A Long December

The year comes to a close with its usual mix of good news and bad news.

On the 2020 presidential election, the Unity Reform Commission has completed its work.  Josh Putnam over at Frontloading Headquarters has posting summaries of the Commission’s decisions.   From the first two summaries, the recommendations seem to be moving toward more open primaries (a reversal of the party’s traditional support for closed primaries) and to make caucuses more like primaries with a preference toward using the primary if there is a state-run primary.  These recommendations will go to the Rules & By-laws Committee (which folks may remember from 2008).  The Rules & By-laws Committee will take these recommendations into account in drafting the 2020 Call and Delegate Selection Plan.  When the draft is concluded, the RBC’s draft goes to the full Democratic National Committee for approval.  If the Unity Reform Commission believes that the RBC is not fully implementing their recommendations in the draft, they can ask for the full DNC to intervene.  Presumably, the party will also begin its site selection process early in 2018.

As the site selection and the rule drafting process continues, there will probably be a lot of discussion here.  For now, it is important to be cautious about changes driven by the problems of the last cycle.  There is always a temptation to “fight the last war.”  But the problems in one cycle do not necessarily recur in the next cycle, and it is important not to do things that will probably make more problems than they fix.

The good news of December is, of  course, the results in Alabama.  Regaining control of the Senate will still be an uphill battle in 2018 due to the large number of marginal seats that Democrats won in 2012.  But, after Alabama, we only need to gain two seats (rather than three) to gain the majority.  It looks like there will be at least three (and maybe more) potential gains in 2018.  If we can keep all of our current seats, there is a fighting chance at gaining a majority.  The swings reflected in Alabama, the various House races, and the various state legislative races in 2017 would be enough to regain the House if those numbers can be repeated across the board.

The need for such large swings brings us back to the issue of gerrymandering.  Last week, the United States Supreme Court put a second partisan gerrymandering case (from Maryland) on its schedule for this term.  While the Supreme Court has to do something in election appeals, it does not have to hear arguments in every one of those appeals.  In fact, it has another partisan gerrymandering case in which the appeal was filed before the Maryland case that it is holding.  The Maryland case has some differences from the Wisconsin case that was argued in October, most significant of which is that, in Maryland, the Democrats controlled the redistricting process.  Because one of the issues in all of the pending appeals is whether the Supreme Court should even get involved in partisan gerrymandering,  the decision to take a second case suggests that the majority is inclined to find that this type of claim can be brought in federal court.  Taking the second case implies that the Supreme Court is looking at the rules that would govern this type of claim and wants another case to see how those rules would work in action.  Additionally, issuing published opinions setting aside both a Republican plan and a Democratic plan would give the appearance of being non-partisan.  If the Supreme Court issues one opinion for both cases, it is unlikely that it will issue before June.  As such, the 2018 elections will probably be under the current plans.  While it is possible that the decisions will lead to new lines for 2020 elections, the real impact of the decisions will be in 2021 when redistricting begins again.

Then, there is the tax bill.  Even Republican voters appear to have doubts about the tax bill and with good reason.  It would be nice to have Donald Trump’s tax returns to see how much he will benefit from this bill, but it seems to be written to benefit the wealthy and certain types of businesses (including real estate development).  For middle class voters, it takes a tax accountant to determine if the immediate impact of the bill would help or hurt a particular family.  One of the many changes in the tax bill, however, is to change from using the “regular” Consumer Price Index to using the Chained Consumer Price Index.  The Chained-CPI tends to show a lower rate of inflation than the regular CPI.  In the long run, that means that the standard deduction will not keep pace with inflation.  Additionally, tax brackets will not be adjusted as much as they should be.  Assuming that salaries do keep pace with inflation, a larger percent of income will be subject to taxation and at higher levels.

Putting aside the tax part of the tax bill, there is also the individual mandate part of the tax bill.  Nominally, the tax bill does not repeal the individual mandate, but it does set the penalties at zero.  When added to the shortened enrollment period, this change poses a lethal threat to the insurance industry.  I would not be surprised if some companies file bankruptcy to get out of their current 2018 rates.  At the very least, prepare for an astronomically large rate hike next fall.  The health insurance industry was not in a death spiral when President Trump took office, but it could very well be by the time that the next president takes office in 2021.

Lastly, there is the decision to put the U.S. Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem.  Normally, we do place an embassy in a country’s capital.  Israel, however, is the only country that has opted to place its capital in disputed territory.  The U.S. has, in the past, tried to finesse its position on Jerusalem in order to be the logical mediator between Israel and its neighbors (including the Palestinians living on the West Bank).  If this move was part of a negotiating strategy (i.e. getting Israel to make certain concessions in exchange for the move), it might be justifiable.  But there is no apparent benefit to the U.S.  from making this move (and there will be the expense of building a new embassy), and it will clearly have a negative impact on our relationship with other nations in the Middle East.  (How much remains to be seen.)  At the very least, we are no longer neutral on Jerusalem, eliminating our position as the most obvious mediator.

In short, the end of 2017 reflects a Trump Administration dedicated to making things worse for most of America at home and weakening the U.S. abroad.  The 2018 elections and possible revisions to the rules for drawing congressional and legislative districts, however, are a light at the end of the tunnel.

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