What the New York Times gets wrong about Sen. Lisa Murkowski

The New York Times Magazine, in a piece prompted by Sen. Lisa Murkowski's decision to oppose the Obamacare repeal effort last July, misses the crucial point about Murkowski's vote on the Republican tax bill in December.

Under the headline, "How Lisa Murkowski Mastered Trump's Washington,"  the magazine offers a 4,500-word portrait that gets a lot about her right. She is intelligent, she works hard and she is not as ideologically hidebound as nearly every other Republican senator. 

The headline is wrong. No one has "mastered Trump's Washington," including the commander-in-chief of chaos. That phrase about mastery is not included in the story for good reason.

Staff writer Susan Dominus, who started work on this profile last summer, writes that Murkowski became a hero to moderates and liberals when she, along with Sens. John McCain and Susan Collins, blocked a GOP effort to repeal Obamacare without first bothering with the difficult work of writing an alternative.

Murkowski said at the time that for a health care law to survive, it had to be both bipartisan and the product of an orderly process with public hearings. She said the Senate should "take a step back and engage in a bipartisan process to address the failures of the ACA (Affordable Care Act) and stabilize the individual markets."

"That will require members on both sides of the aisle to roll up their sleeves and take this to the open committee process where it belongs," she said last summer. "Repealing the ACA without a clear path forward just creates confusion and greater uncertainty."

Unlike Sen. Dan Sullivan, who was unable to let go of the mindless "repeal and replace" mantra, Murkowski took a sensible stand, but it was only revolutionary if you agree that a senator's job is to do whatever she/he is told by the party bosses, regardless of how stupid the marching orders may be.

Her party is led by a man who cares about what he sees on TV, not about the details of legislation or public policy choices. Murkowski, who has always cared about the details, has remained mostly silent, which counts as an endorsement of Trumpism.

Dominus writes that the "love-in" of liberals and moderates for Murkowski lasted until her vote on the tax bill, a measure that included her amendment to open the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

"Murkowski’s vote should hardly have come as a surprise; there is no more core value to Republicans than cutting taxes and no dream more dear to most Alaskans than ever more oil drilling," Dominus said.

Here's what Dominus gets wrong. The surprise was not that Murkowski voted for a tax cut. It was that Murkowski voted for a giant tax cut that had no more public review than a bill to name a road or a post office.

The surprise was that Murkowski abandoned the reasonable position regarding the public process that she had taken on the health care bill—that no law will be sustainable without bipartisan support and public review.

The surprise was that Murkowski did not bother with a review of the tax bill details, joining fellow Republicans who couldn't wait to add $1 trillion to the deficit.

It's no surprise that the Republicans wanted to pass something—anything—that would allow them to claim a victory for themselves and Trump.

They enacted a measure that they continue to falsely advertise as plan to help the middle class. The law has a temporary tax cut for individuals, a much larger permanent tax cut for corporations, and provisions for special interests that have yet to be fully examined or understood. 

Because it was not a bipartisan plan, because it was so out of balance, and because there were no public hearings, the law—including the ANWR provision that she was desperate to include—is vulnerable to repeal with the next swing of the political pendulum.

The confusion and uncertainty Murkowski warned about last summer has come to pass on the tax law.

The Times story quotes Murkowski as looking baffled when she talked about how people who praised her last summer criticized her vote on the tax bill. "‘Well, what did you expect me to do? I’m still a Republican.'"

What I expect is that she realizes that everything about this reckless and slapdash tax law contradicts the studied approach and open process she has championed throughout her career.



Dermot Cole5 Comments