FactPower: Facts, figures, and talking points for Resistance activists.
Trump’s Distraction Tactics: Obamacare, Budget, and Taxes, vs. North Korea
I want to be wrong. And there’s a good likelihood I am. But if I’m not, I want FactPower’s readers to understand what might be coming, before we stand to lose our focus. If I am right, we may soon be seeing president’s grandest, most destructive, and most insane feat of distraction play out. It would involve healthcare, taxes, the budget, and North Korea.
Healthcare activists, as well as journalists (e.g.hereherehere), have increasingly recognized a pattern to the president’s absurdities and atrocities. Although he is fundamentally a rather absurd and atrocious character, he seems to time his real “zingers” strategically, coinciding with those critical moments when legislation is most vulnerable, and when attacks from activists are the most damaging. He does this to throw us off task at the worst possible times.
FactPower has observed a major distraction event at every critical juncture of the Senate healthcare fight. We see the impact in the form of plummeting web analytics, meaning that activists suddenly stop downloading and presumably acting on our action alerts. We did not have a website or web analytics during the House fight. However, in hindsight, we feel we have identified a major distraction then as well, which may have diminished activist responses. This is the history of these major distraction events, as we see them:
April 29, 2017 – Rodrigo Duterte: On April 27, the House GOP leadership was unable to draw together majority support for the AHCA by the end of that week and announced the abandonment of their efforts. However, that morning, the Rules Committee had posted the language to the new MacArthur Amendment that would allow state opt-outs and which would become pivotal for passage of the bill. Saturday, two days later, the president invited Duterte to the White House. Duterte, president of the Philippines, had ordered and personally participated in the extrajudicial murder of thousands in his country. The White House invitation stirred outrage and much discussion among journalists and activists alike. While activists posted indignantly about the news for days on social media, the amended AHCA narrowly passed 5 days later, May 4.
July 26, 2017 – the transgender military ban: In late July, only three GOP senators (just enough) were blocking the motion to proceed with debate on the House’s AHCA. With considerable threats and strong-arming, the White House was able to persuade Sen. Capito to support the motion to proceed. That vote passed July 25. The next day, as the Senate was getting started with its legislative frenzy, the president put the careers of thousands of patriotic service members on the chopping block in just three tweets, thereby offending the sensibilities of all fair-minded people. At this time of emergency on the healthcare front, activists all over the country dropped what they were doing on healthcare and turned their attention to the transgender ban. And the Senate preceded with their repeal/replace process with much less opposition. Our lobbyists saw it in on the ground, as other lobbyists left the Senate office buildings and joined protest groups outside; we saw it in our web analytics. Even the Huffington Post recognized the diversion. Both issues were important, but healthcare was unquestionably more important to the president. We almost lost because of this distraction tactic. We were saved only by John McCain’s misfortune with cancer.
September 5, 2017 – the rescinding of DACA: With this cruel executive order, the president once again deeply offended the sensibilities of all fair-minded people by punishing the innocent children of undocumented immigrants and ripping apart families. What we didn’t notice was that the Senate HELP Committee was beginning hearings that day to stabilize insurance markets, in the wake of the Senate failure in late July. Despite calls to action, our web analytics plummeted on healthcare. Our activists saw more interest in DACA than the more mundane aspects of market stabilization, so we did not press the Senate to give this bipartisan process the support it needed. Emboldened, Republicans returned to their ambitions to repeal/replace Obamacare with Graham-Cassidy. Yet again, both DACA and the ACA were important, but to the president, healthcare was more important.
Sunday, September 22, 2017 – the president’s spat with the NFL: This time, in a less destructive maneuver, the president launched a campaign against NFL football players during a Sunday campaign rally. At the center of the controversy were First Amendment rights and racial injustice, and fair-minded people were again offended. This became a hot topic of conversation for several days. Meanwhile (the next day), the GOP frantically got to work, shoring up support for the Graham-Cassidy bill in a fast-track process prior to the expiration of reconciliation rules. The bill went to hearing on September 25 and died there, without adequate support from GOP senators. Although many activists had gotten distracted by the NFL, we still managed an adequate response that GOP lawmakers gave up that plan of attack.
We have several matters on the table at this time. Andy Slavitt who ran Medicare, Medicaid, and the ACA during the Obama Administration, has alerted us to his theory of how the GOP may seek to destroy the ACA going forward. (Also see here.) He has been right on so many aspects of this healthcare struggle, and we should listen to what he is telling us today. Slavitt warns us of a “synthetic repeal” that would have three components:
An executive order allowing “association health plans”: These health plans would be sold across state lines and wouldn’t be subject to the consumer protections of the ACA. In the vernacular, they would be junk insurance for healthy people, as a cheap alternative to “real” insurance in the individual market. As healthy people abandon the individual market, it would enter into a death spiral, resulting in its eventual demise.
Budget cuts and tax overhaul: Republicans would possibly cut Medicaid spending by $1 trillion and Medicare spending by $473 billion over the next decade. This would be done to compensate for lost revenue from aggressive tax cuts.
Continue sabotaging the ACA: Republicans continue to inflict injuries on the individual markets, including by threatening to withhold CSR payments, offering no clarity on the future of the program, cutting or eliminating enrollment outreach, cutting funding for enrollment navigators, cutting the enrollment period in half (ending December 15)
Activists are currently contemplating action plans in response to these tactics, but we really have to wait for the other side to make the first move. We need everyone to know this is coming – and not to forget. We also have a massive tax overhaul on the table, with enormous tax cuts for the wealthy and perhaps some tax increases for the poor. And we have the deep budget cuts that might go with that tax reform. Congress is winding up for the second of its huge battles, and it could be even bloodier than the first.
We have no doubt there will be engineered distractions from the White House as these efforts unfold. We just don’t know what they will be. We hope they will all be small and manageable. We hope activists will remember whenever the president does something truly deplorable the he is quite likely trying to divert us from our fight against some piece of legislation he finds important. Remember this, and don’t fall for it!
We say this for a reason: As we enter into the mother of all battles so far, we might encounter the mother of all distractions. Perhaps even war.
The president has shown us he will stop at nothing to achieve his objectives. He will try his best to make good on his promise to take away our health insurance even if he has to trash the careers of transgender service members, rip immigrant children away from their parents and deport them, rip apart his party, squander hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer dollars, etc. He must even realize that Americans will die because of his political games, as a logical consequence of losing access to healthcare. However, he does not care (and neither do most Republican lawmakers). He will likely not care about bloodshed on the Korean Peninsula either.
What, then, would prevent the president from taking us to war with a psychotic nuclear power, as a distraction from all he hopes to achieve legislatively?
Remember, according to the president, who has an unnervingly cavalier attitude about nuclear arms, this is “the calm before the storm,” and “only one thing will work” with regard to North Korea. This is not to say the president won’t face opposition from both parties and his cabinet. It’s also not to say it will happen this week or next. However, there’s a reasonable chance it will eventually happen. If and when it does, you can expect a flurry of dreadful legislation unfolding on Capitol Hill while the rest of us are glued to the news in horror. I know it will be gut-wrenching, but try to recognize that a grand, highly destructive diversion might be playing out. We will likely not be able to stop a war, but we might be able to stop the Republican agenda on Capitol Hill. Pay close attention to what your activist leaders tell you as all this horror unfolds, and don't stop fighting any of the issues before us today, or else the GOP will have its way with all of us in the blink of an eye.