Health Care, Taxes, and Everything Else: Secrecy in the Service of Trump’s Plunder

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell speaks after a closed-door session at the Capitol on June 20, 2017. He is joined by Republican Senators John Barrasso, John Thune, and Majority Whip John Cornyn.

In a republic such as that we are rumored to have, looting the nation’s resources, and the money of its people, can be a little complicated. Sunlight can poison the plot; darkness is critical to its successful execution. Just ask Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, or White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Oops, never mind, what was I thinking? Their lips, of course, are sealed. The Trump-branded Project Plunder is well under way.

As the week began, Spicer told reporters assembled for one of his press briefings that they could not record it, on either video or audio. Note that this June 19 briefing was held in lieu of what was once a daily, open briefing that has been a staple of White House communication with the public for decades. (Spicer and his deputy, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, have taken to keeping the press corps off guard by convening the briefings only intermittently.) Meanwhile, news reports abound that Spicer is soon to leave the role.

Not that Spicer, when he deigns to stand before the news media, ever sheds much light on White House operations. For instance, he cannot confirm whether President Donald J. Trump believes that climate change is a real thing, or if the president accepts the conclusion of all of the nation’s intelligence agencies that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election.

As Stephen Colbert quipped: “Sean, I have so many questions. If you go, who will not answer them?”

Oh, no worries, Colbert, there are many who will not answer—McConnell, for instance, who is determined to yank access to health care from millions of America by ramming through a bill designed without allowing a single public hearing before it is written. This is being sold as an improvement on “Obamacare,” which it is intended to replace.

At a June 20 press briefing—if you can call it that—following a closed-door gathering of Senate Republicans, the majority leader was asked how long the American people (or other senators, for that matter) will have to examine the “discussion draft” of the bill that he said he expects to unveil on Thursday, June 22. He plans to schedule a vote before the Senate leaves town for the July 4 recess, without having conducted a single public hearing. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told reporters that McConnell told him a total of only ten hours of debate will be allowed the 48 Democratic senators. That’s 20 minutes, total, per senator, to make his or her case during the official business of the body. Ordinarily, a major bill is hashed out in the relevant committees, proposed features interrogated during official proceedings at which the opinions of experts are solicited.

But this is no ordinary time. The health-care bill is currently being drawn by McConnell and 12 other senators, all of them white men, behind closed doors. They are the only ones who have an inkling of what will be in it.

McConnell bristled at the reporter’s question. “Everybody pretty well understands it,” McConnell said of the bill that no one has seen. “Everybody will have an adequate time to take a look at it. I think this will be about as transparent as can be. No transparency would have been added by having hearings at which Democrats offered endless single-payer system amendments. That is not what this Republican Senate was sent here to do.”

Never mind that the American people did not seat a “Republican Senate”; there is no “Republican Senate” written into the Constitution. Simply consider the fact that the Republicans hold a mere two-seat majority in what was once known as the United States Senate.

What McConnell apparently sees himself and his partisan colleagues as having been “sent here to do” is to screw everyday American people on behalf of his overlords: the pashas of private corporations such as Koch Industries and Amway, the kings of quantitative funds such as Renaissance Technologies, the sultans of shell companies like DJT Operations II LLC (one of many owned by the president of the United States). These are companies whose financial dealings, even the names of their shareholders, are hidden from the public because their shares are not traded on public stock exchanges. They operate in secret and, having provided the capital required to elect that “Republican Senate,” their ethos of opacity has now become the ethos of what can now only mockingly be called the world’s greatest deliberative body.

“In my entire career in politics, I’ve never heard of a more radical or a more reckless process,” Schumer told reporters at a press briefing called by Democrats that same day.

The health-care bill being crafted by Mitch and his minions is the Senate’s counterpart to the bill already passed by the House of Representatives, which, as described by the New York Times editorial board, “would rob 23 million people of health insurance and make it harder for millions of others to get the care they need, according to the Congressional Budget Office. It would cut federal spending by about $1.1 trillion over 10 years while giving the wealthy big tax cuts.”

Meanwhile, House Speaker Paul Ryan made an appearance before a conference convened in Washington, D.C., by the National Association of Manufacturers, at which he asked the business leaders to mobilize their employees to call their elected representatives to demand massive tax cuts for their bosses, on the pretext that this will save their jobs.

Many of the manufacturers represented there, the speaker noted, were private companies who, he said, were unfairly penalized in multiple ways by the U.S. tax code—for instance, when they are taxed for bringing capital back into the country that they’ve been growing in offshore accounts. Of course, we’ll never know just how unfair or not that tax code is to such companies, since they are not required to share their balance sheets or tax filings with the public. We’ll just have to take the speaker’s word for it, I suppose.

Ryan also hyped the need for the reduction of regulations on businesses, which experience teaches us includes everything from environmental protection to financial oversight and then some—including protections for the very workers Ryan asked business leaders to coerce for political action in the guise of job protection. Among the “bureaucracies” whose regulations Ryan claimed needed to be “clean[ed] up,” he called only one by name: the Department of Labor.

The tax-gutting program promised by the White House, Ryan said, must take place by the end of the calendar year. He spoke with a great sense of urgency, calling the present time “a once-in-a-lifetime transformational moment.” After all, the 2018 midterm elections will soon be upon us, and the overlords want their pound of flesh.

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