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Shields and Brooks on GOP health care bill pushback, Trump’s dramatic budget

March 17, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week’s news, including the conundrum for Republicans trying to pass a health care bill to replace the Affordable Care Act in the face of different factions of opposition, the White House budget blueprint offering sweeping cuts, plus the continuing allegation of a Trump Tower wiretap.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That’s syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Welcome, gentleman.

So, let’s pick up with the conversation, David, that Jeffrey Brown was just having with the head of the American Medical Association.

President Trump is saying again today the health care overhaul is moving along very well, it’s going to move through the House.

What do you see as the prospects?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: It has no critics.

No. I’m first all amazed that they did it first. Of all the issues to tackle, health care is probably the hardest one. And so every four or eight years, some president decides, you know, let’s do health care first. And it hurts them every single time.

Whether the prospects of this bill are good, I tend to doubt. It has very few fans in the Senate. And it has two wings of opposition which are in contradiction, what we call the coverage caucus, who want a little more expensive bill that will cover more people, and the Freedom Caucus wants a less expensive bill to cover less.

You can’t — they have to win both of these groups. And how do you do this, when they are mutually contradictory? And so the Senate is very daunting. So, therefore, you’re asking the House members to vote for something that will take away coverage that already exists for a bill that probably doesn’t have great prospects in the long run.

I personally bet they get through the House, just because it’s so hard to go against the sitting president in his first major thing. But I wouldn’t want to bet on the eventual passage of this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mark, what we hear is the main argument they are using now in the House as it gets closer to the vote is the political vote, you can’t go against your president.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: Yes.

It’s an argument that used, used in 1993 for the Democrats and Bill Clinton on his major budget and tax increase, which, by the way, per what David was talking about, included a BTU tax that House members voted on. It passed the House in a very difficult vote and died in the Senate.

Several moderate to conservative Democrats walked away from it. And it left those House members with a vote that they really couldn’t — it became politically mortal — fatal in several instances. I think the same thing is true here, and for good reasons, Judy.

I mean, the Republicans — part of David’s answer — they pledged in 2010, they pledged in 2012, they pledged in 2016. That was the one pledge they had: repeal Obamacare. It was an applause line.

So, it really did take on almost a moral imperative, or at least a political imperative. But, Judy, this is going to radically overhaul the Affordable Care Act. It going to radically overhaul Medicaid. You heard Dr. Gurman in his interview with Jeff.

The reality is, providers are not going to provide coverage. They’re not going to take on as patients people under Medicaid, because they are not going to have the money to pay for it. They are talking — one figure that jumps out, beyond all the questions of deductibles and everything else, 24 million Americans. That’s what the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

And Republicans just kind of recoiled. That is the number that has hung around — are going to lose coverage. Lose coverage. That just is — that is truly unforgivable. It’s morally indefensible. And I think, in this case, it will be politically indefensible.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But we’re talking — you’re talking, Mark, about the bill as it sits in the House. In the Senate, we may — we’re almost certain to see changes.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, but which direction?

First, on the 24 million, it’s a neat trick to do that, because simply repealing Obamacare would have only taken coverage from 23 million. So, somehow, the replacement subtracts a million, which is an interesting trick.

The Republican Party just hasn’t figured out where it sits on this issue. I think you could have a very good free market system, sort of modeled on Switzerland, where there are a lot of individual markets, people actually pay for their health care, and there’s some cost and demand — supply and demand pressures to get costs down.

But you would have to spend more to get it — make it universal. You business have to make it universal using a free market system. But the Republican Party hasn’t gotten there, because they don’t want to make it universal, because it probably would be extensive.

And so some of them want to go sort of in that direction, but a lot, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, they want to go in the other direction. And they just don’t think it’s the government’s job to be in the field of distribution, redistribution.

And this ACA was very redistributionist. The Republican Party hasn’t figured it out. And what is interesting to me is that Donald Trump hasn’t figured it out. He campaigned partially as a populist. And if I was a populist, I would be handing things to my people.

And what this bill does is, it takes things from the Trump voters. The middle-aged people, 50 to 64, get hammered in this bill, the people just above the Medicaid threshold. The working class, they get hammered.

And so what is the one piece of the bill that has been there from the beginning to end in all the versions, is the tax cut for people making over $250,000. And so it’s a weirdly anti-Trumpian bill that he has sort of gone along with because, I guess, the House Republicans led the way.

MARK SHIELDS: I think — I can’t argue with any point that David made.

I would just say, it’s inconceivable to me. Donald Trump changed the face of the Republican Party, whatever anyone thinks of this election. He carried 403 counties that had voted for Barack Obama.

The counties he carried, Judy, were considerably more white than the country is, and they were considerably less educated. They were struggling working class. And he has turned his back, not simply on the health care, this bill does, but on the budget.

It takes from the have-nots. It takes from the have-nots and the have-lesses, and gives to the have-mores. It is absolutely a Robin-Hood-in-reverse budget.

And I just don’t understand it. It really, to use David’s word, hammers the very people who voted for him, especially in rural areas in America.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, what about the budget proposal?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, just some things are mystifying.

Why they eliminated the Appalachian regional development, the thing that — why they severely cut the Great Lakes regions, Michigan, Wisconsin, why they had to put those specific cuts in the budget, let alone — fine, Republicans are going to try to get rid of CPB, our beloved CPB, Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

But why they put those things, it’s mystifying. And it seems to go in direct contradiction to everything he stood for in the course of the campaign.

And there’s a theory going around in political science which has some resonance for me today, which is that you have moments where you get a political party knows what they believe and they are all on board. Then there’s periods of disruption, where they are internally divided.

And the argument is, Jimmy Carter was an example was this. The Democrats had shifted away from some old-style liberalism. They hadn’t got to Bill Clinton’s style. And they were internally divided, and that Donald Trump is like Jimmy Carter.

He comes at a time when the Republican Party does not know what it wants, and that he himself is internally divided. And you get these weird contradictions of campaigning one way, and then governing in a very opposite way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And both of you are saying the same thing, then, Mark, about the budget.

MARK SHIELDS: I hope not. Well, I hope not.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: There’s no point in watching.

JUDY WOODRUFF: At least on this point.

(LAUGHTER)

MARK SHIELDS: No, but, Judy, just to add to that, David Rogers, a peerless congressional reporter, wrote in Politico, these — they are turning their backs on Republican-endorsed programs.

It was President Jerry Ford who pitched community development grants. It was Bob Dole who pushed and was the champion of food aid overseas. They’re going to cut that. It was Ronald Reagan who found the money for heating assistance for poor people. It’s just — it’s amazing.

And it’s the same budget that Paul Ryan passed in 2013. But then he was negotiating with a Democratic president, because he wanted to get cuts in entitlement growth towards his dream of taming the budget deficits.

But now he’s got Republican president, and they’re passing the same budget with the same cuts. And I just — I don’t know where the pickup is.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes. I’m — was looking for the political philosophy that might be inherent in a budget.

And some of them are just weird, even for Republicans, as Mark said, $6 million — $6 billion off the National Institutes of Health. That is an investment in scientific advance and economic growth. And why would you do that? That doesn’t even seem particularly Republican.

But, basically, what you’re doing, they are investing in everything that is hard power. They’re investing in the military, in homeland security, everything that is about threat and fear.

And they are disinvesting in everything that has to do with compassion, with care, thinking, innovation. And it’s almost like emotionally consistent. It’s just hardness and toughness and fear. And everything else just has to go.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, even some Republicans are saying, well, this is just the first shot from the White House, and we will have our own crack at it.

In the few minutes that we have left, Mark, let’s talk about the president continuing to double down on his contention that he was wiretapped by former President Obama. He’s said it. He said it again today. His spokesman, Sean Spicer, has come up with evidence, they say, or at least cited news stories. And, of course, the British government pressed back on, pushed back on one of that — one of the claims that Sean Spicer made yesterday.

What does this say that this is something the president won’t let go of, in the face of almost universal lack of evidence?

MARK SHIELDS: It is universal. When you let — when lose Devin Nunes, who is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee …

JUDY WOODRUFF: Republican.

MARK SHIELDS: Republican, who has been Donald Trump’s apologist, I mean, explained that Donald Trump was actually a political neophyte, and you could take things literally, this is a man who ran as, you might disagree with him, Judy, but you know what he says. He stands — he says what he believes and he believes what he says, and he tells it like it is.

And now we’re down to literally and figuratively. Literally and figuratively, I don’t care about quotation marks. He said this about the president of the United States. He accused the president of the United States. He said it was a fact that the president of the United States had done this. It was wrong.

It was unfounded. It was unfair. It was unjust. It was as unjust as it was when he charged that is principal opponent Ted Cruz’s father had been involved in the assassination of President Kennedy, when he charged that the first African-American president wasn’t an American, was African, Barack Obama.

But now he’s president. Now he’s president. This isn’t a matter of his macho or his vanity or his toughness. This is a question, when a president of the United States says anything, it reassures allies, it confounds the world, or it reassures the world, or it alarms people.

And I said last week, I do not believe, when the crisis comes, that there’s going to be credibility for this man.

JUDY WOODRUFF: How do you explain it?

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, there’s some fear.

One of the things that struck me this week is, Donald Trump is the most talked-about American in the history of our country. Wherever you go around the world, people are talking about Donald Trump. And every — people who go abroad, that’s all — anywhere you go in the world, people want to talk about that.

And he does it in part through this, through saying things that make him criticized and — but he is the center.

And the second thing he demonstrates through this — and, again, I’m just trying to illustrate why — A, why he got elected president, and why these things don’t seem to kill him. So, he’s first center of attention.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Figuratively speaking.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, right. Right, exactly.

And the second is that force. He shows force. I was listening to a lot of talk radio today. And there is a lot of support for Donald Trump is that that guy is tough enough to stand against everybody and be forceful. And he never withdraws, he never backs down. It’s just force, force, force.

If you remember when Jeff Sessions recused himself from that investigation on the Russia thing, Trump reportedly blew his top, because it was a withdrawal. And it was a perfectly legitimate step back, but it was a partial withdrawal. And Trump is always forward, forward, forward.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And no sign of any change on that one.

All right, David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both. Have a great weekend.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you, Judy.

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