Trump And The Great ‘Deflation’ Of America

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT)

 

Make America Great Again. America First. President Donald Trump’s professed view of, and vision for, America is unabashedly self-focused, putting the interests of the United States ahead of longtime international leadership roles in trade and democracy-building. On a grand scale, it’s been a retreat from such multilateral pacts such as the Paris climate change agreement. On a more focused level, it’s been protectionist trade moves such as the steep tariffs Trump approved this week on foreign washing machines and solar gear. If there’s a schoolyard theme to the approach of a president derided by his critics as a bully, it’s that the United States isn’t going to be pushed around anymore.

But as Trump prepares to speak before world thought leaders in Davos, Switzerland, then deliver his first State of the Union speech next week, foreign policy experts and veterans of previous administrations worry about the impact abroad and at home. The nation’s image has taken a hit among foreign nations who historically have looked to the U.S. for help and leadership, while domestically, Americans are increasingly unhappy with the government many grew up thinking was the model for the world.



“We’ve become America, the unexceptional,” laments Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. As a foreign relations analysts and professor, “my job has been telling people not to panic,” whether it’s the 9/11 attacks or other crises. But now, “it’s really problematic,” Drezner adds.

“America’s standing in the world has dropped catastrophically,” says Simon Rosenberg, founder of the New Democrat Network, a think tank. “It could be that the golden age [of America] and the conditions that created it are coming to an end. What’s remarkable is that all of this is happening without any debate in Congress about any of this.”

Experts underscore that the United States is still a major world power, with a strong economy and a popular culture consumed and copied by people around the globe. The U.S. is a center for innovation, Rosenberg notes. And to be sure, it is a place where 11 million undocumented immigrants are desperately hoping to stay, and where millions more hopeful immigrants would like to live.

But recent trends – including, but not limited to, the election, bombastic rhetoric and policies of Trump – have given the country a serious branding issue. The 2018 Best Countries rankings have the United States dropping (again) this year, to eighth place, down from seventh last year (and fourth in 2016 before Trump took office). The Ahholt-GfK Nation Brands Index last year showed similar results, with the United States dropping from first place to sixth in the space of one year among 50 countries ranked. International tourism to the U.S. is down as is attendance by foreign students (who not only become leaders in their own countries, but subsidize tuitions of domestic students). For all the Trumpian worries about Mexicans coming to the United States illegally, there are more Mexicans going back over the border into Mexico than are migrating here (though the trend predates Trump’s election).

The U.S. economy remains a world power, but less dominant than it was. A generation that grew up being told to clean their dinner plates because “there are children starving in China” are now middle-aged, looking at an Asian economic and political power that greatly challenges the American influence. While the U.S. still has the largest economy in the world, perception among important U.S. trading powers show that China is eclipsing that role. According to a Pew study, seven European countries, as well as Canada and Australia, see China as the world’s leading economy. And the U.S. Is no longer one of the ten best countries to start a business in. It fell from number seven in 2017 to 13 this year in the Best Countries rankings.

Some of the trends pre-date Trump, while others appear to be a direct result of Trump’s election and policies. He pulled out of the Paris accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership for global trade, and has talked about renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, a pact Trump repeatedly has said is a bad deal for the United States but which free traders in his own party argue has been good for the economies of all three nations.

The trade moves, particularly the recent tariffs on washing machines and solar products, are not surprising from Trump, who owes his Electoral College victory to states like Michigan and Wisconsin which were hit hard from competition from overseas manufacturers, notes James Roberts, a former foreign service officer and an economics research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. But Roberts adds that global trade is here, and not going back. “We don’t want to make it easier for hard-working Americans to lose more ground, but we also know we have to be realistic. We aren’t going to be able to turn the clocks back,” Roberts says.

And Trump has been direct, too, about how much American effort and military might he’s willing to expend on so-called “nation-building,” laying out a doctrine of “principled realism” in a speech last August at Ft. Myer in Arlington, Va. “We will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in faraway lands, or try to rebuild other counties in our own image. Those days are now over,” the president said. And while the words were welcome to those who have grown weary of the burden of being the world’s policeman, others view the foreign policy doctrine and retreat from global agreements as part of a pattern that will cause deep wounds – all self-inflicted – with America’s relationships. The crisis with North Korea is a case in point, veteran diplomat Michael Froman, a professor at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center, noted at a symposium the center held last week on Trump’s first year.

“There’s a risk that we go from being the indispensable nation to being isolated to being irrelevant,” said Froman, who was U.S. Trade Representative and deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration. A recent Gallup poll suggests Froman is not overstating it: median approval among 134 countries and areas of U.S. leadership is at a new low of 30 percent down from 48 percent in 2016. And the Best Countries data show that the U.S.’s political stability rating, as judged by the rest of the world, went from 11th in 2016, before Trump was elected, to 23rd in 2018.

Meanwhile, Americans themselves aren’t too happy with their own government and institutions. Aside from survey after survey showing low approval ratings for both the president and Congress, pride in the country’s very democracy is eroding. More than a third of Americans – 36 percent – say they are not proud of the way the country’s democracy is working, down from 18 percent three years ago, according to a poll by The Washington Post and the University of Maryland’s Center for American Politics and Citizenship. Seven in ten say the nation’s political divisions are at least as big as during the Vietnam War. A Pew Research Center poll in December found that 60 percent of Americans believe Trump’s election has led to worse race relations in the country.

A separate Pew poll found that a paltry 18 percent of Americans feel they can trust the government in Washington to do what’s right “just about always’ or most of the time.” And an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll reveals that Americans have limited confidence in almost every pillar of the country’s government and democracy, including the nation’s public schools, courts, organized labor and banks. Clocking in even lower on the confidence level were big business, the presidency, the political parties and the media. For the first time, a president went into the week before his State of the Union with the possibility that the government would not be open as he spoke because of disagreements within Congress and between Congress and the White House over immigration and children’s health care. During the standoff, Capitol Hill Republicans said they weren’t sure what the president wanted in the critical negotiations.

Congress approved a three-week fiscal extension earlier this week, sparing both branches of government that public embarrassment at Trump’s Tuesday speech to Congress.

“I do think its dangerous and it’s certainly possible that we got into a situation that is extremely hard to get out of,” says Michael Hanmer, a University of Maryland professor and research director of the school’s Center for American Politics and Citizenship.

“There’s a ton of disagreement on issues and how to do things. The only real agreement is that government isn’t working well,” Hanmer says. “The institutions that we fall back on are broken, and there’s a lack of faith in [both] those institutions and the people running those institutions.”

International relations professor David Rothkopf attributes much of the shaky world standing to Trump – but that also means the United States can recover. Much of the “reshuffling” of the world order, too, is due to the separate development in other nations, including Germany and France as well as China, he notes.

“It’s clear that the U.S. standing is falling in these polls. It’s also clear that some of that is due to the Trump presidency, so we have to wonder to what extent that is temporary,” says Rothkopf, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “America is not its president” alone, he says. Trump administration officials, meanwhile, assure Americans that this president is not engineering a global retreat. “America first does not mean America alone,” Gary Cohn, head of Trump’s National Economic Council, told reporters ahead of Trump’s Davos visit. But for the moment, at least, America is not in first place.

Ignoring The Will Of The People

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT)

 

The $1.5 trillion tax bill, hailed with glee and relief by Republicans eager to appease donors and desperate for the year’s first major legislative win, is the most unpopular major piece of legislation to pass in decades.

That may sound remarkable, but it’s not the only case where public opinion – exhaustively collected, analyzed and reported by pollsters, interest groups and political parties – appears to have had little impact on a matter of public interest. President Barack Obama’s Deferred Access for Childhood Arrivals program to allow certain young immigrants to stay in the country is also overwhelmingly approved of by the electorate. But Congress failed to codify that program as it prepared to wind up for the year. Background checks for gun buyers, too, enjoys widespread public approval, polls consistently show – but that idea, too, never manages to get enough votes for passage.



So what’s the congressional calculation? Do they not trust the polls, or care what Americans think? Lawmakers do indeed care, pollsters and political analysts say. They just care more about what certain people think and want.

“If you polled big donors, you’d find overwhelming support for the tax bill,” says Stan Collender, executive vice president at Qorvis MSLGROUP and a leading expert on the federal budget and taxes. The presumption – “and it’s a little risky, is that money can overcome the anger of the individual voter,” Collender adds. “To them, somehow, $1,000 is worth more than 1,000 votes.”

Polls show that the tax bill, passed on party-line votes, gets abysmally low marks from the public, a majority of whom also believe the package was designed to help the rich at the expense of the middle class. An NBC-Wall Street Journal poll taken shortly before the votes showed just 24 percent of Americans thought it was a good idea. A Monmouth University poll found that half of Americans believe their taxes will actually go up under the package, which provides for a bigger standard deduction, but limits on such popular deductions such as state and local tax payments and mortgage interest.

A CNN poll showed 55 percent opposed (10 points higher than the previous month), with 37 percent thinking they will be worse off.

According to an analysis by George Washington University political science professor Chris Warshaw, that makes the tax bill the second-most hated piece of legislation in the past quarter century-plus, behind only Trumpcare – which didn’t pass. Even the bank bailout of 2008 and the failed Clinton health care plan of 1993 were more popular with voters.

Republicans are already nervous about losing control of the House next year, spooked by off-year elections which had Democrats making inroads in the politically critical suburbs and flipping 33 state legislative seats (compared to just a single blue-to-red flip). But lawmakers are more worried about vocal interest groups and wealthy donors who can cripple their campaigns before they get the chance to make their pitches to voters, experts say.

“It has a lot to do with money,” says Lee Miringoff, director of the nonpartisan Marist Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, New York, pointing to the “Citizens United” Supreme Court case which allowed corporations and interest groups to spend massive amounts of money to influence elections.

“We see the tremendous impact of the lobby community in the tax bill. Lobbying interests were very much dominant in drafting and creating this approach.” And that means public opinion, so painstakingly quantified by pollsters candidates themselves hire, is often disregarded.

Not all matters should be decided by public polls, political veterans say, noting that congressmen and senators were elected to exercise their informed judgment on issues and balance public needs. If a pollster asked Americans if they thought schools, infrastructure and other public operations should be top-notch, they’d likely say yes. But they also might want to pay lower taxes, making the first goal harder.

But on several major issues in the news, the views of the public at large appear to have no effect on Congress.

For example, Americans overwhelmingly agree that so-called “Dreamers” – young people whose parents brought them into the United States illegally, and who have known no other home than America – should be allowed a way to stay lawfully, either with a path to citizenship or some kind of legal status. A recent poll by the nonpartisan Marist Institute for Public Opinion shows that a combined 81 percent of Americans want this, compared to 15 percent who believe they should be deported. The stay-here-legally side includes 67 percent of Republicans.

The problem, says Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigrant group America’a Voice, is that lawmakers are divided into three broad groups – the pro-immigrant side, the build-the-wall side, and a group in the middle trying to balance a desire to be compassionate to Dreamers with a wish to maintain border security. While the hardliners against legal status may be in the minority, they are also often the loudest and most likely to punish a candidate for defiance, experts say.

“The path of least resistance inevitably becomes more attractive for people in the middle,” Sharry laments.

Special interest groups across the board have outsized influence because of their financial resources to influence campaigns as well as their ability to rile up their rank-and-file members, analysts say. That explains, they say, how the National Rifle Association has been able to quash any effort to tighten up background checks for gun buyers, despite consistent evidence that the public wants it. A Quinnipiac University poll last summer, for example, showed that 94 percent of Americans endorse background checks for all gun buyers.

The current political environment, too, is to blame, says Tim Malloy of the Quinnipiac poll. “We are so polarized and people are so entrenched – either pro-Trump or anti-Trump. I think it’s grown out of anger. It’s an angry disillusioned country right now,” Malloy says. “People at this point are almost impervious to the issues” themselves.

The public can fight back, and has: in 1988, Congress passed a law to provide catastrophic health coverage to seniors. The cost was shifted to the older Americans, who revolted (including by chasing the car of the then-Ways and Means Committee chairman, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill.). Congress repealed the law the following year.

As for the tax bill, “the Republicans are betting that by the time people realize what a turkey this bill is, it will be somebody else’s problem,” Collender says. And that problem may be dumped onto the tax bill-hating Democrats, should they succeed in wresting control of Congress.

Tags: taxestax codecorporate taxesRepublican Partycampaign financeCongress

We Have Been Duped: Obama Care Is Not Raising Our Insurance, Republicans Are

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT)

You’ve Been Duped

The Affordable Care Act isn’t raising your premiums. Republicans are.

You’ve Been Duped

By J. Mario Molina | Opinion Contributor

May 30, 2017, at 11:20 a.m.

As I watch the debate unfold over repeal of the Affordable Care Act, I keep thinking about the Hans Christian Anderson story “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In the story, the emperor’s weavers convince him that they have made him clothes of special cloth, invisible to those too stupid to appreciate their beauty. The emperor parades through town stark naked, and his subjects are too afraid to state the obvious until one little boy blurts out that the emperor has no clothes. The emperor looks down and realizes the boy is right.

You might guess that President Donald Trump is the emperor in my metaphor, but you’d be wrong. The emperor is the American public, who has been duped into believing that the Affordable Care Act is failing, even as Republicans work behind the scenes to destroy it.

And who is the little boy in this story? I am. I am the former CEO of a health insurance company, and I have been warning publicly what will happen if Trump continues to effectively sabotage the Affordable Care Act. Earlier this month, I lost my job.

When Trump ran for president, he promised reforms to ensure there would be health insurance for everyone and that it would be a “lot less expensive” than under President Barack Obama’s health care law. We have yet to see the plan he described during his campaign. Instead, earlier this month, House Republicans passed the American Health Care Act – a bill the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office determined would cause 23 million Americans to lose health insurance coverage.


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Editorial cartoon on President Donald Trump and health care
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Editorial cartoon on Republicans and health care
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Editorial cartoon on Paul Ryan and health care
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Editorial cartoon on House Republicans and health care
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Editorial cartoon on House Republicans and health care and the Senate

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When confronted with the dire projections about how their bill will make insurance unaffordable for their constituents, most of the representatives who voted for the bill often echo a line that Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price and Trump have used repeatedly: that the Affordable Care Act is in a so-called “death spiral” that will inevitably “explode,” so they need to pass a bill, no matter how terrible, before it does. That narrative is patently false. In fact, most of the instability driving up premiums in the marketplace can be directly traced to Republicans’ efforts to undermine the health care law for their own political purposes.

What CBO Estimates Say About the House Health Bill
Bloomberg

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, for example, was among the first to land a blow. In 2014, he proudly led a successful effort to cut funding for the “risk corridors” program. Rubio called the payments made from these funds a “bailout” for insurers, but in fact the program was an integral backstop to help control premiums as insurance companies in the marketplaces adjusted to the new population they were covering. The consequence of that ploy to score political points was that some insurers left the marketplace, and many Americans’ premiums went up.

Since Trump took office in January, these kinds of sneak attacks on the law have accelerated. During the final week of the open enrollment period, when consumers can sign up for a marketplace health care plan or choose a new one, Trump officials within the Department of Health and Human Services decided to cancel advertising and outreach for the HealthCare.gov website. That decision came despite the fact that it is well documented that younger, healthier enrollees tend to sign up at the last minute. It was a transparent effort to damage the stability of the health insurance marketplace and to create the illusion that demand for insurance was decreasing.


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Perhaps the most drastic way that the Trump administration is sabotaging American’s health insurance is by refusing to commit to reimbursing health plans for the cost-sharing reduction payments they make to lower out-of-pocket costs for their lowest income members. Insurance companies are currently in the process of determining their rates for the 2018 plan year, and without a guarantee from the administration that they will receive the payments they are owed, they will factor that added cost into their premiums for next year. And you don’t have to take my word for it – the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that insurers would need to raise premiums for silver-level plans by an average of 19 percent to compensate if the administration will not commit to making the cost-sharing reduction payments.

One common thread in all these efforts is that Americans who purchase their health coverage through the individual market are the ones harmed, not insurance companies. The administration and Republicans in Congress want you to believe that insurers raising premiums for their plans or exiting the marketplaces all together are consequences of the design of the Affordable Care Act instead of the direct results of their own actions to sabotage the law. Don’t let them fool you.

If you think Obamacare is failing, I have one simple message for you: Open your eyes and stop being the emperor.

Democrat strikes back over healthcare
Reuters

Tags: health care, health care reform, American Health Care Act, Affordable Care Act, Republican Party

J. Mario Molina OPINION CONTRIBUTOR

J. Mario Molina, M.D., is the former CEO of Molina Healthcare, one of the largest health insurance companies serving Medicaid and Marketplace programs. He has three decades of experience caring for low-income patients.