THE MORNING PLUM:
The other day, President-elect Donald Trump cheerfully urinated all over an idea that tea partyers have long held aloft as one of their most sacred founding principles. “Sometimes you have to prime the pump,” Trump told Time Magazine, explaining why he wants a big infrastructure spending package — the sort of Keynesian economic spending policy that tea partyers regularly denounced as a dire threat to the republic throughout the Obama years.
As Time put it, Trump “has little patience for the organizing principle of the Tea Party: the idea that the federal government must live within its means and lower its debts.”
Today Politico reports that some congressional Republicans are suddenly deciding that this alleged organizing principle isn’t so hallowed, after all. Politico quotes multiple Republicans either embracing Trump’s infrastructure spending idea in principle or going through laughable contortions to avoid directly denouncing it. One comes out squarely for a “federal commitment” to spending on “world-class infrastructure.” Another actually uses the dreaded s-word — stimulus — arguing that it would “make sense” to “examine” how to do some projects “through a stimulus and infrastructure package.”
The key revelation in the Politico piece, though, is that Republicans themselves privately admit that this is pure hypocrisy:
The irony, expressed privately by lawmakers and leadership aides, is glaring. Privately, House Republicans complain that Trump’s infrastructure plan reeks of Obama’s stimulus package (though some argue that Trump, unlike Obama, is likely to rely on public-private partnerships, not just federal dollars, and is likely to be paid for). . . .
Many are afraid to publicly oppose Trump because of his fondness for retribution and use of Twitter to publicly shame his critics. So now, they’re left crossing their fingers that his rhetoric doesn’t translate into actual policy proposals next year.
It should be noted that many Republicans did support a highway spending package at the end of last year. But now, Republicans are privately conceding that the underlying Keynesian principle that they may well accept under Trump is basically the same one many condemned under Obama — as a dire threat to transform the country into something no longer recognizably American.
Two Republicans basically admit this on the record. Rep. Mark Sanford (S.C.) calls Trump’s “prime the pump” comments “ill founded,” and calls on fellow Republicans to show “consistency” about their limited government principles. Rep. Reid Ribble (Wis.), meanwhile, flatly declares that Trump’s idea is “Keynesian,” and “very much like Barack Obama in his first year.”
Beyond the low-hanging fruit of hypocrisy, all of this raises some very interesting scenarios. The fact that a few Republicans are already voicing opposition to Trump’s call for infrastructure spending sets up the possibility that there could be genuine conflict over it. We don’t yet know what Trump will really call for: His current plan appears to be shaping up more as a tax break and privatization scheme than as a plan for genuine needs-based public investment. As the comments to Politico indicate, Republicans might be much more inclined to accept such an outcome.
On the other hand, Stephen Bannon, the keeper of the Trump narrative, actually does appear to see genuine — and massive — infrastructure spending as crucial to the staying power of the movement he hopes Trump is building, which he calls “economic nationalism.” As Bannon said recently:
“We’re going to build an entirely new political movement. It’s everything related to jobs. The conservatives are going to go crazy. I’m the guy pushing a trillion-dollar infrastructure plan. With negative interest rates throughout the world, it’s the greatest opportunity to rebuild everything. Shipyards, ironworks, get them all jacked up.”
What remains to be seen is how hard Bannon and Trump push for this plan, and whether Republicans do resist it — especially Paul Ryan, the GOP’s patron saint of fiscal conservatism (defined not as making budget math work, but as cutting spending and taxes on the rich). As noted above, some Republicans appear to privately fear retribution if they oppose the idea at this point, raising the possibility that they worry that Trump’s call for such spending — his “economic nationalism” — will be popular among Republican voters (who hated Obama’s stimulus).
One possible outcome, then, is that Trump does get some form of spending, and Republicans go along with it in exchange for Trump’s support for their efforts to slash the safety net (which Trump supposedly opposes) and cut taxes on the rich (which Trump is eager to do). This would mean increased spending on the military and infrastructure to “prime the pump,” combined with a relentlessly pro-corporate agenda that includes deeply regressive tax and spending cuts that increase inequality — in other words, soaring deficits and “Reactionary Keynesianism.” Add to that massive rollbacks of environmental and Wall Street regulations, and a labor secretary who may further weaken worker power. Imagine all of this packaged along with more personalized Carrier-style interventions to save handfuls of manufacturing jobs, a PR strategy designed to cement Trump’s hold on the industrial Midwest (Trump himself said Thursday night that more of these are coming), and you can see where we might be headed.
* UNION LEADERS FEAR ALL-OUT TRUMP ASSAULT: The Post reports that union leaders fear that Trump and congressional Republicans are preparing an all out assault on organized labor:
Some union leaders are worried that a Trump administration would attempt to introduce a national right-to-work law — allowing any employee anywhere to exempt themselves from participating in a union — and block unions from deducting dues from paychecks….labor leaders also fear that a Republican Congress and Trump White House would launch investigations of union finances while failing to enforce labor laws when employers underpay workers or violate occupational safety rules.
The confirmation hearings for Andy Puzder, Trump’s pick as labor secretary, will offer a chance to flesh out the administration’s true intentions, which are probably to continue eroding worker power.
* NEW EPA CHIEF MIGHT STRUGGLE TO SCRAP CLIMATE RULE: Reuters reports on the reasons why Scott Pruitt, Trump’s climate-change-denying pick to head the EPA, might have trouble scrapping Obama’s executive action to reduce carbon emissions:
Jody Freeman, a law professor at Harvard University, said such a move could create complications for the EPA, however, as it may be required legally to explain and support the change in direction. And even if the EPA was able to withdraw its defense for the rules, other interested parties, including state governments and businesses, could intervene to defend them — raising the specter of a lengthy court battle.
This is going to be one of the most consequential battles of the early years of the Trump administration.
* SENATE REPUBLICANS TO PROBE RUSSIAN INTERFERENCE: The Post reports:
Leading Senate Republicans are preparing to launch a coordinated and wide-ranging probe into Russia’s alleged meddling in the U.S. elections and its potential cyberthreats to the military, digging deep into what they view as corrosive interference in the nation’s institutions. Such an aggressive approach puts them on a direct collision course with…Trump, who downplays the possibility Russia had any role in the November elections.
Who knows — maybe we’ll finally find out what really happened here, after Trump has been inflicting untold damage on the country for months or even years.
* SOME CARRIER JOBS SAVED BY TRUMP COULD SOON BE LOST: CNN reports that the CEO of the parent company that owns Carrier is now saying that some of the jobs that Trump claims he saved could soon be lost to automation. Note this:
The decision to keep Carrier’s furnace manufacturing operations in the U.S. instead of moving them to Mexico will save about 800 jobs out of the 1,400 at the plant. . . . The company declined to say how many of the plants 800 remaining jobs could be lost to automation, or when.
But it generated great headlines for Trump, so it’s a great deal.
* TRUMP PLANS TO TAP MORE GENERALS: Trump has so far picked three generals for top positions, and Politico reports that he’s not done yet — in fact, he’s planning to push the limits in this regard:
Trump . . . has turned to friends and advisers to ask just how many generals would be too many — suggesting he may want to tap as many as five — to fill his Cabinet and the highest rungs of the White House.
Too many for what, exactly?
* AND TRUMP’S NSA PICK IS VERY, VERY WORRIED ABOUT TERRORISM: Andrew Kaczynski reports on some quotes from Michael Flynn, Trump’s pick as national security adviser, that would benefit from further clarification:
Flynn . . . claimed in an August radio interview that Arabic signs were present along the United States border with Mexico to guide potential state-sponsored terrorists and “radicalized Muslims” into the United States. Flynn further said in the interview he had personally seen photos of such signs in Texas.
As Kaczynski drolly notes, a “review of available information about the terror threat along the US-Mexico border could not corroborate Flynn’s claim.”