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

House Will Vote on the Tax Bill Today

The House of Representatives will vote on the tax bill today. There is little doubt it will pass and be sent to the Senate, which will vote on it later this week. Its passage in the Senate is assured now that Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are on board with it. That leaves only Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) undecided, but his vote doesn't matter at this point. Even if he votes "no," the final vote will be 50 to 49, as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is back home on account of his illness and won't vote.

One side note to the bill is the growing firestorm based on the perception that the vote of Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) was bought by including a provision that slashes the taxes of real estate investors. You know, people like Bob Corker. Corker claims that he changed his vote before he even learned about the provision. On Sunday, he sent a letter to Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) asking how the real-estate provision got into the bill. He said he didn't understand how it got there, since it wasn't in either the House bill or the Senate bill. Yesterday, Hatch denied that Corker had asked for what is now being called the "Corker kickback," but did nothing to explain how the provision magically appeared in the final bill. Possibly gnomes snuck into the room where the computer was on which the bill was composed and began typing at random. Or maybe it was monkeys. After all, if an infinite number of monkeys with an infinite number of typewriters will eventually produce the works of Shakespeare, maybe if you give a dozen monkeys a dozen laptops and a week to work, you'll get the Republican tax bill. (V)

Tax Bill Could Cost Over $2 Trillion

A new study by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (a nonpartisan deficit hawk group), says that if the temporary tax cuts in the bill the House is expected to pass today are made permanent—something Republicans fervently hope will happen—then the bill will cost $2.2 trillion. Even accounting for economic growth, which is by no means certain, it will add at least $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit. In fact, the national debt could exceed 100% of GDP by 2027, making the debt as big as the entire economy.

In a separate report, the Tax Foundation, a conservative group, said that the tax plan would cost $2.7 trillion if a conventional economic model is used and $1.4 trillion if dynamic scoring is used. Dynamic scoring assumes that tax cuts will stimulate so much economic growth that the government ends up with much more revenue as a result. Few economists believe in it. (V)

What Are the Republicans Thinking?

The GOP tax bill, which could well become law by next week, is a historically unpopular piece of legislation. Poll after poll after poll shows that the American people aren't buying what the GOP is selling, and that they see the bill as a giveaway to the ultra-rich. That leads to an obvious question, then: Why would the GOP do something that so clearly seems to be political suicide? Here are some theories:

  • The Win One for the Gipper Thesis: The Republicans have not had a major legislative victory since the Bush years. Depending on your standards, the last one was the Economic Stimulus Act of 2008, or the Foreign Investment and National Security Act of 2007, or the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003. That's between 10 and 15 years, which is a long time to wait for a win. Just ask Cleveland Browns fans. Meanwhile, the GOP hasn't been able to significantly reform the tax code—the Party's signature issue—since the Reagan years. Possibly, the Republicans need a win so badly, they will pay any price to get it.

  • The Drinking the Kool Aid Thesis: We noted that self-deception can be a very strong phenomenon when people really want to believe something. Maybe the Republicans, aided by the Washington bubble, really and truly believe that the tax plan will trigger historically-unprecedented growth, and the books will balance out in the end. This is a position utterly unsupported by evidence or historical experience, not unlike buying $100 in lottery tickets and hoping that one's winnings will cover the rent. Except that, in this case, "the rent" is $2 trillion.

  • The Rumpelstiltskin Thesis: In the fairy tale, Rumpelstiltskin provided spun gold, but eventually returned to demand a terrible and immediate payment of his debt. In modern America, it's the Kochelstiltskin, but otherwise the dynamic is pretty much the same.

  • The Superman Thesis: The Republicans have done a remarkable job of maximizing their power through parliamentary tricks, gerrymandering, careful management of the electoral college, and the like. Possibly the members are feeling like they are men of steel, only vulnerable to kryptonite. Of course, the voters may have a large supply of that particular substance on hand next year.

  • The Kamikaze Thesis: Maybe the Republicans really are committing political suicide, albeit suicide with a purpose, just like the kamikaze of World War II. This is the provocative theory being put forward by Mother Jones' Kevin Drum. His argument, in brief, is that the Republican leadership knows they have hitched their wagon to a shrinking demographic (old, more conservative white people), and they could soon be wandering in the political wilderness for a long time. This being the case, they might as well slash and burn while they have the chance. Given that the Party has managed to win control of both Houses of Congress in roughly one out of every 10 elections, they may not have complete control of the legislature again until the late 2030s or early 2040s.

  • The Last Guy Turns the Lights Out Thesis: This one could certainly exist in tandem with the Kamikaze Thesis. If the GOP members suspect their days are numbered, they may want to make sure that on their way out the door, they set themselves up well for the next job. By, for example, giving their future employers a nice little windfall. "I helped you save $100 million in taxes, so a $500,000 salary is chump change" is a pretty good negotiating position.

  • The Amnesia Thesis: We often repeat the old aphorism that in politics, a week is a lifetime. By that standard, then the next election is approximately 47 lifetimes away. Perhaps the voters will have forgotten by then, particularly if distracted by some other shiny beads, like a debate over NFL football players kneeling or a war somewhere.

  • The Donors Über Alles Thesis: A political party can win elections in one of two ways: Either support positions the voters want or support positions the donors want and pray the resulting avalanche of money and the negative TV ads it can buy overwhelms the opposition. On so many issues, what the Republicans want on policy is so unpopular, they may simply be rationally betting that keeping the big donors happy so the flood of money continues dwarfs every other consideration.

Needless to say, different members of Congress surely have different mindsets. However, one item or another on the list above likely covers most of them. (Z)

Many Big Fights Expected in Congress This Week

The tax bill is only one of many hot potatoes Congress is going to have to deal with this week. Here is a brief rundown.

  • Defense spending: Donald Trump wants to boost defense spending by $50 billion next year. Democrats have said they are not willing to even consider that unless non-defense spending is also increased by that amount. Spending bills can be filibustered, so the Republicans are going to have to peel off eight Democrats. That is not going to happen.

  • Disaster relief: Members of Congress from Florida and Texas want the government to spend billions of dollars to provide relief from the hurricanes that battered their states in August and September, respectively. They are threatening to vote against all the other bills that must pass if they don't get money for their states. So far, not much has been forthcoming. Puerto Rico, of course, does not send voting representatives to Congress.

  • Dreamers: Most Democrats want a law passed guaranteeing that people who came to the U.S. illegally as children can stay and eventually become citizens. Many Republicans regard this as amnesty for lawbreakers and are dead set against it. Congress can kick the can down the road, as it usually does on anything very controversial, but only so far. Donald Trump has said that he will begin deporting all the Dreamers in March if Congress takes no action. Democrats might be willing to shut the government down over this one.

  • CHIP: The Children's Health Insurance Program, which insures almost 10 million poor children, expired in September. Democrats want it renewed and want the federal government to fund it. Few Republicans openly oppose the idea of children getting medical care when they need it, but many oppose having the federal government pay for it.

  • Health care: Susan Collins agreed to vote for the tax bill on the condition that two other bills, Alexander-Murray and Nelson-Collins, would be passed this year to stabilize the ACA. She will find out this week whether she got rolled or not. The bills can probably pass the Senate, but the House Freedom Caucus opposes them. If Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) tries to get them through the House using largely Democratic votes, it could be the end of his speakership, and sooner rather than later.

Even solving one of these problems would be a heavy lift for the time between now and Christmas. Solving all of them will be impossible. Look for Congress to punt most or all of them into next year. However, that gives the Democrats even more leverage since after Doug Jones is seated, the Republican edge in the Senate will be just 51 to 49. (V)

Why Are Trump's Allies Attacking Mueller?

A number of Donald Trump allies, including one of his lawyers, have begun attacking special counsel Robert Mueller. Many observers think this is being done as a prelude to Trump firing Mueller, something Trump has said he is not considering right now. Politico has a theory of why the attacks are coming now. In this view, Trump's allies have told him that firing Mueller would certainly lead to calls for his immediate impeachment, but the attacks on Mueller's fairness have another purpose: Pave the way for pardons. If enough people believe Mueller is a Democrat (rather than the lifelong Republican he actually is) and is carrying out a vendetta against Trump and people close to him for partisan reasons, then a pardon of people like Paul Manafort and Rick Gates would seem only fair. Trump might also be considering pardoning former NSA Michael Flynn and "coffee boy" George Papadopoulos, but that may be pointless since both of them have probably already spilled the beans. Of course, Trump's allies may be preparing the way for pardons of Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner, should Mueller indict them later on.

The only problem with this whole plan is that Mueller is a real pro and is working with state attorneys general Eric Scheiderman in New York and Mark Herring in Virginia. If Trump were to issue pardons for federal crimes, the attorneys general might reply with state indictments, for which the president has no pardon power. (V)

Trump Lays Out National Security Strategy

The White House released a 68-page document on Friday, the Trump administration version of America's National Security Strategy (NSS). Donald Trump may not have actually read the whole thing (or most of it), but he nonetheless gave a speech on Monday to enthusiastically pitch the document.

The BBC's Jonathan Marcus has a very evenhanded assessment of the NSS, for those who are interested. It is, of course, a statement of the Trump Doctrine—America first, military power, economic prosperity, and so forth. That said, about 70% of the verbiage could well have been recycled from the Obama NSS. The key deletions from the Obama version are: (1) support for multinational trade pacts, (2) a wish that nuclear weapons might eventually be eliminated, and (3) the removal of any statement to the effect that global warming is a threat to American security.

There is little debate among experts—including Secretary of Defense James Mattis—that global warming is a threat, since it will lead to famine and poverty, and thus create breeding grounds for new terrorists. Still, the Trump administration insists on keeping its head in the sand on the subject—something they may soon literally be able to do in Washington D.C. if things continue as they are. Anyhow, despite the fact that the Trump NSS is, on the whole, a reasonable position paper, all the attention is being paid to the global warming excision. Well, that, and the question of how Donald Trump plans to fund his vision after he puts a mega tax break in the Christmas stockings of America's wealthy people and corporations. (Z)

U.N. Vote Isolates the U.S. Even More

Donald Trump's plan to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and regard that as the capital of Israel is getting some negative feedback in the world. Yesterday, the U.N. Security Council debated and voted on a resolution reiterating the longstanding position of the Security Council, going back 50 years, stating that no country should establish an embassy in Jerusalem and its status should be determined by Israel and the Palestinians. All 14 members of the Council other than the U.S. voted for the resolution, but U.S. representative to the U.N. Nikki Haley vetoed the resolution. It was her first veto. America's closest allies in the Council, the U.K. and France, voted for the resolution, further indicating how virtually the entire world is against Trump's plan.

This is not the end of the story, though. It is expected that the general assembly will also vote on the issue. General assembly resolutions are not binding, but every country has one vote there and no country has a veto. It is likely that the vote there will be even more lopsided than 14 to 1, a further indication that almost the entire world despises Trump's plan. And, somewhat implicitly, Trump. (V)

People Die in Train Wreck; Trump Searches for Angle

An Amtrak train went off the rails near Tacoma, Wash., on Monday. It took many hours for the situation to be disentangled, but eventually it became clear that three people were dead, with another six dozen injured. That sent President Trump into action; shortly after the damage was known, he tweeted this:

Someone must have sprinted down the White House hallway, burst into the Oval Office, and breathlessly warned The Donald how tone-deaf that came off, because he followed up 10 minutes later with the standard "thoughts and prayers" tweet:

If ever we needed evidence that, whenever anything happens, Donald Trump's first thought is always "how does this affect me?" then we would appear to have it here. (Z)

Another Judicial Nominee Bites the Dust

Matthew Petersen has one "qualification" for being a federal judge: He's very conservative. That is enough for Donald Trump, but it wasn't enough for Senate Judiciary Committee member John Kennedy (R-LA), who managed—in just five minutes of questioning—to ascertain that Petersen has virtually no relevant trial experience, and limited knowledge of the law governing trial proceedings. The nomination might still have survived, had not Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) posted footage of Kennedy's questioning to his webpage. The public outcry compelled Petersen to withdraw from consideration on Monday.

Meanwhile, in a somewhat related story, it also came out on Monday that another Trump judicial nominee almost ran into trouble before finally being confirmed: Neil Gorsuch. Although the President now regularly trots out the Gorsuch nomination as one of the crowning achievements of his presidency, the judge almost saw his candidacy nipped in the bud. The reason is that he violated the first commandment of the Trump White House: "Thou shalt not speak ill of The Donald." Though Gorsuch did not publicly attack the President, he did express concern in his March 2 interview with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) about Trump's attacks on the judiciary. Trump "exploded," according to 11 different witnesses, and only some well-timed kissing of the ring (and the rear end) saved Gorsuch. There was a handwritten note full of praise—a love note, if you will. That close to Valentine's Day, though, some candy or flowers would have been a nice touch. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec18 Trump Is Not Considering Firing Mueller
Dec18 Last-Minute Perk for Real Estate Tycoons Ended Up in Tax Bill
Dec18 Congress May Shut the Government Down Despite Itself
Dec18 Trump Is Looking Forward to Campaigning in 2018
Dec18 McCain Is Increasingly Frail
Dec18 Jones Is Not Calling for Trump to Resign
Dec18 Cruz Is No Trump
Dec18 Voters Would Prefer Democrats to Control Congress
Dec18 Democrat Accused of Inappropriate Conduct
Dec17 White House Unhappy that Mueller Has Transition E-mails
Dec17 Trump Simply Does Not Accept Russian Interference
Dec17 GOP Base Seems to Like Tax Plan
Dec17 Centers for Disease Control May or May Not Be Barred from Using Seven Words
Dec17 Trump Discussed Disney Deal with Murdoch
Dec17 Kihuen Won't Seek Re-election
Dec17 The Truth Is Out There?
Dec16 Blackmail Works
Dec16 MacDonough: Thou Shalt Not Do Politics in Church
Dec16 What's in the Tax Bill?
Dec16 Democrats Will Use Net Neutrality to Energize Millennials
Dec16 Trump's Popularity Is Plummeting
Dec16 Woman Drops Out of House Race on Account of Sexual Harassment Charge
Dec16 Another Dubious Judicial Nominee
Dec16 Trump Lawyers to Meet with Mueller
Dec15 Tax Bill Is Not Quite a Done Deal Yet
Dec15 FCC Votes to Kill Net Neutrality
Dec15 McCain Is in the Hospital
Dec15 Trump Breaks the Record for Appellate Judges Confirmed in First Year
Dec15 Has Ryan Had It?
Dec15 Farenthold Won't Run for Re-election
Dec15 There May Be a Recount in Alabama
Dec15 North Korea, Iran Situations Get Messier By the Day
Dec15 Tip: Don't Get a Job Anytime Soon Where You're Paid in Tips
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