Three themes from the week ending May 6th, 2017
The push to make 100 days matter dumped a whole lot of headlines on everyone this week. It was tempting to stick with Star Wars socks and not so fun facts about the Civil War for this round.
Too Simple Math
A single-page tax plan from the Executive Branch has everyone talking about what’s missing. The specifics are scarce and the math doesn’t add up. The Boston Globe offers a nice rundown of the proposition under the title, “We’re a Typical Family. What Would Trump’s Tax Plan Mean for Us?” The paper’s answer for this average family is largely a matter of wait and see. There’s another group of Americans, however, that can get to the final answer without further explanation:
For the rich, the gains are very clear and very valuable, including reducing the top income tax rate, eliminating the alternative minimum tax and estate tax, and cutting capital gains.
A certain Minority Leader in the U.S. House of Representatives calculated that the proposal would have offered a $30 million tax cut for Donald J. Trump in 2015. Politifact found that Nancy Pelosi got the math right. Bloomberg points to the necessity of the claim that the tax plan will pay for itself through economic growth. The math doesn’t add up but the politics do. Creating a deficit likely to exceed a 10 year window would require 60 votes to pass the Senate with permanent reform. Then there’s that whole question about the deficit and whether or not anyone is ever serious when they talk about balancing the budget or requiring budget-neutral legislation.
If you need to win at cocktail chatter this weekend, borrow this phrase from Bloomberg writer Peter Coy: Trump’s plan “violates what’s known as the transversality condition.” If you haven’t already had too much to drink at that point, you can add, “which says that debt relative to the size of the economy cannot grow to infinity.” Be sure to turn and walk away for another drink before there’s a follow-up question.
A Matter of Life or Death
If you usually skip late-night TV, you might not have known who Jimmy Kimmel was until this week. After a brief absence from the show, he returned to the stage to share his family’s story about his newborn son born with a heart defect. He also made a powerful statement about questions of life or death and our obligation to one another:
We were brought up to believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, but until a few years ago, millions and millions of us had no access to health insurance at all. You know, before 2014, if you were born with congenital heart disease, like my son was, there’s a good chance you’d never be able to get health insurance, because you had a pre-existing condition. You were born with a pre-existing condition…
If your baby is going to die and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make. I think that’s something that whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or something else, we all agree on that, right?
With their “4 Big Changes to Health Care in the Latest GOP Bill,” Fivethirtyeight puts pre-existing conditions at the top of the list. Real people are using the hashtag #IAmAPreexistingCondition to share their own stories of medical uncertainty. An excellent post by Olga Khazan in The Atlantic suggests stories like these, “of people in dire need of health care might be the thing” that makes it impossible to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
While others were running the table with tax cuts and health care legislation, the Obama Presidential Library made its first appearance this week. It’s aspirations match the namesake with Obama telling the Chicago Sun-Times that it would be a place to “train the next generation of leadership” who will “take up the torch and lead the process of change in the future.”
About that future, this will be the 14th presidential library managed by the National Archives and Records Administration but will mark a new way forward in many ways:
Other aspects of the center speak to the former president’s ideals and legacy. Its proximity to transit, parklike setting, and promise of eco-friendly construction nod toward his environmentalism. His plan to invite artists like Chance the Rapper and Spike Lee to teach kids about the arts reflect his love of music, film, and children. His desire for a center that “looked forward, not backward” echoes the entire point of his presidency.
Situated in an urban area, the new site has an opportunity to connect with people beyond the academics one finds on college campuses. It will also be the first “fully digitized” presidential library. A historian at Oklahoma State University who spoke to Wired.com (linked above) thinks this all adds up to thinking Obama has forgotten the “core function of a presidential library, which is to house the documentation of a president.” This understanding of a presidential library’s purpose has been especially significant since Watergate, the scandal that prompted the “Presidential Records Act of 1978.” It requires Presidents to make most of their documents public within five years of leaving office.
This potential gap between physical documents and electronic copies is a question for the future. It might create confusion or inconvenience for investigative citizens but it might also make possible a new hub for civic life in Chicago. A couple of other question require considering the distance between words and deeds sooner rather than later. There’s the question of taking public park land, a gift to Obama, rather than buying land for a presidential library and that “$400,000 speech” that has everyone offering an opinion.
Looks like creating a space for “building consensus and community” is an expensive proposition.