Blog No. 159. Republicans: Adrift or a Rift?


Blog No. 158 paid tribute to the eloquent addresses by John McCain and George W. Bush, and they were followed this week by a moving testament from Senator Jeff Flake. All three speeches depicted in gripping terms the serious failings of the Trump presidency. McCain and Bush called out the abandonment of American ideals at home and abroad while Flake, though not mentioning Trump by name, spoke directly of his character and behavior:

Reckless, outrageous, and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as “telling it like it is,” when it is actually just reckless, outrageous, and undignified. And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else: It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength — because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit, and weakness.

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If I have been critical, it is not because I relish criticizing the behavior of the president of the United States. If I have been critical, it is because I believe that it is my obligation to do so, as a matter of duty and conscience. The notion that one should stay silent as the norms and values that keep America strong are undermined and as the alliances and agreements that ensure the stability of the entire world are routinely threatened by the level of thought that goes into 140 characters – the notion that one should say and do nothing in the face of such mercurial behavior is ahistoric and, I believe, profoundly misguided.

Blog No. 158 encouraged readers to watch in full the speeches of John McCain and George W. Bush and provided links to them. Flake’s speech is no less worthy of your attention and the video can be found here and the text here.

After Flake’s speech, there was a good deal of discussion in the media assessing the “rift” in the Republican Party. For example, the Wall Street Journal headlined “Rift Widens Within GOP in Battle for Control of Party.” On the other hand, the Los Angeles Times took a calmer view in “What rift? Republicans in Congress try to push forward on priorities despite acrimony.” While no one in Congress stepped forward to challenge  the accuracy of Flake’s assessment, there was little by way of endorsement. One exception was Charlie Dent, an experienced and influential Congressman from Pennsylvania: “I think Jeff Flake is on point. And I have said to my colleagues it’s important that people like Senator Flake, myself, and Bob Corker speak up, that we should bring voice to some of these issues.” Dent rejected a suggestion that he no longer belonged in the Republican Party:

I’m a member of the party, a proud member of the party of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. And I believe  we have an obligation as Republican members of Congress to stand up for this party of individual liberty that believes in a strong national defense and limited role of government, and we shouldn’t shy away from that.

But there is a battle going on for the soul of the Republican Party. I mean, I am concerned — and this is true of both parties right now, by the way,  and there are these elements of isolationism, nativism, protectionism that rear their heads in both parties right now.

The party that Dent describes is a party that would be proud to re-join. But will that ever be possible? Dent himself had previously announced his own plans to retire, and numerous observers have noted that the only Republicans to speak out against Trump and his policies are retired or on the way to retirement. It is a fair point, and despite the stature of Trump’s critics, it might be more accurate at this stage to refer to their collective protests as a “riftlet.” Will that riftlet ripen into a genuine rift (will the insurgency become a civil war)? It is hard to say, but at this point, the only thing worse for the Party than a rift would be the failure to have one, leaving it adrift on the Trumpian seas.  But if there is to be the true battle for the soul of the Republican Party Dent suggests, it is a battle that can only be won with brave and hard work and the participation of elected Republicans who still have skin in the game.

Congressional Republicans who are silent or, in Flake’s apt term “complicit,” may be intimidated by fear of their own constituents. Although the most recent Fox News poll shows Trump’s approval rating reaching a new low of 38%, he retained an approval rating of 83% (59% strongly and 24% somewhat) among Republicans. Moreover, some have suggested that Republicans are loath to cross Trump lest they jeopardize their own legislative agenda. Exhibit A in that argument is the Republican bill for tax reform, still being puzzled out behind closed doors but supposedly soon to be released. (New York Times, October 25, “Tax Cuts Are the Glue Holding a Fractured Republican Party Together.”) Whatever the Republican bill turns out to look like when exposed to sunlight, it is likely that passage will remain doubtful and the benefit to the economy even more so. In short, for those who see it as the prime reason for turning a blind eye to Trump’s egregious conduct, there is a concise response: It ain’t worth it. Failing to stand up to Trump leaves the Republican leadership with moral authority approximating that of the Vichy government of World War II.

On Thursday, the House narrowly passed the budget previously passed by the Senate. Through the mysterious process of “reconciliation,” this now paves the way for passage of a tax  bill with only a majority vote rather than the 60 votes required to break a filibuster as in the case of other bills. The budget, however, does require that the bill not increase the federal deficit by more than $1.5 trillion over the next decade. That $1.5 trillion ceiling drew the following comments from the respected Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget:

Republicans in Congress laid out two visions in two budgets for our fiscal future, and today, they choose the path of gimmicks, debt, and absolutely zero fiscal restraint over the one of responsibility and balance.
While the original House budget balanced on paper and offered some real savings, the Senate’s version accepted today by the House fails to reach balance, enacts a pathetic $1 billion in spending cuts out of a possible $47 trillion, and allows for $1.5 trillion to be added to the national debt.
Make no mistake – this is a defining moment for the Republican party. After years of passing balanced budgets and calling for fiscal responsibility, the GOP is now on-the-record as supporting trillions in new debt for the sake of tax cuts over tax reform and failing to act on the pressing need to reform our largest entitlement programs.
Although Congress just took a radical detour, there is still time to reverse course. As the legislative process unfolds, we urge members of Congress to produce legislation that does not add to our already near-record high national debt, and to reject the use of gimmicks, including rosy economic growth assumptions, that hide its true cost.
Tax cuts do not pay for themselves; they can create growth, but in the amount of tenths of percentage points, not whole percentage points. And they certainly cannot fill in trillions in lost revenue. Relying on growth projections that no independent forecaster says will happen isn’t the way to do tax reform. Lawmakers should instead return to the principle of fiscal responsibility by enacting pro-growth tax reform that doesn’t add to the debt.

The Committee is a bi-partisan organization and a lineal descendant of the Simpson-Bowles Commission whose valiant efforts at fiscal reform went for naught but still provide a lodestar for budgetary responsibility. Any readers who are not familiar with the Committee and its work are urged to visit its website.

It remains to be seen how the Republicans will fit within even  the $1.5 trillion of flexibility they have awarded themselves. As reported in Politico:

$4 trillion budget hole: The Republican budget allows them to cut taxes by $1.5 trillion, which sounds like a lot — except compared to all the promises they’ve made. Their plans to cut taxes on businesses and individuals would cost some $5.5 trillion, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. That means they have to find $4 trillion in offsetting savings to fit their tax plan into the budget. That’s more in tax increases and other savings than Congress has approved in the past quarter-century combined.

Assuming that the $4 Billion gap could somehow be  filled, it remains quite unclear just how that might be accomplished. As this is written, there are reports in the media of ongoing debates over a variety of controversial issues such as the deduction for state and local taxes, a cap on contributions to 401(k) plans, preservation of the estate tax and so on. The debates are being conducted solely among Republicans because, in contrast to the process that produced the Tax Reform Act of 1986, bi-partisan negotiation and drafting was considered a non-starter. If the product that emerges this time is not one that heavily favors the wealthy, it will come as a surprise to many. Readers of will not be burdened with an attempt to analyze this sausage in the making, but will hear further after it actually appears.

2 thoughts on “Blog No. 159. Republicans: Adrift or a Rift?

  • There is no reason to believe that craven Republican congressmen will stand up to Donald Trump or that tax breaks for the wealthy will help grow the U.S. economy.

    Most of Trump’s Senate Republican critics will not seek re-election. But they still have the votes to block ill-considered tax legislation. Their votes can also help bring down the Party of Trump.

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