On Trump’s Thanksgiving menu: Grievances and calls for gratitude — for him

This Thanksgiving, President Trump doesn’t seem to be thankful for very much — and seems frustrated that Americans aren’t expressing more gratitude for him.

At a time when many reflect on the blessings in their lives and help those in need, the president has thanked himself for the booming stock market and promised to cut welfare programs. He has demanded more credit for the release of three college basketball players who were arrested for allegedly shoplifting in China — tweeting Wednesday that “IT WAS ME” who got them out — and called the father of one of the players an “ungrateful fool.” He also revived the controversy over football players who kneel during the national anthem to protest racial inequality and sought to cast doubt on the women who have accused Senate candidate Roy Moore of preying on them when they were teenagers.

The holiday week, in other words, serves as a reminder that Trump doesn’t take a break from airing his grievances — not even in the days leading up to Thanksgiving. As he tweeted in 2013: “Happy Thanksgiving to all — even the haters and losers!”

Of course, that’s why many of his supporters adore him. They love that he doesn’t waste time uttering flowery holiday sentiments pulled from greeting cards and instead speaks his mind without any filter, or a spell-checker.

But ahead of Thanksgiving — the all-American celebration of gratitude, unity and family — the president’s attacks and provocations may remind some Americans of that one troublemaking uncle they will soon have to face.

Trump has yet to participate in another presidential Thanksgiving tradition: volunteering at a food pantry, helping serve meals to the homeless or visiting members of the military.

On Thanksgiving Day or in the days leading up to it, Barack Obama and his family would volunteer at a food bank or help serve a hot meal to the homeless. George W. Bush made a surprise visit to Baghdad on Thanksgiving in 2003 to have dinner with troops serving there. During Bill Clinton’s first Thanksgiving in the White House in 1993, he and his family helped prepare dinner for the homeless at a church in Washington.

Such events are often viewed as nothing more than photo ops and logistical nightmares for organizers. But as Trump spent Wednesday firing off angry tweets from what he calls “the winter White House” and then retreating to one of his private golf courses, social media platforms filled with photos and remembrances of how previous presidents spent this time of year.

(Excerpted from Johnson, Washington Post 11/23/17)

Education Dept. wants to narrow civil rights work in schools

The Education Department wants to narrow the scope of civil rights investigations at schools, focusing on individual complaints rather than systemic problems, according to a document obtained by The Associated Press.

Under the Obama administration, when a student complained of discrimination in a particular class or school, the education agency would examine the case but also look at whether the incident was part of a broader, systemic problem that needed to be fixed.

Proposed revisions to the department’s civil rights procedures, distributed last week among civil rights officials at the department, remove the word “systemic” from the guidelines.

The changes would also allow schools a greater say in how a case is handled, compared with the student or parent who filed the complaint, and would eliminate the appeals process.

The document is only a draft; a final version is expected to be published next year after suggestions and proposals from staff.

Seth Galanter, former principal deputy assistant secretary for human rights in Obama’s Education Department, criticized the proposed revisions, saying the civil rights office’s key mission is to identify and solve systemic problems.

Galanter gave an example of a complaint stemming from a white and a minority student getting into a fight, but the minority student being disciplined more harshly than the white student. Under the previous procedure, OCR would examine that particular case but also look at whether that teacher, school or school district was engaging in other similar discriminatory behavior.

“It’s a very surface level fix that certainly will make that particular parent happy, but isn’t fulfilling OCR’s obligation,” Galanter said. “OCR is underfunded and understaffed and in order to get through all the complaints in some kind of timely manner, staff is being forced to give them superficial treatment.”

Another proposed revision would allow the school or school district to negotiate a resolution agreement with the agency before any findings are released to the parent in a letter. Galanter said that was cause for concern because the parent was being kept in the dark.

“The letter may still reach the same result, but it may be completely diluted of any fact that would inform the parent and the community about what’s going on in the school,” Galanter said.

Miriam Rollin, director of the National Center for Youth Law, said those changes, coupled with eliminating the appeals process, were bad news for students.

“School deficits will be held accountable less for violations and parents will have less opportunity to get justice,” Rollin said.

(Excerpted from Associated Press 11/22/17 )

House GOP tax plan would fall $1.3 trillion short of paying for itself, study finds

The House Republican tax plan would add $1.3 trillion to the national debt over a decade, even after accounting for new economic growth from the bill, according to a nonpartisan study released Monday.

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center is the third outside group to conclude that the bill would add to the deficit, contradicting Republicans’ claim that the bill would effectively pay for itself via a surge in economic growth.

The Tax Policy Center found that the economic growth the bill would create would add $169 billion in additional tax revenue over the next decade. But that would be far outweighed by $1.436 trillion in revenue losses over the decade due to the bill’s tax cuts, leaving the bill with a net addition to the deficit of $1.266 trillion.

The Tax Policy Center found that the House Republican tax-cut package would add 0.6 percent to U.S. gross domestic product in 2018 but just 0.3 percent in 2027.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has said the GOP tax plan would add roughly $2.5 trillion in new revenue over 10 years, far surpassing the $169 billion projected by the Tax Policy Center. President Trump has said the tax plan could lead to a loss in revenue in the near term but that a jolt of economic growth in the future would more than recoup the losses.

But, so far, most prominent outside groups have published findings similar to the Tax Policy Center’s, projecting that the tax-cut plan would add large amounts to the debt, even when accounting for economic growth.

The Tax Policy Center concluded that the bill would reduce average tax rates for many households in the first few years, boosting their income and leading to more spending.

“These economic benefits would be modest because most tax reductions would accrue to high-income households, who spend a smaller share of any increases in after-tax income than lower-income households,” the Tax Policy Center said.

The report also said that the economic impact of the tax cuts could be greater if the economy were in a recession, but unemployment is already very low and the economy has shown signs of growing at a faster clip without the tax cuts.

The Penn Wharton Budget Model at the University of Pennsylvania found that the House GOP tax bill would grow the economy by between 0.4 percent and 0.9 percent over 10 years but still lead to a loss in revenue of between $1.470 trillion and $1.697 trillion.

And the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation, which has been broadly supportive of the bill, estimated that the House GOP tax bill would cut revenue by close to $2 trillion, but then raise revenue by 3.5 percent over 10 years, adding back $908 billion in revenue. On net, the Tax Foundation found, the bill would add roughly $1 trillion to the debt.

These outside analyses are important because, so far, the nonpartisan government budget watchdogs have not issued their own analysis that takes into account the macroeconomic impact of the GOP tax plans.

(Excerpted from Washington Post 11/20/17

Leading Trump Census pick causes alarm

he Trump administration is leaning toward naming Thomas Brunell, a Texas professor with no government experience, to the top operational job at the U.S. Census Bureau, according to two people who have been briefed on the bureau’s plans.

Brunell, a political science professor, has testified more than half a dozen times on behalf of Republican efforts to redraw congressional districts, and is the author of a 2008 book titled “Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections Are Bad for America.”

The choice would mark the administration’s first major effort to shape the 2020 census, the nationwide count that determines which states lose and gain electoral votes and seats in the House of Representatives.

The fate of the census under President Donald Trump has been closely watched by voting-rights advocates worried that the administration — which has already made unsupported claims about voter fraud — might nudge it in directions that over- or undercount some Americans. Subtle bureaucratic choices in the wording and administration of the census can have huge consequences for who is counted, and how it shifts American voting districts.

The pick would break with the long-standing precedent of choosing a nonpolitical government official as deputy director of the U.S. Census Bureau. The job has typically been held by a career civil servant with a background in statistics. It does not require Senate confirmation, so Congress would have no power to block the hire.

“If true, it signals an effort by the administration to politicize the census,” said Terri Ann Lowenthal, former co-director of the Census Project, an organization that tracks the census. “It’s very troubling.”

Brunell’s background makes him an unusual choice for the deputy director role. Based on his published curriculum vitae, he appears to have little experience in federal statistics or at managing a big organization, both characteristics that census-watchers believe are vital for the job. In comparison, Potok, his predecessor, spent most of her career at the Census Bureau.

“It’s quite a difference going from an academic setting to the Census Bureau,” said a person who has worked with Brunell, who asked for anonymity to speak freely about him. “I don’t think he’s done the administrative work that would be needed to be at a high level in a large organization like the Census Bureau.”

(Excerpted from Politico 11/21/17)

GOP Tax Bill Is The End Of All Economic Sanity In Washington

There’s no economic justification whatsoever for a tax cut at this time. U.S. GDP is growing, unemployment is close to 4 percent (below what is commonly considered “full employment“), corporate profits are at record levels and stock markets are soaring. It makes no sense to add any federal government-induced stimulus to all this private sector-caused economic activity, let alone a tax cut as big as this one.

This is actually the ideal time for Washington to be doing the opposite.  But by damning the economic torpedoes and moving full-speed ahead, House and Senate Republicans and the Trump White House are setting up the U.S. for the modern-day analog of the inflation-producing guns-and-butter economic policy of the Vietnam era. The GOP tax bill will increase the federal deficit by $2 trillion or more over the next decade (the official estimates of $1.5 trillion hide the real amount with a witches brew of gimmicks and outright lies) that, unless all the rules have changed, is virtually certain to result in inflation and much higher interest rates than would otherwise occur.

The GOP’s insanity is compounded by its moving ahead without having any idea of what this policy will actually do to the economy.The debates in the Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees and on the House floor all took place before the Congressional Budget Office’s analysis and, if it really exists, the constantly-promised-but-never-seen report from the Treasury on the economics of this tax bill.

Meanwhile, Congress has ignored other estimates like this one from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School showing that the tax bill won’t do what the GOP is promising.

In other words, the GOP tax bill may be enacted without anyone who votes for it having any understanding of the damage it could do to the economy.

The real economic insanity of the GOP’s tax bill will be felt in future years. Consider the following.

  • The $1 trillion a year budget deficit will not be the result of cyclical changes that will be reversed when the economy improves. These will be permanent structural deficit increases.
  • The tax hikes that will be needed to resolve the structural imbalance between federal spending and revenues will be impossible for political reasons.
  • Whenever the U.S. economy grows more slowly than expected or there’s a downturn, an annual deficit of $2 trillion could easily become the norm.
  • The federal government will have far less ability to respond to economic downturns unless previously unimaginable and politically intolerable deficits, tax increases or spending cuts suddenly become acceptable.
  • Reduce the national debt? As they say in New York, fuhgeddaboudit at least in the next decade.
  • Much more national debt plus rising interest rates means interest on the national debt will be the fastest growing part of the federal budget.
  • Without massive cuts in Social Security, Medicare and the Pentagon, it won’t be possible to reduce federal spending enough to do more than tweak the deficit.
  • Washington’s ability to invest in anything new that will improve the economy (think infrastructure, education and medical research) will be far less given the already-high deficits.
  • Even though the limits to monetary policy became obvious the past few years, the Federal Reserve will be the major economic policy maker in Washington over the next decade.

In other words, if the GOP tax bill is enacted, Congress and the president this year will give up almost all ability to deal with the U.S. economy for at least a decade even when, as almost certainly will.

(Excerpted from Forbes 11/17/17)

The Republican Tax Strategy: Speed, Subterfuge, and Diversion

“It is entirely conceivable that, in two weeks’ time, the Republican Party’s leaders will have largely succeeded in railroading through Congress an unpopular, regressive, and damaging tax reform. That was their plan from the beginning, and so far it has worked out much as they intended. On Thursday, the House, spurred on by Paul Ryan, voted to approve its version of the legislation. Now everything depends on what happens in the Senate.”

“To get their tax plan through this final legislative stretch, the Republicans will try to rely on speed, subterfuge, and diversion. McConnell and Ryan have read the opinion polls. They know that there is widespread opposition to their plan’s major elements, such as its big tax cuts for corporations, unincorporated businesses, and rich people (like the President), or its new limits on popular deductions for mortgage interest and state and local taxes.”

“That explains why the Republicans didn’t hold any hearings in the House, and why they are adopting similar blitzkrieg tactics in the Senate. The G.O.P.’s strategy is to rush this thing through before the other side has time to organize a defense.”

Speaking on Thursday evening, Richard Blumenthal, the senior Democratic senator from Connecticut, said that he didn’t think the bill would pass. But he also said that Democratic activists would need to fight it just as hard as they fought the attempted repeal of Obamacare. That resistance effort lasted months. This battle could well be decided in the next fourteen days.

(Excerpted from Cassidy, The New Yorker 11/17/17)

Billionaires Desperately Need Our Help!

Fortunately, President Trump and the Republicans are coming along with some desperately needed tax relief for billionaires.

Thank God for this lifeline to struggling tycoons. And it’s carefully crafted to focus the benefits on the truly deserving — the affluent who earn their tax breaks with savvy investments in politicians.

For example, eliminating the estate tax would help the roughly 5,500 Americans who now owe this tax each year, one-fifth of 1 percent of all Americans who die annually. Ending the tax would help upstanding people like the Trumps who owe their financial success to brilliant life choices, such as picking the uterus in which they were conceived.

Now it’s fair to complain that the tax plan over all doesn’t give needy billionaires quite as much as they deserve. For example, the top 1 percent receive only a bit more than 25 percent of the total tax cuts in the Senate bill, according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Really? Only 25 times their share of the population? After all those dreary $5,000-a-plate dinners supporting politicians? If politicians had any guts, they’d just slash services for low-income families so as to finance tax breaks for billionaires.

Oh, wait, that’s exactly what’s happening!

Trump understands, for example, that health insurance isn’t all that important for the riffraff. So he and the Senate G.O.P. have again targeted Obamacare, this time by trying to repeal the insurance mandate. The Congressional Budget Office says this will result in 13 million fewer people having health insurance.

But what’s the big deal? The United States already has an infant mortality rate twice that of Austria and South Korea. American women are alreadyfive times as likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth as women in Britain. So who’ll notice if things get a bit worse?

Perhaps that sounds harsh. But the blunt reality is that we risk soul-sucking dependency if we’re always setting kids’ broken arms. Maybe that’s why congressional Republicans haven’t bothered to renew funding for CHIP, the child health insurance program serving almost nine million American kids. Ditto for the maternal and home visiting programs that are the gold standard for breaking cycles of poverty and that also haven’t been renewed. We mustn’t coddle American toddlers.

Congressional Republicans understand that we can’t do everything for everybody. We have to make hard choices. Congress understands that kids are resilient and can look after themselves, so we must focus on the most urgent needs, such as those of hand-to-mouth billionaires.

In fairness, Congress has historically understood this mission. The tax code subsidizes moguls with private jets while the carried interest tax break gives a huge tax discount to striving private equity zillionaires. Meanwhile, a $13 billion annual subsidy for corporate meals and entertainment gives ditch diggers the satisfaction of buying Champagne for financiers.

Our political leaders are so understanding because we appear to have the wealthiest Congress we’ve ever had, with a majority of members now millionaires, so they understand the importance of cutting health insurance for the poor to show support for the crème de la crème.

Granted, the G.O.P. tax plan will add to the deficit, forcing additional borrowing. But if the tax cut passes, automatic “pay as you go” rules may helpfully cut $25 billion from Medicare spending next year, thus saving money on elderly people who are practically dead anyway. If poor kids have to suffer, we may as well make poor seniors suffer as well. That’s called a balanced policy.

More broadly, you have to look at the reason for deficits. Yes, it’s problematic to borrow to pay for, say, higher education or cancer screenings. But what’s the problem with borrowing $1.5 trillion to invest in urgent tax relief for billionaires?

Anyway, at some point down the road we’ll find a way to pay back the debt by cutting a wasteful program for runny-nose kids who aren’t smart enough to hire lobbyists. There must be some kids’ program that still isn’t on the chopping block.

The tax bill underscores a political truth: There’s nothing wrong with redistribution when it’s done right.

(Excerpted from Kristof, New York Times 11/15/17)

Senate tax bill cuts taxes of wealthy and hikes taxes on families earning under $75,000 over a decade

The tax bill Senate Republicans are championing would give large tax cuts to millionaires while raising taxes on American families earning $10,000 to $75,000 over the next decade, according to an analysis released Thursday by the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’ official nonpartisan analysts.

President Trump and Republican lawmakers have been heralding their bill as a win for hard-working Americans, but the JCT report casts serious doubt on that claim. Tax hikes for households earning $10,000 to $30,000 would start in 2021 and grow sharply from there. By the year 2027, Americans earning $30,000 to $75,000 a year would also be forced to pay more in taxes even though people earning over $100,000 continue to get substantial tax cuts.

Most of the hit to the poor and working-class is likely comes from the Senate Republicans’ push to mix health care and tax changes. The decision to include a repeal of the individual mandate would lead to 13 million more uninsured, the Congressional Budget Office has said. Senate Republicans also made most of the individual income tax provisions expire at the end of 2025. Wealthier Americans would still benefit from a permanent cut in the corporate tax rate, which will likely boost the incomes of people who own companies or investments.

According to the JCT, the average tax rate for people working full-time minimum-wage jobs and those earning $20,000 to $30,000 would go from 3.7 percent to 4.2 percent. Meanwhile millionaires’ average tax rate would fall from 32.4 percent to 30.9 percent.

(Excerpted from Washington Post 11/15/17)

CBO: Tax Plan Could Cut Medicare By $25 Billion

Some members are concerned the GOP tax overhaul would lead to mandatory multi-billion dollar cuts to programs such as Medicare.

There’s not enough mandatory spending up for grabs under current law to execute the full automatic, across-the-board spending cuts to entitlement programs that would be triggered if Republicans push through deficit-increasing tax cuts by year’s end.

That was the message from the Congressional Budget Office Tuesday in a report to House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md. CBO calculated if the tax package were to add up to $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years as currently expected, automatic cuts required under the 2010 pay-as-you-go law would amount to $136 billion in fiscal 2018.

The spending cuts, known as a sequester, would be triggered if the tax cuts added to the deficit and lawmakers didn’t vote to “wipe the scorecard clean,” as lawmakers have characterized their action to waive the so-called pay-go law in previous years.

Otherwise, the law requires the Office of Management and Budget to make across-the-board cuts to nonexempt mandatory spending programs if action during a congressional session contributes to the deficit over the five- or 10-year budget window, according to OMB’s annual budget scorecard.

CBO said if lawmakers enacted tax cuts that added $1.5 trillion to the deficit by years’ end, by its calculation, “OMB would be required to issue a sequestration order within 15 days of the end of the session of Congress to reduce spending in fiscal year 2018 by the resultant total of $136 billion.”

Medicare, the largest nonexempt mandatory program, would be cut $25 billion since cuts to the seniors’ health insurance program are limited to 4 percent in any fiscal year under the law. That would leave $111 billion in other nonexempt cuts, affecting programs such as agricultural subsidies, state workforce development grants for individuals with disabilities, and even some mandatory funding streams for the immigration enforcement and border protection agencies.

(Excerpted from Roll Call 11/14/17)

Trump Shatters Longstanding Norms by Pressing for Clinton Investigation

 President Trump did not need to send a memo or telephone his attorney general to make his desires known. He broadcast them for all the world to see on Twitter. The instruction was clear: The Justice Department should investigate his defeated opponent from last year’s campaign.

However they were delivered, Mr. Trump’s demands have ricocheted through the halls of the Justice Department, where Attorney General Jeff Sessions has now ordered career prosecutors to evaluate various accusations against Hillary Clinton and report back on whether a special counsel should be appointed to investigate her.

Mr. Sessions has made no decision, and in soliciting the assessment of department lawyers, he may be seeking a way out of the bind his boss has put him in by effectively putting the matter in the hands of professionals who were not politically appointed. But if he or his deputy authorizes a new investigation of Mrs. Clinton, it would shatter norms established after Watergate that are intended to prevent presidents from using law enforcement agencies against political rivals.

The request alone was enough to trigger a political backlash, as critics of Mr. Trump quickly decried what they called “banana republic” politics of retribution, akin to autocratic backwater nations where election losers are jailed by winners.

“You can be disappointed, but don’t be surprised,” said Karen Dunn, a former prosecutor and White House lawyer under President Barack Obamawho advised Mrs. Clinton during her campaign against Mr. Trump. “This is exactly what he said he would do: use taxpayer resources to pursue political rivals.”

Democrats still vividly recall Mr. Trump on the campaign trail vowing to prosecute Mrs. Clinton if he won. “It was alarming enough to chant ‘lock her up’ at a campaign rally,” said Brian Fallon, who was Mrs. Clinton’s campaign spokesman. “It is another thing entirely to try to weaponize the Justice Department in order to actually carry it out.”

(Excerpted from New York Times 11/14/17)