By Fraser Perkins —
Michael Hiltzik, LA Times business columnist and blogger, spoke to us about the post-Trump era and the new Biden-Harris administration and his latest ruminations. His latest LA Times column was on economic inequality and the scores of American billionaires who helped bankroll the Trump Victory Fund and who benefited from Trumpian handouts to corporations and the affluent.
Michael Hiltzik shared the 1999 Pulitzer Prize with colleague Chuck Philips for articles exposing corruption in the entertainment industry. His latest book, published in May 2020, is Iron Empires: Robber Barons, Railroads, and the Making of Modern America.
On November 8, 2016, the day following the election of Donald Trump, Hiltzik recalled that many believed advances in healthcare and assistance to Americans in need would be curtailed during a Trump Administration. “I figured that the best we might hope for was sort of political stasis.” In Hiltzik’s view, few questioned how the new administration would handle a real crisis and few prepared themselves for the cruelty, incompetence and vandalism of the new administration, compounded by the abject complicity of a Republican-led Congress. “I think one of the real disappointments of the last four years has been the complicity of the Republican Party.”
The union of Trump and Congress yielded a bitter harvest of cruelty and death in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. Six months ago, Mike Pence authored a Wall Street Journal article headlined, “There Will Be No Second Wave,” which ridiculed taking bold action to end the COVID crisis. In June, the daily new case rate was 20,000/day; on a recent day it was 246,000. Currently, total COVID deaths have soared to over 400,000.
While the Trump Administration downplayed COVID-19, it did ramp up the number of federally permitted executions – currently at 13. Three times as many people have been executed by the federal government in the past six months as in the prior six years. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to end federal death penalties and work toward ending state sanctioned executions as well.
In Hiltzik’s view two hallmarks of the Biden Administration will be healthcare and climate change.
President Trump used executive orders to undercut both the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Medicaid with a view toward stripping healthcare from disadvantaged working-class Americans. “The Biden Administration will have numerous tools at its disposal to end four years of vandalism and attacks on the Affordable Care Act.” President Biden may use the executive orders to reverse direction and strengthen health safeguards. He can also push Congress to update the ACA and replace Trump ideologues with scientists in several health positions.
President Biden may take several specific actions. He can limit short-term health plans which siphon young, healthy enrollees from long-term plans. He may move to lower the Medicare eligibility age to 55, or even 50 as a transition to universal healthcare. He could eliminate limits on reproductive health. He may eliminate the health care subsidy cliff which currently stands at 400% of the federal poverty line.
Hiltzik summarized President Trump’s environmental policy – “For the last four years we’ve had to worry about the next rule that’s going to come from the White House to help polluters.” A prime example of this has been auto emission standards.
California has been on the frontline of combatting Climate Change. It set stringent auto mileage standards and has filed 60 lawsuits to block Trump-backed efforts to lower auto emission standards. President Biden will base policy on science; Gina McCarthy of the NRDC heads up the Biden Climate Change team. The President-elect will rejoin the Paris Climate Accords, expand the number of vehicle charging stations, upgrade the electrical grid, strengthen wind and solar energy and enforce existing environmental regulations. By executive order, Trump rolled back 125 environmental regulations covering oil drilling, pollution, logging and vehicles – President Biden can reverse these by executive orders. Trump opposed the California vehicular mileage benchmark and attempted to end the waiver California has to set stringent auto mileage standards. President Biden can swat these actions down and encourage GM, Toyota and Fiat to adopt the California standard.
President Biden’s environmental agenda faces a shortage of experts within relevant agencies; rebuilding will take time.
One over-arching theme in a President Biden Administration will be a return to integrity. Not a single Obama appointee to a cabinet position resulted in a criminal accusation; the Trump Administration has had 100 such accusations.
Following his prepared remarks, Hiltzik responded to questions.
Do you feel there is enough time to continue with the Senate trial plus perform essential Senate business after Jan 20?
Hiltzik believes the Senate can bifurcate its activity as it did during the confirmation of Amy C. Barrett. Having a Democratic majority will help.
Covid 19 vaccine distribution confusion…bureaucracy or political?
Inadequate supply is a major issue. Hiltzik feels the federal government can play a more active role in the manufacture of vaccines. “Pfizer like Moderna benefited from federally funded research.” Because of this it’s reasonable to expect the public should derive a benefit – rapid vaccine distribution.
What’s the best way to transition from Obamacare (ACA) to Medicare for All (single payer)?
In Hiltzik’s view Medicare was not designed as a universal program, but rather as a service for seniors, resulting in service gaps and no limits on out-of-pocket expenses. “There are many many models out in the world among developed countries on how you achieve universal coverage.” He continued by noting there is a range of approaches from hybrid systems to complete government control which offer guidance on upgrading Medicare. The real issue in improving healthcare is not the service gaps of the current Medicare system, but summoning the political will to change and improve. Many have pointed out that while the US spends twice as much per capita on healthcare as other developed countries, our results are no better than other countries. In Hiltzik’s view the culprit of high healthcare costs is allowing health providers to charge higher fees in the private sector. The cost of government programs – the Veterans Administration, Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program – runs roughly the same as other developed nations.
How should the media challenge right-wing conspiracy propaganda?
Here Hiltzik drew a distinction between media platforms such as Twitter and Internet Service Providers (ISPs). He felt it was legitimate for platforms like Facebook and Twitter to monitor content, but not ISP’s. While the public has a right to hear the President directly, President Trump himself has been a source of misinformation, bolstering the position that media platforms should monitor content appearing on their site. Hiltzik also maintained that the public still looks primarily to TV and print media for news, rather than the internet.
How should Biden engage Trump supporters?
While Trump supporters are vocal, they are not a majority. Hiltzik believes there is nothing Biden can say or do to convince fringe Trump supporters otherwise.
Can Biden reverse Trump’s damage to the Census data?
Though Trump largely failed, his efforts may discourage people from accessing public services. President Biden will need to address this.
Can the Biden Administration raise auto mileage standards beyond California’s requirement?
While California might welcome higher standards, the new administration is more likely to reinstate the Obama standards. From the audience, Judy Mitchell, member of the AQMD (Air Quality Management District) board, commented that both the California standard and reinstatement of the state waiver could be accomplished by executive order and don’t require Congressional approval.
What is your assessment of the effectiveness of California’s Cap and Trade approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions?
A Cap and Trade program offers flexibility – and it has worked. Judy Mitchell commented that a major advantage of Cap and Trade over a carbon tax is that the number of pollution credits can be reduced, while a carbon tax allows industry to simply pollute and pay the tax.
What do you think about the campaign to recall Governor Newsom? How big of a threat is it to his administration?
It doesn’t have the required signatures and is financed by out of state money. It’s unlikely to succeed, yet the governor clearly stumbled over the French Laundry incident and the problematic COVID-19 vaccination roll-out. Hiltzik felt the recall was uncharted territory.
Where is the GOP going and how should Dems respond?
Hiltzik paraphrased Napoleon by observing that one should never get in the way of an enemy making a blunder. Republicans have maintained power by gerrymandering, voter suppression and the Electoral College. They haven’t won the presidential popular vote since 2004. They have no statewide office in California. They have problems with young voters, minority voters and urban voters and may yet self-destruct. Democrats should continue to reach out to these voters and take nothing for granted.
How did Trump’s deregulation help small businesses?
In Hiltzik’s view it didn’t. The Trump economy was great for the stock market, big business and the oil and gas industry, but did nothing for small business. By putting broad-based economic growth first, Democrats will strengthen small businesses.
Is there a chance for the courts to overturn the gig economy’s win with Prop 22?
It was good for tech companies like Door Dash and Uber, and the courts are unlikely to overturn it. The NLRB may take the position that gig workers still have the right to organize, while the PUC (Public Utilities Commission) may intervene if riders are harmed by lax corporate performance. This measure will accelerate the trend of grocers to outsource their delivery services. The state can influence tech corporation behavior through regulation.
In summarizing, Hiltzik felt the Biden Administration will mark the return of a more normal federal government approach, something we all should appreciate. The incoming Administration will care about professionalism, governance and solving the COVID crisis. Providing access to the vaccine is an immediate issue.