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After weeks of secrecy and silence, Senate Republicans have finally revealed their version of the healthcare bill which will repeal the Affordable Care Act. You can read it here.
I'll save you some time, though: it slashes medicaid spending by billions, allows insurers to deny coverage to people with preexisting conditions, including women who are pregnant, will raise insurance premiums and deductibles and will result in tens of millions of people losing health insurance. It will also give a $33 billion tax cut to 400 of the richest households in the United States. Billionaires.
I'm sure there are already talking points being issued about why this law is so important and beneficial. Such arguments are transparently false and don't hold up under a microgram of scrutiny, but they'll make those who offer them feel better.
But irrespective of such talking points and irrespective of any one law or policy, a simple truth remains: if you're hellbent on making things better for super rich people and making them harder for poor people -- which this bill does unequivocally -- you're doing humanity wrong. And there's no talking point that changes that.
Today Donald Trump opened a meeting by having his cabinet members go around the table to praise him. As it unfolded, each official attempted to obsequiously outdo the last with flattery of their boss. This actually happened.
This, by the way, is the same way Shakespeare's "King Lear" opens. Instead of cabinet members, it's Lear asking his daughters to praise him in order to justify their inheritance.
In other news, "King Lear" chronicles the descent of a leader into madness and death, set on his course by an almost comical but ultimately tragic narcissism.
Today Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. This, quite obviously, makes the business of combatting climate change that much harder given that the world's largest economy is abdicating its responsibilities under the agreement.
Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement likewise damages America's stature as a world power. One hundred and ninety countries are committed to it, with only Syria and Nicaragua refusing to agree to it before today. Our joining those two countries in turning our backs on Paris is a declaration that America no longer leads and no longer wishes to lead when it comes to combatting the world's great problems.
All of that said, the business of combatting climate change will not stop. Nearly every other country on the planet is still committed to Paris, and the majority of U.S. based companies who have actual skin in the game of climate change are likewise committed to it. Indeed, in the minutes following Trump's announcement to withdraw from Paris today, numerous CEOs and entrepreneurs voiced their displeasure with the move and many more will do so in the near future.
They will do this because they know that climate change is the most pressing promise facing civilization today. They also know -- as I wrote recently -- that advanced energy technologies and industries are key to both our economic and environmental future, and that the advancement of these technologies and the work of these industries will not cease, even if Donald Trump turns his back on them and their importance.
So why has Trump done this? There are several reasons, separate and apart from the typical Republican desire to do the bidding of wealthy donors with interests in the fossil fuel industry.
Trump gained office by appealing to the fears and anxieties of people who have seen the 21st century economy pass them by and who pine for the days when coal mines, factories and refineries employed entire towns. Trump found it easier to make his supporters false promises of their return rather than articulate a vision in which new industries and a new economy may come to benefit them. By turning his back on Paris, he believes he is doing what these voters asked him to do.
Another reason, though, is basic isolationism. Today Trump seemed to criticize the Paris Agreement primarily because it is, quite simply, an international agreement. He talked about "America First" policies and struck many of the same chords that his advisor Steve Bannon and others in the alt-right movement have stuck with respect to the dangers of globalism. They want to build a figurative wall to keep out the international community in much the same way they want to build a real wall to keep out immigrants.
As I noted above, however, international actors and global corporations will nonetheless continue to work to combat climate change and will continue to work to grow the advanced energy sector with or without Trump's approval. As they do so, they'll necessarily be engaging with other U.S.-based businesses, state and local governments and U.S. citizens and workers. Anti-globalism may be a potent talking point on the campaign trail, but not even the president of the United States can cut the cross-border bonds which have been formed in our increasingly interconnected world.
Which brings us to this afternoon. A day on which, after Donald Trump's self-congratulatory words about withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, he listened as a military band played celebratory jazz music and Trump basked in the congratulations of his closest advisors, political allies and supporters.
As he enjoyed this day, I wonder if any of his anti-globalist supporters appreciated the irony of his handing multinational corporations and international actors even more power in the shaping of the future of the world than they had before he acted today.
In the past several years many have made a point -- a good point -- to gently remind people that Memorial Day is not the same thing as Veterans Day. To remind us that this day is not set aside to thank living military members or veterans for their service and it's certainly not a day for patriotic platitudes or displays to eclipse our commemoration of those who died in service to our country.
But while the "it's Memorial Day, not Veterans Day" correctives are worth acknowledging, I think there is something similar to how we tend to approach both holidays that is equally worth acknowledging.
Memorial Day is a holiday commemorating those who died in war. Indeed, it is rooted in literal visits to the graves of the fallen. Veterans Day, originally anyway, was a holiday intended to celebrate the ending of a war. While the former has informally morphed into something else and the latter was officially changed to encompass a different purpose, the fact remains that our nation, for whatever reason, has moved away from the notion that war is bad, that its byproducts are tragic and that its ending should be celebrated. It has, instead, filled those spaces with patriotism and, in some cases nationalism and militarism.
It says a lot about where we are as a country right now that we have pushed the bad parts of war out of our national consciousness and have wholly disposed with celebrating the endings of wars. Maybe it's because, these days, our wars do not end.
Whatever the case, I do not think that focusing and reflecting upon the tragedy of war and celebrating the ending of wars are bad things nor do they do a disservice to those who have fought and who have died. To the contrary, I can think of nothing that would honor and aid those men and women more.
Yesterday the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its report on the impact of the House Republican plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with the AHCA. The bottom line: 23 million Americans will lose health care coverage, one million Ohioans among them.
The impact will be felt primarily by the most vulnerable members of society. Senior citizens. The poor. The sick. The very people who we, as a country, should be doing the most to help would be the ones harmed the most by this callous, cruel and immoral law.
What's more, the CBO report reminds us that it's not just those who are on Medicaid or who purchase insurance through ACA exchanges who will be harmed by this law. To the contrary, the CBO reports that insurance coverage for one-sixth of all Americans would “become unstable by 2020.”
This will occur because of the increased costs and pressure put on our health care system which will now be serving millions without being paid for it. This will occur because the AHCA gives states the right to drastically cut health care benefits to those with preexisting conditions and to drastically increase the number of conditions deemed "preexisting." This will occur because, under the AHCA, health insurance premiums will rise by 20 percent by 2018 and another five percent the following year. Again, all confirmed by the non-partisan CBO.
All of this so that Republicans can give a massive tax cut to the rich. All of this to please the insurance companies and drug companies which have donated millions to Republican campaigns. None of this to help Americans who have found themselves victimized by callous and uncaring health insurers, drug companies and medical expenses which have spiraled out of control due to gouging and profit-seeking by the very people supporting the AHCA.
Yesterday, my congressman, Pat Tiberi, called this "just the start." If this is how it starts, God help us all once he and his Republican colleagues in Congress really get going.
The AHCA will do violence to millions of Americans, preventing the sick from obtaining necessary medical treatment and forcing those who do manage to obtain treatment to risk bankruptcy and financial ruin.
Any lawmaker who supports it has abdicated their responsibility to their constituents and has shown themselves unfit for public service. They should be told this in no uncertain terms and they should be voted out of office at the earliest available opportunity.
Today Donald Trump will unveil the first comprehensive budget proposal of his presidency. The details have been leaked to the media already, however, and they reveal the most aggressive cuts to programs benefiting needy Americans in living memory:
The budget demonstrates nothing short of unconscionable cruelty to the poor, slashing trillions from the social safety net while giving out the largest handouts to the rich and to big business in American history.
What's more, the proposal is based on bald faced lies regarding how it will be paid for and the impact it will have on the national budget.
Trump recently proposed $5.5 trillion in tax cuts. The proposal excludes those entirely, hiding the fact that those cuts will take away a gigantic chunk of revenue. At the same time, the proposal assumes comically unrealistic economic growth created by those very same tax cuts. Given the idea that tax cuts to the wealthy will trickle down to benefit the rest of America in the form of economic growth has been thoroughly debunked, Trump's budget proposal is doubly dishonest.
Thankfully, a president does not have the ability to unilaterally impose a budget and thankfully there will be people fighting hard against it. I have faith that those doing so will ultimately prevail because this budget does not reflect the values and principles of most Americans.
In the meantime, however, we must work to highlight how disastrous these proposals would be for the most vulnerable Americans. And how disastrous they will be to the country as a whole, over time, if they are implemented. We must demonstrate how cruel and heartless Trump's budget is. And how cruel and heartless those who support it are.
Tomorrow, my congressman, Pat Tiberi, will join Speaker Paul Ryan and fellow central Ohio representative Steve Stivers here in my very own town of New Albany, Ohio. They will be holding a roundtable discussion on tax reform. Then Tiberi will meet with one of his constituents.
Unfortunately, you're not allowed to go to the roundtable. It's by invitation only, at a private business, owned by a couple who have made thousands upon thousands of dollars in donations to Tiberi over the years. The company owes the state of Ohio $3.5 million in taxes, by the way, so you know their questions challenging Tiberi's and Ryan's questionable views about tax reform will be hard hitting, balanced and incisive.
The constituent Tiberi will be meeting with afterward is Les Wexner, the billionaire founder of L Brands. He's Ohio's richest man. The purpose is for a fundraiser for Republican congressional candidates. It'll be held at Wexner's 100 acre estate which is literally surrounded by fences on which there are signs notifying passers-by that the property is patrolled by dogs. I am not kidding about that.
In other news, Pat Tiberi is still not planning on holding a town hall or otherwise answering to the thousands of constituents he just voted to deprive of health care.
The American Health Care Act, the health care bill on which the House intends to vote today, is not just bad policy and cynical political calculation. It's immoral, plain and simple.
The reason Republicans are trying to pass this bill? It slashes taxes on the wealthiest two percent of earners. That's it. All of that damage done to give rich people a tax cut which they'll hardly even notice. The new bill does nothing to help ordinary working Americans in any way and will, in fact, harm millions of them. By voting in favor of it they are sending a loud and clear signal that they value the wealth of the richest Americans over the health of millions.
The specific impact of these items are not fully known because Republicans in Congress are ramming the bill through without hearings, without getting a CBO score and, in some cases, without them even having seen the text of the bill. In some cases, such as in the case of my congressman, Pat Tiberi, they are simply lying about its contents. They are doing so because they know full well how terrible this bill is and unpopular this bill will be once more people are aware of what it does.
It is a shameful bill, being passed in a shameful fashion. While I am optimistic that the bill will die in the Senate, the mere act of passing it in the House is immoral. It is greedy. It is cynical. It is harmful. It is irresponsible. It is wrong.
Any member of Congress who votes for it today will have disqualified themselves from public service and shown themselves to care nothing for the men and women who voted for them to represent their interests. And they will pay heavily for doing so.
President Trump plans to begin talking about his tax overhaul today. It will, not surprisingly, be a giveaway to the wealthy. Based on what we know:
There is no upside to this. And the sales pitch which will try to make you believe otherwise is a scam.
The centerpiece of the plan is to slash the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%. This despite the fact that corporate profits are soaring, corporate tax revenues are at record lows and workers are seeing little if any of the benefit. This unnecessary giveaway to businesses is estimated to cost two trillion dollars. This at a time when the federal deficit is already over $500 billion a year.
Trump and the Republicans will claim that the tax cuts will pay for themselves by stimulating economic growth. This is a lie, pure and simple. An old one, actually, as Republicans have been promising such things from tax cuts for decades as part of their "trickle-down" economic theory. It's a theory, however, which has been consistently refuted by experience.
There is zero correlation between tax cuts and economic growth. Indeed, economic growth in the United States since World War II has been greater in times with relatively high top marginal tax rates, such as in the 1950s and 1990s, which we all know and remember as boom times. This does not mean that higher tax rates lead to economic growth, of course, but it does mean that they do not impede it. In reality, there is no strong relationship between the two things at all, no matter what Republicans tell you.
Trump and Republicans in Congress will likewise claim that the tax cuts will cause businesses to use their savings to hire more workers. While, theoretically, yes, companies with more cash on hand could use it to hire more workers or invest in new facilities in the United States, we have seen that, in practice, they are far more likely to hold on to the money as cash reserves, benefitting no one, or to distribute it to their wealthy stockholders. As is the case with overall economic growth, low tax rates for the wealthy and for corporations have rarely correlated with employment growth.
The plan will also call for a massive cut in the top tax rate on “pass-through” companies, such as sole proprietorships, S corporations, and partnerships which pay their taxes through the individual income tax code rather than through the corporate code. While this will be sold as a break for mom-and-pop businesses, the benefits of such a plan will not be realized by the guy who owns the corner store.
Pass-through businesses are often huge, sophisticated and wealthy companies. They generate over half of all business income in the country and employ more than half of the private sector workforce. A great example of a pass-through business: The Bechtel Corporation, the largest engineering company in the country, which has over $30 billion in annual revenues. Other examples: hedge fund managers, doctors and lawyers who own their own practices and people who earn income from motivational and promotional speaking. Another example of a pass-through business: The Trump Organization. Indeed, Donald Trump personally stands to save tens of millions of dollars a year under his tax plan. The pass-through tax cut will be portrayed as a benefit for businessmen who struggle to get by. In reality, it's little more than a gift to the wealthy.
No matter what specific part you look at, Trump's tax plan and similar tax plans proposed by Republicans in Congress have one unifying theory: cuts to the tax rates paid by the wealthy and pain inflicted on the poor and the middle class.
An analysis of Paul Ryan’s proposed tax plan found that a whopping 99.6 percent of the tax-cut money would go to the top 1 percent of income earners. In turn, budget proposals floated by Republicans contain massive cuts to infrastructure spending, education, medical and scientific research, child care, job training, the arts, our national parks and public lands and a host of safety net programs that help families make ends meet in tough times. This is not just theoretical: the two states which have rolled out tax plans like Trump's -- Kansas and Louisiana -- have been thrown into economic and budgetary chaos.
The priorities of Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress are exactly backwards.
To the extent Donald Trump had any mandate, it was a mandate to help working people and ordinary Americans who have been left behind by a quickly-evolving global economy. That's what people who voted for him desperately wanted and desperately need. His tax plan is a slap in the face to those people and a windfall for him and his wealthy friends. It should be rejected out of hand.
The past 36 hours have been interesting. A tweet and then a post I wrote about patriotism and flag-waving at sporting events went viral. And not in a good way.
This post over at NBC contains and explains my original tweet and otherwise speaks for itself, but certain elements of the conservative media decided to mischaracterize my comments as anti-American, anti-flag and anti-military. With the help of a few strategically-placed firehoses, my social media accounts have been flooded by thousands upon thousands doing the same. I've received multiple legitimate, specific death threats. People have told me that they hope I get cancer and that my loved ones die in accidents. The less odious among the mob merely wished that I'd leave the country never to return. I respectfully declined.
I'm a big boy and I -- and law enforcement, who I have contacted about the threats-- can handle that stuff. But I will not stand by and allow myself to be slandered in this fashion.
I come from a family which has served in foreign wars for the past three generations. My brother is a veteran of the first Gulf War who suffers from a disability and relies on V.A. benefits for his healthcare. My father served on board the U.S.S. Okinawa during the Cuban Missile Crisis. My maternal grandfather served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and my paternal grandfather was a tank sergeant under General Patton during the liberation of Western Europe. In light of that, to suggest, for one moment, that I do not respect the service of our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines is an insult and a lie. A knowing one for those who have read this.
I likewise consider myself a patriot and a proud American. One who understands that America is exceptional, not only in the freedoms and opportunity it provides, but for the dissent, protest and critique it allows. Just as an athlete must endure training to excel in competition and a writer must undergo editing and critique to improve, our country is stronger thanks in part to the efforts of those who have found fault with it at times and have worked to make it a better place. Our Constitution begins with a reference to a "more perfect union," anticipating that the work of the American Experiment is never done and establishing that any claims to American perfection are specious.
I have criticized and will always criticize that which I see from our government and in our society with which I take issue. I view that as part of my duty as an American. People don't often care for such criticism, obviously, and when one criticizes the country, the government or society, there will always be blowback. Like I said, though, I'm a big boy and I can take it.
I will not, however, sit idly by and allow people to mischaracterize that which I have said, that which I have written and that which I stand for. And I will certainly not allow them to lie about it.
This is delicious.
A far right political action committee, Club for Growth, is running an ad targeting Pat Tiberi for "standing in the way" of Obamacare repeal. Watch:
The best part of this, of course, is that not only did Tiberi support the failed bill which would've repealed Obamacare, he was one of its biggest champions. Paul Ryan called him the "Quarterback of Obamacare Repeal." On a recent visit to central Ohio Vice President Pence personally thanked Tiberi for his efforts to repeal the ACA and his attempt to enact AHCA.
Yet here Tiberi is, getting attacked by conservatives who want what he wants. It's one thing to not pass a bill you wanted to pass, but it's another thing to fail so miserably in doing so that you get attacked for being an impediment to it passing. Not an easy trick!
Of course, Pat Tiberi could stand up to this ad and call it out for its disingenuousness. He could issue a loud, clear and unambiguous statement saying just how hard he worked to pass the AHCA. He could likewise give a full-throated endorsement to the AHCA itself and vow not to rest until it passes.
But he can't. He can't because the AHCA is a bad bill, his constituents hate it and he knows it. His support of Obamacare repeal and the AHCA is political poison. Poison he thought he could survive if he swallowed it quickly, but he couldn't and now he's stuck. His district hates the AHCA and will pound him if he tries again to pass it. The conservative PACs hate that it didn't pass before and will pound him if it doesn't sometime soon.
This all could've been avoided, of course. All Pat Tiberi would've had to do was listen to the people in his district and ask us what we wanted. To address the real issues with the ACA and work to fix it. To work for us instead of for Paul Ryan and Donald Trump. He didn't do that. He hitched his wagon to a couple of guys who do not have the best interests of the people of this district in mind and now he's getting hammered.
I'm not sure what political pundits call whatever it is Pat Tiberi did to get himself into this mess, but it's certainly not leadership.
James Thompson came within five points of winning a Kansas congressional seat in a district that went for Trump by 27 points. He did so by getting almost no support from the national Democratic establishment. His success -- and given the odds stacked against him, the success was considerable -- was based on him articulating a clear message in support of policies that would help the people in his district and against policies which would harm them.
In this interview with ThinkProgress, he implores the Democratic establishment not to ignore Democratic candidates in seemingly safe Republican districts because every district -- every single one -- can be won by a strong candidate sending a clear message.
The district in which I live, currently represented by Pat Tiberi, was seemingly tailor made for him and is likely considered "safe" for Republicans. But Donald Trump certainly did not win the 12th by 27 points and Pat Tiberi has decided that falling in with Trump's agenda is, somehow, a great idea. He has decided to promote policies which are bad for people in his district. Policies which will do them harm.
Pat Tiberi can be beat. Any congressman in any district, no matter how seemingly safe the district is, can be beat. Do not write their challengers off and do not let the Democratic Party do so either.
Today the president's son told reporters that last week's decision to fire 59 missiles at a Syrian air base was influenced by a "heartbroken and outraged" Ivanka Trump. "Ivanka is a mother of three kids and she has influence," Eric Trump said, "I'm sure she said, 'Listen, this is horrible stuff.' My father will act in times like that."
Eric Trump added, "If there was anything that the strike on Syria did, it was to validate the fact that there is no Russia tie."
Perhaps Eric Trump is completely deluded and knows not of what he speaks, but I think it's at least worth inquiring whether our president committed an act of war to assuage his daughter's feelings and to cover up a political scandal.
If we had a Congress that cared about anything apart from cutting taxes for rich people and gutting the social safety net, there would at least be a couple of hearings about it.
Congressman Pat Tiberi endorsed his old boss John Kasich last year, but he jumped aboard the Trump Train with glee on November 8th and doesn't seem to want to get off.
Yesterday Tiberi's committee -- the House Ways and Means Committee -- rejected a measure to direct the Treasury department to provide the House with Trump's tax returns and other financial information.
This is nothing new for Tiberi, of course. Five Thirty Eight has been tracking how often congressmen vote with or against Trump. A Republican in this district, which leaned Trump, but not as strongly as some other Republican districts, could be expected to vote with Trump 91.3% of the time. So far Tiberi has voted with Trump 100% of the time. And, of course, strongly supported Trump's position on the AHCA which never came to a vote.
The people of Ohio's 12th District voted for Pat Tiberi in far greater numbers than they voted for the president, suggesting that they do not want a congressman who is a rubber stamp for Trump. Tiberi doesn't seem to understand that. Or he does and does not care.
Maybe it's time to let him know.
There's a good article from Nate Silver over at Five Thirty Eight today explaining the reasons why the AHCA was an abysmal failure.
While Silver explains the many specific reasons having to do with the bill itself and the various coalitions supporting it and opposing it, he likewise points to a larger lesson to be gained: despite electing Trump, America has no interest in the agenda of Paul Ryan, my own congressman, Pat Tiberi, and the rest of the congressional Republicans. The agenda which is characterized by (a) cutting taxes for the wealthy; (b) slashing government programs and services which benefit the poor and middle class; and (c) claiming, contrary to nearly 40 years of objective evidence, that doing so will make life better for everyone.
Silver explains it in terms of the mandate one can assume a president has based on how many seats his own party gained in Congress when he was elected. On that score Trump has no mandate. In addition to his popular vote loss, Republicans actually lost seats in both the House and Senate. But it should be obvious separate and apart from those sorts of metrics.
Trump ran against a bunch of Paul Ryan-Pat Tiberi types in the Republican primary. Guys like Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio who share their Congressional agenda. Guys like Bobby Jindal, who actually implemented such an agenda as governor of Louisiana, which led to fiscal and civic ruin. He whupped 'em all. He didn't whup them because he's charming -- Trump is repugnant -- he whupped them because his message was about rebuilding and investing in America and in aiding the middle and lower classes, not the rich. Now, I don't think Trump believes that message himself and I don't believe he wants to or is able to deliver on it, but that's what he ran and and that's what voters responded to and it's understandable that they did.
Outside of conservative think tanks, Wall Street investment banks and a narrow class of ultra-wealthy people, there is no constituency in this country for slashing the taxes of millionaires and taking services away from the poor and middle class. None. People don't want it. When they saw it in the from of the AHCA, they recoiled. When they see it in the coming congressional Republican tax and budget proposals, they'll recoil even more.
Americans do not want to giveaways to the wealthy, they want investments in the country and in its people. They know that government is often inefficient and wasteful, but they do not consider it their mortal enemy and do not want representatives who have no ideas apart from starving it and the people it serves.
Donald Trump gave lip service to helping ordinary Americans, but has no idea how to make that happen. Paul Ryan, Pat Tiberi and the rest of the Republicans in Congress don't seem to give a lick about helping ordinary Americans and, obviously, nothing about their agenda suggests that they'll try.
Which means it's time for Americans to pick some different representatives.
As I've noted at least a couple of times recently, Paul Ryan has called Pat Tiberi the "quarterback" of ACA repeal and implementation of the AHCA.
A few minutes ago Ryan announced that there will be no vote today on the AHCA because the GOP doesn't have the votes to pass their wildly unpopular and horribly conceived bill.
Any comment, quarterback Tiberi?
Figured as much.
In other news, yesterday press secretary Sean Spicer said that Donald Trump is "the closer," and would rally the troops to get AHCA passed.
Any comment, closer Trump?
Guys: you may want to leave the sports metaphors to the experts. The governing too. You're terrible at both of them.
Some time in the next few days or weeks you're going to start hearing about President Trump's infrastructure plan. It will be sold as a $1 trillion investment in rebuilding America. It will be sold as a jobs program. It will be sold as a boon for the working man.
Don't believe a word of it.
To be clear, we could desperately use a large and meaningful commitment to rebuilding America's infrastructure. Years of tax cuts, service cuts and neglect have led to a degradation of our highways, railways, airports, bridges, tunnels, waterworks, sewers, the energy grid, our schools and our hospitals. The very bones of America are cracking and calcifying and they require a heavy investment in order to bring them back to strength.
The fact that doing so could provide employment for hundreds of thousands of people is, obviously, an added benefit. The official unemployment rate is low, but it's deceiving. Thousands of people of working age have simply left the workforce and a large number of people still nominally in it are underemployed and are receiving far lower wages and far worse benefits -- if they get any -- than they have in the past. We're a wealthy country, but that wealth is concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people while an entire class of people and the communities in which they live are atrophying or even dying.
While an investment in infrastructure and the men and women who would build it would be expensive, there is virtually no downside, in the long term, to making said investment. From the building of our railways to New Deal public works projects to the war effort to the interstate highway system to the space race, we've seen how putting our nation to work in order to build its infrastructure and industrial and technical capacity has benefitted America over and over again.
But that's not what Trump will propose. Rather, he'll be proposing a welfare program for banks, venture capitalists and corporations. Yet another giveaway to the rich that will do little if anything to help the country or its workers.
As is evidenced by the only document on infrastructure his campaign or administration has released, Trump will propose a grand expansion of "public-private partnership" projects in which private companies will be offered tax and financial incentives to bankroll various projects. Tax breaks to private investors who want to finance toll roads, toll bridges, or other projects that generate their own revenue streams which the private companies will collect, in whole or in part.
While such public-private partnerships have been successful in Canada and Australia, the results here have been spotty at best. According to the Congressional Budget Office, there have been 36 PPP programs in the U.S. since 1991. Fourteen of them are complete. Three have declared bankruptcy. One required a public buyout. The rest are still in construction stage. It's a relatively untested and thus far uneven method for addressing our infrastructure needs.
Regardless of how the existing projects pan out and regardless of the theoretical promise of such programs, the idea of incentivizing private, profit-driven investment in infrastructure has at least four big problems:
The first problem: A huge portion of our infrastructure are not profit-generating, nor is it intended to be. No one is going to make a fast buck getting lead-poisoned water system rebuilt. You can't profit from repairing an existing road or bridge that is part of a non-toll road. You're not going to get private industry jazzed to build a public school, a public hospital or a levee along the Mississippi. Those things do not represent a profit opportunity for private industry and no amount of tax breaks are going to cause companies to pursue them. They'll just build for-profit private schools and hospitals and a parallel toll road and bridge system that serves to economically segregate people who want to pay to get to work from those who can't.
The second problem: The sorts of projects that do present profit opportunities already have ample incentive: THE PROFITS. There's a lot of money to be made in energy generation, for example. And a lot of companies in that business already. Adding that sort of thing to an infrastructure bill is only going to serve as a tax money giveaway to companies doing things the're already doing. It will also incentivize those who might've started projects in 2017 to delay them until a bill is passed to make sure they lock in those goodies from America's taxpayers.
The third problem: As it stands, most of the major public-private projects already in existence are financed with bonds purchased by giant investment funds like pension funds, worker's comp funds, public endowments and sovereign wealth funds. These investors already have zero or minimal tax liability, so the new tax incentive-fueled partnerships will do nothing to attract them. Many of the new players Trump's plan would potentially incentivize don't have the capital to take advantage of the opportunities and the calculus will not change for those that already do.
The fourth problem: All of this will be sold with the argument that the tax breaks being offered will pay for themselves many times over. Specifically, that hundreds of billions of tax breaks to corporations and investments will generate the equivalent of a trillion dollars in projects. This is a classic trickle down, supply-side argument which has proven to be an abject failure over and over again for the past 35 years. It never works that way in practice and experts do not believe it will work here. What happens is that the tax breaks are gobbled up, the benefits don't pan out as expected and tax payers end up paying for a huge part of it all anyway.
While there is some use for public-private partnerships in infrastructure projects, they seem best-suited to smaller projects in which the public and the private sector's interests are congruent. Trump's plan, in contrast, is likely to be a giveaway to developers, real estate moguls, venture capitalists, fund managers, tax lawyers, CEOs and starry-eyed entrepreneurs cum dreamers like Elon Musk. All of whom, not surprisingly, have been invited to the few meetings Trump has had regarding infrastructure since he took office. The idea is to benefit America's businessmen, not its workingmen, and to hope, somehow, that some good things spin out of it.
It doesn't have to be this way.
America faced a far greater crisis of infrastructure -- and a far greater crisis of unemployment and underemployment among the working class -- once before. In the wake of the Great Depression we were a nation close to ruin. A quarter of the population was out of work and, as opposed to crumbling, our infrastructure was virtually non-existent. We were a 20th century nation living in a 19th century country.
The response: The New Deal, which included multiple employment and public works programs. Some of them -- mostly via the Works Progress Administration, or WPA -- were immediate, so-called shovel-ready projects that put laborers and unskilled people to work quickly via direct government investment. People building small buildings, planting trees and clearing recreation trails and the like. It's the sort stuff most of us think about when we think of the New Deal. They were, obviously, critically important to our recovery from The Great Depression and their impact still resonates today.
But these quick, direct, job creation-focused projects were not the only part of the equation. Indeed, a much more significant program -- with more significance to the current infrastructure conversation -- was the Public Works Administration (PWA). It focused on large, complex long-term projects like dams, bridges, hospitals, schools and transportation infrastructure. It gave us stuff like airports, the Lincoln Tunnel and the Grand Coulee Dam.
If you squint super hard, I suppose the PWA could be seen as something at least roughly akin to public-private partnerships in that the federal government did not mount these projects directly or unilaterally with big signs at each job site advertising them as part of FDR's America. Rather, funding was given to states which, in conjunction with the PWA, devised projects and hired construction firms which, in turn, hired their own workers. I suspect, when Trump's plan is rolled out, some will make comparisons to the PWA for this reason. But there are huge differences between how the PWA operated and how Trump's infrastructure plan will operate, both structurally and philosophically.
Most obviously, the PWA and state governments decided what the projects were, prioritized them and put them out for bid. They did not create tax incentives and then just hoped that the free market would get the job done. Our public officials, agencies, commissions and citizens groups have a clear, day-to-day understanding of the needs of our communities. Developers and contractors are not in the business of gauging those needs. They're in the business of doing what they're hired and paid to do. Letting them, as opposed to the people, both as citizens and through their government, make those decisions is to have the tail wag the dog.
Likewise, the PWA featured active management and oversight by the government. Trump's plans, in contrast, will almost certainly feature all manner of middle men -- investors, financiers and management companies -- handling projects on a day-to-day basis, taking cuts and fees in ways they'd never be allowed to under a well-regulated public project. Indeed, they're already preparing for this. Now, to be sure, there is obviously a danger of inefficiency and graft in ANY project, but taking these projects completely out of the hands of those in a position to police it and institutionalizing and laundering the graft via fees and payments to financiers guarantees it. Every dollar that goes to one of these middle men is diverted away from bricks, mortar and the paychecks of people who work for a living.
There was no prioritization of profit-generating projects in the PWA and no requirement, as Trump's plans will almost certainly set, that projects be "deficit-neutral." As stated above, there are vast swaths of public infrastructure that are not intended to be profit-generating -- quick, how much money did the Interstate Highway System make last year? -- and should not be viewed through that lens. They are, by definition, projects to serve the public, and asking whether private industry can make a buck off of any given project is the wrong question to ask.
As for "deficit-neutral," sure, we all want to keep the deficit down, but it costs money to do things and pretending that it does not is what caused our infrastructure to be neglected in the first place. The first inquiry for any project should be "is this needed?" The second should be "is this feasible?" When it comes to "can we afford it?" the answer should include both the costs of the project and and inquiry as to whether it's possible to raise additional revenue to support it if necessary. America was not built without taxes and without the expenditure of public funds. It will not be rebuilt without them either. As my friends on the right enjoy reminding me, there is no such thing as a free lunch. As I enjoy reminding them, government is not the enemy. It is the means of administering a civilization.
So what do we do?
The specifics of any infrastructure plan will be subject to a lot of messy negotiation and legislation, all of which will be informed by outside interests and the usual political wrangling that surrounds any large scale government project. I'm not an expert in these matters and cannot say if $X billion should go to roads while $Y billion should go to water systems.
But I can point to some general principles that can and should guide our country's approach to a much-needed infrastructure initiative:
The final principle is not one that can be enforced via legislation, but it is one that is nonetheless important philosophically speaking: Infrastructure should be understood as an investment, not merely an expense.
Politicians and commentators are great at talking about the cost of things but poor at talking about their value. We should endeavor, however, as we take on the task of rebuilding America's infrastructure, to focus on what these projects will bring us over 10, 20, 50 and 100 years, not just on what they'll cost to build.
As we do so, we should look at the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood and at the Riverwalk in San Antonio. We should look at LaGuardia Airport in New York and the Fort Peck Dam in Montana. The Triborough Bridge and the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Overseas Highway of the Florida Keys, the Lincoln Tunnel and the Hoover Dam. We should know that, today, as we enjoy some of these things and merely utilize others, they are all part of the essential fabric of America. They, and countless other projects and engineering feats are the foundation upon which America's greatness was built. They are its very bones.
None of these were built with an eye toward lowering the taxes of a developer or giving a tax break to a Wall Street financier. And none of the great works in our future should be either.
Republicans have had seven years to draft and pass a repeal/replacement bill for the Affordable Care Act. For almost all of that time, they drafted nothing.
Then, last month, they came up with a hastily-drafted bill that would leave 24 million more Americans uninsured than if they just left the ACA in place and which would make health insurance completely unattainable for millions and millions of seniors. But it's not just the substance that was bad. The process of getting there was laughably amateurish:
Health care is one of the most important issues facing our nation today. It is at or near the top of the list of top concerns in virtually every poll taken. And the Republicans are attempting to ram through a wildly unpopular bill in the most reckless and thoughtless way imaginable.
The most reasonable conclusion to draw: they don't care about health care. They only care about being able to say "we got rid of Obamacare." No matter how costly the results are and no matter how many people are harmed in the process.
Even if you give them the benefit of the doubt on this and accept that they care, this is the most carelessly drafted bill with the most slipshod implementation I have ever seen. Certainly for something as important as this.
It's amateur hour.
As I wrote last month, my congressman, Pat Tiberi, has been called the "quarterback" of the efforts to repeal of the Affordable Care Act and replace it with the AHCA.
Based on how the game is going so far, it looks like it's time for the quarterback to ride some pine.
According to a HuffPost/YouGov poll released on Friday, the public opposes the Tiberi/Paul Ryan/Donald Trump-backed bill by a 21-point margin ― 45 percent to 24 percent. Perhaps more notable is the intensity of the public's hatred of the bill, with just 5 percent strongly favoring the bill, and 32 percent strongly opposed. Yes, that's right: more people passionately oppose the bill than even generically support it.
This makes sense, of course, as the AHCA would leave 24 million more people without insurance than the Affordable Care Act would. Fourteen million of those people would be Medicaid recipients, the poorest and most vulnerable Americans, which demonstrates just how cruel the AHCA is. As I've noted in the past, the Affordable Care Act is not perfect, but we could easily make it better if we wanted to. The AHCA is designed to be terrible and would create a public health catastrophe if enacted. Pat Tiberi, Paul Ryan and Donald Trump don't care about this, however. They just want to give hundreds of billions of dollars away to rich people.
Regardless of where you come down on all of that, one thing is clear: Pat Tiberi was given the job of quarterbacking the repeal of Obamacare and the enactment of the AHCA. We're not even midway through the first quarter of that contest and he's been picked off and sacked multiple times and now he's forced to scramble. He's also got his team in a deep hole early and it's clear he lacks the ability and the confidence to mount a comeback.
Any coach worth a damn would bench a quarterback with results like that. Paul Ryan is the coach right now, however, and he seems content to let him flail. As such, its time for us to bench Pat Tiberi.
Beginning with the candidacy of Barry Goldwater in 1964 -- and certainly since Ronald Regan was elected in 1980 -- a campaign has been mounted by conservatives to shrink the government and reduce its role in society. Based solely on the size of the federal budget it has not been a terribly successful campaign. The government, quite obviously, remains large and continues to spend trillions of dollars a year.
The campaign has been quite successful, however, in changing Americans' attitudes about government. Indeed, for most of my lifetime, it has been accepted, almost as gospel, that government, to use Reagan's word, is the problem.
However overbroad this all was -- the problems facing America in 1981 were many and disparate and not all of our own making -- there was a good deal of truth to Reagan's critique. There was mismanagement and bureaucracy and all manner of mission creep in government by the 1970s which often caused government agencies to lose the plot and which prevented them from doing their jobs efficiently. Reagan and those who followed him -- many of them Democrats, who eventually realized that Reagan's message had the confidence of most of the nation -- did a good deal to address those inefficiencies. Or, at the very least, to pay lip service to them in an effort to avoid an accusation of being a "Big Government Liberal," which has proven to be an electoral liability for the past 33 years or so.
Yes, blaming big government for our problems turned out to be a very successful campaign. It was so successful that, for years, one need not even make much of an effort to shrink the size of government to proclaim oneself a Reagan-style conservative. Merely voicing anti-government sentiment and proposing modest overhauls here and there has been enough. People still think Reagan himself shrunk the government and reduced the federal deficit when he did exactly the opposite. Same with George W. Bush. In reality, the government has not shrunk overall in the past several decades, even if politicians still style themselves as budget-cutters as a matter of image and personal brand. Dime store Reagans, the lot of them.
In recent years, however, going after the government has not been a matter of mere rhetoric. It's increasingly becoming a concrete policy objective. The idea of government being the problem has morphed into the notion of government being the enemy. Rather than address the government's flaws and govern more efficiently, the goal of conservatives has been to dismantle the government. Or at the very least to severely hobble it.
This is evident from places where far right, Tea Party conservatives have taken power such as Kansas, where Sam Brownback and the Republican controlled legislature have run the state into the ground, essentially by design, via tax cuts and the elimination of government services. It is likewise evident in the budget outline offered by Donald Trump on Wednesday evening, which appears calculated to carry out the nihilistic fever dreams of his chief strategist, Stephen Bannon to effect the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” The budget outline represents a wholesale slashing of domestic programs, and will likely be followed up by proposed tax cuts and increases in military spending which will starve all government agencies -- apart from the Pentagon -- even further.
Ronald Reagan talked a big game about slashing government, but until recently there was an acknowledgement by those in power that there are a range of state functions that are legitimate and, in many cases, preferable, for governments to deliver. Trump and those who would fall in with him are rejecting that idea. They have bought the idea that government is the enemy. Some shadowy monster in the fog, to use a friend's phrase, that must be slain.
This is madness. The government is not our enemy. The government is, by definition, us. It is an instrument of the people and a manifestation of our will. And it is controlled by the people, even if we forget that from time to time.
The government is a means to a host of valuable ends. At least if one agrees that the well-being of the nation and the well-being of its citizens is desirable. If one grants that we want our environment to be healthy and clean. If one agrees that people should not go hungry in the richest country in the world and that people should not die because they cannot afford necessary medical treatment. If one agrees that we want our children to be educated and our workforce prepared for the challenges of the present and the future. If one agrees that our workplaces should be safe. If one agrees that our economy should be vibrant. That the rich should not be permitted to take advantage of the poor and the strong should not be able to take advantage of the weak.
When I've voiced this sentiment in the past, many conservatives have responded by saying that, while those are all laudable ends, they are not the business or the responsibility of the government. Rather, they are the responsibility of individual citizens, who must pull themselves up by their bootstraps. That, when they cannot, it should fall to charities, churches, foundations and the private sector to aid them. The market, I am told, and the goodness of people who wish to help their fellow man, should, can and will help those in need.
Anyone with even a passing knowledge of history knows that this is ideological nonsense. We've tried such an approach before -- think of the 19th century and the free market dominated runup to the Great Depression -- and it simply did not work.
The bootstraps, the charities, the churches, the foundations and the good hearts of the wealthy, taken together, proved to be an abject failure in the face of the challenges of the industrialized world and an utter disaster once the calamity of the Depression struck. With the private sector and the philanthropy of industrialists and churches as the bulwark, we had child labor, abhorrent levels of infant mortality and polluted waterways, streets and skies. We had poorhouses and debtors prisons. We had public health crises and wholesale crop failures. We had a brand of unfettered capitalism that led to depressions, recessions and corruption.
Conservatives often accuse liberals of being starry-eyed idealists, but the level of fantasy and delusion it takes to believe that we can address the problems faced by a nation of 300 million people by returning to the approach we took to such matters at the turn of the 20th century, when our population was far smaller and our economy and our challenges far less complex, is off the charts.
We still must deliver prosperity, health, safety and all of the other desirable ends upon which civilized people agree. We cannot, however, depend on some fantasy version of a government-free society to provide it. We've tried that before. It did not work then and it will not work now. While I want to believe in the goodness of my fellow man, people, when given a choice, will not be charitable enough en masse to address these societal problems. To meet challenges that impact an entire nation, it takes the mobilization of the entire nation. It's simply a matter of complexity and scale.
Does this mean socialism? Communism?! Of course not. It merely means searching for the appropriate balance between public and private efforts while acknowledging that both public and private efforts are legitimate and effective when properly supported and properly deployed. It means that it is time to stop pretending that government is the enemy and acknowledge that government, in many cases, is the most effective means of delivering the ends we all desire. Mostly because, as we have seen, the private sector has no interest in delivering many of them.
As it stands, the hard turn to toward the private sector we've taken as a country since 1980 -- first rhetorically, and now in practice -- has led to suffering and inequality on a level not seen since before the New Deal and is quickly exacerbating the problems we face as a nation. It is time to restore some of the balance we saw when America was, without question, the leader of the world in prosperity and freedom.
In the coming days and weeks, I'll be writing more about where, exactly, I believe that balance to be and how I believe we can achieve it.