By Greg Sargent
THE MORNING PLUM:
The White House and Republicans are bracing for bad news in the Congressional Budget Office score of the new GOP health plan, which could come as early as Monday. It is expected to find that the GOP effort — which President Trump has endorsed — could leave many millions without coverage, and on the Sunday shows, top Trump advisers sought to discredit the CBO’s finding in advance.
But all of this should be seen in a much larger context. We’re seeing a broad White House effort to corrode the very ideal of reality-based governing, something that includes not just a discrediting of institutions such as the CBO but also the weakening of the influence of science and data over agency decision-making and the deliberate misuse of our democracy’s institutional processes to prop up Trump’s lies about his popular support and political opponents.
For example: On Monday morning, senior Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway conceded to ABC Newsthat she has no evidence of Trump’s explosive claim that former president Barack Obama tapped Trump’s phones, but shrugged it off this way:
“I have no evidence, but that’s why there’s an investigation in Congress. That’s particularly what investigations are for.”
Remember, after Trump made this fact-free charge, the White House undertook an internal search for evidence to back it up. When that produced nothing, the White House press secretary called onCongress to investigate it and declared its work done. This is what congressional investigations are “for” — to create the impression that charges Trump made amid a flurry of enraged, impulsive tweets, based on a Breitbart article that someone managed to shove under his nose, just might have something to them.
Meanwhile, the White House used the Sunday shows to lay the groundwork to discredit the CBO’s finding about the GOP health bill, which could run directly counter to Trump’s promises of “insurance for everybody.” On ABC’s “This Week,” budget director Mick Mulvaney said: “Sometimes we ask them to do stuff they’re not capable of doing, and estimating the impact of a bill of this size probably isn’t the — isn’t the best use of their time.” Really?
And on “Meet the Press,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price suggested that, rather than listen to the CBO’s findings, the White House will instead turn to other parties who will model the GOP bill and conclude that “this plan will, in fact, cover more individuals than are currently covered.” As Brian Beutler argues, the White House likely plans to try to discredit the CBO’s findings by relying on “dishonest right wing think tank analysis” that serves up “the health care equivalent of voodoo economics.”
The CBO was created forty years ago as a neutral, objective agency to assist Congress in empirically-based, independent governing, by giving it data and technical advice that is not tainted by executive branch political considerations. The point is not that the CBO’s word is gospel. It can and does get things wrong. But as Jonathan Cohn explains, while its projections about the Affordable Care Act were hardly perfect, it got much of the big story right, and its forecasts are as good as or better than anybody else’s. White House aides are not exercising mere healthy skepticism about the CBO’s findings. Rather, they are saying they won’t accept those findings as legitimate, if they are politically inconvenient — and they are signaling this in advance. There is every reason to believe that many Republicans in Congress will take their cues from this and echo them.
By itself, this might not be all that outlandish — there is a long history of such stuff — but it needs to be placed in a larger context. There is Conway’s off-the-wall depiction above of the purpose of congressional investigations. Meanwhile, when Trump got called out for the lie that he won the popular vote but for millions who voted illegally, the White House threatened an investigation to prove it true, using the vow of probes as a tool to obfuscate efforts to hold him accountable. On Friday, Sean Spicer greeted the good February jobs report by claiming that the numbers “may have been phony in the past” — when they reflected job growth during the Obama presidency that Trump derided as fictional — but now they’re “very real.” Government data is real only when Trump says it is. Everyone had a good laugh over this, but at the risk of being very earnest, government data is supposed to inform policymaking.
Scott Pruitt, the new head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has now clarified that he does not accept the scientific consensus that human activity is the primary cause of global warming, which could put the agency’s agenda directly at odds with the laws and regulations it’s supposed to enforce. The White House has explicitly said the new version of Trump’s travel ban is designed in part to demonstrate that his national security power “will not be questioned,” and when a leaked Department of Homeland Security assessment undercut the substantive case for the ban, a senior administration official said: “This is not the intelligence assessment the president asked for.” We have not seen the one that he has asked for, however.
We need a new vocabulary to describe what we’re seeing here.
* COTTON: GOP MAY LOSE HOUSE MAJORITY: Sen. Tom Cotton, a leading critic of the GOP health bill, called on House Republicans to reject it in an interview with ABC News:
I would say to my friends in the House of Representatives with whom I serve, do not walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate and then have to face the consequences of that vote. … I’m afraid that if they vote for this bill, they’re going to put the House majority at risk next year.
It’s hard to say whether House conservatives will oppose the GOP plan in the end, but if the CBO score finds it will cost a bundle and balloon the deficit, some might.
* TOM PRICE MAKES ABSURD PREDICTION ABOUT GOP PLAN: On “Meet the Press,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price said this about the new GOP health plan:
I firmly believe that nobody will be worse off financially in the process that we’re going through, understanding that they’ll have choices that they can select the kinda coverage that they want for themselves and for their family, not the government forces them to buy.
Nobody will be worse off financially! The GOP plan will slash the subsidies and phase out the Medicaid expansion, probably leaving millions uninsured. This quote must not be forgotten.
* GOP PLAN DELIVERS HUGE TAX CUT FOR RICH: The New York Times’s Jesse Drucker has the scoop on two new congressional analyses on the GOP health plan:
Two of the biggest tax cuts in Republican proposals to repeal the Affordable Care Act would deliver roughly $157 billion over the coming decade to those with incomes of $1 million or more. … People making $200,000 to $999,999 a year would also get sizable tax cuts. In total, the two provisions would cut taxes by about $274 billion during the coming decade, virtually all of it for people making at least $200,000.
This, even as the plan also slashes or rolls back coverage for untold numbers of poor and low-income people. What a shock!
* THE RESISTANCE HAS HAD SOME VICTORIES: E.J. Dionne takes stock of the record so far of the resistance to the Trump presidency:
Trump’s critics have … had early victories that matter. These include major court triumphs over the executive order on immigrants and refugees, crowded town hallsthat have sharpened doubts among Republicans about their party’s incoherent health-care bill, and success in focusing widespread attention on the many unanswered questions about the Russia connection. All these reflect larger achievements: the kindling of a new energy in civil society, a new activism in politics and a new appreciation of the free press’s role in our democracy.
Indeed. There will be major defeats to come and they will be very dispiriting, but the reinvigoration of civil society has been a truly salutary development.
* TRUMP’S NONSTOP LIES ARE PART OF A PATTERN: Paul Krugman runs through a range of examples of Trump’s contempt for facts and outright mendacity, and concludes:
America is now governed by a president and party that fundamentally don’t accept the idea that there are objective facts. Instead, they want everyone to accept that reality is whatever they say it is … what’s really at stake is whether ignorance is strength, whether the man in the White House is the sole arbiter of truth.
Right. I would only add that Trump is giving his supporters a stake in this arrangement, and many Republican voters seem eager to buy into it.
* AND TRUMP WILL HOST CHINESE PRESIDENT AT MAR-A-LAGO: Axios reports:
President Trump plans to host Chinese President Xi Jinping at the gold-plated Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida next month for a lowering-the-temperature summit with vast economic and security implications, Axios has learned. … While a White House session could look formal and cold, pictures out of Mar-a-Lago are likely to capture the rivals in relaxed, friendly settings.
Needless to say, this will do promotional wonders for Mar-a-Lago, which could steer more membership cash into the pockets of the lucky fellow who happens to own the place.