The bars opened early in Washington and elsewhere last Thursday, as more than 19 million Americans tuned in when the networks and cable news channels carried live former FBI director James B. Comey’s riveting testimony in the intensifying scandals around President Trump. The media covers Trump’s derelictions 24/7. Not surprisingly, Democrats tend to talk about what grabs the most airtime.
Lost amid the din are true infamies — legislation that the Republican Congress is pushing that poses a direct threat to millions of Americans. In the Senate, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) reportedly may have the Republican votes to pass a Senate replacement for Obamacare. House Republicans just passed sweeping bank deregulation. While the media fixates on Trump, Republicans are rushing through legislation that will deprive millions of Americans of health insurance coverage and open the way for another Wall Street wilding.
The Senate health-care bill represents the most immediate threat. Thirteen male Republican senators have been meeting in private to draft a bill. No one else knows what’s in it. There have been no hearings, no public debate. Democrats and the public are completely locked out. McConnell’s plan is to release a bill later this month, get a rapid Congressional Budget Office estimate of its effects and force a vote before the July 4 recess. Senators will vote on a bill to reform one-sixth of the nation’s economy and involving the health care of 140 million Americans that most senators will have had no time to read.
The reason for the stealth and speed is that McConnell knows the reforms he envisions are incredibly unpopular. While Senate Republicans distanced themselves publicly from the House Republican bill, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (Tex.) admits that the Senate version would build off that: “Eighty percent of what the House did we’re likely to do.”
And Americans are justifiably opposed to what the House passed. It would deprive an estimated 23 million Americans of health-care coverage, raise rates brutally on older workers without insurance at work and undermine protection of those with preexisting conditions. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that American voters disapproved of the House GOP plan 62 percent to 17 percent. The vast majority rejected the core of the plan — savaging funding for Medicaid (cutting it by an estimated 45 percent) to lavish tax breaks on the very wealthy. By 65 percent to 30 percent, voters opposed decreasing federal funding for Medicaid, with the opposition undoubtedly more fierce in the 31 states that expanded Medicaid under Obamacare.
McConnell’s plan is to release a bill that is marginally less punitive than the House bill, dispute CBO estimates of how many would lose adequate insurance, promise to make things better in conference and force the bill through with 51 votes a matter of days after it has been released. The media’s focus on the Trump scandals has helped provide cover for this utterly irresponsible ploy.
Simultaneously, the banking lobby’s faithful minion, House Financial Services Chair Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), has ushered sweeping bank deregulation through the House. This comes only nine years after Wall Street’s excesses cratered the economy and cost $20 trillion in bailouts, lost jobs, homes and retirement savings, and more.
The bill would repeal the “Volcker rule” that restricts the big banks’ ability to make certain risky financial bets. The Financial Services Oversight Committee — created to provide serious oversight of institutions that are too big to fail — would be neutered. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would be stripped of independence and authority. The CFPB has helped almost 30 million Americans recover nearly $12 billion from fraudulent banking practices. The House bill would eliminate its director’s independence, make its budget more vulnerable, and strip it of the power to levy fines for bank tricks and traps. The CFPB used that power to collect $100 million from Wells Fargo for fraudulently opening millions of accounts without customers’ knowledge. (As a bonus for chief executives, the bill also would repeal rules designed to rein in excess pay by requiring public reporting on how much CEOs make in comparison with their average employee.)
The bill will face obstacles in the Senate because it will need Democratic votes to pass. But this is the opening gambit of the powerful banking lobby, and it will take massive citizen mobilization to stop big parts of this abomination from coming into law. Again, the Trump scandals have allowed Hensarling to cater to the banks in relative obscurity.
In 2012, right-wing lobbyist Grover Norquist said it didn’t matter which Republican became president, the only requirement was that he have enough “working digits to handle a pen.” The Republican Congress would drive the agenda. “We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. . . . We just need a president to sign this stuff.”
In Trump, Norquist and the right got a bonus. They didn’t just get a president who can wield a pen, despite his small hands, they got one whose constant scandals and outrages provide cover for an agenda that could not survive public scrutiny.
Millions of Americans — particularly older workers, the aged and the mothers and children who depend on Medicaid, the disabled and the vulnerable — are about to be stripped of health-care coverage. The big banks — already enjoying huge profits and rising bonuses — are creating the conditions for another wilding. Even as the Trump infamies continue, these derelictions demand more media attention. And Democrats should raise the alarm and mobilize opposition to these real threats to working Americans.