Friday, March 29, 2019

Here we go again

Stop me if you've heard this one ...

Donald Trump said in an interview with the Washington Post that his health care plan to replace Obamacare was nearly complete. It will be a great plan—both better and cheaper than Obamacare. And every child will get a pony.

Everybody will get great coverage: "We’re going to have insurance for everybody," Trump said. Everybody! "There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it. That’s not going to happen with us." Excellent.

The insurance will be "much" simpler, "much" less expensive, and "much" better. Because when Republicans do health insurance, better and less expensive no longer pull in opposite directions. Consumers will see "lower numbers, much lower deductibles." Trump said he wants "to be able to take care of people," and that everybody will be "beautifully covered." Even though that might sound like single payer, Trump said that's not what he's advocating.

This remarkable plan is almost ready to go. "It’s very much formulated down to the final strokes," Trump said. "We haven’t put it in quite yet but we’re going to be doing it soon."

But Republican legislators who would have to deliver on Trump's promises are plenty worried. They know that no such plan exists, even though they've had many, many years to be working on one. They can do repeal, but replacement is another matter entirely. Replacement along the lines of Trump's promises is a pipe dream.

All this was from January 2017, shortly before Trump's inauguration.

Now we're hearing it again. At the president's insistence, the Trump Justice Department has said not only will it not defend the Affordable Care Act in court, but also that the entire law should be invalidated. A judge in Texas has ruled that the law is unconstitutional now that the individual mandate has been removed—by Republicans, you will recall. The Justice Department reluctantly agrees. I say "reluctantly" because the attorney general and the HHS secretary are opposed to invalidating the ACA, but Trump and Mick Mulvaney overruled them.

Invalidation of the Affordable Care Act will require action by higher courts, of course. Trump says not to worry about its demise. In fact, he wants the courts to sweep the whole thing away.

When that happens, says the president, Republicans will be ready with their own plan. Of course they will. They could take that great plan from January 2017 off the shelf. Not the one they eventually went with, but the beautiful plan of Trump's imagination.

Trump now says he wants the GOP to be "the party of health care." Just as at the beginning of Trump's presidency, congressional Republicans are bewildered. Bewildered because they're not working on health care at all, and because their previous attempts have not been salutary.

It was obvious in January 2017 that Trump had no idea what he was talking about as he was making his grandiose promises. A month later he allowed that "nobody knew health care could be so complicated." In fact, just about everybody but Trump knew. For some unexplained reason Trump didn't get it that Republicans never wanted to provide great health care to everybody. Had they wanted to, they certainly did not know how. They just wanted to repeal Obamacare.

They got their best chance in mid-2017, under united Republican rule. In May of that year, Republican lawmakers celebrated in the White House Rose Garden after the House voted very narrowly to repeal the ACA. Trump gushed that the House bill was "incredibly well crafted" and a "great plan," even as it was projected to cause tens of millions of Americans to lose their health insurance. Later Trump said the House bill was "mean, mean, mean," and encouraged the Senate to pass a bill that was "more generous." As usual, the clueless president was finding things out on the fly. And as usual, Republican legislators weren't interested in being "generous."

The Senate bill was an ugly duckling birthed in turmoil: a so-called "skinny repeal" that would have left large portions of the ACA intact and required difficult negotiations with the House. All this floundering ultimately ended with John McCain's iconic "thumbs down" on the Senate floor, which derailed Republican efforts until they were able to repeal the individual mandate as part the 2017 tax bill later that fall. The tax bill was itself passed without any Democratic support under budget reconciliation rules, and without a single committee hearing.

Despite this messy history, Trump has doubled down, without consultation with Republican legislators, and once again to their great consternation. In the 2018 midterms Democrats retook the House with a gain of 40 seats, in large part thanks to concerns of the electorate over healthcare. So naturally Trump wants to touch that hot stove again. Doing so could be a useful test.

Useful because these latest developments might yield a strong clue about the enduring gullibility (or not) of the American electorate, and its insensate susceptibility to repetitious nonsensical propaganda. Fool me—how many times? Will we keep falling for the same old scam, over and over? The midterm results suggest we might not.

In February 2017, Trump said: "We have a plan that I think is going to be fantastic. It's going to be released fairly soon. I think it's going to be something special ... I think you're going to like what you hear." At the time he was freelancing, making things up without any understanding, just like now.  There was no such plan. And nobody liked what they heard.

Here we go again? Let's.

Copyright (C) 2019 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved

The latest from Does It Hurt To Think? is here.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

This just in

The Bureau of Economic Analysis has finally released the GDP numbers for 2018. The report had been delayed due to the partial government shutdown.

Many headlines were like this one: "U.S. economy grew faster than expected in Q4."

The better "than expected" result for Q4 was 2.6 percent. Well, ok. But here's what I wrote in my previous post, on February 6, before the release:

Trump's big hurrah was 4.1 percent GDP growth in Q2 of last year. That was a one-off result that followed from a confluence of factors that won't be repeated. The growth rate has subsequently declined, and is expected to continue declining significantly going forward. Q3 came in at 3.4 percent. Q4 could be a little under 3 percent. (Apparently the Q4 report has been delayed thanks to Trump's partial government shutdown.) For all of 2018, GDP growth should be approximately 3 percent, which is solid but hardly breathtaking.

The GDP growth for all of 2018 came in at either 2.9 percent or 3.1 percent, depending on which way you do the calculations. I said the rate for the year "should be approximately 3 percent."

 [Update 2019-03-28 - It turns out 2.6 percent fourth quarter growth was indeed too high. The Bureau of Economic Analysis has revised it down to 2.2 percent in their third estimate. GDP growth for the year remains unchanged. The fourth quarter's weakness has apparently continued into Q1 of 2019, which was expected.]

The official headline GDP number for 2018 was 2.9 percent, which exactly equals Obama's best year, 2015. If you use the alternative methodology that gives 3.1 percent for 2018, then 2015's rate becomes 3.8 percent. So Trump either matches, or significantly under-performs, Obama. Your choice. GDP growth for 2017, Trump's first year in office, was 2.2 percent.

In my previous post (you really ought to read it) I quoted Trump from his State of the Union Address: "An economic miracle is taking place in the United States," said the president. The title of my post was "Keeping Trump honest," which is a never ending task.

"In just over two years since the election, we have launched an unprecedented economic boom, a boom that has rarely been seen before," said the president in his speech. "There has been nothing like it," Trump said.

The Q4 numbers, and thus the year's, are subject to further revision.

As I've previously said, with respect to GDP it's all down hill from here. The best year of Trump's presidency is already behind him. GDP growth is expected to be much lower this year than last, and anemic over the coming decade. Some miracle.

Copyright (C) 2019 James Michael Brennan, All Rights Reserved

The latest from Does It Hurt To Think? is here.