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Republicans' tax plan as a nation-shaper 

In the midst of the bad news gushing out of Washington, it's been tempting to find a bit of hope in the plea bargain of former Trump insider Michael Flynn. There seemed at least the possibility that Flynn's testimony might lead to Trump's downfall.

In reality, though, no matter what Flynn says and no matter how long Donald Trump is president, unless Trump and Kim Jong-un start launching missiles at each other, the madness in the White House isn't our biggest problem. The Republicans in Congress are.

I don't think the Republicans care two hoots and a bow-wow whether Donald Trump remains president or not. If he leaves before the end of his term, a smarter, more rational Mike Pence will replace him. If Trump stays, Republicans will continue to get what they want.

The tax bill headed toward passage is a perfect illustration. Republicans in Congress wrote this thing, and its features include such features as big tax cuts for wealthy taxpayers, smaller deductions for low- and middle-income taxpayers, elimination of a key part of Obamacare, and taxes on tuition waivers and similar aid that university graduate students get.

Big corporations get big tax cuts. And as The American Prospect and other sites have noted, some business executives have no intention of using the savings to raise employees' pay or expand their business and hire more people. They themselves have said that they'll use it to boost shareholders' dividends and invest in mergers and acquisitions.

Numerous media have told the story of the Wall Street Journal event last month where corporate executives were asked to raise their hands if they planned to use the tax cut to invest in their company. Few did so.

And lurking in the House version (but not the Senate's): cuts and repeals of benefits that renewable-energy companies have depended on. Gas and oil companies get tax breaks.

The House bill removes the ban on political activity by churches and other tax-exempt institutions. Both the House and the Senate bills allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Not surprisingly, the tax cuts are just the first step in a two-step conservative plan to shape the country's laws and spending to conform to their ideology. Since the tax cuts will result in deficits, something will have to plug the hole. And Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and other prominent Republicans have already said they have their eyes on cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other safety-net benefits.

And don't forget the impact on the federal courts, where, thanks to Republicans' deliberate slowdown in confirmations, more than 100 vacancies existed when Trump was sworn in.

Trump has already nominated 59 replacements – a pace that is "breakneck actually," NPR's Scott Simon noted on Saturday's Weekend Edition, "unmatched since the Nixon era nearly 50 years ago." Federal judges have lifetime appointments, and a few of them may end up on the Supreme Court. It'll be surprising if Republicans don't approve almost anybody Trump wants.

Republicans, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein wrote in Sunday's Times, have been "rationalizing and enabling" Donald Trump's behavior "in hopes of salvaging key elements of its ideological agenda: cutting taxes for the wealthy (as part of possibly the worst tax bill in American history), hobbling the regulatory regime, gutting core government functions, and repealing Obamacare without any reasonable plan to replace it."

The Republican Party, they wrote, "has done unique, extensive, and possibly irreparable damage to the American political system."

The Republican Party of today is not the party of Lincoln or Theodore Roosevelt. It's not even the party of Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan. But it's the party in charge. And thanks to years of careful gerrymandering, it looks like the Republican Party of today, backed by friends and donors in all the right places, will be in charge for a very long time.

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