Meanwhile in a remotely normal political world

It would be an ongoing and huge scandal that access to the president was being sold off by the owner of some highly-questionable “massage parlors.”  Alas, we live in the present one where our system is clearly so overwhelmed by the pervasiveness of Trump’s malfeasance that it literally cannot cope.  Seriously, ask yourself for moment not just what Fox News would have looked like, but also the network broadcasts and the cover of the NYT if Obama or Clinton (or Bush) had been wrapped up in something like this.  Michelle Goldberg, at least, is on the case:

Even if you’re an avid follower of the news, it’s hard to keep track of Donald Trump’s scandals. The president’s singular governing innovation has been to engage in grift so baroque, so galactically expansive, that trying to comprehend it all at once tests the limit of the human mind. Revelations that would have been shocking in the world we all lived in a few years ago — for example, news that the president overruled his staff to insist on security clearances for his fashion designer daughter and her husband — now take up half a news cycle, at most.

Still, it’s worth trying to summon whatever is left of our pre-Trump sensibilities and pause to consider the epic sleaze of the unfolding story of Li Yang, also known as Cindy Yang.

Yang, in case you haven’t heard of her yet, is a Florida businesswoman whose family owns a chain of massage parlors that, as The Miami Herald put it, “have gained a reputation for offering sexual services.” Last month, Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots and a close friend of and donor to Trump, was charged with two counts of soliciting prostitution at a spa Yang founded, Orchids of Asia. (She reportedly sold it around 2013, but online reviews indicate it was known as a place to buy sex before that.)…

According to Mother Jones, she claimed to have gotten her clients into the most recent New Year’s Eve party at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. The Herald reported that Yang arranged for a group of Chinese businessmen to attend a Trump fund-raising event in 2017 in Manhattan at which tickets, which foreigners can’t legally pay for, started at $2,700. Her Chinese-language website, which appears to have been taken down, said she was hosting a conference at Mar-a-Lago later this month; Trump’s sister was listed as the guest speaker.

News that the owner of a chain of dubious massage parlors was brokering foreign access to the president of the United States should be a big deal. It has the potential to be a sex scandal, an intelligence scandal and a financial scandal all at once.

“There are profound national security implications to this kind of relationship,” Jeffrey Prescott, a senior director on the National Security Council under Barack Obama, told me. “It goes to the obvious opportunities that foreign governments and interests are going to see to have influence over this president because of the way that he’s arranged his business practices.”

Of course, given that Trump as president is already a sex scandal, intelligence scandal, and financial scandal all at once, we are largely out of additional outrage.  But we shouldn’t be.

Trump’s budget

No, it won’t become law.  But a lot of politics is symbols and a budget is a big giant symbol of what the Trump administration believes is and is not important.  John Cassidy:

I’ve noted before that Donald Trump lives by a famous dictum from Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propagandist: “When one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it.” (Goebbels attributed this tactic to the English.) And the President has outdone himself with his Administration’s new budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year, which is entitled “A Budget for a Better America: Promises Kept. Taxpayers First.”

“Promises kept” has a particularly nice ring to it. Almost as nice as what Trump said on that fateful day, June 16, 2015, when he descended the escalator at Trump Tower. “Save Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security without cuts,” he declared. “Have to do it.” Throughout the Republican primary campaign, Trump repeated this pledge many times and also accused his G.O.P. opponents of wanting to slash the three big entitlement programs. In the general-election campaign, he stuck to the same mantra. A few days before Election Day, he suggested that Hillary Clinton wanted to “destroy” Medicare, the public health-care system for the elderly, which she had vowed to expand, and claimed that he alone would “protect” it.

So how does the “Budget for a Better America” treat Medicare and the other programs that Trump vowed to safeguard at all costs? By calling for even larger cuts to them than the White House proposed this time last year, when it formally abandoned Trump’s campaign pledges. The budget for the 2019 fiscal year called for five hundred and fifty billion dollars in cuts to Medicare over ten years. With the budget deficit skyrocketing as a consequence of the Trump-G.O.P. tax bill, the 2020 budget would reduce spending on Medicare by eight hundred and forty-five billion dollars over the next decade. Even in Washington, that’s a lot of money.

The cuts to Medicare would be imposed as the budget allots billions of dollars a year in extra spending to the Pentagon and another $8.6 billion for Trump’s wall along the southern border…

The budget treats Medicaid, the federal health program for poor people and children, in even more draconian fashion. Reflecting a long-standing priority of the Republican Party, the budget would convert Medicaid into a decentralized system administered by the states and financed by federal block grants. By indexing these grants to the consumer price inflation, which rises more slowly than inflation in the health-care sector, the budget would substantially reduce the federal-spending commitment going forward. In addition, it would eliminate funding that the Affordable Care Act provided for individual states to expand Medicaid to more recipients—funding that more than thirty states have taken advantage of in recent years…

It is true that, these days, White House budgets often don’t amount to much. Effectively, they are extended wish lists, which the spending authorities on Capitol Hill often set aside, especially when the government is divided, as it is now. But even a White House wish list is a significant document, because it expresses the spending priorities of the Administration and the President. In this instance, those priorities run directly counter to the message that Trump conveyed on the campaign trail.

No surprise there, you might say. It’s been clear from the beginning that Trump was selling snake oil and that his pledge to protect the safety net was about as valuable as a certificate from Trump University. But it is instructive, nonetheless, to see his mendacity expressed in cold numbers

When a bill won’t become a law

I really love this article in the N&O.  It’s a pretty regular feature of political news to read a variation of, “a bill to do this horrible thing has been filed!”  I don’t know about the statistics for state legislatures, but only 5% of bills filed in Congress every do anything at all.  Most bills are filed and never heard from again.  So, any sorts of “oh, my, look what this bill will do” is great for clicks, but not for too much else.  So, love that this N&O article works to put all this in perspective for readers (even if they are as guilty as anyone of clickbait “teachers with guns!!” headlines):

Watching news reports, you might think that handing out guns to teachers is this year’s top priority. A Charlotte TV newscast recently featured the eye-popping headline that “we are one step closer to allowing teachers to carry guns in North Carolina schools” because a bill “passed its first reading” in the House.

But the headline was false because “first reading” is a meaningless procedural step. First reading is when a bill’s title is read aloud on the floor of the legislature, and it gets assigned to committees. Nearly every bill ever filed has “passed its first reading.”

Second reading and third reading are where lawmakers actually vote, and previous proposals to arm teachers haven’t made it to that step. In the off-chance the gun proposals get through the House and Senate, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper will veto them, and Republicans no longer have enough votes to override his vetoes.

House leaders know this, and last week, that chamber unanimously approved a package of school safety measures that deliberately avoided anything gun-related: No armed teachers, but no gun control either.

Browsing the legislature’s website from Charlotte in search of outlandish bills is a recipe for misleading or downright inaccurate news stories — or at least an excessive focus on bills that are going nowhere.

Last session, nearly 2,000 bills were filed, but only 360 actually became law. [emphases mine] Some of those that fell short were unpopular, but others simply lacked the legislative muscle to get through the process. “There are more than 1,000 bills that are probably the right policy for the state of North Carolina that are going to die in the General Assembly this session,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, at a recent NC Insider panel discussion.

But how can you tell which bills have a real shot — and are therefore worth advocating for or against? Here’s what to look for if you do your own research:

Who’s sponsoring it? If the bill sponsor is a member of the GOP leadership team or the chair of a relevant committee, odds are good that the bill will pass at least one chamber. Committee chairs are powerful because once a bill is directed to their committee, they get to decide if and when it gets a vote — or if it’s dead on arrival.

If the bill is a partisan proposal sponsored only by Democrats, or if it’s sponsored by a fringe figure on the right, the proposal is likely already dead.

Is the proposal a re-run? Many persistent legislators file the same bills every session. While the political climate does occasionally shift, bills that went nowhere last session will likely suffer the same fate this year. Examples include repealing permit requirements for guns and reinstating the earned income tax credit.

Did it go straight to the Rules Committee? All bills eventually make a stop in the powerful House and Senate Rules committees, but the committees also often serve as leadership’s dumpster for unpopular proposals. This year, bills to arm teachers and “nullify” the federal legalization of gay marriage went directly to House Rules without other committee assignments. Odds are that they’ll die there.

Of course, these are nice NC-specific explanations, but the same goes for other states in terms of looking who is sponsoring the bill (party, leadership, etc.), procedural hurdles, past bills, etc.

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