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By Bob Franken


Intense Tents

Some will remember that Ronald Reagan used to describe the GOP as a “big tent,” meaning it had room for a large spectrum of approaches to government, from nearly liberal to arch conservative.

Well, his alleged “big tent” certainly is “past tents.” The GOP range these days goes from hard right to extremist cuckoo bird. Anybody who doesn’t stand for exclusion and protecting the rich at all costs is dismissed as a “RINO” -- a “Republican In Name Only.” The “Conscience of a Conservative” has been gradually overwhelmed by the expedient of whatever-it-takes-to-win demagoguery. President Donald Trump is not really somebody who upset the party establishment apple cart; he is simply the one who seized on the rotten fruits of destructive politics.

The big tent is no more. For proof, we need only look under the tattered big top that is the United States Capitol. There a few partisans, like Sens. Bob Corker ofTennesseeand Jeff Flake ofArizona, who don’t want to splatter themselves with scum anymore, so they’re pulling out: They’ve decided not to run for re-election. “It is time for our complicity and our accommodation of the unacceptable to end,” said Flake on the Senate floor. “In this century, a new phrase has entered the language to describe the accommodation of a new and undesirable order, that phrase being ‘the new normal.’”

Unfortunately, soon-to-be-ex-Sen. Flake, it is the new normal -- or, more accurately, the accumulated normal after generations of bitter divisiveness. Also unfortunately, most of your fellow Republicans are either true believers in the hatefulness that is Trump or true believers in surviving a brutal primary and surviving Steve Bannon, who is hell-bent on making life miserable for anyone who resists the far Reich. So they’re toeing the line without giving a second thought to whether civilization will survive such incivility.

At the White House, the president spoke about just that: “I think the press makes me more uncivil than I am,” he told reporters. “You know, the fact is I think -- I really believe -- the press creates a different image of Donald Trump than the real person.”

Right now, the real Trump’s focus is on ravaging the tax code after failing, for the moment, at gutting health care in theUnited States. When it comes to taxes, the Republicans have always been in lockstep. They want to lower them, which is laudable until we note that what they really want is to lower them for their wealthy patrons.

No matter whether they add to the crippling national debt; no matter whether they cut social services for the poor, disabled and elderly; and no matter whether they crush the few crumbs the middle class has left -- 401Ks, for instance, which allow for millions of people to eke out their retirement. The same approach targets the current deduction for state and local taxes. That hits every homeowner, because those state and local taxes include property taxes. Never mind, they shout; we need revenue to make the well-off weller-off.

As for those who won’t be able to afford their homes, don’t worry. They can live in a big tent. And hope it’s not as phony as the Republican one.






Trump is the GOP Mainstream

By Rich Lowry

The showdown between President Donald Trump and Sen. Jeff Flake turned out to be no contest. It wasn’t Trump who was out of the GOP mainstream, but Flake.

TheArizonasenator supported Gang of Eight-style immigration reform, when immigration restriction is becoming a litmus-test issue in the party. He is a Goldwaterite, libertarian-inflected conservative, when the market for libertarianism within the party is limited and diminishing by the day.

He is frankly anti-Trump, when Trump owns the party. Many Republican voters are fully aware of the president’s flaws, but they don’t want to hear about them constantly from Republican office holders.

Flake’s criticisms of the president were honest, sincere and principled. If he’s not a finalist for a Profile in Courage Award, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation is falling down on the job.

They also were malpractice. The most likely outcome was to make it more difficult to defeat the Trumpite insurgent Kelli Ward in a primary next year, which one would have thought was a paramount political goal.

Worse, Flake apparently rendered himself unelectable. Perhaps he considered speaking out more important than serving, a personal choice that no one can gainsay. But if the party isn’t going to be overrun by Trump sycophants, it will need working politicians who are willing and able to better navigate these waters.

There are a few, more sensible approaches in the Senate.

There’s the Ben Sasse model -- speak your mind without fear or favor, knowing that you aren’t facing a tough primary in a matter of months and, if you decide to run again, it won’t be until 2020, when the mood might have shifted.

There’s the Mitch McConnell model -- hold your cards as close to the vest as possible and try to keep things from running completely off the rails so the party’s congressional majorities aren’t destroyed.

There’s the Lindsey Graham model -- criticize Trump when he’s wrong and never abase yourself in his defense, but develop a relationship with the president to maximize your sway.

But it’s a mistake to assume that Trump will somehow magically evaporate, leaving everything in the party as it was before he showed up. At this point, a Trump failure will take down the party, too, and may deepen and intensify the Republican civil war rather than end it.

It’s also a mistake to treat the Trump phenomenon as a fluke from which Republicans need learn no lessons. Establishment Republicans seem to believe Trump’s rise says more about the inadequacies of their voters than about the inadequacies of their own, shopworn politics.

The great advantage Trump has in Republican politics is that he’s a Republican president, and partisanship is an awesome political force. So is the cult of personality that inheres in the presidency, augmented by Trump’s celebrity. He has the right enemies, and his culture-war fights coupled with his traditional GOP legislative agenda offer something for everyone in the party, from the populists to the Chamber of Commerce.

All of this means that, until further notice, he occupies the commanding heights of the GOP. Full-frontal assaults may be bold and brave, but they will likely be ineffectual, if not wholly counterproductive.








By Freddy Groves


           The New CARE Act

The Department of Veterans Affairs is proposing the new Veterans Coordinated Access and Rewarding Experiences (CARE) Act and has sent those ideas to the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committee.

The original CHOICE Act gave veterans the option of getting medical care closer to home, outside of a VA facility, if they lived more than 40 miles from one or couldn’t get an appointment for 30 days. That was a good step, except when it came to determining just what “40 miles” meant. Was it as the crow flies, or was it by long and winding road? And yes, it sounded great to be able to access care mere miles from one’s home ... except the contact number to make appointments was involved in a scam (a difference between an 800 and an 866 phone number). And yes, the whole thing sounded fine, except that care providers were bailing due to lack of payment.

This new CARE Act proposes to simplify eligibility requirements, implement new care coordination support, and streamline clinical and admin processes.

Said VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin, “We want veterans to work with their VA physicians to make informed decisions that are best for their clinical needs, whether in the VA or in the community.” Which means what? That the third-party vendor will no longer need to approve your request to go outside the system?

VA officials are, however, proposing to change the 40-mile, 30-day difficulty rule that has kept many veterans from getting care. There are other items as well: tools to strengthen VA care, partner with other federal agencies and “business process enhancements to improve financial management.” I suspect this last one means “paying bills on time so community-care providers won’t quit or send the bill to the veteran.”

To find out how quickly your nearest facility can see you, go online to