THE MORNING PLUM:
Senior House Democrats held a conference call on Thursday night with members of the Democratic caucus, and according to a Dem aide, one of the key conclusions reached on the call was this: In the battles over Obamacare, Trump’s border wall, and funding the government, Democrats — not the White House — must behave as the ones with the leverage.
As the 100-day mark of the Trump presidency approach, panic has set in among aides who fear that the press coverage will brutally (and accurately) reflect his historical lack of accomplishments. This is leading to questionable decisions on their part that could prove destructive to the country — and could backfire and make the 100-day mark coverage even more brutal for them. But this worry should also be seen as handing more leverage to Democrats in the near term. Dems seem both aware of this and inclined to act accordingly.
The White House has adopted a new strategy in the battle over funding the government, one designed to compel Democrats to help fund Trump’s Mexican wall and expanded deportation force. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney is now saying that the White House might agree not to sabotage the Affordable Care Act — by funding the subsidies to insurance coverage for lower-income people which, if halted, could melt down the exchanges — if Democrats agree to fund the wall and more immigration enforcement agents.
But on the Thursday night conference call, House Dems resolved not to back down in the face of any such pressure, according to a readout of the call provided by a Democratic aide.
“We have the leverage and they have the exposure,” Dem leader Nancy Pelosi told people on the call, per the aide, adding that, because Republicans are in the majority, keeping the government funded will be seen as “their responsibility.”
Also on the call, Rep. Nita Lowey — the ranking Dem on the Appropriations Committee — flatly declared: “We are not building a wall.” Lowey said progress was being made in negotiating with GOP appropriators towards a short-term government funding bill. But she noted that a short-term extension of the previous funding bill — called a “continuing resolution,” or “CR” — might be necessary first, which suggests Democrats are willing to allow things to come to a head before buckling to White House demands.
Now, it remains to be seen whether Democrats will hold as firm as their current posture suggests. It also remains to be seen what Democrats will get out of these negotiations. But it looks likely that Republicans will need Democratic votes to pass a government funding bill, both in the Senate (where Republicans only hold 52 seats and will need to break a Dem filibuster) and in the House (where conservatives may bolt, leaving Republicans short of a majority on their own). Democrats want Republicans to drop the White House demand for funding for the border wall and increased deportations, and they also want Republicans to fund the “cost sharing reductions” (CSRs) that subsidize low out-of-pocket costs for lower-income people, to prevent insurers from fleeing the individual markets, which could leave at least 10 million uncovered.
The White House position is that the need to fund the CSRs gives Trump leverage to demand funding for the wall and a deportation force. But why should Democrats give Republicans anything in exchange for funding the CSRs, when Republicans are currently trying to inflict far more damage on the Affordable Care Act than not funding the CSRs would?
Absurdly enough, even as the White House is demanding concessions in exchange for not sabotaging the ACA, it is also pushing Congress to vote on a new version of the GOP repeal-and-replace bill that would be even more regressive and destructive than the last one was. Trump would likely take the blame for the chaos and loss of coverage that killing funding for the CSRs would unleash. Why should Dems bail him out of that problem — and allow Republicans to wield the CSRs as leverage against them — as long as the drive to roll back coverage for far more people continues? This should — and likely will — increase the resolve of Dems to dig in harder.
Tellingly, multiple reports indicate that the White House is demanding a rushed vote on the new repeal-and-replace bill because aides are desperate to showcase something, anything, as a legislative achievement in time for the 100-day mark. So you’d think the last thing the White House can tolerate is a government shutdown on Trump’s watch at precisely that moment, which would further reinforce the image that Trump and Republicans are making an enormous mess of governing. And so, in the government funding fight, Democrats should see the looming 100-day milestone as something that also gives them increased leverage. Judging by last night’s Democratic conference call, they are aware of this.
* NO VOTE PLANNED ON ‘NEW’ HEALTH BILL TRUMP WANTS: The White House is prodding Congress to vote on the “new” version of the health care bill, apparently because they really want an accomplishment to tout. But the Post reports:
The schedule would also make it nearly impossible for lawmakers to finish their work in time for official scorekeepers to provide a clear estimate of how much the legislation would cost or how it would affect coverage numbers … There was no deadline for finishing the legislation as of Thursday evening, and GOP leaders have not committed to plans for a Wednesday vote, according to one House GOP leadership aide.
On the other hand, not scoring the “new” legislation might improve its chances of passage.
* MATTIS SAYS TRUMP BUDGET UNDER-FUNDS MILITARY: CNN scoops that Defense Secretary James Mattis is privately telling GOP lawmakers that Trump’s budget doesn’t include enough funding for rebuilding the military as Trump has promised:
Trump has repeatedly said he would rebuild the military with a massive defense spending increase, but the funding planned for next year’s budget is less than what the Pentagon sought, according to sources with knowledge of the deliberations … “Mattis continues to express to members of the Armed Services Committees that … $603 billion is insufficient to do what Trump has called for,” said a Republican lawmaker…
Why does Trump hate our depleted loser military? Sad!
* GERRYMANDERING HEADS TO SUPREME COURT: The New York Times has a good overview of a case getting heard this term, in which a GOP gerrymandered map in Wisconsin could get struck down, making it tougher to get away with elsewhere. Note this:
Republicans control legislatures in 33 states, 25 with Republican governors. They have unfettered command over the boundaries of at least 204 congressional districts — amounting to nearly half the 435-seat House. In contrast, Democrats’ share of state legislature seats has shrunk to a level not seen since Warren G. Harding was president, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The real rub here is that Democrats need to regain some ground on the state level in time for the redistricting of the House in the next decade.
* WHITE HOUSE SCIENCE FAIR IS HAPPENING: CBS News reports that the White House Science Fair is set to happen again this year, after some in the science community had worried whether it might be canceled under President Trump. The fair, which was created under the Obama administration, showcases scientific projects by students.
So that’s good. Of course, the new president says climate change is a hoax, is gutting the E.P.A. and climate regulations, has been slow to staff up government scientist positions, and may pull us out of the Paris climate deal. Otherwise, all is well!
* TRUMP IS INDULGING IN ‘EXTRACURRICULAR ACTIVITIES’: NBC’s First Read crew takes stock of all the time Trump is spending at Mar-a-Lago, golfing, and tweeting about House races, and makes a good point:
Every recent American president has received criticism for extracurricular activities … But what’s extraordinary about President Trump’s extracurricular activities is that they’ve taken place so early in his tenure (today is his 92nd on the job), and that they’ve come before he’s made progress on his top policy goals.
Yet another way in which Trump continues to break precedent.
* REPUBLICANS CAUGHT IN A TRAP ON OBAMACARE: Paul Krugman explains that Republicans can’t pass an alternative to the ACA for a simple reason: either you spend money, or lots of people lose coverage. And:
If Republicans never had a plausible alternative to Obamacare, if this debacle was so inevitable, what was the constant refrain of “repeal and replace” all about? The answer, surely, is that it began as a cynical ploy; at first, the Republicans hoped to kill health reform before it really got started. And now they’ve trapped themselves: They can’t admit that they have no ideas without, in effect, admitting that they were lying all along.
The trap is even worse than this: Republicans also cannot admit that the ACA is working, because they’ve spent seven years deceiving their base to the contrary.
* AND THE TRUMP TWEET OF THE DAY, ALTERNATIVE FACTS EDITION: Good morning, Mr. President:
No matter how much I accomplish during the ridiculous standard of the first 100 days, & it has been a lot (including S.C.), media will kill!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 21, 2017
Trump has accomplished historically little. And despite the claim that the 100-day standard is “ridiculous,” officials are reportedly rushing through a health care proposal that will impact millions because they fear negative TV coverage of his own 100-day mark.