner threw up his hands in dismay and quit. His Republican colleagues thrust it upon him as the only Republican who could bring all the Party factions together, more or less. Now rumors are swirling all over D.C. that this will be his last term as Speaker and probably his last term in Congress.

When Ryan was in college, his friends dreamed of meeting Pamela Anderson, but he dreamed of privatizing Social Security. Ever since he got elected to Congress in 1999, he has had two obsessions: reforming the tax system and slashing entitlements. With a bit of luck, he may achieve the first one this year and may make a do-or-die effort to achieve the second one next year. If he does (or becomes convinced that it is impossible), he may decide there is no point in being in Congress any more and retire after his current term is finished.

He might leave even sooner. Congress has a bit of must-do work on its plate for the next couple of months. It must fund the government, raise the debt ceiling, deal with health-care subsidies, and do something about the dreamers. All of these are extremely contentious, with Ryan's own caucus badly divided on all of them. If any of them fails, there will be hell to pay. The Speaker might just decide to tell the Freedom Caucus if they block any of the above, he will quit on the spot. Then, if they in fact do block one of the must-pass bills, he could follow through and quit on the spot, leaving the House in chaos. Under those conditions, it would be nearly impossible for anybody to get 218 votes to become Speaker. Note that the Speaker need not be a House member (or even an American) and Democrats get to vote, too. Maybe the Republicans could get someone who is popular and noncontroversial, like Beyoncé or Prince Harry to do it. Politico has a long piece on Ryan's past, present, and possible future in its magazine.

Within hours of Politico's bombshell report saying that Ryan has told friends he's had it after this term, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that Donald Trump would be very upset if Ryan left. And this despite Ryan's having denounced Trump after p***ygate broke during the campaign. (V)

Farenthold Won't Run for Re-election

Well-placed sources have reported that Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) won't run for re-election. He has come under pressure for sexually harassing multiple staffers, including his former aide Lauren Greene, whom he paid $84,000 to keep quiet. His defense is: "An unprofessional work environment is not a crime." After the announcements by former representative John Conyers and Sen. Al Franken (DFL-MN) that they were resigning due to sexual misconduct, the pressure on Farenthold was great enough to get him to forsake a reelection bid, but not quit immediately. Democrats are surely going to exploit this and the pressure will only increase. He's in the Top 20% of his colleagues when it comes to net worth, with about $6 million in assets, so it's not like he needs the paycheck the way that, say, a Marco Rubio does. Odds are good he doesn't actually stick it out to the bitter end. Especially if his Republican colleagues get wind of this 2010 campaign photo of him.

Blake Farenthold

Note: the woman is not his wife, Debbie. She is a model hired from a company called The Crush Girls. (V)

There May Be a Recount in Alabama

Republican Roy Moore has not conceded his defeat to Democrat Doug Jones yet, and is holding out for a recount. Currently Jones holds a 1.5% lead. State law requires a recount if the margin is less than 0.5%. However, John Bennett, the deputy chief of staff in the Alabama secretary of state's office, yesterday said that Secs. 17-16-20 and 17-16-21 of Alabama election law "probably" allow candidates or parties to request a recount. Of course, this isn't a final ruling and isn't even necessarily the Alabama secretary of state's position.

Not everyone is with Moore on this one, not even Republicans. Former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee had this to say:

Roy Moore won't concede; says will wait on God to speak. God wasn't registered to vote in AL but the ppl who voted did speak and it wasn't close enough for recount. In elections everyone does NOT get a trophy. I know first hand but it's best to exit with class.

Earlier, Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said that even when all the absentee and overseas military ballots were counted, he didn't think Moore had much of a chance to win. The Alabama Republican Party has also accepted Moore's defeat, as has President Donald Trump. So, the former judge is running out of allies. (V)

North Korea, Iran Situations Get Messier By the Day

Donald Trump has decertified the Iran nuclear deal, and then promptly passed the buck to Congress to handle the situation. Congress, not interested in the President's used bucks, and busy with things like not repealing Obamacare, has done absolutely nothing. On January 15, a new deadline will arrive, and Trump will have to decide whether to stick with de-certification, or else change course and re-certify, or find some third option. Given Trump's impulsive nature and tendency to get frustrated with a "lack of progress," it's very possible that he will choose option number three and find some way to escalate the situation. So, many experts worry that the U.S. is headed on a path that eventually leads to armed conflict with Iran.

The same experts also worry that the same basic dynamic is playing out with North Korea, except at an accelerated pace. White House insiders say that the administration—and not just Trump—is becoming persuaded that North Korea won't respond to diplomatic and economic measures, and that a military strike will be necessary. Certainly, the talk coming out of Washington is very similar to what we heard before the invasion of Iraq during the Bush years. On Thursday, in fact, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who has grown close to Team Trump, warned that there is a 30% chance of a military invasion, and that the chance jumps to 70% if Kim Jong-Un tests an actual nuke. Meanwhile, the odds that the Trump presidency ends without at least one new war are getting very poor, indeed. (Z)

Tip: Don't Get a Job Anytime Soon Where You're Paid in Tips

While you weren't looking, the Department of Labor proposed a new set of rules about the tips collected by waiters, waitresses, and other service workers. The main purpose of the new rules, ostensibly, was to allow employers to give a percentage of tips to employees who do not get tipped directly, like dishwashers. However, the new set of guidelines also happens to be missing a rule from the old set, the rule that requires employers to actually share the tips after they have collected them. It is hard to imagine that "oversight" was a mistake.

Already, a certain percentage of tips get stolen by employers, and that is when doing so is illegal. If it ceases to be illegal, then the tip stealing figures to increase even more. The left-leaning Economic Policy Institute estimates that the total would reach about $6 billion a year, or about 17% of all tips. Needless to say, people who suddenly get fewer tips than was once the case are going to figure out what has happened, and who is responsible. And so, this is much like the tax bill or the net neutrality repeal (see above), in that it is scarcely possible to imagine policy initiatives that will do more to get people to the polls to vote Democratic. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec14 What the Alabama Exit Polls Tell Us
Dec14 Disquieting Numbers for the GOP
Dec14 It's Not My Fault!
Dec14 Democrats' Path to Winning the Senate in 2018 Is Now Wider
Dec14 House and Senate Conferees Agree on a Tax Bill
Dec14 Rosenstein: No Cause for Firing Mueller
Dec14 Trump Withdraws Judicial Nominees
Dec14 Only Half of Voters Say Sexual Misconduct Accusations against Trump Are Credible
Dec14 Tina Smith to Replace Franken in the Senate
Dec14 Heat is On Farenthold
Dec13 Alabama Declares: "No Moore"
Dec13 Trump Has a Really Bad Day
Dec13 Republicans Getting Closer to Tax Deal
Dec13 Democrats Back Down on Dreamers
Dec12 It Is Election Day in Alabama Today
Dec12 What Happens If Moore Wins?
Dec12 Judge Orders Alabama Voting Records Preserved
Dec12 Booker Will Also Be Tested Today
Dec12 Gillibrand Calls for Trump to Resign
Dec12 Missing from the Russiagate Probe So Far: Steve Bannon
Dec12 Trump Wants to Go Back to the Moon
Dec12 Transgender Soldiers Can Enlist
Dec12 Spicer Writing a Book
Dec11 Another Poll Shows Moore Leading Jones
Dec11 Moore Does Not Like Amendments 11-27
Dec11 Collins Says Senate Will Have a Tough Decision If Moore Wins
Dec11 Senate Republicans Are Attacking the American Bar Association
Dec11 Trump Accusers to Demand Congressional Investigation
Dec11 What is Haley's Long-Term Plan?
Dec11 Poll Says Americans Aren't Buying what the GOP is Selling on the Tax Plan
Dec11 Will the Exit Poll Survive?
Dec10 Mueller Is Certainly Being Thorough
Dec10 Bad Numbers for the GOP
Dec10 Donald Trump Needs a Brain Test
Dec10 Donald Trump Is a Liar
Dec10 Trump's Life in the White House
Dec10 Arab League Condemns Jerusalem Announcement
Dec10 Jones Desperate to Rally Black Voters
Dec10 Please Pardon Our Dust
Dec09 Tax Bill May Allow Dark Money Political Donations to Become Tax Deductible
Dec09 Yearbook Inscription Partly Not Moore's Writing
Dec09 Trump Rallies in Florida
Dec09 Dina Powell Will Leave White House in January
Dec09 Democrats Looking Under Rocks for Competitive House Races
Dec09 Special Election for Conyers Seat Won't Be Until Nov. 2018
Dec09 Democrats Will Restrict Superdelegates in 2020
Dec09 Trump Asked RNC Chair to Omit 'Romney' from Her Name
Dec08 Looks Like There's More to the Trump Tower Story
Dec08 Tax Bill Hits Rough Waters
Dec08 Franken Will Quit