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Other View: Will Trump drop populism like a bad habit?

Jennifer Rubin

Disdain for Beltway insiders and suspicion that the rich have the system rigged were at the heart of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign. He correctly perceived how badly Hillary Clinton’s conflicts, courting of Wall Street and corruption (at least the appearance of such) would turn off voters. He may not realize he too can be the target of the pitchfork-armed mob.

Bloomberg reports: “Congressional Democrats say they’ll try to thwart Republican plans to overhaul the U.S. tax code by portraying them as a boon for the rich that betrays President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign promise to fight for working Americans.” That will be easy because both Trump’s plan and House Republicans’ plan would be a boon for the rich that betrays Trump’s campaign promise to fight for working Americans. Consider what is in the plans, which have yet to be merged into one acceptable to Trump and to Republicans on the Hill:

“An independent analysis of House Republicans’ ‘blueprint’ found that while households at all income levels would pay less tax, ‘the highest-income households would receive the largest cuts, both in dollars and as a percentage of income.’ The very rich — the top 0.1 percent of U.S. earners, or those with incomes over $3.7 million — would see after-tax incomes rise by almost 17 percent. At the same time, the bottom three-fifths of households would see average gains of 0.5 percent or less, according to the analysis by the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank that’s a joint venture of the Urban Institute and the Brookings Institution. Three quarters of the total tax cuts would go to the top 1 percent, that study found.

That’s a problem — and one that, if Republicans were less dominated by supply-side billionaires — could easily be avoided. Why not give — horrors! — no individual tax cut to the top bracket (beyond Obamacare’s repeal)? Democrats have an opening to propose a tax plan more in line with Trump’s pitch than Trump’s own plan — or that of House Democrats. That might be a middle-class tax cut only, a reduction in the payroll tax (which would benefit primarily the working and middle class) and/or an expansion of the earned-income tax credit to supplement the wages of the working poor.

Trump risks blowing his populist image in other ways as well — bringing in a fleet of billionaires, refusing to sell his business (which would cement in place the most egregious example of self-dealing in recent presidential history), repealing all of Dodd-Frank and failing to remedy with legislation a federal court ruling throwing out President Obama’s overtime regulation. (On the last point, CNBC explains, “The new legislation would have significantly raised the salary cap under which employees were eligible to earn overtime.”

If Trump insists on serving up 1980s-vintage economic policy, Trump may lose the affection of his white working-class base, whose members actually believed his populist rhetoric. For a president starting out with an approval rating below 45 percent, that could be a serious blow — and the beginning of a Democratic comeback.

Other View: America's concern for the poor is about to be tested

Special To The Washington Post

Poor Americans are facing the gravest threat to the federal safety net in decades as President-elect Donald Trump takes office accompanied by a Republican-controlled Congress.

The risks to essential benefits for tens of millions of low- and moderate- income Americans include losing coverage extended to them by the Affordable Care Act, threats to the fundamental structure of the Medicaid health- insurance program for the poor and further reduction of already squeezed funding for scores of other important programs serving the most vulnerable Americans.

First, Republicans are expected to seek significant cuts in what’s known as non-defense discretionary spending, which includes many important programs for low- and moderate-income people, such as rental vouchers for low-income families, programs to fight homelessness, job training, funding for poor school districts, Head Start for young children and Pell grants to help low-income students afford college.

The reason for these cuts is that, for the first time, starting next fiscal year, Republican leaders appear inclined to let the harsh “sequestration” budget cuts take full effect. That would shrink funding for this budget category to its lowest level in at least half a century, measured as a share of the economy.

And even deeper cuts, as proposed by the most recent House Republican budget and the president-elect, are possible.

More broadly, congressional Republicans are likely to follow the course set in every House GOP budget since 2011, as well as the most recent final House- Senate budget, in 2015. Every one of those budgets secured the bulk of its savings from programs for low-income people. In the House GOP’s most recent budget plan, 62 percent of a stunning $6 trillion in budget cuts over 10 years would come from such programs.

Do we really want to increase hardship for tens of millions of low-income people even as we shower tax cuts on people at the top?

With Trump about to take office, they will have the means to enact their radical visions into law. And they will likely have a key administration ally in Rep. Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican and hard-line conservative whom Trump has picked to run the Office of Management and Budget.

To achieve their goals, Republican leaders plan to push through two major reconciliation bills in 2017.

The first, which could pass as early as January, would repeal the ACA’s coverage expansions and most likely take effect at the start of 2019. That would double the number of uninsured Americans, from 29 million to 59 million, and leave the United States with a higher uninsured rate than before the ACA, the Health Policy Center at the Urban Institute estimates.

The second reconciliation bill could couple regressive tax cuts with a radical overhaul of Medicaid and possibly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) and even the Supplemental Security Income program for the elderly and disabled poor—three core low-income assistance programs.

If previous House GOP budgets are a guide, Republicans will likely seek to eviscerate the basic structure of these programs, under which there are minimum federal eligibility and benefit standards and all eligible families who apply for benefits receive them.

Franklin Roosevelt once said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” If so, America is about to be tested.

Idaho View: Idaho ready to 'do something' but not enough

This appeared in the Lewiston Tribune:

For the sake of argument, let’s say you have a group of people who need some medical attention.

But they can’t afford it.

The state can spend a little money now to help them.

Or it can wait for problems — and the costs of dealing with those problems — to multiply.

So it goes with the estimated 7,400 people who have been paroled from Idaho’s prison system. Mental health issues and substance abuse landed most of them in the criminal justice system.

While in prison, they got treatment.

Left to fend for themselves once they’re back in society, about a third of them end up back in prison within three years — at a cost of more than $20,000 per inmate per year.

So Idaho lawmakers seem poised to make a small investment. For about $11.2 million, they’re prepared to provide parolees with mental health and substance abuse counseling. If it helps keep even 560 former inmates out of trouble, the state will recoup its costs.

Some would call that enlightened.

Others might attribute the idea to clear-eyed pragmaticism.

But only to a point.

For just another $1 million, Idaho could have extended not just mental health and substance abuse programs — but the full array of medical treatment. And not simply to this relatively small group of former prison inmates but to another 70,000 low-income Idahoans who are not at any immediate risk of being sent to the state penitentiary.

That’s right. For $12.2 million, Idaho could have expanded Medicaid coverage to adults who earn too little to qualify for subsidized health insurance. Under Obamacare, the federal government was prepared to cover the entire costs for the first three years but never less than 90 percent thereafter.

Doing so would have saved as many as 368 Idahoans from premature death each year. Some of those might be the same former prison inmates who succumb to diabetes or heart disease — which of course falls outside the scope of mental health and substance abuse treatment.

If compassion doesn’t compel politicians to act, you’d think that same clear-eyed pragmatism might. Because of a declining federal match, expanding Medicaid next year would cost Idaho about $21.5 million. But once you factor how much Idaho would spend on everything from prison costs to covering the medical bills incurred by indigents, Medicaid expansion would save the state about $18.9 million.

None of which is news to House State Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Loertscher, R-Iona. He was the first to sponsor a Medicaid expansion bill. He also co-chaired an interim legislative panel that pledged to “do something” about the so-called Medicaid gap population.

But in a recent debate with Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center intensivist Ken Krell, Loertscher had to admit “doing something” is a misnomer — especially when the newly elected Trump administration wants to repeal Obamacare.

“The dilemma that I have is that the Legislature at large has never ever been willing to look at the numbers,” Loertscher said. “After all, it’s that evil Obamacare. ... That’s what’s driven the discussion too much.”

As long as legislators can say they tried to “do something,” it’s good enough for them.

Letter: Kudos for shining spotlight on Mama Dragons

Kudos for shining spotlight on Mama Dragons

I want to commend the Times-News for demonstrating the journalistic fortitude not just run this story, but to feature it on the front page. (Finding the fire: Twin Falls Mama Dragons fight for LGBT children, Dec. 13.) Treating one another with compassion, empathy, and civility regardless of our differences is a hallmark of social progress.

Advocates for each major social advancement have been shamed, maligned and criticized during their lifetimes, only to be venerated generations later as visionaries of progress. Think slavery, women’s suffrage, or segregation. I applaud those individuals like Jen Blair who are modern-day allies and advocates who will one day be venerated for having the courage and integrity to challenge the status-quo and who work to create safe spaces for those often judged and marginalized by their peers, their faith communities, and their families.

In addition to reporting the daily news, journalism is a tool for shedding light on issues that evoke introspection and revaluation among its audience. It is my hope that through this example of a modern-day advocate, as a community we can thoughtfully evaluate and seek ways to provide our fellow citizens, especially our youth, who identify as LGBTQ, the respect, courtesy, and understanding needed to create an environment that fosters the excellent social and mental health of all.

Dr. Cory Bates

Twin Falls