What We're Reading

GOP Tax Bill Lumbers On; More Questions About Trump’s Fitness for Office

A roundup of stories we're reading at BillMoyers.com HQ...

GOP Tax Bill Lumbers On

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Devastating bill moves forward –> The Senate voted on party lines, 52-48, to begin debate on the Senate tax-and-partial-Obamacare-repeal bill. Martin Sullivan, the chief economist at the nonprofit research firm Tax Analysts and a highly respected tax researcher, told Business Insider, “I’m usually pretty calm about policy — I tend to try and avoid using words like ‘crazy’ or ‘stupid’ because I’m a pretty even-keeled guy, but those words apply here.”

The White House and Congressional leaders have been defending the bill by saying it will pay for itself, and Treasury Secretary Gary Munchin has repeatedly claimed that he has over 100 people working on an analysis that will support that argument, but Alan Rappeport reports for The New York Times that “just one day before the full Senate prepares to vote on a sweeping tax rewrite, the administration has yet to produce the type of economic analysis that it is citing as a reason to pass the tax cut.”

We mentioned yesterday that Senate Republicans were considering a “trigger” that would raise taxes automatically if their (unrealistic) growth targets are not met. Now The Washington Post reports that another “possibility discussed by several senators Wednesday would use a trigger to prompt spending cuts, not tax increases.”

Sarah Kliff writes at Vox that it would represent “a sweeping change to every part of federal health care,” slashing Medicare by billions and leaving “millions without insurance.”

Patrick Gillespie reports for CNNMoney that a little-noticed provision in the House bill that “amounts to a tax on goods manufactured on the island [Puerto Rico] and exported to the mainland United States.” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz called it “devastating for Puerto Rico,” and said that “it would kill any chance we have of putting together a plan for sustained growth that would repopulate the island.”

To win over the support of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Senate bill would open up 2,000 acres of the Arctic Wildlife Preserve for oil extraction. The provision may not qualify for the budget process known as reconciliation, which allows Republicans to pass legislation with a simple majority. But in the meantime, The Audubon’s Andrew Del-Colle says that number is “highly misleading,” and explains that drilling on 2,000 acres actually represents a threat to over 7,900 acres of pristine wilderness when you factor in the infrastructure that would accompany it.

We’ve referred to the bill as “unpopular,” and for good reason: At FiveThirtyEight, Harry Enten writes that the polls show that the public likes the GOP’s tax cuts less than past tax hikes. 

Meanwhile –> Negotiations have been underway to pass a short-term spending bill to keep the government open through the end of the year, but now Politico reports that “Donald Trump and congressional GOP leaders are daring Democrats to shut down the government over immigration rather than back a plan to extend funding into January.” Democrats have signalled that they won’t support a longer stopgap spending measure unless it includes a provision to save the Dreamers from deportation.

A reckoning ahead? –> Andrew Harris reports for Bloomberg that “23 Trump businesses including his Mar-a-Lago Club must retain records after they receive subpoenas from the attorneys general in Maryland and the District of Columbia as part of a lawsuit accusing the president of profiting from his office.”

Prison-to-Senate pipeline? –> “Fresh off a one-year stint in a federal prison for conspiring to commit mine-safety violations in the run-up to the deadliest mining disaster in decades,” disgraced Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship filed paperwork on Wednesday to run in next year’s West Virginia Republican Senate primary. Tim Murphy at Mother Jones has more at the link, and we’d also recommend Murphy’s excellent 2015 profile of Blankenship if you’re not familiar with his background.

“Questions of competency” –> Donald Trump had quite a morning yesterday. We mentioned that he retweeted some inflammatory videos about Muslims from a fringe-right-winger in the UK. At least one of them turned out to be fake. And later in the morning he accused an MSNBC host of murder. Stephen Collinson reports for CNN that all of this “is raising new questions about his temperament, his judgment and his understanding of the resonance of his global voice and the gravity of his role with a wild sequence of insults, inflammatory tweets and bizarre comments.”

And Mike Allen reports for Axios that “White House officials expect Trump to be even more outrageous and cocksure in coming months…. Officials tell us Trump seems more self-assured, more prone to confidently indulging wild conspiracies and fantasies, more quick-triggered to fight than he was during the Wild West of the first 100 days in office.” He notes that Congressional Republicans are doing nothing to rein in his behavior, and “no one who matters is doing anything but egging him on.”

On live TV –> When his conviction for war crimes in Bosnia was upheld at The Hague on Wednesday, former Croatian army chief Slobodan Praljak “drank from a small bottle [of poison] and yelled ‘I am not a war criminal, I oppose this conviction.'” He later died at a nearby hospital.  Alan McGuinness has more at Sky News. 

New arms race? –> Isaac Arnsdorf reports for ProPublica that “the Trump administration is holding talks on providing nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia — a move that critics say could upend decades of US policy and lead to an arms race in the Middle East.” This follows “an intense and secretive lobbying push involving Michael Flynn, Tom Barrack, Rick Gates and even Iran-Contra figure Robert McFarlane.”

A new boundary between lower-income people and those who are relatively affluent” –> Jim Dwyer reports for The New York Times that “the piston of mass transit drives the simultaneous creation of tremendous wealth and grinding hardship in New York. The distance between those two can be measured by the length of a morning’s commute.” He cites a new study which finds that “758,000 New York City residents now travel more than an hour each way to work, most of them to jobs that pay less than $35,000 per year,” as well as additional data showing that “black New Yorkers’ trips to work are 25 percent longer than whites, and Hispanics, 12 percent longer than whites.”

A quiet coup? –> A story that got relatively little attention when it was reported a few months back was the White House’s penchant for putting people who appeared to be unqualified for the job or had controversial pasts in charge of government agencies on a “temporary basis” in order to circumvent the confirmation process. Now David Dayen reports for The Intercept that, “across the government, acting directors who were installed without Senate approval are quietly dropping the “acting” title from their name, suggesting they have every intention of overstaying their legal welcome.”

Hacking? –> “Staffers for Senate Republicans’ campaign arm seized information on more than 200,000 donors from the House GOP campaign committee over several months this year by breaking into its computer system,” report Kevin Robillard and Elena Schneider for Politico.

Child Abuse –> Ben Hattem, in an investigation for Politico and The Investigative Fund, reveals that the federal government has consistently turned a blind eye to reports of abusive punishments meted out to children with special needs in America’s schools. Hattem adds that “advocates fear that an already broken system will only get worse under the new administration of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, a longtime champion of charter schools, which depend on public tax dollars but often don’t answer to local school boards.”

Did Dems blow their chance at the high road? –> At the Cook Political Report, Amy Walters argues that Democrats had an opportunity to rise to the occasion of this “watershed moment” by forcefully denouncing those accused of sexual misconduct in their own ranks, but have instead been “tone deaf” in their response. She takes particular aim at the idea that “kicking” these allegations to Congressional ethics investigations is sufficient: “With approval ratings of Congress at close to zero percent, why would any normal person trust the findings of a congressional committee investigating one of its peers?”

In other #MeToo news, former Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor claims to be the victim of a moral panic, and says he may leave the country “in order to walk around in public and not feel accusing glances.” Neal Justin has more at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, CNN has fired senior producer Teddy Davis, who helmed Jake Tapper’s show, State of the Union, over multiple claims of inappropriate behavior. “In response to news of Davis’ firing, Tapper tweeted that he was ‘fully supportive’ of CNN’s decision.”

And Rosa Brooks writes at Foreign Policy about the pervasiveness of sexual discrimination, and worse, in the national security community. After debating whether to sign a letter about the subject from a number of prominent women in the field because she hadn’t been the victim of any egregious abuses, she writes that she “started to remember some experiences I had conveniently forgotten about — experiences I had simply edited out of my own narrative.”

Holiday travel is always fun –> A computer glitch caused American Airlines to give most of their pilots time off during the week before Christmas, and now they lack staff for some 15,000 flights during what is always a crowded travel week. According to Bloomberg, the airline is offering pilots bonuses for cancelling whatever plans they made, and hope to have it all worked out before any services is actually affected.

Daily Reads was compiled by BillMoyers.com staff and edited by Kristin Miller.

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