Monday, December 11, 2017

Other than that, How Was the Play, Mrs. Lincoln



Not the Best of GSE Times, But..



I AM A LITTLE CONFUSED (some of you quickly will agree), although I may turn out—figuratively speaking—to win all the marbles, yet, if the GSEs against significant odds survive as shareholder owned entities?

Last week was horrendous for the GSEs.

Fatal? Not ready to go there, yet, since unlike any place in the policy world, in our nation’s capital it ain’t over until it’s over and “the Fat Lady sings.”

The bad news wasn’t so much the fevered activity of another Corker-Warner GSE reform bill (“introduction next year,” said one of the principals). Rumors about which have been circulating for weeks (as IMF’s Paul Muolo chided me, “I already had written this story” or bragging words to that effect).

Hensarling Flip

For me, what turned into a GSE no good horrible very bad event was when the massive political leopard changed most of his sports, i.e. House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling announced he was coming off his total/complete/never more opposition to Uncle Sam having a role in the nation’s primary and secondary mortgage markets and now would support somehis conditional caveat…if his congressional colleagues would join him and kill Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Why Jeb and why now?

There were rumors that Jeb—who earlier this year announced he wasn’t seeking re-election in 2018—had gotten an offer from the Mortgage Bankers Association to succeed David Stevens, MBA’s current President and CEO, who announced his plans to retire in mid-year 2018. In addition,

 Stevens reported seven figure plus salary could have looked real nice to Jeb ergo the latter’s conversion.

In that audition scenario, Jeb’s action just was him auditioning and showing his fealty to the MBA agenda, by supporting everything it supports and opposing the GSEs, which, at bottom, is the MBA’s stance.

It also might have been Hensarling’s realization that his old pro-commercial bank MO was so 1920’s and wouldn’t/couldn’t work in the current era, where overly rich and fat banks won’t take normal mortgage risks unless the federal government stands behind their losses, a position Jeb endorsed too.

Senate Contribution

Further muddying last week was Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), and his wingman Mark Warner (D-Va.), declaring they had their own strangle Fannie and Freddie idea, leaving them alive in a transition mode for a longer, to suck out any remaining mortgage market bodily essences.

But it was Hensarling whose epiphany spoiled the GSE picnic.

In the past, Jeb’s insistence on no federal government role invariably screwed the legislative pooch and killed any GSE cooperation from the Senate.

With the sudden Hensarling “born again in support of Uncle Sam as the mortgage provider,” the odds have shifted to some crippling GSE legislation happening next year.

It is time like this dramatic Hensarling reversal announcement when I wish I could question, publicly, the principal and challenge his/her mortgage finance rationale, looking for the inconsistencies and the holes in his answers and shouting them to the world.

It’s like Lucifer Morningstar, the TV show “Devil,” asking the weekly bad guys—staring them in the eyes—“What is it you really want?” The perps melt and spill their guts to Lucifer.

In my dream, throw in Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.), a bank toadie who never has changed his spots from when he was an anti-GSE staffie working for Senator John Tower (R-Tex), then Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.

French last week said he would or did drop in legislation, resembling Corker’s “GSE Jumpstart” expiring law, which puts shackles on the Treasury in its management of Fannie and Freddie. Hill’s action, I surmise, needed Hensarling’s blessing.

Caveats to the Above Scenario

The most important and necessary item, missing from last week’s mortgage polka party--with the House and Senate dancing guests--was a position from the Trump Administration. They didn’t say much about either the Senate idea or the Hensarling transfiguration.

Staying silent for a bit might be good for Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin—despite all of the Admin spinning—who suffers with a shaky rep on the Hill (his wife’s antics don’t help him).

A still breathing Fannie and Freddie—the opposite of what Hensarling and Corker would do to them--continues to represent $100 Billion or more fresh revenue for DJT and the Treasury because of the value of the GSE warrants Treasury holds worth 79.9% of the two.

But utilizing it means the two entities stay alive.

Of course, given how they GOP approached a $1.4 Trillion in deficit spending in their new tax bill, maybe that cash doesn’t matter to these folks????
Or, maybe it still does and to the extent that “Nooch” has thought creatively about the GSEs (which I doubt he has time to do, only because of everything else on his plate), he might play for time before committing.

The other GOP consideration is one I’ve stated before—MAJOR POLITICAL RISK.

The voting public is a little unhappy and maybe rebellious.

Do the Republicans, have the stones to destroy the GSEs in the 2018 election year, no matter how they spin the big banks—the GOP’s all dominating successor to Fannie and Freddie--and the inevitable chaotic transition where banks hold all of the mortgage finance cards and the consumers have few if any (remember, the GOP just buried the Consumer Finance Protection Board (CFPB).

What federal agency will stand up to the banks then???

Answer, none of them.

Fannie and Freddie can, did, and do act as governors against bank penitent to cut corners, because the broader secondary mortgage market players, now, require GSE underwriting standards on all originated loans which the bankers, mortgage bankers, and other lenders pay Fannie and Freddie a small fee to guarantee.

If the lenders produce crap, that garbage doesn’t get a GSE securities “wrap,” which right now the national and international mortgage markets desire/require.

GSEs and the courts

While outstanding GSE court case still exist, I doubt any federal judge wants to be the first one to oppose the original Lamberth finding and go against this Administration.

Federal judges live for their legal decisions to promote them to a higher judicial level and—unless this Administration clearly indicates it wants the GSEs around—don’t look for that court help, anywhere, including the SCOTUS.

Where does that leave the GSE supporters, hoping for Senate Democrats to show GSE resolve/understanding; some clever and creative political or media source (Investors Unite, small banks, plus Tim Howard writ large) to keep thundering at Congress why the big banks ---based on their sordid anti-consumer and law breakings pasts, remember the PLS content, not just their brigandry—never should be put in total charge of the mortgage finance chicken coops.

Those financial foxes are not worthy and sooner or later, they’ll go for the jugular and violate any market they control, especially if Jeb, French, Corker and Warner also give them new federal loss protection for the mortgage backed securities.


Just like the ill consequence of huge tax cuts for the rich and not much for the little guy, the public won’t realize the GSEs inherent value until they’re no longer around.

Of course, there’s always hope for Democrat political wins in 2018 and 2020.



Maloni, 12-11-2017


Monday, December 4, 2017

Taxes, GSEs, and Other Rants



Things I am Thinking!!


Well, how do you like President Trump’s/the GOP’s evolving tax plan? Feel  joyous, a little queasy, or just plain screwed?

Do you appreciate how they reduced the taxes in both chambers for those who need it least? Do you like what the Administration insisted on, as far as gotta-give-to-the-rich policy and pace? 

Do you think the nation will be better off with billions and billions more in deficits, while taxpayers’ money flows out of the Treasury to the business community with largely BUBKIS going to people making less than $100,000? 

Get my drift, see where I am headed here? And that’s before you consider what social, healthcare, and other negative effects when President Trump feeds the cows and argues he's really feeding the crows (that’s you).

When this deficit bites, as it will, the R’s will move to cut Medicare, Social Security, and remaining federal healthcare and social programs. Because everything else that could be trimmed belongs to “their people.”

There was no urgency to pass tax changes, just the Trump ego needs. The Obama health care bill (ACA)—before it became law—bathed in sunlight for all to see and grasp and was available for the policy makers, media, press for over a year.

The ACA's advancement was far more consistent with the Constitution and what’s left of our system of government than what the conservative Congress and President produced. 

Big business will win right away, no surprise. I predict the rest of America-- when they grasp what their fate is under these changes--will be very unhappy and, hopefully, angry.

Although some conservatives will figure out a way to blame Barack Obama  for any voter unhappiness, you know, Shhhh, the first B---- President. 

75% of US taxpayers, shouldn’t expect much tax relief, unless you already are financially fat and wealthy. 

In our past, we’ve had massive business tax cuts before which never, never produced the capital investment, jobs, employment training, and new revenue for the Treasury, which this group of congressional R prevaricators and their “Amen Chorus” claim.

Will that historic behavior change this time, just because “the Donald” claims it will? And how will Trump Inc. emerge after all of these tax emoluments?

With this bill, the Grand Old Party removed their hooded masks and displayed their true nature. Avarice and gluttony, you are them!!

Like whipped dogs but well trained dogs, the GOP Congress offered up all the largess the moneyed interests bought from them.

Republicans in Congress should be ashamed and should be voted out as soon as they seek re-election.

I hope all of those Trump-voting lower income families in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin due to get the  crumbs from this spread are watching closely.





Let’s Talk About Fannie and Freddie

The GSE community seems all a twitter over reports Mel Watt and Treasury Secretary Steve “Nooch” Mnuchin are discussing ways to allow Fannie and Freddie to keep some of their revenue and build capital before Jan. 1, when—by (bizarre) statute—they will have none.

Others are worried that the tax reform bill—which will go the White House for DJT’s signature—could have a deleterious accounting effect on the GSEs, if they have to write down some of their deferred assets, lessening the DTAs value and possibly producing some headline risk, i.e. “GSEs need more Uncle Sam help.”

Here are my simplistic political answers to those worries. (You should to turn to Tim Howard’s always excellent blog for the substantive and accounting explanations of these same matters.)

Despite the self-serving rumors about a new Senate "get rid of the GSEs" legislation with Fannie and Freddie being rolled up, I don’t believe the Congress is ready to take on the broader comprehensive GSE issue any time soon, no matter what the MBA, Milken, Michael Bright and David Stevens try and promote.

After screwing the American middle-class with their “beggar thy neighbor tax bill,” I doubt Trump and the GOP quickly will follow with a new scheme to drive up costs and disrupt the mortgage and real estate markets—giving total control to the nation’s biggest commercial banks--as we head into the mid-term election years?

MID and SALT

Speaking of taxes, if the GOP Tax Conference limits/curtails the writing off of mortgage interest deductions (MID) and/or state and local tax deductions (SALT), will those public officials own up and admit to America’s current homeowners those two actions will result in loss of home equity for most when they sell their houses???

Will the major Washington building and real estate trade associations ever remind them of that?

Most people I know factor equity in their homes  when they measure their “net worth.”

If the Trump-Republican tax changes push down the appeal and price of that house, who incurs those losses? It’s the owner/seller?

Hello, Republican Congress are you listening and thinking about that impact on your homeowner constituent/voters??

Did anyone hear their Congressman/woman or Senator brag about that possible consequence when they touted and voted for this legislation, which sunsets the individual/family tax breaks category in five years , but makes permanent the corporate tax cuts which—only in part—are paid for by making the financial part of owning a house less friendly??

That’s why I had to laugh at Kellyanne “Conwoman” Conway the other day, when--likely violating the Hatch Act which bars government employees from engaging in overt politicking--told some Fox News listeners to oppose Democrat Doug Jones running for Senate next week in Alabama against Judge Roy Moore, who has been accused of being a child molester, using his influence and office to seduce several young woman under the age of 18, when Moore was in his 30’s.

But that didn’t stop Conway who proclaimed haughtily: Jones “will be a vote against tax cuts. He is weak on crime, weak on borders. He is strong on raising your taxes. He is terrible for property owners.”

Since you got your tax bill Kellyanne, does that mean Alabamans don’t need to vote for an accused child molester, who President Trump--in a familiar manic state--now will endorse?

Back to the GSEs and Capital

Allowing the GSEs to keep a bit of their 2017 revenue, say $2 Billion each for protective capital, just moves the corpus from the Treasury’s General Fund to Fannie’s and Freddie books—one federal cash drawer to another--not a big deal in an accounting or budget sense, but a risky political solution, while practical, may cause some ideological headaches for some in the GOP.

Mnuchin just has to assure his R posse that in supporting F&F capital creation, he’s solving a minor headache before it occurs, i.e. the GSEs may need to draw on Treasury for more cash assistance. (Having already sent the US Treasury some $265 Billion, about @$75 Billion more than they were given, Fannie and Freddie by law still have existing Treasury credit lines of  more than $200 Billion.)

Likewise, the Congress--in the dark when it passes legislation without agreed upon analysis of their massive tax changes (what Treasury or CBO should have done before the fact) will—in my humble opinion—do some artificial carve out so tax rule changes suddenly won’t  cause the GSEs to run to Treasury for cash. 

The legacy GSE “losses” legally carried forward to protect against future taxation were posted when Fannie’s and Freddie’s federal tax rates were 35%. Changes (like those in the competing tax bills) lowering the corporate tax number, would suck down the value in the GSEs remaining DTAs and possibly trigger a need for additional Treasury help.

Of course, my “solutions” both are logical and rational, two qualities we know don’t exist in great quantities in this Admin and Congress. 



Congress: Tax and Mortgage Finance Uninformed 

If you need any additional evidence of Congress’s GSE vacuity, as well as the above segment headline, just look at Michael Bright’s congressional testimony before the House Banking Committee last week—or more precisely some of his statements and the Committee R’s wooden/deaf/huh response.

Many of those congressional inquisitors—rushing to bless anything and anyone who can/will crap on the GSEs—showed all of the mortgage finance comprehension of a bag or rocks.

In fact, rocks may be smarter because they seldom babble showing their ignorance.

So, “Bright Mike” (sorry, couldn’t resist it) used buzz words and concepts his audience wouldn’t/couldn’t comprehend (often standard witness behavior) and spun his tall tales, getting out unscathed.

Anyone shocked he suggested greater activity by the Government National Mortgage Association *(Ginnie Mae)—which last time I checked represented the full faith and credit of the United States and is Bright’s current employer, also an agency he soon could lead—happily would take over more/all of the work Fannie and Freddie now do???

I think Bright suggested it might take him/Ginnie only five years to build up the talent or expertise to do so (which the GSEs now have), but he vowed he could do it.

Just  a mere 60 months of chaos, confusion, and uncertainty while Mike and Ginnie—with their big bank posse—significantly increase the government work force and help the nation get mortgage loans, which Fannie and Freddie do already with non-government loans???

Pub Cheers

I can hear “Dilly-Dilly” erupting from the Capitol Hill Republican Club, now. 

I’ll bet none of those congressional Mike Bright cheerleaders know—let alone remember—when for years after it was created from Fannie Mae’s government departure in 1970, the then private Fannie Mae acted as Ginnie Mae’s “back office,” with Fannie employees doing all the necessary mortgage work for the government on those FHA and VA loans.

Fannie still could do it today, more cheaply and efficiently.

Here’s another question aimed at the non-curious, non-inquisitive, and basically non-engaged members of Bright’s congressional audience last week. 

Do you realize, after telling you that he couldn’t answer your questions about “capital” (possibly the most significant element of designing a secondary mortgage market, since it’s the basis of how you price your services), he blithely endorsed exactly the same debilitating fixed capital ratio, i.e. 4%, that the large commercial banks have urged for the GSEs, despite that amount being several times higher than any risk based capital model—based on years of rich, public  investor history of how mortgages on their books performed in a variety of stress scenarios--and how much capital was required to protect them from losses. 

There is a cost to “capital” and the banks want to drive that cost high for any surviving GSE operation to make the F&F market presence uneconomical for borrowers, while their new federal bank subsidies make bank financing appear more competitive. 

Hey House Banking Committee members--home of Jed Hensarling (R-Tex) who wants to return to the 1920’s and get the federal government out of the housing market--did you understand what Bright, the Corker-Milken alum, was proposing and endorsing? 

He is seeking to put Uncle Sam more on the hook for the US mortgage market, which--I know you realize—is not what existed with pre-Conservatorship Fannie and Freddie, where private investor capital was at risk.

The Banks Are Not Worthy

Once again, I will repeat this and leave you with this refrain, and urge you to share it with you Washington Senators and House Members, if you agree? 

The US commercial banks have paid more than $230 Billion in federal regulatory fines, since the 2008* financial debacle which had bank-DNA all over it, far more than anything Fannie and Freddie did. (Uncle Sam even bailed out the banks with almost three times taxpayers’ funds than Treasury put into the GSEs, but gave Fannie and Freddie far harsher repayment schemes. Under the Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, the GSEs can never reduce their government, no matter how much and how fast they pay Treasury. 

(*Source: 2016 report from Boston Consulting Group, thanks NF.)

Whether it is Too Big to Fail commercial behemoths attacking the remaining tougher regulatory remnants of Dodd-Frank, which the banks have tried to scuttle ever since Congress passed it, or attacking the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which they and their GOP allies all but shuttered last week, the big banks are not worthy stewards of the nation's mortgage markets. Despite the industry's rhetoric and advertising, they don't care about consumer protection or advocacy.

The Mortgage Bankers Association and other big financial groups seek reduced financial regulatory controls,  the opposite of  what American families want when seeking fair treatment and well structured mortgage loans.

Check out their position papers and the regulatory records and see large banks invariably oppose anything useful to America’s consumers and anything which might put the regulatory brakes on those sometimes rapacious industries.


Maloni, 12-4-2017




Sunday, November 26, 2017

What's On my Mind!



 
Caution, Caution Anti-GSE Forces



What goes around comes around, unless Donald Trump’s Administration is going to unbalance the world order and prevent those timely reoccurrences.

Former Fannie CFO Tim Howard believes the US mortgage finance system’s future is hazy--at best--if the federal government fails to address the GSE investor claims they were Shanghaied by the US Treasury, first in 2008’s “conservatorship” in demanding a 10% GSE repayment from them (banks only paid 5%) and then again in 2012, when the Treasury changed the settlement plan demanding every penny the GSEs earned going forward.

Treasury now has collected @$265 Billion from the two since 2013, for the $187 Billion infused.

As I have written on several occasion, I believe the current GSE mortgage reliant system—with a few alterations—is the most efficient and fairest (for the public, the lending industry, and its builder, Realtor, insurer components) of all the multiple “successor to the GSEs” options being pushed.

Not surprisingly the “kill the GSEs” sponsors and advocates mainly are the foremost financial interests and ideologues that covet Fannie’s and Freddie’s market position and revenue. (Psst. The “GSEs set the broader rules on loans banks sell the public. That fact chafes lenders.)

Howard’s Opinion

But, as Howard wrote to me, “A legislative reform plan that does not deal with the uncertainty surrounding the current lawsuits is going to face a challenge of getting the requisite amount of capital into the envisioned new system.”

“If Fannie’s and Freddie’s regulator legally can force them into conservatorship when they meet all of their regulatory capital requirements, then —once they return to profitability—seize all of their profits in perpetuity, why would potential investors in successor entities not fear that the same fates could befall them?

It would be shortsighted to ignore those possibilities for future mortgage market players if Fannie and Freddie do get offed with no relief for their investors.

If I was a surviving mortgage market player (or their friends/patrons), I would worry about their own coming “day in the barrel” (look up the old joke), when the inevitable inheritor to the Trump Administration and this Congress emerge.

Since, at some point—sooner or later-- there will be a successor to the current regime.

The next congressional/WH  political winner/winners easily could lust after the behemoth bank income and market position, just like the “Too Big to Fail” institutions and their political and industry toadies have pursued Fannie’s and Freddie’s for the past 25 years.

Will/Can WH Support the Rule of Law?

If the Trump Administration fails to support the “rule of law,” except when it can be twisted to support its non-mainstream policy choices—and screws GSE shareholders--where does that leave us as a law-abiding nation?

See the succinct answer the esteemed Professor Richard Epstein delivered to a recent financial forum on the issue of “takings.”


It’s relevant because our Constitution (remember it?) prohibits government takings.

Let’s Play “What If?”

When the political tides turn and the sides get switched, how lame will the TBTF banks sound saying, “It isn’t fair what the government is doing/did.” (That’s just what the GSE investors have been saying for years?) 


All of those banks and the bank allies hoping/trying to rally around the MBA or Milken “kill off Fannie and Freddie” legislation should remember one salient fact, despite their GSE ideological blindness. Nothing is forever.

If the Congress, trying to write legislation or the WH considering some new regulation--does not figure out how to mollify GSE investors, who have a variety of legitimate lawsuits against the US Treasury--the US could face monstrous mortgage system challenges, beyond the chaos, uncertainty, and delay in implementing future models in a $10 Trillion mortgage market.

The first will be Tim Howard’s, i.e. from where does any new mortgage money come?

Which rational investors will risk their dollars when a new Congress in 2018 or 2020 or a new Administration in 2020—either or both of which could be more progressive--decides the post Fannie and Freddie mortgage system sucks and works only for the big lenders but not for consumers?  

The Big Banks and their friends may argue Constitutional “takings,” but will sound foolish and tawdry when—because of their support—the government’s taking of hundreds of billions of Fannie and Freddie investor dollars got ignored.


A Future Admin and Congress?

Do you think President Cordray or Kamala Harris, or Senate Banking Committee Co-Chairs Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren, let alone or Treasury Secretary William “Torch Them” Maloni, won’t use all of the GSE precedent the big bank and bank-lovers endorsed against the likes BoA, Wells, Citi, Goldman, et al.

The ABA, Financial Services Roundtable, Mortgage Bankers Association and other bankers wrote that playbook.

Hey big Bankers, want to see my financial regulatory “fastest draw in Washington D.C? Want to see it again, heh, heh?"

Be careful for what you wish and what standards you support.

If those who chose to ignore the Constitution and ideologically steamrolled GSE investors, there certainly will be future consequences for bank advocates.

Look around you at what’s happening (beyond Virginia and New Jersey politics) and see what "trends" may be trending?

Except for a shaky current GOP congressional majority and the souless and “just focus on me/DJT” administration, those abandoning GSE shareholders and expropriating their funds could be seeing their future, no matter what they call the mortgage entities they hope to dominate, once Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are scuttled?

Remember

Anything done legislatively can be undone by a new D-controlled or just progressive Congress and that includes passing new laws which expand previous SCOTUS decisions and, in effect, overturn those high court verdicts.

Be careful--when you bet your federal banking charters and back extreme legislative or regulatory action--the same fate won’t happen to you.

It could.


My latest letter to the Washington Post, unprinted by the newspaper

President Donald Trump says:

"A pedophile is a better Senate choice than a liberal Democrat.”

and

"I believe President Putin that Russia did not interfere with our elections.”

“When hearing him say these things, what else do the American people need to conclude that Donald Trump-- and his acquiescent congressional allies—have failed to represent the best interests of the American people?”

Wm. R. Maloni

Russia Had/Has Leverage Pressure over Trump??



Why the GOP Tax Bill Deserves Senate Defeat: It’s a fraud built on a Lie: Our kids will pay for this corporate giveaway, which will not and never has produced the GOP–predicted historical gains (NYT-Editorial)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/25/opinion/sunday/the-republican-tax-on-the-future.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fopinion-editorials&action=click&contentCollection=editorials&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront



Maloni, 11-26-2017

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The GOP/DJT way: "We don't need no stinkin' rules"


Not the GSEs, but the GOP;

Don’t like the facts, change the rules


(by Dana Milbank, 11-19-2017 Washington Post)


Forget alternative facts. We’re now in an alternate reality.



In the beginning, there were alternative facts. Now we are being governed in an alternate reality.
Heading toward approval of their tax bill this week, House Republicans had a teensy problem: Their vaunted tax “cut” actually was a tax hike for millions of Americans. It lowered taxes by hundreds of billions of dollars on the wealthiest, but it raised the lowest tax rate and, official congressional arbiters determined, raised taxes on a good chunk of the middle class, as well.

Awkward! Particularly because a long-standing House rule, put in place by Republicans after Newt Gingrich’s 1994 takeover, requires that any “income tax rate increase may not be considered as passed ... unless so determined by a vote of not less than three-fifths of the members voting.”

So Republicans did the honorable thing: They snuck in a provision that allowed them, with a simple majority vote, to declare that the three-fifths requirement “shall not apply.” Problem solved.

This is but one example of an unnerving trend in the Trump era: Ignore the rules and disqualify the referees who were put in place to enforce standards of integrity.
 2:49
Tense exchange between Hatch and Brown over tax cuts
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) had a tense exchange during a markup of the GOP tax bill on Nov. 16. (Senate Finance Committee)
Just two months ago, President Trump promised that “the rich will not be gaining at all” under the tax bill and “it’ll be the largest tax decrease in the history of our country for the middle class.”
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It is exactly the opposite. The bipartisan Joint Committee on Taxation found that the rich would get a handsome tax break under the House bill, but those earning $20,000 to $40,000 and $200,000 to $500,0000 would get an increase. On Thursday, the JCT, the official congressional arbiter of tax legislation, determined that the Senate version of the bill would give large tax cuts to millionaires but raise taxes on families earning between $10,000 and $75,000.

And so Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), author of the Senate tax bill, attempted to discredit the bicameral, bipartisan JCT. “Anyone who says we’re hiking taxes on low-income families is misstating the facts,” he said.
And Hatch is the vice chairman of the JCT! The chairman is also Republican, as are a majority of the members.
Leaving aside Hatch’s particular dispute (about whether to count a loss of Obamacare subsidies as a tax increase for those who opt out), there is no denying the larger point in the JCT’s calculation: Whether you technically classify certain things as taxes or not, this “tax cut” would have the effect of making the rich richer and a large swath of the middle class poorer. Instead of acknowledging that, Republicans are attempting to disqualify the umpire they put in place.
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Something similar is happening now with the nominations of judges. In all administrations since Dwight Eisenhower’s (except George W. Bush’s) the American Bar Association (ABA) has vetted prospective judicial nominees’ legal qualifications before they are nominated. Now the Trump administration is ignoring the ABA pre-screening, and the Senate Judiciary Committee is no longer waiting to have nominees’ professional qualifications vetted before confirmation hearings. The New York Times reports that the White House is “weighing” telling future nominees not to cooperate with ABA evaluators. And this week, the White House issued a news release highlighting an editorial saying “the Senate continues to give the lawyers’ guild too much sway.”

When the Trump administration and congressional allies aren’t attacking the JCT and the ABA, they’re attacking the CBO — the Congressional Budget Office, the bipartisan arbiter of how much legislation costs, now led by a Republican appointee. When White House budget director Mick Mulvaney earlier this year didn’t like the CBO’s “score” of health-care legislation, he asked: “Has the day of the CBO come and gone?” Trump ally Newt Gingrich wanted to “abolish” the “totally dishonest” umpire.

The White House did its utmost, as well, to undermine the Office of Government Ethics, blocking its access to ethics waivers granted to former lobbyists in the administration. The director of the office ultimately resigned.
Now, some Republicans are attempting to do the same to the special counsel. After Robert S. Mueller III’s recent indictments of Trump campaign advisers, three House members introduced a resolution calling for Mueller’s resignation.
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And of course, there is Roy Moore, who has responded to voluminous accusations of impropriety with children by attempting to discredit the press — dovetailing with Trump’s “fake-news” attacks.
Should Moore make it to the Senate, we can expect worse. He openly defied the U.S. Supreme Court when he was a state judge, and he has made clear he believes the Constitution is subordinate to his interpretation of God’s law.
As Trump and his allies lay waste to their own rules, the media, the CBO, the ABA, the JTC and the courts, let’s ask ourselves: After they’ve disqualified all arbiters of truth, what will we have left?
Twitter: @Milbank



Maloni, 11-19-2017