Monday, February 13, 2017

At Some Point During the Fall You Just Want the Ground To Show Up and End The Suspense

I hate to be a buzzkill, but... where's the Earth-Shattering Kaboom?

I was promised an Earth-Shattering Kaboom the second Trump swore to violate his oath of office last January. After all, Republicans held both wings of Congress. Paul Ryan was sitting on a Budget of Death to inflict upon the masses, slashing social safety nets like Medicare and Social Security and everything else that weren't F-35 fighter planes that can't fly. The Senate was poised to grant Trump foreign policy muscle to bully our allies and hug Russia long and hard until Putin got his rocks off.

But it's been three weeks going on four, more than an month into the Train Wreck of the Age of Trump, and other than a bunch of Executive Orders out of Trump - half of them tied up in courts for being unconstitutional - we're all still just sitting here waiting for the axe to fall.

Congress still seems tied up in knots, not because of Democratic obstruction - although it may come up once bills get to the Senate, in the meantime the Senate hasn't blocked Trump's nominations for his administration despite two or three major fights - but because the Republicans are trying to drive with the emergency brakes still on.

From what I can tell, it's as though the House Republicans can't get past the problem of figuring out how to kill Obamacare and avoid any blame for it. This makes sense because any hit to our health care laws has an effect on the overall federal budget, and Ryan and his budget-slashers need that item checked off the list before they can implement the rest of their Budget of Death.

But I'm not the only one noticing the slowdown - and the overall ineptitude - of this Republican government. Over to David Anderson (formerly Richard Mayhew) at Balloon Juice:

We’re 24 days into the Trump Error. And there has been little legislative activity. As of the morning of the 13th, there have been two bills that he has signed. The first was a bill that waived requirements for his Secretary of Defense nominee to be the Secretary of Defense. The second is a two page technical correction bill for the Government Accountability Office to get more data. That sounds like a perfectly lovely law on the face of it but it is not a major bill.
Why does this matter?
The first 100 days is the easiest time for legislation to pass and for major structural changes to get pulled in the desired direction of a determined trifecta. After 100 days, the opposition will have gotten its act together and the mid-term election cycle has gotten started so marginal majority members won’t want to piss off too many potential groups of supporters by making choices...

Over at the New Republic, Brian Beutler had this to say:

Because most Republicans didn’t expect Donald Trump to win the presidency, they had to cobble together a governing strategy on very short notice, but it was obvious many months before the election that if Trump were to win, party leaders would ignore his racism, corruption, volatility, and ignorance to whatever extent was necessary to enact a meaningful legislative agenda.
This was a morally hideous pact, but it bears superficial resemblance to a very familiar, unremarkable pattern. New presidents come in, often at the height of popularity, and they and their congressional allies make the most of it for as long as possible, until recriminations can no longer be suppressed...

The problem stems from Trump: Congress has been busier trying to respond to Trump's impulsive and chaotic leadership than trying to focus on any meaningful legislation.

...It’s possible that a major payoff awaits the GOP. Perhaps they really will repeal and replace Obamacare before the end of the year, even though, according to Senator Bob Corker, “there’s not any real discussion taking place right now.” They seem no closer to a major supply-side tax reform or infrastructure bill or welfare rollback either...

As Beutler notes in a follow-up article, Trump and his weaknesses are making any initiative from the Republicans impossible to start: "This weakness contributes to a climate of rudderlessness and depression in the White House, with multiple factions anonymously backbiting each other and angling for clout by leaking juicy details of administrative incompetence to the press."

Even though Congress is a separate branch from the Presidency, there had developed over the decades - especially at the turn of the 20th Century - a kind of hand-in-hand teamwork between the West Wing and Capitol Hill. The Speaker of the House gets his/her committees to debate bills, gets them voted on and passed to the Senate where the Majority Leader does his/her thing with committees and floor votes, and then it goes to the President to sign or veto. But buried within that simple process is a complex system of give-and-take where it's needed for all the major players to be on the same page to make sure the whole transition goes through without bumps. If there's problems with not enough Senators signing on, for example, you expect delays in the legislation and you plan accordingly.

Even though the Budget is supposed to start in Congress (especially the House) it's become tradition (actually a requirement when Nixon balked over funding issues in 1974) for the President to offer his Budget Proposal - thousands of pages thick - to Congress to give them an agenda to edit and compromise. Previous administrations usually have it sent out by the first or second week of February, and it's been something that's been in the rough draft stages for months. But I honestly have not heard of anything getting done about it since December. And without that, apparently Ryan and the rest of Congress can't proceed until Trump delivers something more than three pages long describing what he wants (expect a crayon-scribbled demand for that damn Trump Wall to be funded by any means necessary).

What's happening here is a White House administration that's woefully understaffed and leaderless - with at least three in-house factions backstabbing each other with leaks and rushed orders - unable to formulate a coherent agenda that's planned out more than a week in advance. With a presidential administration in chaos, Congress can't proceed on any major legislation, creating more chaos there (especially when it feels like Trump is expecting Congress to do all the heavy lifting for him).

While it's nice that - so far - we haven't been hit with the Belgium-sized meteor that will be Ryan's budget disaster, and that outside of Trump's evil EOs our nation is stumbling along and standing up to the train wreck of the Trump Error Era, this isn't going to last. At some point, Trump is going to have to send Congress something to vote over. At some point, Ryan and McConnell are going to have to start making their own plans and passing them through their houses.

It's just the uncertainty of what the hell it's all going to look like that's causing sleepless nights. Knowing it's going to be bad is its own kind of nightmare, but waiting for it to happen somehow feels worse. At least when it DOES happen, we'll know how to fight back and save ourselves...


dinthebeast said...

I predict that when Trump gets sick of hearing the press nag him about his lack of a budget, he'll say "My budget is now and always has been Paul Ryan's budget."
It will be a lie, but so is everything else he says, so who will really notice?

-Doug in Oakland

Pinku-Sensei said...

"[W]here's the Earth-Shattering Kaboom?"

Yeah, that's what the image with Marvin the Martian said when I posted Ragnarok cancelled three years ago. That's my reaction, not to the non-events you describe, but to the resignation of National Security Advisor Mike Flynn. We might have to wait a while.