Mark Curtis's blog

Sunday Political Brunch: The Art of the Deal -- September 10, 2017


CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA – It’s been a fascinating week of twists and turns in the political world, as the winds of hurricanes breathe down the backs of the United States. President Trump took some surprising turns in the week that was, and they’re generating a lot of buzz. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“The DACA Two-Step” – To many it was the ultimate in contradictions. First, President Trump gave a six-month warning to the end of the policy known as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). It protected thousands of children from deportation, who were brought to the United States illegally by parents or others They are the children of the so-called “Dream Act,” many of whom were infants or young children who had no idea they were being brought into this nation unlawfully. Many have become well-educated workers who prospered into adulthood, and pose no threat. The President indicated they might be able to stay after all, if Congress passes a law to legalize their status.

“The Art of the Deal” – That’s the name of the President’s best-selling book from the 1980s that launched him into national prominence. Yes, the book was about real estate, but some of those same principals can be used in politics, too. As far as DACA, the President gave a clear indication its principles could survive if codified into law by Congress. Allowing a path to citizenship for “The Dreamers” has wide-bipartisan support. By moving the policy from an Obama-era Executive Order, into the law of the land would be a big political and psychological victory for the Trump White House. The President has had very few Congressional wins; so, this would be huge and make him look like an accomplished political deal maker.

“The Immigration Realities” – Months ago, I suggested in this very column that the President would be wise to break up immigration reform into eight or nine smaller, separate bills. There’s no way Congress will pass a massive, all-encompassing immigration reform bill. The last time it did that was 1986, and the results have been less than impressive. Look, President Trump was elected – by and large – on the strength of his anti-illegal immigration proposals. This is his signature issue. But his most famous idea – building a huge wall on the Mexican border – would be a poison pill in an overall, omnibus immigration bill. So, like he Dream Act, it would be best to handle each immigration issue as a separate piece of legislation.

“The Other Side of the Coin” – The other big issue in Washington, D.C., this week was about raising the national debt ceiling and avoiding a federal government shutdown. At first blush, this has nothing to do with the illegal immigration issue, but in political reality the two issues are intertwined, and here’s why. President Trump needs some legislative wins. So far, this White House has ruled by Executive Order and court wins. He needs to show he can get bills through Congress and these are two good opportunities. Plus, these two issues are widely supported by Democrats and the President needs to show he can truly govern with bipartisan support at times.

“The Politics of Disaster” – Raising the federal debt ceiling was tied to providing eight billion dollars in federal disaster aid to Hurricane Harvey-ravaged Texas. Politicians on both sides of the aisle have long ago learned lessons about botching disaster assistance, i.e., Hurricane Katrina. The fact the President Trump sided with the Democrats plan for debt-ceiling and disaster recovery is telling. Look, details such as raising the debt ceiling for three months versus six months is political minutiae that the average person doesn’t care about. They just want action. The other part of it is that President Trump needs to demonstrate he can work with Democrats, and this – and the possible final DACA vote – could show just that.

“The Echo Chamber” – A few weeks ago, I wrote about a rising star of the Trump White House, that being U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley I suggested she is the next Secretary of State and possibly the first female U.S. President. I said at the time, “You heard it here first!” Well, this week CNN printed a similar analysis of where the Haley political trajectory may be headed. Right now, she is the hottest star and steadiest voice of the otherwise controversial Trump White House.

“The Shutdown Showdown” – President Trump’s agreement to side with the Democrats on the debt ceiling (and to keep the government open) is wise for another tactical reason. The last three government shutdowns occurred when Republicans controlled Congress, but a Democrat was in the White House. In those cases, Republicans took the lion’s share of the blame because - after all - there are 535 members of Congress, but only one President. Now with Republicans in charge of the Senate, House, and White House, there was no way the party could lay the blame on a badly weakened Democratic Party. Trump knows cutting a deal with the opposing party, helps prevent blame on his own party. Talk about the art of the deal!

Are the DACA and debt ceiling votes a turning of the tide in the Trump White House? Just click the comment but and leave your opinions at

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally known political author and analyst based in Charleston, WV. His political coverage is featured daily on WOWK-TV13 Charleston-Huntington; WTRF-TV7 Wheeling; WBOY-TV12 Clarksburg; WVNS-TV59 Beckley; and WDVM-TV25 Martinsburg-Hagerstown.

© 2017, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

Sunday Political Brunch: A Taxing Problem -- September 3, 2017


CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA – It’s the quiet before the storm. While everyone enjoys Labor Day weekend and the last vestiges of summer, Congress is getting ready to return to Washington, D.C., later this week. President Trump and many Congressional leaders want to tackle the issue of tax reform right out of the box, but other priorities are demanding attention, too. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“What Is Tax Reform?” – Tax reform should not be confused with the much sexier issue of tax cuts. If I am getting a 10 percent tax cut, that’s real money. I can figure out what is going back into my wallet, so it’s an easier sell for Congress and the voting public. But tax reform is more complex, allowing for reconfiguring of tax brackets and items which may or may not remain deductible, such as home mortgage interest. It can be dry stuff, sexy only to lawyers and accountants. Plus, its tangible results are often felt in a matter of years, rather than right away. My point is that Congress could pass tax reform before the end of this year, but it may not be reflected in peoples’ pocketbooks until April 15, 2019. That’s five months after the 2018 election!

“Will I Make More Money?” – For many voters – pardon the pun – this is “the bottom line”! If I make $60,000 per year and my federal taxes are 15 percent, I am paying in $9,000. A tax rate cut to 10 percent will put an extra $3,000 in my pocket every year. That’s easy. But then they talk of reducing or eliminating the home mortgage deduction, or tuition tax credits, and other allowances only an accountant may know about. It gets cloudy and hard to figure what my real savings might be. Tax reform involves a lot of math (clearly the least favorite subject in school for most people.) And if a lot of the tax advantages go to high income earners, many people may be turned off, or at best be indifferent. It’s hard to make tax reform a bumper sticker campaign because of the complexities.

“Past Tax Reforms” – Tax reforms were most notable in the Reagan administration. Just seven months into his first term, he got the first of his tax reforms passed. Income taxes were cut an average of 25 percent over three years, but the federal deficit exploded. Some mid-course corrections were made in 1982, and the economy finally erupted with some of the biggest growth ever recorded. Reagan was easily reelected in a 1984 landslide. The Reagan administration passed another major tax reform bill in 1986, one that simplified the tax code by reducing 15 tax brackets to just four. The Reagan era of economic boom is still highly regarded by many.

“Should This Have Been Done First?” – I am a big believer in having a laundry list of accomplishments as a politician, including hitting a home run on your first at-bat. In 2001, President George W. Bush got a bipartisan education reform bill known as “No Child Left Behind” passed into law by the end of May. It gave him an initial victory. Had I led the Trump White House I would have gotten the infrastructure reform bill through Congress first because both Democrats and Republicans were on board. The Obamacare repeal could have waited, especially when there were early signs it was in big trouble in both the House and Senate.

“Infrastructure” – Just about everyone agrees that the nation’s roads, highways, and bridges are in sad shape. So, what do you do? Look, this is classic pork barrel politics. Investment in infrastructure is something tangible that Washington, D.C., does which is felt in just about every state and Congressional district. First, it puts people back to work, fixing things that just about every driver will tell you need to be fixed. It pumps money into local economies, and produces visible, tangible local results. It helps generate more state income taxes and sales taxes, so it fills state coffers, too. The downside is that the jobs are never permanent; and when the highways are done, many of those workers may be unemployed again. But it can provide a healthy, visible short-term spike in the economy.

“Should Obamacare Have Waited?” -- This is a tough question. In hindsight, many people say “yes.” I think the proponents of repealing and replacing Obamacare misread the tea leaves, when they thought repeal would be easy. Here’s the dynamic: The GOP-led House and Senate had voted many times to repeal Obamacare, knowing full well that President Obama would veto it. It was an easy vote. But fast-forward to 2017, and states such as West Virginia were faced with the prospect of pushing 200,000 people off the health care rolls in one of the poorest states in the nation. Suddenly, a repeal vote was not as easy to make. That was the case for many lawmakers in states that are struggling. Good research would have pointed this out last spring; but, instead, wishful thinking became an illogical political guide.

“What Have You Done for Me Lately?” – President Trump has been feuding with his top economic advisor, Gary Cohn, since Cohn was publicly critical of the President’s response to the violence in Charlottesville. Cohn told The Financial Times, “The administration can and must do better in consistently and unequivocally condemning" hate groups. Many observers believe Cohn is the linchpin of passing tax reform, and Trump would be hard pressed without him.

“Defending the President; Defending My Seat?” – A big quandary for many Republicans in Congress will be: “Do I defend my own record, or do I have to defend the President’s record, too?” As I have pointed out here often, almost all House Republicans won their seats on their own, without the President’s help. On the other hand, the Republican Senate majority owes its continuation of power directly to Trump’s coattails, as he helped carry key seats in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. But those three Republicans are safe, as they aren’t up for reelection until 2022. I predict most Congressional Republicans will simply run on their own records and keep their distance from the White House.

What would you change about our tax system or tax code? Just click the comment button at

Mark Curtis Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, including viewership in Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.

© Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: cnsnews.comI

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