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Sunday Political Brunch: Is this a Franken-stein Strategy? -- December 10, 2017

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CHARLESTON, WV – The avalanche continues. Senator Al Franken, (D) Minnesota announced he will be stepping down amid sexual misconduct allegations, and now Representative Trent Franks, (R) Arizona, is announcing the same. This comes after numerous scandals in the political, entertainment, business and media industries. Yes, all the charges are serious, but what’s the political fallout? Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Can You Have it Both Ways?” – To me the announcement that Senator Al Franken (D) Minnesota was resigning was jarring for several reasons. Unlike Representative John Conyers, (D) Michigan, who flat out resigned, and quit, and left office on Tuesday, Senator Franken said, “Today I am announcing that in the coming weeks I will be resigning as a member of the United States Senate.” Coming weeks? What does that mean? December 29th? January 18? April 7th? It’s a weird, open-ended pledge that lacks clarity. Is it a political strategy?

“The Politics, of… well, Politics!” – Call me cynical; yet call me practical. The reason Al Franken did not flat out quit on Thursday is deeply seated in politics. Republicans and President Trump keep promising the tax reform vote will take place before Christmas. As we saw with the Obamacare repeal attempt, and the latest tax reform vote, it could come down to just one vote. An empty seat from Minnesota could screw up the whole thing, so the Democratic Caucus (which was nearly unanimous in wanting Franken to resign) wants him to stay to be that critical one deciding vote, if needed. Politics – often is about convenience and expediency – and not necessarily about what’s right. Neither party holds the franchise on this.

“Is it Apples and Oranges?” – Another fascinating moment in the Franken speech came when he said, “I of all people am aware there is some irony in the fact I am leaving while a man who has bragged on tape about his history of sexual assault sits in the Oval Office and a man who has repeatedly preyed on young girls campaigns for the Senate with the full support of his party.” Really? Why should Franken bail if his actions are seemingly (in his mind) no less egregious than the behavior of Donald Trump and Roy Moore? I think there’s more to this.

“More on Moore” – As I suggested in my “Sunday Brunch” two weeks ago, there is a lot of political strategy surrounding how a candidate or office holder deals with scandal and controversy. I noted that the Franken and Conyers accusations on Capitol Hill had delegated the forty-year-old accusations about Judge Moore to the back pages of news sites. The firings of media giants Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer and Garrison Keillor also buried the Moore story further in the weeds. But now Conyers and Franken and several others are seemingly gone, with the Alabama Senate race just days away. Was all this a coordinated Democratic strategy to lift Moore’s accusers back into front page headlines? I believe that is quite likely.

“How News Works” – As I often tell people, the news business operates in a vacuum. Sometimes you are just sucking up crumbs of information and news, and then sometimes a tidal wave comes in and dominates coverage to an extent that it wipes everything out. Yes, Roy Moore got bounced to the back pages (or off the air entirely), as more contemporary allegations of sexual misconduct filled the front pages. Trust me, this really helped his campaign bounce back. In fact, President Trump endorsed him and the Republican National Committee started giving him money again. Moore was blessed by the accusations against others of his lot. Weird, but true. Matt Lauer’s and Charlie Rose’s bad news, was manna from Heaven for Moore. Now, it may not last through Tuesday.

“The Franken-stein Strategy” – I’m not a big conspiracy theorist, but the Democratic calls for Franken’s resignation on Wednesday, looked orchestrated. What started with six female Senators calling for him to resign, converged to over three-dozen Democratic Senators – male and female alike – calling for his resignation before sundown. As I always tell folks, it’s not when the opposing party tells you to quit that you lose; it’s when your own party tells you to get out, that it’s over. Just Google Richard Nixon.

“The Short-Term Goal” – I firmly believe this was a widely-orchestrated strategy (probably a Hail Mary pass) to win the U.S. Senate seat in Alabama on Tuesday. The polling has this as a toss-up between Democratic nominee and former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones and Republican Roy Moore, the former two-time Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice. In the final three days, I bet you will see an all-out assault on Moore as a sexual predator of teenage girls. It will be ugly. That plus the banner headlines will have been cleared of John Conyers and Al Franken, by resigning and begging forgiveness. Suddenly Moore is the lone alleged sexual offender left on the stage. Is this just bizarre? Yet, but it could work; if Moore loses, it has.

“The Politics of It All” – Here’s the math. In 2018, Democrats are defending 23 U.S. Senate seats; Republicans only eight. Right now, the GOP holds a slim 52-48 majority in the Senate. Keep in mind that Senator Amy Klobuchar (D) Minnesota, is up for reelection in 2018. She’s popular and widely regarded as a safe seat. However, if Al Franken truly resigns (and factually he has not done so yet), his seat will then be up for a special election in 2018. Democrats do not have a stranglehold on this often-described liberal state. Moderate Republicans have done well here, and in recent memory held one, or both, U.S Senate seats. It’s possible the Franken seat could be captured by former Governor Tim Pawlenty (R) Minnesota or former Senator Norm Coleman, (R) Minnesota. This is no longer a “safe” seat for Democrats. It’s now “in-play.”

Should Senator Al Franken resign immediately, or is it okay that this could drag on for weeks? Just click on the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

Sunday Politcal Brunch: A Taxing Problem on Capitol Hill - December 3, 2017

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CHARLESTON, WV – There’s a lot going on in the nation’s capital these days not the least of which is the issue of tax reform. It’s not as clear as some would like to make it, in terms of who it helps and hurts the most. But, there could be tremendous political fallout. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“A Taxing Issue” – The first thing to underscore is that the House and Senate are working on two very different tax reform bills. As always, they must pass the same bill before it can go to the President’s desk, so we’ll see. The goal of passing tax reform before Christmas seems like a “pie in the sky” wish, but there’s an outside chance.

“The Big Differences” – As mentioned, as with any bill in Congress the House and Senate must eventually agree on the exact same language. The Senate bill would completely eliminate deductions for state and local property taxes, while the House phases them out over time. The Senate bill would allow people to deduct all of their medical expenses each year, while the House would eliminate all of that. The Senate would keep seven income tax brackets; the House voted to have just four. There are more differences; these are just some highlights.

“Ask an Expert!” – There is a lot of hyperbole on both sides. Democrats call all these tax cuts that only benefit the rich and corporations (simply not true); and Republicans claim the “trickle-down theory” that a rising economic tide “will lift all boats” (also simply not true). Why do I say both sides are wrong? Well a lot of this depends on the final bill and individual circumstances. First, doubling the standard deduction and child tax credit will help a lot of families keep more of their own money. However, losing property tax and student loan interest deductions and medical deductions may hurt some of the very same families who choose to itemize deductions with a Schedule A. The best advice: consult a tax adviser, since generalized reports from the press are often an inaccurate “cookie cutter” approach that can be misleading. There’s no “one size fits all” analysis here.

“Market Reaction” – Since it has been 31 years since Congress passed major tax reform, the anticipation is palpable. On Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed over 24,000 for the first time in history. The market surged by 351 points in anticipation of the Senate vote. Wall Street likes this issue, in terms of what it might mean for national economic growth. But as the ads always say, “past performance is not an indication of future returns.” Clearly, though, the investment markets are optimistic.

“Who Pays Taxes?” – Some of the rhetoric over tax reform is inaccurate and disingenuous. I don’t say this as any kind of endorsement of the current tax bills in the House and Senate. Instead it’s important to assess who is currently paying the U.S. tax bill. According to Pew Research, people who make over $200,000 per year, paid 59 percent of all income taxes collected by the Internal Revenue Service. Families making less than $30,000 per year paid only 1.4 percent of federal tax revenue. And according to the Tax Policy Center, 45 percent of U.S. families paid no income taxes at all in 2015. The notion that the “rich” don’t pay their fair share is simply blown away by these statistics.

“Why All of This Matters?” – We are now less than one year away from the 2018 midterm elections. Unlike other single district races in the past year, 2018 will, in fact, be a national referendum on the Trump administration and the Republican Congressional leadership. The Trump White House has had zero major policy initiatives get through Congress. It needs a win, and tax reform could be the ticket. Let’s face it, politics is a “what have you done for me lately” business. Even though they’ve neither passed (nor repealed) anything else of significance, if they can go home and tell voters they cut their taxes, it could have a big impact on the Republican’s chances in 2018. If they fail, it could be midterm bloodbath.

What are your thoughts on Tax reform? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political reporter, author and analyst, now based in West Virginia. He is the Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving the Mountain State, with additional viewership in Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Washington, D.C.

© 2017, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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