This unique, terrible, phony, fraught-with-lies moment in American politics

September 21st, 2017 at 9:13 am

This will be brief, because a note about how the political debate is misleading isn’t exactly breaking news or even, admittedly, that interesting. So, I’d consider it a personal favor if you’ll allow me to vent for a moment.

It’s just that the extent to which we’re being lied to right now seems, to me at least, uniquely over the top. The transparency of the BS is just so obvious, especially on Cassidy-Graham, the just-as-bad-as-all-the-others repeal and replace bill that may get a vote in the Senate next week.

Same with the tax “plan.” Even though there is no real plan yet, what we’ve seen so far is mostly tax cuts for wealthy businesses and corporations, the cost of which will get loaded onto the deficit. Yet its proponents are selling it as a pro-growth package that lifts the working class.

My CBPP colleagues have been hammering on how C-G is just as much a wolf as past R repeal bills, despite its sheep’s clothing. It cuts health care spending on ACA functions by over $200 billion, 2020-26, and much more in later years (a new study by the health analysis firm Avalere comes up with similar numbers; see their table below) and that doesn’t count cuts to the traditional Medicaid program, which under C-G is no longer guaranteed to expand to meet the health needs of low-income recipients. Under C-G: “Faced with a recession…states would have to either dramatically increase their own spending on health care or, as is far more likely, deny help to people losing their jobs and their health insurance.”

Avalere’s estimates of cuts to states under C-G:

Years Billions
2020-26 -$215
2020-27 -$489
2020-36 -$4,150
Source: Avalere

But, because there’s no CBO score, supporters of the bill claim that these reductions in resources won’t lead to less coverage. How? For that, you need to read this jaw-dropping set of interviews from the Onion Vox. The enterprising Jeff Stein asked 9 R senators why C-G made sense in policy terms, and remarkably, they (sort of) responded. But oy, what responses! Just a rotting bag of wilted word salad.

If there was a theme to their incoherence, it was the magic of devolution to the states, as they’ll handily figure out how to do more with less (notably, the states that get dinged the most are the ones that expanded Medicaid under the ACA).

But this makes no sense at all. States must balance their budgets, so, as the CBPP quote above points out, they can’t be counted upon to meet expanded need. What C-G’s defenders call “flexibility” is actually the ability of states to reduce health care provision to low- and moderate-income people. CBPP:

…States would likely do one or more of the following: cap enrollment; offer very limited benefits; charge unaffordable premiums, deductibles, or copayments; redirect federal funding from providing coverage to other purposes, like reimbursing hospitals for uncompensated care; and limit assistance to fixed dollar amounts that put coverage out of reach for most low- and moderate-income people. As a result, many millions of people would lose coverage.

The ability to avoid such cuts is precisely why, in a federalist system like ours, you want the provision of publicly-supported health care to be nationally financed.

Unless, of course, that’s the last thing you want, which is of course what’s going on here. The majority of today’s R’s want to shrink government and give the proceeds to the rich. Their hostility to Obamacare is thus partly a function of its name, but it’s more driven by the realization that their fundamental goal is completely incompatible with a significant government footprint in health care. That’s despite the fact that every other advanced economy has long since figured this one out, and thus spends about half of what we do, per capita, while achieving universal coverage.

OK–rant over. And, trust me, I’ve been hanging around at the corner of Dysfunction Junction here in DC for a long while, so none of this is new. But especially on health care–do check out that Vox piece–the extent of the lying is worse than usual, and is a symptom of the alternative reality within which team Trump exists and which is increasingly infecting our politics.

And that can’t end well.

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14 comments in reply to "This unique, terrible, phony, fraught-with-lies moment in American politics"

  1. Dude says:

    I consider Vox to be unreadable and CNN unwatchable. Some of us realize that you believe you are all acting properly, but I believe that you are not. Everything is destroying itself all at one: the press, the congress, and the lies…

    No, this type of reporting is not justified by the situation, and yes it is possible that this is all going to turn out fine in the long run. It just might not be the outcome that you all fought for.

    • Oliver Roosevelt says:

      Dude: I consider Jared’s explanations of US economic policy among the more coherent and best understandable of any in media. However, I am at a total loss to understand what you are trying to say. Please try again if you have something serious to offer the discussion.

  2. Gerald Scorse says:

    “The majority of today’s R’s want to shrink government and give the proceeds to the rich.” This is what it’s all about, nothing more (except, perhaps, R embarrassment at not keeping their promise to repeal and replace).

    Even the AEI is now calling on R’s to adopt this starting point: provide health insurance for all Americans. Fat chance, but one more example of how wrong everybody believes Graham-Cassidy is.

  3. Smith says:

    Most people hurt would be lower income and Democrats. The Republicans will pay no penalty in an economy that hurts people who are already Democratic voters. If economic performance is otherwise satisfactory, swing voters will swing with the Republicans. Democrats have no leverage except if important swing voters, especially in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, are hurt. We already experienced the greatest recession since the Great Depression, an unpopular and losing war, and the most inequality since the gilded age. But guess what? The Republicans won.
    Where is the Democratic program to recapture the 100,000 white male voters in the rust belt needed to win? It’s not in defending cuts to medicaid.

  4. Rima Regas says:


    We need more, not less, writing and commentary in the tone you employ here. We need far more analysis, not less, of what both major parties are doing in this moment. We need more commentary on the extent of the lies and what compromises with liars mean. We need far more, not less, commentary on what a real movement of resistance needs to look, feel, and sound like. We don’t have one and everyone should be afraid.

    We need more, not less, reminders of why we are where we are today. We need more of your tone and indignation over the triangulation that took place two weeks ago and the fallout we see today. This latest attempt to kill Obamacare would never have taken place in this fashion, had Pelosi and Schumer not made a deal with Trump and then allowed McConnell to slip language in the bill they all voted for on the debt ceiling. Now, McConnell claims there won’t be a need for the debt ceiling to be voted on until later in 2018, past the year end budget negotiations. Pelosi and Schumer triangulated away their bargaining power.

    We are in a crisis, with a neoliberal leadership that is incompetent and a party apparatus that is hell-bent on neutralizing progress.

    Triangulation is at its most dangerous now. My reminder of its history.

    • Smith says:

      Very much disagree. I’m no fan of Pelosi and Schumer, but their deal was smart and took advantage of Trump’s annoyance with Republican’s not showing him no respect, and Democrats do not want to play chicken with debt ceiling. If you’re advocating that, you’re off your rocker. Obama was wrong to compromise on the debt ceiling, but Democrats never want to play that game and be responsible for not raising, and potentially causing irreversible and substantial damage.

  5. Nick Batzdorf says:

    They don’t even bother to hide the corruption anymore. The Kochs are quite open about bribing the R party with $400 million if they give them their tax cuts (paid for by taking away people’s healthcare).

    This might be the most outrageous story I’ve ever read.

  6. Dan in Euroland says:

    Let’s be real. Stop including corporate taxation in any of these rants.

    As Kotlikoff et al point out, elimination of the US corporate tax would more than pay for itself:

    If one wants to raise taxes on income (both wage and capital) at the upper levels, then fine. But taxation of corporations is deeply inefficient and should be eliminated from all sensible tax plans on both the left and right.

    Given that increased profits to a firm results in increased benefits to workers, its always puzzled me why a certain political party (that Jared supports) wants to harm workers. But then again we have to look no further than the research Saint-Paul et al:

    The Left has incentives to undermine the well being of their own constituents to entrench their political power. I sincerely doubt Jared cares for the workers of America. You just want a different elite than the Republicans to rule.

    • Smith says:

      Kotlikoff wants to replace the income tax with a flat 17% sales tax. Although he claims it would result in a more progressive tax structure, no sane person would believe that. That pretty much should take care of any notion of taking his research or proposals seriously.

      Corporations currently have tons and tons of excess capital to invest, but they use the money for stock buy backs, buying up competitors to thwart competition while violating unenforced anti-trust law, and sacrificing sales to sustain higher profits by shortchanging labor by tolerating a low growth economy.

      No corporate taxes just leads us further on the road to serfdom.

      The push back should be let’s close some loopholes (not all tax breaks are bad), immediately and retroactively tax foreign corporate profits with no tax holiday of break.

      Corporations are much too powerful. Take their money and start to reclaim the power they gather. Break them up and stop encouraging their takeover of everything. Eliminate political contributions by corporations and unions.

      • Brett Showalter says:

        Stock buybacks are how they invest, especially when they don’t need the investment themselves.

        • David D. says:

          No. Buybacks are how they drive up their share price by reducing the supply of available shares. Typically the largest shareholders are the board members and senior execs (decision makers) who directly benefit and benefit the most from increased share prices. It is often used as a tactic to buoy a sagging stock.

  7. Bill Giordano says:

    With respect to the just released tax plan. Does a list of net income tax contributions to the
    Treasury by state exist ? Also does a table exist which shows net disbursements to the states for all federal programs ? (including military installation expenditures)