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In Health Care Debacle, Trump’s Desperate Quest For Someone To Blame

Alas, poor Donald.

Unlike his personal hero Vladimir Putin, President Trump can’t have his political opponents thrown into prison, shot dead in the street, or flung off fourth floor balconies. In Moscow, Russian soldiers could have herded those women in stupid pink hats into stockades like cows. If a few opinionated heifers got roughed up, well, they asked for it, didn’t they?

Instead, Trump was reduced to making excuses for the failure of his farcical Obamacare “reform” by launching impotent attacks against just about everybody in Washington. Because the great man himself couldn’t possibly have bungled his oft-repeated vow to repeal and replace his predecessor’s signal political achievement. Not him.

Because nothing is Donald J. Trump’s fault — ever.

First it was Democrats — specifically excluded from having any input whatsoever into the GOP bill — whom the president tried to blame. His own party refuses even to vote on his brilliant plan and it’s the Democrats’ fault?

Next, he urged his Twitter followers to watch Justice with Judge Jeanine,  a Fox News program hosted by an abrasive New Yorker and longtime Trump pal. Jeanine Pirro obligingly opened her program by urging House Speaker Paul Ryan to resign. For all his “swagger and experience,” she argued, it was all Ryan’s fault that caused “our president in his first 100 days to come out of the box like that.”

That is, to use one of Trump’s favorite insults, as a big loser.

By Sunday morning, White House chief of staff Reince Priebus went on TV claiming it was all a big misunderstanding. Why, the president had no clue what Judge Jeanine would say. Trump, he said “thinks that Paul Ryan is a great Speaker of the House.”

Yeah, right. Sure he does. To Ryan’s face, anyway.  

On NBC’s Meet the Press, Republican Rep. Charlie Dent, a moderate Pennsylvanian of the kind often derided as a RINO (Republican in Name Only) by hardliners, said that Trump had privately accused him of “destroying the Republican Party.”

The “Republican Party,” in this formulation, signifying Trump’s massive ego.

What the big dope appears incapable of understanding is that for Northeastern Republicans in competitive districts, voting for the Trump/Ryan bill would amount to political suicide. With a Quinnipiac poll showing that only 17 percent of voters nationwide favor full repeal, all the threats and promises Trump could muster couldn’t bring Yankee Republicans around.

“Ryan and Trump,” explained veteran GOP operative Rick Wilson, “ran into the political version of advertising’s famous Bad Dog Food Test: you can’t sell bad dog food even with good advertising. The dogs won’t eat it.”

Writing in The Daily Beast, Wilson also blamed “Trump’s character, which is never pretty. Trump’s clumsy I’m-just-joking threats against members of Congress fell utterly flat, as did promises of his favor. His word means nothing and lawmakers know it. In Trump’s long, sordid life no deal, contract, agreement, or vow has ever been sacred and inviolable. Ask his wives, partners, contractors, and clients. He is a man without a single shred of regret at breaking even the most solemn commitments. In Washington, no matter how corrupt it looks from the outside, the only currency in a tough vote is trust.”

Gee, I wish I’d written that.

Then by Sunday morning, roughly 48 hours after the bill’s collapse, Trump finally settled upon more plausible villains. “Democrats are smiling in D.C. that the Freedom Caucus,” he tweeted, “with the help of Club For Growth and Heritage, have saved Planned Parenthood & Ocare!”

To the ideological purists of the House Freedom Caucus, no remaining vestige of Obamacare’s government-subsidized premiums would have been acceptable. Not even the Ryan/Trump bill, which would have stripped health insurance from a mere 24 million Americans. Not mean enough. These birds don’t merely want to return to pre-Obama health care. To them, the Confederate States of America would be a better model.

But see, here’s the thing: Completely unknown to Trump and Ryan—Trump because virtually everything is unknown to him, Ryan because he’s spent the previous seven years indulging in GOP performance art—the Affordable Care Act has greatly changed Americans’ views. Catch phrases like “socialized medicine” no longer frighten people.

By now, almost everybody knows somebody whose life and/or finances were saved by this imperfect law. Like citizens in virtually all functioning democracies, they’ve come to see health care as a right—not a consumer artifact available at a price.

In response to Trump’s petulant threat to let Obamacare “explode,” most agree with the Kansas housewife who told the AP that sure, the law needs adjusting: “But if your roof leaks, you don’t burn down the house to fix it.”

As long as President Obama was there to veto the GOP’s 60 purely theatrical votes to repeal the law, Speaker Ryan didn’t actually need a workable replacement.

You’d think a fellow con man like Trump might have suspected that he never really had one.

House Conservatives Not Willing To ‘Play Dead’ For Ryan In 2016

By Billy House, Bloomberg News (TNS)

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Paul Ryan had a good run in his first few weeks on the job, clearing out several high-profile bills in a year-end rush.

The good times may not last.

Ryan is already lowering expectations of major legislative achievements in 2016, saying he wants to focus on spelling out a conservative agenda. Far-right Republicans say they want more — and that they’ll push Ryan for votes on their top priorities, such as making significant tax changes, reining in entitlement programs and enacting a new health-care law.

That tension — between Ryan’s push to set out broad principles and the House Freedom Caucus’s impatience to force higher-profile confrontations — could intensify this week as House Republicans go to Baltimore to sort out their legislative agenda.

If the three dozen members of the conservative Freedom Caucus don’t like the outcome, they say they are prepared to push him just as hard as they pushed Ryan’s predecessor, John Boehner, who eventually quit the job.

“I don’t think you’re going to see Freedom Caucus members just roll over and play dead,” caucus member Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona said Tuesday in an interview.

The Republican policy retreat is scheduled to last through Friday. Republican senators will be also on hand through Thursday.

Ahead of that meeting, conservatives are trying to set a new, firmer tone.

“I think that there was a lot of patience in the last six weeks because people realized that it wasn’t a table he set that we were eating from,” Salmon said, referring to Ryan.

Salmon said the Wisconsin Republican was given what amounts to a pass by conservatives in his first weeks after becoming speaker on Oct. 29 because he was handling Boehner’s legislative leftovers. That included passage of a $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill in December with mostly Democratic votes.

“That’s gone, starting this year,” said Salmon of such patience with Ryan.

Another Freedom Caucus member, Raul Labrador of Idaho, raised eyebrows last week when he declared “the honeymoon is over” for Ryan as the House speaker.

On Tuesday, Labrador added in an interview that he wants to see actual legislation put up for House votes this year, ticking off such aims as entitlement reform and a tax overhaul.

But Ryan, the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee, so far has stopped short of specific promises. On the Senate side, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky already has been playing down the prospect of tax changes in 2016.

Ryan told reporters Tuesday that the House will pass a budget plan for the next fiscal year. But he hedged on whether there will be votes on such things as entitlement revisions or deeper spending cuts.

The policy retreat this week in Baltimore is where Ryan said he hopes to launch “the beginnings of the conversation of assembling an agenda to take to the country, and the launching of a process under which we put that agenda together.”

Ryan’s positioning “confuses me,” said Labrador.

The best way for House Republicans to lay out their agenda for the American public is to pass legislation, he said, regardless of whether it will become law.

Ryan, however, may be trying to position Republicans to compete more effectively in the 2016 general election by developing a “bold pro-growth agenda” without having to actually take too many votes on it.

The Freedom Caucus, led by Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio, put out a statement Tuesday before President Barack Obama’s State of the Union remarks and the Baltimore retreat saying, “This year Congress must advance bold conservative ideas to help families who have seen job loss and stagnant income during the Obama presidency.”

What gives the three dozen Freedom Caucus members leverage is that Republicans control the chamber with 246 seats to 188 for Democrats — meaning their votes can be crucial to passage on issues dividing the parties.

Because some of the thorniest debates, such as raising the debt limit, have been pushed off until after the election, the differences that could emerge this year may have more to do with tactics and expectations, some lawmakers and congressional experts say.

“The Freedom Caucus and much of the Republican base are angry at Republican leaders for not delivering on their promises,” said Thomas Mann, a congressional expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “Ryan is trying to lower expectations by a brash articulation of a very conservative agenda and a priority to elect a Republican president.”

But Mann and New York-based political pollster John Zogby both predict that Ryan will eventually have to depend on Democrats to pass some legislation because of divisions within his own party.

“Sadly for him, I think the Ryan speakership was damned from the outset. I am still surprised he accepted,” said Zogby. “The position is not a bully pulpit nor a national agenda setter. The president does that constitutionally and historically.”

For now, Ryan’s approach has largely focused on trying to open up the House decision-making process.

His promise is aimed at responding to complaints from members such as Rep. John Fleming of Louisiana, a Freedom Caucus member, who said Boehner had made similar promises to decentralize the decision-making.

“But ultimately what he did is he would put the staff together and we’d be up against a hard deadline and we would have our arms twisted to vote for it,” Fleming said.

“Paul Ryan said he’s not going to do that,” Fleming added. “What he’s going to do is we’re going to do the budget early, do appropriations early, going to follow through with all 12 appropriations bills, and we’re not going to let time limits or the Senate jam us.”

On the other hand, giving the Freedom Caucus more influence could further expose the deep splits with moderate Republicans on certain areas, such as defense policy and spending, immigration, the Export-Import Bank and trade.

If Ryan truly opens the process to the House Freedom Caucus, “they will likely force votes that neither he, nor establishment Republicans, want to see on the floor,” said Joshua Huder, a senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University in Washington.

Huder also noted that in a presidential election year — with the prospect that Hillary Clinton could top the Democratic presidential ticket — some House Republicans representing more moderate, swing districts could be at risk if the House pursues an aggressive conservative agenda, particularly on social issues.

“Ryan will need to find the sweet spot between giving conservatives a voice and protecting his at-risk members,” said Huder.

Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, a co-chairman of a group of House moderates, said Freedom Caucus members aren’t the only ones who “want to take on some bold policy issues.”

“What is extraordinarily unhelpful is that a member would issue a threat to Speaker Ryan, literally on the first day back of Congress” this year,” Dent said of Labrador’s assertion that the honeymoon is over. “It’s very unfair.”

Salmon and other Freedom Caucus members said the “first big fight” could come with the budget plan early in the year.

Dave Brat of Virginia, another Freedom Caucus member, said, “The proof in the pudding for the speakership will be the budget and appropriations process.”

On appropriations bills, Fleming suggested that if there is no agreement on a new government spending plan after fiscal 2016 funding runs out Sept. 30, the House should seek to maintain its leverage.

“I would suggest that we don’t take up Senate bills unless the Senate takes up our appropriations bills,” Fleming said.

And if House Republicans get pushed up against another potential government shutdown drama, Fleming said, they should keep passing two-week extensions of current funding levels “until the other side gives in and decides to work with us.”

©2016 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) calls on a reporter during a weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst 


5 Reasons The GOP Might Actually Blow Up Our Economy This Time

While House Republicans were busy chewing each other to pieces and producing an 11-hour telethon for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, they weren’t doing their most basic duty: paying our bills.

It’s called the raising the debt limit. It was raised 18 times under Ronald Reagan and 7 times under George W. Bush who inherited a surplus that if left untouched could have completely eliminated our entire debt.

If it isn’t raised in the week our so, our economy would explode like Jeb Bush’s hopes of becoming president.

The debt limit has always been “political theater” because it’s nonsensical. Why should Congress have to vote again to pay for spending that has been signed into law under the process laid out in the Constitution, especially when the Constitution requires us to pay for debts to be paid? It’s an arcane technicality that has become an ever alluring suicide switch under this Republican Party.

Just the threat of not raising it in 2011 resulted in one of the worst one-day stock market crashes ever.

The result would almost certainly be a made-to-order depression. The dollar would likely plunge as interest rates skyrocket, unemployment explodes, and the years of your life you’ve put into your 401(k) are erased in minutes. The party that “accidentally” wrecked the economy under George W. Bush would be doing the same thing — but on purpose.

The American economy is one of the best, if not the best in the world. Layoffs are now lower than ever recorded per capita. We’re completely solvent and any threat of an actual debt crisis is decades away — unless we don’t raise the debt limit.

And the Tea Party Freedom Caucus is claiming they won’t raise it unless the president agrees to cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

What has the president been offered in return after making concessions to get an increase in 2011? Nothing.

Because the GOP has spent the last six years nurturing and catering to extremists, disaster is more likely than ever. Here’s why.

1. GOP leaders have fed the lie that we don’t need to raise the debt limit.
The more likely you are to believe that carbon pollution isn’t fueling global warming, the more likely you are to believe not raising the debt limit is no big whoop and wouldn’t lead to default — or at least to say that in public.

It wasn’t just frazzled Tea Partiers spouting this nonsense in 2011, it was the current “establishment” choice to be the next Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. who argued we could go “a day or two or three or four” not paying our debts without defaulting. The New Republic‘s Brian Beutler points out that Paul Ryan voted against raising it in February, 2014. This could be interpreted as politics as usual. The president himself voted against increasing the limit as he ran for his first term, knowing that there were enough votes to pass.

But just the fact that Obama wants to raise the debt limit now is enough for most Republicans to oppose it. And the fiction that the debt ceiling can be breached without any serious consequences has led to intransigence that may be impossible to overcome.

2. The party can’t get 218 votes to take a bathroom break.
“Boehner, McCarthy, and other GOP leaders are refusing at this point to move ahead with a ‘clean’ debt ceiling bill insisted on by President Barack Obama,” Politico reported on Friday. “Senior leadership aides said they couldn’t find the 30 Republican votes needed to join with all 188 Democrats to pass that proposal — a bleak indication of the current state of play.”

There aren’t 30 Republicans willing to take a vote that will save the U.S. economy.

Republicans won’t take a vote to raise the limit until after the vote to elect the next Speaker, which means the first major vote the next leader of the House GOP caucus takes will be one of the most purposely confused and potentially destructive.

“This calendar of chaos… is really coming down to hours, days, weeks,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said last week

3. Paul Ryan hasn’t been able to get his demands from the House Freedom Caucus met.
When he decided to run for Speaker, Rep. Ryan included a demand that House rescind the rule that kept a perpetual gun to the head of Speaker John Boehner — the motion to vacate. With it, any member of the GOP caucus can call what is essentially a no-confidence vote on the caucus’ leader. The Freedom Caucus said they wouldn’t be willing to give him that concession. Already, Ryan has backed off that demand, suggesting that he’ll be soon be cornered by the party’s far right the way Boehner has been.

The 30 to 40 members of the House Freedom Caucus are from districts so white and conservative that their lawn jockeys have lawn jockeys. The only fear they have is disappointing the most irrational members of their party. And that will soon be Paul Ryan’s biggest fear.

4. We’re in the middle of the most acrimonious nonsensical GOP primary ever.
How do you tell a party base that is backing Donald Trump and Ben Carson to be reasonable, and compromise for the good of the nation?

You don’t. You don’t even try. You just hope somehow someone else takes the vote for you and you don’t get a well-funded primary challenger.

5. If something can go wrong with this GOP, it usually does.
The Washington Post‘s Greg Sargent has done a yeoman’s job of describing what he thinks is at the heart of the Freedom Caucus’ motivations: It’s all about the money.

They will accept failure because it gives them a chance to raise more cash by ranting against the “establishment.” Or, maybe, this time they won’t.

They’ve just taken down two Speakers and in the aftermath of the disastrous Benghazi debacle, Boehner created a new committee to investigate Planned Parenthood. The far right has the energy and people power the GOP needs to have any hope of winning the 2016 election, which will be the most important of our lifetime. Their demands — while abhorrent to the general voting population — are widely popular with primary voters. And if they don’t get their way, they seek revenge relentlessly.

“All this suggests that every force involved is propelling Republicans not just toward forcing a crisis, but forcing an actual default,” Paul Waldman wrote in the Washington Post.

 “There’s no education in the second kick of a mule,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has often said when warning against the kind of shutdown or debt limit showdowns of the sort that booted the GOP in its face back in 2013.

But in the Freedom Caucus’ narrative, McConnell is the mule and they’re sick of being kicked around. Whether it’s a default or by actually nominating Ted Cruz in 2016, the GOP base is aching for a lesson that can only be learned through multiple, ever harder, kicks of the mule.

Illustration: DonkeyHotey via Flickr

My Pick For The Next Speaker Of The U.S. House

If it were under the big top, it would be a hilarious clown show — with pratfalls, wild posturing, tumbling, juggling and a cacophony of comic chaos.

But alas, it’s under the Capitol dome, so it’s just the Republican congressional caucus — bumbling, stumbling, and crashing into each other in clownish acts of ideological zaniness, political incoherence and pathetic ineptitude. The present bedlam on the Hill was prompted by House Speaker John Boehner abruptly deciding to zip-a-dee-doo-dah out of office, having finally given up on corralling his caucus of clowns.

Sadly, his withdrawal has only intensified the buffoonery, generating a slapstick intramural contest over which group of far-out right-wingers gets their pick to replace him. Boehner’s contingent of anti-government, corporate-hugging extremists want one of their own, while assorted groupings of even fringier, farther-out packs of mad-dog tea party Republicans want someone who’ll howl at the moon and literally shut down the government.

When Speaker Boehner gave up his position because he couldn’t stand running the show anymore, next in line was Rep. Kevin McCarthy. He started campaigning for the job, but quickly backed off after he let it slip that the House Benghazi hearings were held just to damage Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and really had nothing to do with national security.

For the moment, Rep. Paul Ryan appears to be the most likely pick, except for two problems: One, he doesn’t really want the thankless task of clown-herding, unless he can get all factions of Republicans to a level of consensus (good luck with that!); and two, even though he is an Ayn Rand-worshipping, Koch-hugging, laissez-fairyland ideologue dedicated to killing everything from Social Security to Obamacare, Ryan is just not right-wing enough for the howlers. He’s considering whether to run for the job, but even if he does — and wins — the spectacle will continue.

The amusing irony in Ryan’s predicament is he helped create his own mess! He was chief architect of the 2010 Republican scheme to take over Congress by recruiting and electing the mad dogs who are now biting him on the butt — and turning the U.S. House of Representatives into the House of Ridiculousness. As Rep. Peter King put it: “We look absolutely crazy.”

And Rep. King is right. What’s at work here is the Crazy Caucus. At one level or another, nearly all Republican House members belong, but the caucus is driven by about 40 hyper-crazies who believe that the greatest problems facing our country are Hillary Clinton’s emails, Planned Parenthood, the existence of public services and the “hordes” of Mexicans who sneak into our country so they can vote for Democrats. It’s the job of the House speaker to try “leading” these mad dogs to an occasional bit of sanity. Who really wants to do that — or even thinks it’s possible?

Well, several of the mad dogs themselves say they should be put in charge. Daniel Webster says he’s available (not the smart guy who compiled the dictionary, but a tea party bozo from Florida). Bill Flores, a little-known tea party know-nothing from Texas, says he would unite the House by getting all the members to “spend enough time on our knees praying for each other.” That’s silly, but the idea of keeping lawmakers on their knees is appealing. Mike Pompeo of Kansas, a prince of right-wing pomposity who was elected by the billionaire Koch brothers to be their personal representative in Washington, says he’s ready to lead the House toward a Koch-headed plutocracy.

That’s pathetic. But wait — we have another surprising choice. It’s a little-known fact, but the speaker of our House of Representatives does not actually have to be a member of Congress. So why don’t we choose someone like a kindergarten teacher, a minimum-wage worker, an organic farmer or a circus ringmaster to run the show? Or maybe a group psychologist is what the place really needs.

To find out more about Jim Hightower, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Web page at

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) speaks at his weekly press briefing on Capitol Hill in Washington July 9, 2015. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

U.S. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) (L) laughs as he addresses questions about his bid to replace retiring House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (R) during a news conference after their closed Republican House caucus meeting at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, September 29, 2015. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst