A reality based independent journal of observation & analysis, serving the Flathead Valley & Montana since 2006. © James Conner.

26 September 2017 — 1044 mdt

Democrats must ignore interesting but dangerous distractions

There are a lot of interesting stories in the news: Puerto Rico’s predicament; Christian Soldier Roy Moore’s campaign against Big Luther Strange; President Trump’s speaking incoherently and swinging an atomic stick at North Korea; SecDOI Zinke’s dismay that his agency’s employees are loyal to the nation instead of to Trump personally; Zinke’s pandering to the rebuild Sperry Chalet caucus of the Stone Tent League; Legg rules in the USDA; Flathead County’s hoosegow hunt; high paid jocks kneeling during the national anthem; the advent of astroturf at Concussion Flats in Kalispell; to name a few.

All are distractions, invitations to go chasing after a wild hare while thieves strip your car and clean out your checking account.

For Democrats, the priority issues are, and must continue to be, (1) the attempt to repeal or gut the Affordable Care Act, and (2) in Montana, the terrible budget cuts that threaten the state unless the Martz administration’s income tax cuts for the wealthy are repealed in a special legislative session.

ACA repeal. Graham-Cassidy is not dead. Sens. Collins and McCain have announced they’ll vote no, but Murkowski has not. Sens. Ryan, Cruz, and perhaps Lee, say they’re against Graham-Cassidy because it doesn’t fully repeal the ACA, but in the past they’ve found ways to vote for other repeal votes and they’ll find a way to vote for Graham-Cassidy. So will their colleague from Bozeman, Steve Daines.

But even if Murkowski joins Collins and McCain to kill Graham-Cassidy, a bill to repeal or gut the ACA will return and return until it passes or the Republicans are driven out of power in both houses of Congress. The crusade to repeal the ACA is no longer about public policy. It’s about appeasing the GOP’s teabaggers and fat cats, who are furious that their politicians hold a majority in Congress but can’t deliver on the most holy campaign promise ever made (Roy Moore’s promises excepted).

Montana budget shortfall. The Republican controlled legislature overestimated, deliberately say some, the revenue available for the budget adopted, then passed, with Democratic help, SB-261, the Sen. Llew Jones Cut ‘Em Where it Hurts Act of 2017. One glaring mistake, evidently committed by almost everyone, was concluding that a wet winter would be followed by a mild fire season, and therefore assuming it was safe to divert money for fighting fires to other activities. Now the combination of a big, expensive, fire season, and reduced revenues from various taxes, means Montana must either cut government spending, raise more money, or both. The cuts, which could exceed $200 million, would fall most heavily on the old, the poor, and the sick, the people who need help the most but have the least political clout.

The best solution is a special legislative session that restores the reckless, greedy, state income tax cuts rammed through the legislature during Judy Martz’s only term as governor. That remedy, of course, is anathema to Republican legislators, a class that never has met a rich man who wasn’t overtaxed and struggling to pay his country club dues because of it. The odds of persuading the so-called “Responsible Republicans” like Llew Jones to join Democrats in restoring even a little bit more progressivity to Montana’s tax code are only slightly higher than the odds that Old MacDonald’s cow will jump over the moon.

But the odds of failure are 100 percent if a special session is not called. Gov. Bullock and his political aides may be leery of calling a special session that fails to resolve the issue. That approach is understandable, but it’s too cautious. If Bullock calls a special session that, because of Republican intransigence, is a do nothing legislature that fails to approve more revenue, and thus fails to prevent destructive cuts to government services, he’ll get credit for trying to fashion a solution to help Montanans — and the Republicans who refuse to raise the needed revenue will get credit for trying to hurt those with the least. But if Bullock fails to call a special session because he cannot get a guarantee that income tax progressivity will be increased, he’ll be blamed for not trying, and thus blamed for the cuts.

That’s the short term solution. The long term solution is electing legislators who believe that government can better the lives of those it serves. These days, those legislators are Democrats.