This is where you can read our posts, listed chronologically. We hope you find them thought-provoking, informative and/or in some other way worthwhile reading.
This is where you can read our posts, listed chronologically. We hope you find them thought-provoking, informative and/or in some other way worthwhile reading.
To get an idea of how much more corrosive American politics are than they were a generation ago, look no further than William Barr.
He is the nominee for attorney general, a position he previously has held. At the time, after his appointment by President George H.W. Bush, he sat for questions at a confirmation hearing that the Los Angeles Times at the time described as “unusually placid.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee then voted unanimously to advance the nomination, and the full Senate confirmed him on a voice vote.
A voice vote is not likely this time around.
Not that Barr gave Senate Democrats much reason to oppose him on Tuesday. He offered many assurances about the only issue that seems to matter – the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Barr told senators that Mueller is a friend of his and that the probe is not a “witch hunt.” He added that President Donald Trump has not asked him to shut down the investigation.
“Has anybody in the Western Hemisphere made that suggestion to you?” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) asked at one point.
Barr chuckled, as he answered, “Absolutely not.”
Barr told Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) that a president can fire U.S. attorneys, but he added, “I would not allow a U.S. attorney to be fired for the purpose of stopping an investigation.”
In response to a question from Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) about his “breaking point,” Barr said, “I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong – by anybody, whether it be editorial boards or Congress or the president.”
And when Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) asked what would prompt him to fire Mueller, Barr responded that the special counsel could be dismissed for “good cause” and no other reason.
“Frankly, it’s unimaginable to me that Bob would ever do anything that gave rise to ‘good cause,’” he said.
With Republicans in control of the Senate, and the filibuster unavailable to Democrats, it seems likely Barr will become the next attorney general. But don’t expect unanimity.
Brexit Disaster. The British Parliament on Tuesday handed Prime Minister Theresa May a stunning rebuke on her plant to exit the European Union.
The 432-202 vote against the so-called “Brexit” plan was the biggest defeat for a prime minister in the history of the House of Commons.
What comes next is hard to predict. May faces a “no confidence” vote that could end her tenure at 10 Downing Street and trigger a new election.
Even if she survives that vote, which most analysts consider likely, the way forward will be bumpy. May’s options are limited. She could call for new elections, herself. She could try to persuade the European Union to give her more time to push her plan through Parliament or negotiate a new deal.
Britain is supposed to leave on March 29. If it leaves without a set of rules directing a smooth breakup, many experts predict a cataclysmic result – perhaps as many as a million Britons losing their jobs.
The final option, one favored by globalists on both sides of the English Channel, is a do-over. Britain could call for another Brexit referendum and hope for a different outcome.
If Britain were to vote narrowly to remain as part of the European bloc, it is likely that millions of British citizens – whose disaffection with representatives making decisions in far-away capitals led to Brexit in the first place – would come to believe they have no control over the events that shape their lives.
Disenchantment with democracy would be the unavoidable result.
Shutdown shenanigans. The partial government shutdown, already the longest on record, churns along with no end in sight.
How far apart are the parties? Trump invited Democratic leaders to lunch at the White House on Tuesday, and none even bothered to show up.
Virtually everyone believes the impasse is having an economic impact, and that the consequences will grow more dire. The White House warns that every week of the shutdown will shave a tenth of a percent off of economic growth.
J.P. Morgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon told reporters Tuesday that a prolonged shutdown could reduce economic growth to zero for the first quarter.
How will this end? It certainly doesn’t look like Trump will cave on his desire for a border wall, which triggered the shutdown. And congressional Democrats think they have the political high ground.
The guess here is that the shutdown drags on until Senate Republicans break, or at least enough Senate Republicans to allow Democrats to pass a funding bill on their terms, over a presidential veto.
That is not likely to come anytime soon. But eventually, regular Americans will face real pain, and polls suggest they won’t blame the Democrats. A Reuters-Ipsos poll suggests nearly 4 in 10 adults have been personally affected or know someone who has. The same poll suggests they blamed Trump (51 percent) or congressional Republicans (6 percent) over Democrats in Congress (34 percent).
A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday shows 63 percent favor the Democratic plan for reopening the parts of the government that do not deal with border security. The same share of voters oppose trying to fund the wall through the shutdown.
Trump and Republicans get the blame from 56 percent of voters, while just 36 percent blame Democrats.
An earlier Washington Post-ABC News poll also found more blamed Republicans than Democrats for the standoff.
Over the holidays, my family witnessed the march of artificial intelligence in the workplace first hand.
Stopping twice on a road trip at McDonald’s restaurants, my wife saw the chain’s new self-ordering kiosks in newly remodeled buildings. It’s not exactly the Terminator, but the appearance of the machines has caused angst among some workers and their advocates that this is the first step toward replacing them.
From my wife’s observations, the change resulted in fewer workers. One employee was helping people operate the machines, and another employee was handling cash transactions and filling orders.
For what it’s worth, McDonald’s said in 2017 that the new technology going into 2,500 stores would not cost employees their jobs, only rearrange them. The company told Business Insider that some workers would be reassigned to back-of-the-restaurant positions and customer service roles.
But it’s easy to imagine that if the kiosks prove successful, they will lead to fewer workers over time, even if no one gets laid off. That seems to be the point of the technology, after all.
And according to many experts, it is not just fast-food workers who should be worried. Tech venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee, author of “AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order,” predicted Sunday on “60 Minutes” that artificial intelligence would displace roughly 40 percent of the world’s jobs in the next 15 years or so.
“I believe it’s going to change the world more than anything in the history of mankind – more than electricity,” he said.
He added, “AI will increasingly replace repetitive jobs, not just for blue-collar work, but a lot of white-collar work.”
But major technological changes have occurred in the past, dating to the industrial revolution, without a net elimination in jobs. One of the major benefits of new technology has been to make the remaining workers far more productive – allowing them to earn more money. And the increased productivity leads to new jobs elsewhere in the economy.
As a Forbes magazine column put it: “Automation lowers the cost to consumers of accessing a market, so more people can afford to buy in. Even though there are fewer jobs supporting the same amount of revenue as before, there are net the same or more jobs because consumers are buying more – there is more overall revenue. And most of those jobs are higher-skilled and pay better, both because individual productivity is raised, thanks to the help of automation, but also because the automation itself creates higher-skill jobs to support the manufacture and maintenance of that automation.”
The low-wage service sector has seen notoriously poor productivity. That is a big reason why workers in the industry have seen flat wages.
Hudson Riehle, head of the research and knowledge group at the National Restaurant Association, noted a few years ago that restaurants average $84,000 in sales per worker. That compares with $304,000 per year for each grocery store employee and $855,000 for each gas station employee.
Integrating the productivity-enhancing technology won’t be easy, however. Some customers undoubtedly will resist the change, forcing restaurants to keep more employees than they might like. And technology will demand more of employees – a higher level of skill in using the devices and helping customers do so, as well as taking on other tasks.
Westry Williams, who was working at a McDonald’s in Florida’s Broward County, told Bloomberg last year that he was leaving the restaurant for a job at Checkers.
“It’s more stressful now,” he said. “When we mess up a little bit because we’re getting used to something new, we get yelled at.”
The industry already had high turnover. According to Bloomberg, the turnover rate is 150 percent – the highest since an industry tracker began measuring it in 1995. That means that a restaurant with a staff of 20 people could expect to have those positions filled by a total of 50 different workers through the course a year.
But if self-serve kiosks make more productive workers out of the employees who remain, it could be their best bet for higher wages in the coming years.
Democrats have fought President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall, in part, on grounds that it would be too expensive.
Yet, the partial government shutdown that the dispute triggered now threatens to cost more than the entire price tag of Trump’s fiscal year 2019 funding request for the wall.
That estimate comes courtesy of S&P Global Ratings, first reported by CNBC. The firm calculated that the cost to the economy from the shutdown hit $3.6 billion on Friday. That drag will exceed $6 billion if the shutdown lasts another two weeks. That is more than the $5.7 billion funding request for the wall for fiscal year 2019.
Democrats have offered a number of reasons for opposing the wall. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called the idea “immoral,” even though plenty of prominent Democrats have voted for border barriers in the past, and even though Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) last year offered to fund the wall in exchange for amnesty for young adult illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children.
Critics also claim a wall would not work, even though border barriers have proven effective in the United States and other countries.
A third prominent argument has been that it simply costs too much, even though $5.6 billion represents about 0.1 percent of total federal spending in a year.
S&P Global based its estimate on a measurement of lost productivity by furloughed federal workers and a decline in income for contractors that sell goods and services to the federal government.
America now is in unchartered territory, with the shutdown length beating the prior record set in the 1990s during a dispute between then-President Bill Clinton and congressional Republicans.
Other experts also have pointed to economic losses resulting from the shutdown. CNBC reported that a shutdown in 2013, which lasted 16 days, cut economic growth by 0.4 percent in the fourth quarter by 0.4 percentage points. J.P Morgan and Bank of America Merrill Lynch both reduced their economic growth forecasts for the first three months of the year because of the shutdown.
To the extent that this budget impasse is really just about money, one has to ask at what point does the damage to the economy outweigh fiscal concerns about the expense of a wall.
Arguments over President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall have ranged from the silly – walls don’t work (despite evidence to the contrary) – to the bizarre – they are immoral (even though that claim comes from politicians who have voted for fencing).
The most interesting question is whether the wall is too costly.
To answer that question, a Washington think tank this week crunched the numbers and calculated that a wall would have to stop only a small fraction of illegal border crossings to be cost-effective.
This week’s report by the Center for Immigration Studies, an update of a study it released in 2017 examining a proposed wall costing $12 billion to $15 billion, looks at the $5 billion Trump has requested for fiscal year 2019.
At that price tag, according to the report, the wall would have to prevent about 60,000 illegal crossings – or 3 percent to 4 percent of the expected total over the next decade – to save taxpayers at all levels of government as much money as the wall would cost.
Steven Camarota, director of research at the think tank, bases the number on the estimated cost to taxpayers of each illegal immigrant who makes it into the United States across the southwest border. He approximates that cost using fiscal estimates developed by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
Illegal immigrants tend to have high school diplomas or less. As with Americans of that educational profile, the jobs those migrants get, on average, pay less than they use in government services. The net lifetime cost, after accounting for taxes paid, is $74,722 per illegal crosser. Adjusted to 2018 dollars, that figure is $82,191.
That means for every illegal immigrant stopped by a wall, taxpayers at the federal and state levels combined save roughly $82,191. Breaking even on a $5 billion wall would require the barrier to prevent roughly 60,000 illegal immigrants.
Much of the burden of illegal immigrants falls to state and local governments for basic services, such as schools, roads and police protection. So, stopping only 4 percent of attempted border crossers would not allow the federal government – where the entire cost of the barrier would fall – to break even.
Many experts believe that for every illegal immigrant apprehended, one makes it into the interior of the country. Camarota uses a more conservative estimate by the Institute for Defense Analyses that there are between 1.95 and 2.28 apprehensions for every successful crossing. That would translate to about 170,000 to 200,000 successful crossings in fiscal year 2018 and 1.7 million to 2 million over the next decade if the current number of attempts holds steady.
If the number of foreigners attempting to sneak across the border were to decline over the next decade, the success rate would have to be higher than 3 percent or 4 percent to hit the break-even mark. The same is true if the fiscal cost of each illegal immigrant is less than projected.
If the fiscal cost of each migrant is half of the projected figure and the number of attempts over the next decade is half of what the rate was in 2018, a wall would have to stop 12 percent to 14 percent of border crossings to pay for itself, according to the report.
“But the range of reasonable assumptions indicates that a wall would not have to come close to being anywhere near 100 percent effective to pay for itself,” Camarota writes. “This would be true even if a wall cost twice as much. A wall that is only partially effective could pay for itself by offsetting the cost that otherwise successful illegal crossers would create.”
Camarota stresses that his analysis does not attempt to measure the effectiveness of a wall, although the experience of border barriers in the United States and other countries suggests that they are quite effective at deterring illegal border crossers. The report also notes that a wall would do nothing to deter the hundreds of thousands of people who enter legally and then remain unlawfully after their visas expire.
But other experts have pointed out that it would be harder for foreigners who now sneak across the border to instead come on a visa and overstay. That is because of the cost and requirements of getting the visa in the first place. A high school dropout in Guatemala with no immediate family members in the United States and no job offer is unlikely to qualify for a work or student visa.
USA Today columnist Sally Kohn, previewing President Donald Trump’s prime-time address on immigration, offered nine points against the president’s call for a border wall.
It is a mix of straw-man arguments, logical fallacies and facts that hold more than one interpretation. Kohn argues that illegal border crossings are down; that illegal immigrants do not commit many crimes or terrorist acts; that illegal immigrants come in ways other than walking across the border; that drugs are immune to physical barriers; that we already have fencing; and that the idea is not popular with the American people and some Republican lawmakers.
You can read the whole piece here, but let’s take the arguments one by one.
Argument 1: Illegal border crossings are down. Significantly. Kohn accurately notes that apprehensions along the U.S.-Mexico border have plummeted from 1.6 million in 2000 to fewer than 400,000 in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.
Part of that decline undoubtedly is due to physical barriers erected in the 1990s. But aside from that, whether border crossings are up or down depends on the time horizon. The 396,579 apprehensions in fiscal year 2018 represent a 30.5 percent increase over fiscal year 2017. (And neither figure includes foreigners deemed “inadmissible” at border-crossing stations; in FY 2018, it was 124,511).
So, illegal crossings might be down from two decades ago, but why wouldn’t Trump be alarmed by the year-over-year spike in illegal border crossings, considering it was his signature campaign issue?
Argument 2: The counties along the southern border are among the safest in the United States. Kohn cites data from the Wilson Center indicating that crime rates mostly are lower in border counties compared with similarly sized inland counties. It is hard to understand the relevance of this. Illegal immigrants rarely stay in counties along the border. They gravitate to job opportunities throughout the country.
What’s more, a county’s crime rate is based on many factors. The number of illegal immigrants is just one. Comparing one county to another reveals little about illegal immigration.
Many experts contend that illegal immigrants commit crimes at lower rates than American citizens. It is hard to prove that definitively, but even if it is true, it is inescapable that every crime committed by an illegal immigrant should not have occurred. And finally, while crime gets a lot of attention, America’s immigration laws are not solely designed to stop crime. They are meant to protect the jobs and wages of Americans and reduce the cost to taxpayers imposed by low-skill, poorly educated immigrants who – on average – use more in government services than they pay in taxes.
Argument 3: Most undocumented immigrants don’t “sneak” across the border. Kohn cites a 2017 report by the Center for Migration Studies indicating that a majority – perhaps two-thirds – of illegal immigrants in the United States came lawfully but then illegally remained after their visas expired.
That sounds like a good argument for taking steps to combat visa abuse. The 9/11 commission identified this as a major security vulnerability. Yet, Congress and successive administrations have failed to fully implement a biometric entry/exit system that would track people entering the leaving the United States. But Kohn does not explain why America should turn a blind eye to the one-third of illegal immigrants who come by crossing over the border.
It would be like suggesting that since the vast majority of homicides are committed by assailants with handguns in single-victim assaults, we should not be concerned about the people who die in mass shootings by gunmen wielding rifles.
Argument 4: The White House is lying about terrorists crossing the southern border. Kohn pounces on White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders for insinuating that nearly 4,000 suspected terrorists have come across the border. In fact, nearly all came through airports.
Shame on Sanders for misstating the facts. But that does not mean that the concern about terrorists slipping past the border should be zero. U.S Border Patrol officials have identified smuggling organizations that specialize in what the Department of Homeland Security calls “special interest aliens” with criminal records or ties to terrorist organizations.
And again, as with crime, the focus of immigration extends well beyond the threat of terrorism.
Argument 5: Migrant caravans aren’t “sneaking” across the border, either. Kohn’s point here is that Central Americans traveling in large groups – dubbed “caravans” – are not breaking the law when they apply for asylum.
Aside from the fact that some of the people traveling with the caravans do, indeed, break off and try to sneak into the United States, Kohn’s argument only highlights flaws in the asylum system. Under international law, people fleeing persecution are supposed to seek asylum in the closest safe country. For Central Americans, that would be Mexico.
It is clear from media interviews with caravan travelers that many people are not fleeing persecution but seeking jobs or reunification with relatives in the United States.
There has been a ten-fold increase in the last decade in the number of people at the border claiming a “credible fear” of persecution. No change in the conditions of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador explains that. It seems obvious that advocates are coaching migrants on what to say in order to exploit asylum law.
Roughly half of Central Americans released in the U.S. after passing the initial credible fear screening do not even bother to pursue asylum. And of those who do seek asylum, only about 20 percent win their cases. Yet, many of those foreigners never return to their home countries.
Argument 6: Drugs entering the USA across the southern border are most often hidden in legal shipments. Perhaps, as Kohn alleges, Trump oversells the ability of a wall to stop the flow of drugs. But that is not an argument against having physical barriers to prevent migrants from unlawfully crossing the border. And there is substantial evidence that walls work for that purpose.
Argument 7: Conservative political figures and think tanks think Trump’s wall is pointless. Here, Kohn cites Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), a longtime opponent of a wall, and the libertarian Cato Institute, which opposes any restriction on the free flow of goods and people across international boundaries.
But the fact that Hurd and Cato do not like the wall are not arguments against it.
Kohn also cites a New York Times article quoting Mark Krikorian, executive director of a low-immigration think tank, who expressed concern that Trump is so desperate for a wall that he would be willing to offer too many concessions on more important immigration priorities. That may be true, but that concern also is not an argument against the wall, itself.
Argument 8: There are already 654 miles of border fencing. Kohn argues that the border already largely is secure because of existing fencing and notes that Border Patrol agents caught nearly 400,000 illegal immigrants last year.
But experts estimate that for every illegal immigrant caught, roughly one makes it through to the interior. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 called for 700 miles of double-layered fencing. But lawmakers never appropriated enough money to finish the project, and in most places, the second layer of fencing never went up.
Argument 9: Americans do not support Trump’s wall. Kohn cites a December Quinnipiac poll showing 54 percent of Americans oppose the wall. She argues that is because Americans know the border is secure.
Interestingly, support the wall – 43 percent – was the highest of the 10 times Quinnipiac has asked the question.
And it is much less clear that Americans believe the border is secure, whether they support a wall or not. A Morning Consult poll released Tuesday indicates that a plurality – 42 percent – think there is an illegal immigration “crisis” at the border. Another 37 percent believe it is a problem.
But ultimately, pointing to public opinion is not the same as making a case on the merits.
In his nationally televised address on Tuesday, President Donald Trump laid out his case for a border wall and offered a concession in the standoff – steel.
The president reiterated his request for $5.7 billion for a physical barrier along the southwest border. He added this: “At the request of Democrats, it will be a steel barrier rather than a concrete wall.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has called Trump’s proposal “immoral” on numerous occasions. It is unclear how a concrete structure would be immoral but a steel barrier would be OK.
Is concrete the devil’s building material of choice?
Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) gave no sign during their response to Trump’s speech that they are willing to budge on the impasse that has triggered a partial government shutdown.
It was clear during Trump’s brief address that he is attempting – perhaps, belatedly – to tone down the rhetoric. He called the proposed structure a “barrier” five times. His only reference to a “wall” is to note that wealthy politicians build them to protect their own homes.
By contrast, Schumer and Pelosi called it a “wall” five times.
It is unlikely either Trump’s speech or the Democratic response changed minds.
The only question now is who blinks first.
Both sides have dug in for the long haul over President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall and its impact on the partial government shutdown.
Critics of the idea have attacked it on practical, financial and even spiritual grounds.
Here is a review of the three main arguments:
It’s immoral. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) repeatedly has declared the wall not just wrong-headed but evil. “Immoral,” she said again Thursday at her weekly news conference while rejecting wall funding – even in exchange for amnesty for young adult illegal immigrants brought to America as children by their parents.
She is not the only one to cast the issue in moral terms.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) compared the idea to the Berlin Wall and argued it does not matter that the Cold War barrier was designed to keep people from leaving while Trump’s proposal is meant to repel foreigners with no permission to enter.
“Missing ENTIRELY that a wall is a wall no matter what side of it you are on,” he tweeted Sunday. “It’s medieval. It’s a symbol of “’us and not us.’ And that is not U.S.”
As has been pointed out by many, however, Congress comfortably passed the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which called for 700 miles of double-layered fencing along the southwest border. Pelosi voted “no,” but plenty of her progressive colleagues voted “aye.” That included the future president and vice president, Barack Obama and Joe Biden, as well as 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
There is no record of Pelosi calling out their immorality.
The fencing authorized by the 2006 law and the barrier Trump proposes differ. Perhaps a lawmaker could make an argument about why the former was justified while the latter is not. But are they different enough that one could be moral but the other immoral?
Walls don’t work. Ever since Trump became president, his signature proposal has faced a broad consensus from critics on both sides of the aisle – and abroad – that walls are an outdated relic of another era.
Those critics don’t agree on precisely which century walls belong, but they concur it is not the current one.
It is a great line, to be sure. But is there any actual basis for it?
Normally, centuries-old tools that become obsolete are not seen outside of museums. No modern army issues knight’s armor to its soldiers or deploys archers, for instance. But walls and fences very much remain part of the modern world.
In addition to the many private residences and government buildings that use them to great effect, nations have found success with physical barriers separating them from their neighbors.
Hungary erected a $1 billion, 200-mile, 20-foot electrified fence equipped with cameras and heat sensors to keep out migrants trying to make it from Greece to Northern Europe.
It has helped cut illegal migrant crossings by almost 100 percent since 2015. According to USA Today, border authorities detected just 635 migrants in the western Balkans during the first three months of 2018.
Israel famously confronted suicide bombers by building a 435-mile fence in the West Bank. From 2000 to 2003, Palestinian terrorists launched 70 suicide bombings that killed 300 Israelis. From August 2003 to the end of 2006, the number of suicide bombing attacks plummeted to 12.
But it is not just terrorists that Israel has thwarted with physical barriers. The country has had great success in combating run-of-the-mill illegal immigration, as well. Israel – with Egypt’s cooperation – constructed a barbed-wire structure with cameras and motion detectors along the border with the Sinai Peninsula from 2010 to 2013.
Some 9,500 illegal migrants crossed into Israel from Egypt in the first six months of 2012. But in the first three months of 2013 – after major components of the barrier had been completed – fewer than three dozen managed to do so.
Of course, it is not necessary to look abroad for examples of the effectiveness of border barriers. At one time, the 66-mile section of the border extending east from the Pacific Ocean was the most popular entry point for illegal immigrants from Mexico.
In 1993, the United States completed a 14-mile section of 10-foot-high fencing made from surplus Army steel landing mat. Construction workers later added a secondary fence. Illegal border crossings in the two U.S. Border Patrol areas in the San Diego area dropped from 361,125 in fiscal year 1992 to 19,045 in fiscal year 2004 – a 95 percent decline.
That was much steeper than the 42 percent decline that occurred during that time in rest of the San Diego sector.
It’s too expensive. Members of Congress rarely seem to worry about cost, but Democrats have lodged plenty of complaints that building a wall would be too expensive.
Cost estimates vary widely, but many experts peg the cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 billion.
That’s real money, to be sure. But it represents about two days’ worth of federal spending. Or 2.8 percent of what the country spends on defense in a single year.
And remember, the $25 billion would be spread out over several years. Let’s say it takes 10 years, for an average of $2.5 billion a year. That equates to roughly 5 percent of the Department of Homeland Security budget.
So, while $25 billion is not exactly chump change, it is not an insurmountable obstacle, either.
When Democrats reclaimed control of the House of Representatives last week, they quietly passed a rule change that will make it easier for politicians to spend money they don’t have.
Under the rule, whenever Congress runs up against the statutory cap on borrowing, that debt limit now automatically will rise.
Not that the debt limit ever was much of a barrier to indebtedness. Whenever the debt threatened to bump up against the ceiling imposed by law, lawmakers could just take a vote to raise it. Congress did so dozens of times from 1962 to May 2011.
But from time to time, fiscal hawks insisted on making the debt ceiling more than a formality. Lawmakers used the need to vote debt limit increases as leverage to win concessions on spending. The efforts never really resulted in much, but they did force lawmakers to take uncomfortable votes.
Seven times in the past decade, the federal government has had to take “extraordinary measures” in order to avoid defaulting on a debt payment during past confrontations.
Under the rule adopted by House Democrats, such discomfort will be a thing of the past – at least in the lower chamber. Votes still will be required in the Senate.
Official Washington regards this all as good news. Stan Collender, a former staffer for the House and Senate budget committees, told FCW that the rule change means “the Freedom Caucus can’t influence the outcome in the House.”
Professional Services Council President David Berteau reacted: “If the Senate were to adopt the measure, then it would be a practical method of restoring a governing focus to the actions of the Congress, and that would be tremendous.”
Not everyone is feeling as sanguine about the easier path to debt spending, however.
“Everyone knows that politicians spend money like drunken sailors, but even by Washington’s low standards House Democrats are about to go on an epic bender,” Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) said in a statement. “These automatic increases to the debt ceiling are completely irresponsible. Here’s the ugly truth: This rule is designed to protect politicians from tough votes about the scary fact that the national debt is now over $22 trillion.”
So, 2019 has arrived. That means resolutions.
Here are six suggested New Year’s resolutions:
President Donald Trump – act more “presidential.” The president once said he could be so presidential that it would bore everybody.
Whatever else the first two years of the 45th presidency have been, they have not been dull. But the constant staff shakeups, the intemperate statements, the early-morning Twitter rants have eroded confidence in his leadership.
The unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, and the economy is growing faster than it was immediately before Trump took office. The world, as always, has its challenges. But there is no current foreign policy crisis, and America has avoided major wars.
Under such conditions, the president would be expected to have an approval rating somewhere in the range of 55 percent. But his latest RealClearPolitics polling average sits at 42.7 percent – with 52.2 percent disapproving.
Trump’s rolling average, in fact, never has hit 50 percent. That is almost entirely attributable to Trump’s behavior, and the swirling allegations involving the probe of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
It would be nice if Trump would stop tweeting every thought that pops into his head and hire a hard-nosed chief of staff to keep order in the White House, and then refrain from undermining that person.
Oh, who are we kidding. He’s never going to do those things.
NeverTrump conservatives – maintain perspective. There are plenty of reasons for conservatives to be leery of Trump. But when the president’s critics fail to credit him for conservative policy gains or proposals – or even denounce them – they become simply NeverTrumpers.
Take “conservative” out of the moniker.
One of the biggest concerns about Trump on the right was that he was not a genuine conservative. There was plenty of reason for that concern. Trump spent much of his life as a Democrat and a Democratic donor. He favored abortion rights. He spoke approvingly about government-financed health care.
But an honest assessment of Trump’s record in office has to be that he’s adopted the conservative agenda more thoroughly than most would have anticipated. He signed a big tax cut. Though unsuccessful, he pushed to repeal the Affordable Care Act and has used his regulatory authority to encourage alternatives to so-called Obamacare. He has appointed originalist judges. He has done everything within a president’s power to chip away at abortion. He has slashed regulations on businesses.
From a conservative perspective, these issues have moved in the right direction. NeverTrump conservatives would have cheered if Jeb Bush has been president. They ought to acknowledge the positive when Trump is responsible.
That doesn’t mean they should hold their fire when Trump departs from conservative ideas, such as on trade, or when he reveals his character flaws.
And one more thing – NeverTrump conservatives should stop pining for a primary challenge. There is no Republican who can beat Trump in a primary. He is going to be the GOP nominee if he wants it, for better or worse.
Nancy Pelosi – look for ways to make deals. The incoming House speaker will be looking for ways to make Trump’s life miserable, and that’s understandable. Her lieutenants already are preparing dozens of subpoenas for multiple investigations of the Trump presidency.
And no one would expect the California Democrat to roll over and advance a conservative legislative agenda now that she has the speaker’s gavel.
But Pelosi and her caucus need to decide if they want merely to obstruct or actually make law. Choosing the latter not only plausibly could result in bipartisan deals but would be popular with the public.
Notwithstanding what we said earlier about Trump’s record on conservative policies, we know he is not a conservative ideologue. Everything about his career, both in politics and business, shows that he’s transactional.
While an accord on Medicare for All is not likely, there are areas where the president and House Democrats could agree. An obvious one is public works spending. During the campaign, Trump actually promised more spending on roads, bridges and other infrastructure than Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump did not seriously push an infrastructure package during his first two years. But there is no reason to think he won’t accept a Democratic-led effort as long as Pelosi and the gang are willing to compromise on the details.
Other candidates include further action on criminal justice reform. Lawmakers have a model – the First Step Act, a measure to reduce sentences for first-time, nonviolent offenders. It passed overwhelmingly. The updated trade pact with Canada and Mexico is another possibility. The Trump administration negotiated it, but Congress still must approve it.
Robert Mueller – tell America what happened in 2016. Experts reading tea leaves have predicted that the independent counsel is close to finishing his investigation of Russian meddling – and whether that interference included conspiring with the Trump campaign.
But these probes have a way of lasting much longer than anyone anticipates. Mueller has been productive. He’s indicted a bunch of Russian nationals and companies accused of illicitly trying to influence the outcome of the presidential election. And he’s indicted or won convictions of several Trump associates.
But so far, none of the Americans has pleaded guilty to a conspiracy involving the election. And no Americans have been charged with knowingly helping the Russian defendants, either.
None of this proves anything about the ultimate result of the investigation. But if Trump or his associates did conspire with Russian agents, the American people deserve to know that well before the 2020 election, if possible.
And if that was not the case, Trump deserves to be cleared.
Either way, here’s hoping Mueller produces a final report this year.
Investors – relax about the stock market. This goes for the media, too.
The just-passed year was a crazy one for the market, with wild swings up and down. It can be frightening to Americans with a lot of money tied up in investments.
But people ought to calm themselves with the knowledge that the Dow Jones industrial average always has gone up over time – even if it sometimes plunges.
The best analogy I ever heard, which came from a financial adviser, is that the stock market is like riding up an escalator with a Yo-Yo. The yo-yo goes up and down, but over time, you always end up higher than when you started.
The Dow hit 26,828 on Oct. 3 and then sank 19 percent, to 21,792, on Dec. 24. But that is still 22 percent higher than the 17,888 close on Nov. 4, 2016.
Washington – tackle the debt. The one long-term threat that poses the greatest danger to the United States is the national debt, which stands at almost $22 trillion. That now exceeds the total value of all goods and services produced by the country in a year.
All we get is finger-pointing, though. Democrats blame Trump’s tax cut. Republicans blame excessive spending on social programs. Both are right, but both miss the point. Discretionary spending makes up less than a third of federal spending. Most of it is on autopilot, the checks that the government automatically sends for so-called entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
But there is rare bipartisan consensus that these programs should not be touched. Democrats have resisted even small changes for decades. Trump has taken the issue off the table.
There is no election this year. It would be the ideal time to forge a bipartisan agreement to at least begin reforming these giant programs.
It is unlikely.
But it would be the best New Year’s resolution of all.