PUBLISHER’S COMMENT:

When BocaWatch last published a Washington Overview from Mr. Gore, some responders objected saying that BocaWatch is about and should remain concerned with local matters only….Sage advice… I must admit….but, in retrospect, is there anything more local to residents then that which is happening in Washington D.C.. Politicians that obfuscate their responsibility cause direct impacts on all us of locally. Our grassroots message to them from this local community should be ‘ Get the Job Done or Get Out!!!’
Thank you Mr. Gore for your articles. Please keep them coming….

It’s just past the Fourth of July, and we’ve already seen plenty of fireworks.

Will the Republican’s attempt at healthcare reform get off the ground, only to explode in their faces?  Has the fuse finally been lit on tax reform?  And with everybody in Washington investigating everyone else, how close are we to a scandal grand finale?  Or will a real explosion somewhere in the world (or by a terrorist here at home) make all of this seem somehow less important?

One characteristic of fireworks is that they produce a lot of smoke.  It is particularly thick in Washington at the moment, and not just around the Russia collusion and obstruction of justice allegations.  On almost every important issue, politicians and pundits are obfuscating.  The resulting confusion makes important policy decisions more difficult.  Not impossible, but much more difficult.

The current healthcare debate is a good example.  On the one hand, Republicans claim they are trying to “repeal and replace” Obamacare.  Repeal?  It looks at bit like “repealing” Prohibition by allowing people to drink only beer.  Both the House and Senate versions of the legislation preserve the core principle that the government should be a major presence in the provision of healthcare.  What the Republicans are really trying to do (but they dare not admit it) is fix Obamacare.  The Democrats and a number of Republicans don’t much like the fix, but what is transpiring on Capitol Hill is neither a return to the free market nor the creation of a new healthcare system.

Nor is the debate about the stability of the insurance market, the level of premiums, or the scope and quality of coverage—although all of those are critical measurements of success.  The core of this debate is:  how much can we afford to spend on healthcare for those who cannot afford it and how best to provide that healthcare?  It is not about insurance; it is about wealth transfer.  If the Republicans cannot agree and send the President a bill to sign, Obamacare will continue to collapse, and eventually a “bipartisan” fix will come into play that will preserve even more of the status quo.

Whatever the outcome, the final product is not likely to be called “Obamacare.”  Some Republicans are derisively calling it “Obamacare Lite”; Democrats are already calling it “Trumpcare,” claiming that “hundreds of thousands will die” as a result.  Too bad “tar baby” is no longer politically correct.  Republicans have vowed for seven years to get rid of Obamacare.  Looks like in the end they may only be able to get rid of the name.

The obfuscation on the second big domestic issue in play at the moment– tax reform– is more subtle.  It involves the conflation of the promise of tax cuts with the premise that our tax system can actually be reformed.  Although there has been significant squabbling over the details, this is a subject on which Republicans should be able to agree.  The important decisions to be made are how deep the cuts should be and how to pay for them (or not).  Some of these decisions are critical to large taxpayers, e.g. the proposed border adjustment tax, or the new cash cow du jour: non-deductibility of corporate interest payments.  But don’t be fooled that this is tax reform in the sense of the historic 1986 Reagan-O’Neill compromise or even the 2014 Camp bill, which was dubbed “death by a thousand paper cuts.”  This is tax reduction, the entitlement program for the non-poor, and if Republicans cannot deliver that by 2018, they truly are impotent.  Their biggest challenge is finding the money to pay for it.  But they are working very hard to do so, because the stakes on tax reduction are even higher than on healthcare.

If Washington is making progress on one big domestic issue, it seems to be on the allegation front.  With nine Congressional committees and the Special Council conducting aggressive investigations, leaking to the press, and pontificating almost daily in the media, we are approaching scandal fatigue.  But just when you thought there was light at the end of this particularly dark tunnel, there emerges some new detail to keep the controversy roiling.  The latest is Donald Trump Jr’s apparent glee that a Russian Mata Hari might have some solid dirt on candidate Clinton and his willingness to meet with her.  Add one more thing to be investigated, but it is doubtful that this is the smoking Kalashnikov that will prove that the President colluded with the Russians to win the 2017 election.  If that fails, there is always the obstruction of justice gambit or the attempt to prove White House malfeasance by “following the money.”  There is certainly a lot of THAT to consider, especially if we ever get to see the President’s tax returns.

The bad news for the President is that Special Counsel Mueller is ramping up to conduct a long and broad-reaching investigation, and such investigations are bound to find something.  But Mueller serves at the displeasure of the President, and should Trump decide that enough is enough, he has the legal authority to fire him.  The constraints on the President in this regard are not legal, but political.   The bottom line:  the Trump Presidency will continue to be buffeted by controversy, but nothing we have seen to date is fatal.

Meanwhile, the Administration continues to plug away on various fronts, particularly regulatory changes, trying to undo many of the big Democrat initiatives of the last eight years.  Unless restrained by the courts, this might be Trump’s biggest first term achievement.  We are already seeing the impact of his first Supreme Court nominee, and it is just a matter of time before he will be making other key judicial nominations.  The campaign against ISIS proceeds apace, although there is no overarching strategy yet about what follows after ISIS is defeated.  There has been little progress on North Korea—yet.  New sanctions are likely coming against both Russia and Iran, and fewer flights and cruise ships are bringing tourist dollars to Cuba.  Trade policy is being reviewed on a country-by-country basis, but the powerful Commerce Secretary indicated that the US would like to proceed with a US-EU trade deal.  On the negative side of the ledger, the Administration is way behind in filling subcabinet positions, and the White House remains a chaotic reflection of the boss’ temperament and management style.  And the tweets go on.

So there you have a brief summary of what is consuming Washington as we head into summer vacation season.  Congress returns from its Fourth of July recess on the 10th and has about five work-weeks before taking a shortened August break.  Not much time to get a lot done, and they have an awful lot to do.