Trump and the White House are now escalating their demand that Democrats drop their opposition to funding his wall on the Mexican border — and to pressure Democrats, they are escalating their threat not to fund Obamacare’s cost-sharing subsidies, which could cause insurers to flee, melting down the markets. Over the weekend, Trump tweeted that “Dems need big money” to prevent this from happening, and White House allies are telling reporters that this constitutes leverage to get Democrats to agree to the wall.
But a new report in the Washington Examiner suggests that this “threat” is a greater problem for Republicans than it is for Democrats. The Examiner’s David Drucker talks to Republicans who agree that if the cost-sharing subsidies aren’t funded, it could be a political problem for vulnerable House Republicans:
These subsidies, or “Cost Sharing Reductions,” flow to perhaps hundreds of thousands of Americans who live in districts represented by Republicans considered soft targets for the Democrats in 2018….If Republicans and the Trump administration don’t finance the subsidies in a spending bill that must pass by April 28 to avoid a government shutdown, the GOP could face a voter backlash as insurers cancel plans and pull out of communities.“Republicans wanting Obamacare to collapse might be a good talking point in 2017, but it will be disastrous at the ballot box for us in 2018,” a former House GOP aide said … That has put them in an awkward position. They either protect Obamacare from implosion, or risk the ire of voters whose premiums would spike, and choices diminish, even more than has already occurred under the troubled Affordable Care Act.
Read Drucker’s piece for more details, but the upshot is that, if Trump goes through with his threat to sabotage the ACA, Republicans would likely get the blame for it. They would get blamed both for the immediate loss of subsidies by voters in their districts, and, more broadly, for the larger damage caused by the meltdown of the exchanges, which could lead to at least 10 million fewer people covered. A recent Kaiser poll found that 75 percent of Americans want Trump and Republicans to make the law work, and 61 percent say they are responsible for future problems with it.
If basic logic counts for anything, all this should complicate the idea that Trump’s power over the subsidies gives him and Republicans leverage to extract concessions in return for not continuing them. Much of the press coverage treats this as a he-said-she-said standoff, in which Republicans say the threat to nix the cost-sharing subsidies gives them leverage, and Democrats say it doesn’t. But if Drucker’s reporting is right, Republicans know that they need the subsidies to continue. Meanwhile, Trump and Republicans would also likely get the blame if the government shuts down. So where does their leverage reside, exactly?
Now, it’s true that Democrats really don’t want the exchanges to melt down, and they also really don’t want the government to shut down, since both would be very destructive. (Indeed, most Republicans probably don’t want either of those to happen for the same reason.) So Democrats will probably be willing to make some concessions toward getting a spending bill passed, to avoid either of those happening. But for Democrats, the incentives tilt strongly against making such concessions on the wall in particular, because it occupies an outsize place in the imagination of Trump voters. Trump himself thinks his base really wants it, as he put it in a rambling interview with the Associated Press:
“My base definitely wants the border wall, my base really wants it — you’ve been to many of the rallies. Okay, the thing they want more than anything is the wall … the people want to see it. They want to see the wall, they want to see security.”
Trump wants the wall funding so badly as a 100-day accomplishment that he may be willing to push us to the brink of a government shutdown to try to get it. White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said yesterday that he did not know whether Trump would sign any funding bill that doesn’t fund the wall — which could bring about that shutdown.
After all, the wall looms very large in the mythology of Trumpism — his supporters see it as a symbol of Trump’s willingness to slam the brakes on the cultural, demographic, and economic forces that are making them feel destabilized. But it also looms large for his detractors, who see it as a symbol of his Fortress America xenophobia. This increases the pressure on Democrats not to agree to fund it, to demoralize Trump’s base and fire up their own. It’s hard to see how the threat to tank the ACA’s exchanges overcomes that, particularly since that outcome is one that Republicans apparently don’t want, either.
* MORE POLLS FIND TRUMP’S APPROVAL IN THE TOILET: A new Post/ABC poll finds Trump’s approval rating at 42 percent, and a new NBC/WSJ poll finds it at 40 percent. And the NBC poll finds an erosion in perceptions of his qualities:
39 percent of Americans give him high marks for changing business as usual in Washington — down from 45 percent two months ago. Thirty-nine percent give him high marks for being effective and getting things done — down from 46 percent who said this back in February.
Below 40 percent on change and on getting things done — these must be Fake Polls, since Trump told us he has had one of the best starts of any president in history.
* A POSSIBLE DEAL ON OBAMACARE SUBSIDIES? Democrats want Republicans to agree to include subsidies for insurance with lower out-of-pocket costs in the spending bill. Bloomberg explains what one compromise might look like:
One trade-off could pair $9 billion in subsidies for insurance companies under Obamacare — a domestic spending increase — with an equal increase for regular defense operations. Another $5 billion to $10 billion in war funding could be added to that, and Democrats could justify going along with the idea given heightened tensions with Syria and North Korea.
This would apparently allow Democrats to avoid agreeing to spending on Trump’s wall, but it would at least allow Trump to claim he’s making our military great again.
* TRUMP AGAIN PLAYS DOWN 100-DAY MARKER: In that interview with the Associated Press, Trump said the 100-day marker is no biggie. Then this exchange happened:
AP: You did put out though, as a candidate, you put out a 100-day plan. Do you feel like you should be held accountable to that plan?TRUMP: Somebody, yeah, somebody put out the concept of a hundred-day plan. But yeah. Well, I’m mostly there on most items.
Somebody put that idea out there. Oh yeah, it was Trump’s campaign.
* TRUMP IS GOVERNING LIKE AN ORTHODOX REPUBLICAN: Paul Krugman points out that Trump, for all his “populist” promises, is embracing cruel and unworkable policies on health care, taxes and the economy that any other Republican would have:
His supporters should therefore be dismayed, not just by his failure to actually close any deals, but by the fact that he evidently has no new ideas to offer, just the same old snake oil the right has been peddling for decades … Trump agenda so far is … just voodoo with extra bad math. Was that what his supporters expected?
Meanwhile, pretty much the only thing left of the “populist economic nationalism” that was supposed to make Trump different from other Republicans is the nativism and the xenophobia.
* NEVER MIND BANNON. KEEP AN EYE ON SESSIONS: E.J. Dionne Jr. takes a look at all of the changes that Attorney General Jeff Sessions is making, while the media obsesses over Stephen K. Bannon:
Sessions has started switching the Justice Department’s stance on voting rights cases, away from minority plaintiffs and in favor of states that passed discriminatory measures … Sessions also ordered department officials to review reform agreements between its civil rights division and troubled police forces nationwide … Sessions is bringing back the old war on drugs, thus stopping in its tracks a once-promising criminal justice reform movement of conservatives, liberals and libertarians concerned with over-incarceration, particularly in African American communities.
And so, even if Bannon does eventually get pushed out, Sessions is perfectly positioned to continue implementing all of Trumpism’s ugliest impulses.
* SESSIONS ON ‘DREAMERS’: ‘WE’LL SEE’: On ABC’s “This Week,” Sessions was asked about Trump’s recent declaration that the dreamers can “rest easy” and don’t need to fear deportation. Sessions would not say whether he agrees:
“Well, we’ll see. I believe that everyone that enters the country unlawfully is subject to being deported; however, we’ve got — we don’t have the ability to round up everybody and there’s no plans to do that. But we’re going to focus first, as the president has directed us, on the criminal element.”
Of course, in reality, despite the “focus” on the “criminal element,” the administration is deporting undocumented immigrants who have committed no other crime.
* AND OBAMA IS BACK: Today former president Barack Obama will hold a public appearance with some young people in Chicago, and he’s looking to avoid criticizing Trump while saying something about politics:
Mr. Obama wants to talk with the young people onstage at the elite school about civic engagement, community organizing and the importance of not withdrawing from the challenges facing society … Advisers said Mr. Obama’s conversation on Monday is likely to echo many of the same themes he talked about in [his] farewell address, including a plea that people not take democracy for granted.
It’s a tricky balancing act, but Obama can refrain from commenting directly on Trump while also trying to inspire people to remain politically engaged, which could matter for 2018.