Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.

Feb. 23 2017 1:56 PM

John Boehner Is Pretty Sure Republicans Won’t Repeal and Replace Obamacare

Former Speaker of the House John Boehner has become an occassional—and delightful—fount of Capitol Hill real talk ever since he was forced into early retirement by ticked-off conservatives in his party. And at the moment, he thinks it's pretty unlikely Republicans will succeed in their goal of repealing and replacing their great white whale, Obamacare.

According to Politico, Boehner told an Orlando, Florida, health care conference that while his erstwhile GOP colleagues were "going to fix Obamacare—I shouldn’t call it repeal-and-replace, because it’s not going to happen.”

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Boehner added, for good measure: “Most of the framework of the Affordable Care Act … that’s going to be there.”

So, a man who knows a thing or two about GOP dysfunction thinks President Obama's namesake legislative achievement will survive in some form, with small changes. Boehner also said he “started laughing” when Republicans started talking about rapidly replacing the law after Trump won the election because “Republicans never ever agree on health care.” At which point, I can only assume he experienced an acid flashback to his days trying to resolve the debt ceiling standoff, then smiled ever so slightly at the thought of his lawn.

Feb. 23 2017 12:27 PM

Steve Mnuchin Is Happy to Give Trump Credit for the Booming Stock Market. We’ll See How Long That Lasts.

“This is a mark-to-market business, and you see what the market thinks.” That was Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin telling CNBC on Thursday morning that, yes, of course President Trump deserves credit for the 10 percent stock market rally since Election Day. Every day, Mnuchin argued, the stock market functions as a report card, a sort of running poll on the success or failure of the administration.

In this schema, traders and investors wake up every morning, look at the resident of the White House and the policy pronouncements emanating from the administration, and decide whether they think stock returns will be positive or negative in the future. They are participating in a sort of online daily tracking pool, but with real money at stake.

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You hear this kind of argument a lot from financiers and financial pundits—but only when two things are happening: a Republican is in the White House, and the stock market is going up.

This is an old intellectual tic of Republican market types. If the stock market rises when a Democrat is president, he’ll get no credit. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, for example, the S&P 500 quadrupled. But right-wingers, who predicted the economy would plunge into recession when Clinton raised taxes on the wealthy in 1993, didn’t regard the 1990s bull market as a report card on the Clinton administration. Instead they ascribed the longest peacetime expansion in history to other factors: like the brilliance of Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, the dot-com boom, NAFTA, the end of the Cold War, or the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994.

When George W. Bush came into office and promulgated tax cuts, easy money, and loose regulation of Wall Street, the switch was flicked. Supply-siders and Republicans were quick to ascribe any gains in the economy and the market directly to the president. It was the Bush Boom, as Jerry Bowyer argued in a 2003 book. Or “The Greatest Story Never Told,” as Larry Kudlow put it in National Review in 2006. But the boom was followed by a crash. In the eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency, the S&P 500 returned less than nothing.

Was this a judgment on the efficacy of Bush’s tenure? Of course not. The Wall Street Journal op-ed page and Republicans absolved Bush of all blame—how absurd to think a president has anything to do with the markets! They blamed the Federal Reserve, the Community Reinvestment Act, Barney Frank, subprime lenders.

You know what’s coming next. President Obama inherited an economy and stock market in free fall. Under his tenure, the market bottomed and then enjoyed an extraordinary resurgence. Between March 2009 and Nov. 8, 2016, the S&P 500 nearly tripled. The stimulus package, the bailouts, the Affordable Care Act, the appointment of Janet Yellen. Republicans assured us that every one of these steps would mean disaster for the markets and the economy. By and large, however, these moves worked. And the policies of aggressively guaranteeing every financial asset in existence proved to be a particular boon to banks. In fact, the Obama-era bull market and reflation enabled Steve Mnuchin to mint his fortune on One West.

Of course, throughout the Obama years, Republicans and right-leaning market analysts steadfastly refused to mark the Obama presidency to the market, or vice-versa. The stock market was rising because interest rates were low, because it was all a giant bubble, because companies were brilliant at finding new ways to profit, because of Silicon Valley innovation. How absurd to think that the stock market is some kind of report card on the president!

And here we are again. Never mind the immense gains in the stock market over the last eight years, or the eight years of economic expansion, or the record string of monthly job gains. Now that there’s a Republican in the White House again, Mnuchin’s simple-minded analysis goes, we’re really going to have prosperity. And it will all be due to the brilliance of the 45th president.

Marking your reputation—or company value or success or presidency—to the market is a really good idea when markets are booming. Those in charge are eager to claim credit for the valuations they get at the top. But the minute the market plummets, marking to market doesn’t sound like such a good idea. In fact, during the financial crisis, right-wingers suggested we should just suspend mark-to-market accounting to spare Wall Street banks from the carnage.

The minute the markets turn south, I would fully expect Steven Mnuchin to suggest that we do the same with regard to President Trump.

Feb. 21 2017 6:14 PM

Homeland Security Just Revealed the Trump Administration’s Road Map for Cracking Down on Undocumented Immigrants

On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security officially released two memos, first reported by McClatchy and others on Saturday, that outline the Trump administration’s strategy for deporting undocumented immigrants and other aliens with criminal records.

To a large extent, the memos detail how the department will enforce Trump’s omnibus executive order on immigration, signed on Jan. 25, that promised to defund sanctuary cities, deputize local law enforcement as immigration police, and hire thousands of new agents for Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. While there are only 6,000 ICE agents, there are more than 700,000 local police around the country. Together, those actions may create an effective “deportation force,” with or without the participation of the National Guard.

The memos also cement the broadened enforcement priorities that Trump outlined in his order. Under Obama, ICE had moved to limit its deportation focus to only convicted criminals, terrorist threats, and very recent arrivals. (Though many criminal aliens are guilty of nonviolent offenses like working with a false Social Security number, driving without a license, or marijuana possession.) The new DHS rules make all aliens without valid visas a priority for removal, though a DHS official told reporters on Tuesday the department would still focus its limited resources on those who have committed “serious crimes.”

Feb. 21 2017 1:41 PM

Trump Visited the Smithsonian African American History Museum. What Might He Have Learned?

President Donald Trump spent Tuesday morning touring the National Museum of African American History and Culture, a makeup visit for the trip he was supposed to have made on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. One of Trump’s companions was Ben Carson, his pick for secretary of housing and urban development, whose career as a neurosurgeon is commemorated in one of the upstairs exhibits.

It would have been a good opportunity for the developer-president to update his notion of the “inner city” as a stand-in for black America, and perhaps even examine his own role in creating that stereotype.

Fittingly, there is nothing in the museum about Donald Trump’s own brush with fair housing law. In 1973, Trump was sued by the Department of Justice for refusing to rent or negotiate rentals with black tenants in the buildings his father had built in outer-borough New York City. The 27-year-old Trump vehemently denied the accusation. The standout detail from the case, which Trump settled in 1975 without admission of guilt but with a formal structure to help black tenants find apartments in Trump buildings, was that applications from blacks were marked with a for colored. A review of some related documents released last week by the FBI reveals a blunter approach at some of the buildings in the Trump Management Co.: A black prospective tenant would be told there were no vacancies, despite a newspaper listing; a white prospective tenant would be shown an empty apartment immediately.

Tucked away on the third level of the underground history galleries at the NMAAHC is a room called “Cities and Suburbs” that to some extent tells the other side of this story: the diverse but largely segregated set of black communities that emerged after 1968. Like the rest of the museum, its focus is on black agency—on places like Soul City, the utopian black community that the Washington Post called “perhaps the most vital experiment yet in this country’s halting struggle against the cancer of hectic urbanization.” The endeavor got a $14 million grant from President Nixon’s Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Feb. 17 2017 6:59 PM

The Republican “Plan” to Replace Obamacare Includes a Huge Assault on Abortion Access

In an attempt to project some semblance of party unity and momentum, House Speaker Paul Ryan unveiled the latest Republican road map for replacing the Affordable Care Act this week. It is not the most detailed document—more a collection of broad-stroke ideas than a concrete policy plan—and it's unclear how much support it would find in Congress. But at least one thing is obvious from this outline: Republicans are looking to turn Obamacare repeal into an assault on abortion access.

Here's how they'd go about it: To make health insurance (somewhat) affordable, Ryan's plan would offer tax credits to all Americans purchasing coverage on the individual market. However, women would not be allowed to use those subsidies to buy plans that paid for abortion. Given that the vast majority of customers would want to use their tax credits, most carriers would likely drop abortion coverage from their offerings.

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“It seems pretty clear that this would drastically scale back or possibly eliminate abortion coverage in the individual market,” Adam Sonfield, a senior policy manager at the Guttmacher Institute, told me. He added that the rule could also have “spillover effects” on employer-based insurance, because of the way the Republican idea could affect COBRA coverage.

Reproductive health advocates faced down a similar threat when Congress was crafting Obamacare in 2010. Back then, the House of Representatives passed the notorious Stupak amendment, which would have banned Americans from using the ACA's tax credits to buy coverage that included abortion benefits. The worry then was that if insurers couldn't sell subsidized plans that covered abortion, they wouldn't bother selling any. One analysis from the George Washington University School of Public Health suggested that would spark an industrywide change in standards that would end coverage of medically necessary abortions “for all women, not only those whose coverage is derived through a health insurance exchange.” Before Obamacare became law, however, the Stupak amendment was subbed out for a watered-down replacement proposed by Florida Sen. Bill Nelson.

The map of abortion coverage under the ACA is complicated. Thanks to the Hyde amendment, which prevents federal money from being used to fund abortions, Medicaid can't cover abortion anywhere. Meanwhile, 25 states currently restrict or ban insurance plans sold on Obamacare's insurance exchanges from covering abortion, according to Guttmacher. Ten states limit it on all private insurance plans. But in others there are no restrictions on abortion benefits in the private market at all.

The new Republican plan is a bit like the Stupak amendment on steroids. After all, Obamacare's subsidies are only eligible to those with incomes up to 400 percent of the poverty line. The Republican tax credit would be available to anybody in the individual market, meaning insurers would likely expect pretty much everyone to use one, and tailor their offerings accordingly. (For those wondering: No, Ryan has not said how much the credits would be worth, and since they'd be universal, they'd also likely be pretty small.) You would expect abortion coverage to disappear from the whole individual market rapidly. Like the GW team argued years ago, it's possible that the change in industry norms would lead insurers to drop the benefits from the plans they sell to employers. Some might suggest that women could purchase special riders to cover abortion, but those sorts of add-ons haven't worked particularly well in health insurance, since they tend to be extremely expensive.

It's hard to quantify how deeply the GOP plan would damage abortion access. “Even when women do have private insurance coverage, most of them end up paying out of pocket [for abortions]. What is not clear is why,” Sonfield told me. However, driving abortion coverage out of the individual market would certainly make the procedure less affordable for many, while further stigmatizing a procedure that should be considered a standard part of reproductive care.

Of course, that might be the only part of health reform every Republican will be able to get behind.

Feb. 17 2017 4:53 PM

Even in 2016, Democrats Carried Rust Belt Town Centers. Why?

Back in early November (such a simple time!), I wrote a piece for Slate on political scientist Jonathan Rodden’s analysis of precinct-level voting patterns. Rodden, a professor at Stanford, showed that the familiar pattern of high-density Democratic areas and low-density Republican areas had been re-created, fractal-like, in the small towns and cities of the Rust Belt during Barack Obama’s presidential election in 2008.

 

These little-downtown voters, who helped Obama carry several swing states, were supposed to be irrelevant to the Democratic Party in 2016, as Chuck Schumer infamously said in July: “For every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.” After Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania flipped for Trump on November 8, it was easy to think that small-town Democrats had abandoned the party wholesale.

 

But it turns out Democrats didn’t lose those town cores in Pennsylvania and Ohio; in fact, as Rodden showed with new data this week, the correlation between living downtown and voting Democrat was (relative to nearby rural areas) just as strong in this presidential election as in its predecessors. Red counties weren’t homogenous before, and they’re not homogenous now.

 

Rodden thinks this trend rebuts a common cultural trope about small-town America: "A popular claim is that Trump’s populist anti-trade rhetoric resonated most in postindustrial towns with severe job losses,” he writes in the Post. "If so, we might expect that these towns suddenly started to vote more like their neighboring Republican precincts, with the graphs flattening in 2016.”

Feb. 16 2017 4:52 PM

Trump’s New Labor Secretary Nominee Seems Boring, Professional, and Conservative

Here are a few words that immediately come mind when considering President Trump's new nominee to be secretary of labor, R. Alexander Acosta: Dull. Accomplished. Conservative. Dull.

Perhaps this was to be expected. Trump's first pick for the job, fast food CEO Andrew Puzder, was a fascinating train wreck who had to withdraw his name Wednesday after alienating liberals, conservatives, and anybody who thought using bikini models to sell burgers was kind of crass.

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Acosta is pretty much the opposite—a textbook product of the Republican legal and political establishment. Currently the dean of Florida International University's College of Law, he's a double Harvard grad who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito while the judge served on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He sat on the National Labor Relations Board under President George W. Bush for a couple of years before moving to the Justice Department to head the Civil Rights Division. He later became the U.S. attorney in Miami, where he prosecuted the corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff, among others. He likes to give talks at the Federalist Society, which is pretty much the Rotary Club for deeply conservative lawyers.

He was also born in Cuba, meaning he would be the only Hispanic member of Trump's Cabinet. And he spoke out against anti-Muslim discrimination in testimony before Congress in 2011, emphasizing how federal prosecutors aggressively investigated anti-Islam backlash crimes after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Labor groups haven't had much time to dig into Acosta's record, and they'll be sure to scrutinize the opinions he authored or joined while on the NLRB, which decides cases on union organizing and unfair labor practices. But so far, there seems to be some cautious optimism that he'll be an improvement over Puzder, who had never worked in government and many feared would be deeply hostile to the agency's core mission of policing and enforcing labor law.

“He was in the Civil Rights Division,” the National Employment Law Project's Deborah Berkowitz said of Acosta. “He did uphold the law there. He did prosecute Jack Abramoff and others. He has a history of public service. And gets what public service is about. And I think that’s important. Because in the end, the Department of Labor is a law enforcement agency.”

Wilma Liebman, one of Acosta's Democratic colleagues on the NLRB, also had flattering things to say about the nominee in an interview with Politico:

“Even though we often came out differently on policy conclusions or the outcome of a case, he was a good colleague and he was always willing to talk and bounce around ideas,” Liebman said. “I would say he’s very smart and he’s an independent thinker.”
Liebman said that while unions may not “be thrilled with every decision he’ll make...they’ll get a good hearing.”

Is there anything controversial that Democrats might latch onto? Sort of. For starters, Bush's Civil Rights Division was marred by a scandal over politicized hiring practices thanks to an official named Bradley Schlozman, who (illegally) tried to hire Republicans and had a habit of calling Democrats “libs” and “commies” and “pinkos.” Of his HR philosophy, Schlozman once mused: “I just want to make sure we don’t start confining ourselves to, you know, politburo members because they happen to be a member of some, you know, psychopathic left-wing organization designed to overthrow the government.” Swell guy!

Acosta, who ran the Civil Rights Division from 2003 to 2005, wasn't directly implicated in any wrongdoing. But he did leave hiring to Schlozman. And a January 2009 report by the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General concluded that Acosta had failed to take any action despite some obvious red flags concerning Schlozman's activity.

Bush's Civil Rights Division was also accused by critics of backing away from traditional voting rights cases involving black and Hispanic victims, and of seeking to protect whites against reverse-discrimination instead. However, a March 2013 inspector general report couldn't find evidence that was really the case. Meanwhile, Acosta substantially increased the number of voting rights cases on behalf of Spanish and other foreign language speakers.

What about his time as a U.S. attorney? It's possible that Democrats will bring up Acosta's decision not to file federal charges against Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire pedophile financier who, as the New York Post summed it up, has been “accused of recruiting dozens of underage girls into a sex-slave network, buying their silence and moving along.” After a ferocious battle with federal and Florida prosecutors, Epstein pleaded guilty to state charges of soliciting an underage prostitute in 2008 and served a fairly cushy 18-month jail sentence. Many have questioned Acosta's choice to, quite literally, not make a federal case of it, which led to an unusual lawsuit by some of Epstein's alleged victims. Acosta has defended his choice, however, essentially saying it was necessary to win a plea that would send Epstein to prison.

Are Democrats going to try and claim Acosta purposefully gave a sweetheart deal to a rich sex offender? It seems unlikely. Again, this is the same guy whose office prosecuted Abramoff. It would be a bit dissonant to argue that he's soft on wealthy, politically connected types.

There's no reason to think Acosta will be particularly friendly to unions or workers. Nobody should expect any new pro-labor regulations to emerge from his department. But at this very early stage, it at least seems like he might bring a dose of professionalism and civic-mindedness to the Trump administration.

So I might have to take back what I said Wednesday about how Puzder's defeat wasn't much of a victory for liberals. If so, that's actually a relief.

Feb. 16 2017 11:24 AM

If Elaine Chao Axes This Bay Area Rail Funding, We’ll Know She’s Politicizing Transportation

For the past 20 years, as Bay Area workers have invented the apps and devices that define this young century, system engineers have sought to bring the Caltrain rail corridor up to date with the last one.

Transforming the Caltrain into an electric railway would be expensive, they knew, but it would bring benefits like cleaner, quieter trains (compared with today’s diesel locomotives), more efficient schedules, and increased passenger capacity. The last piece has come to seem especially necessary: The system’s ridership, which now tallies 65,000 riders a day, has doubled since 2005.

The $2 billion modernization project draws its funding from local, regional, and state revenues, plus a federal grant, two years in the making, that planners thought was all but approved. On Friday, Caltrain’s Core Capacity grant becomes eligible for a signature from U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao. It’s supposed to be a formality capping a long period of review at the Federal Transit Administration; contractors are in place to start work on electrification on March 1.

Feb. 15 2017 7:57 PM

Why Sinking Andrew Puzder’s Nomination Isn’t the Victory Democrats Think

Andrew Puzder, Donald Trump's embattled pick for secretary of labor, has tapped out. As it became increasingly obvious Wednesday that his nomination would die on the Senate floor, the fast food CEO withdrew himself from consideration, making him the administration's only cabinet selection to collapse in Congress so far.

Progressives are celebrating. Activists have badly wanted to derail Trump's nominees, and Puzder's public profile was especially detestable. (You almost had to wonder if our Twitter troll of a president had picked him just to antagonize fast food workers, organized labor, and feminists.) As the the chief executive of CKE Restaurants—parent of burger chains Hardee's and Carl's Jr.—Puzder argued against minimum wage increases and talked eagerly about replacing workers with kiosks. (“They're always polite, they always upsell, they never take a vacation, they never show up late, there's never a slip-and-fall, or an age, sex, or race discrimination case,” he once said of the machines. Classy!) A Huffington Post investigation found that Hardee's franchises were rife with wage-theft violations, which, while common in the fast food business, suggested that Puzder might not be a stickler about enforcing labor law. His company ran fratty, sexist TV spots featuring models chowing down on burgers while wearing bikinis. (“I like our ads. I like beautiful women eating burgers in bikinis. I think it’s very American.” he explained.) During their divorce in the 1980s, his ex-wife accused him of domestic abuse and appeared in disguise on Oprah to talk about her experience. (She recently recanted the allegations).

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And now lefty groups are doing their version of a sack dance. My inbox is full of celebratory emails from organizations like Public Citizen, declaring “Puzder’s Withdrawal a Win for Working Families.” Even NARAL—the pro-choice group—felt compelled to tweet, showing that this isn't merely being interpreted as a win for labor, but for the broader anti-Trump #resistance.

Symbolically, that may be true. But substantively, Puzder's demise may turn out to be a subtle defeat for the left.

Despite his business credentials, many conservatives have been uncomfortable with Puzder because they viewed him as soft on immigration. This is because he was, in fact, extremely soft on immigration. A vocal advocate of comprehensive reform—he loved the old Gang of 8 bill that went nowhere during the Obama administration—he was prone to waxing rhapsodical about America as the land of opportunity for those brave and determined enough to journey here. He also liked that immigrant workers at his restaurants were just thankful for “the fact that they have a job,” and weren't prone to cause trouble. He wasn't an ideal voice for America's undocumented workers by any means; advocating for immigrants so you can exploit their labor doesn't make one a great ally. But in an administration dominated by white nativists, Puzder was poised to be the only notable dove on this issue. Best yet, it was conceivable that he might exert some influence on the president, whom he had advised and fundraised for during the campaign. Both men are wealthy, outspoken businessmen with a habit of objectifying women and a love of fast food, not to mention a record of hiring immigrants. They spoke the same language.

This irked immigration hard-liners, since the Department of Labor is responsible for administering and overseeing various controversial guest worker programs. Slate's own Reihan Salam argued that Puzder was the one Cabinet nominee Republicans should absolutely vote against. Puzder ultimately tried to push back against his image as the administration's potential open-borders advocate. “My job as a business person is to maximize profits for my company, employees and shareholders,” he said in a statement. “My job as the Secretary of Labor, if confirmed, is to serve U.S. citizen workers—that is my moral and constitutional duty.“ But it didn't help matters when reports broke that Puzder had hired an undocumented maid—even though he wasn't the only Trump Cabinet pick possessing that particular trait.

In the end, Puzder's nomination seems to have been sunk by the combined weight of his flaws, but it's hard to shake the sense that immigration was the decisive issue. Two of the first Republican senators to back off of him were, notably, women—Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska—who had watched footage of his ex-wife's appearance on Oprah. But other GOP members voiced concerns about his housekeeper. Meanwhile, Republicans are still standing pretty much in lockstep behind the alleged sexual predator whose ex-wife once accused him of abuse during a divorce who currently occupies the Oval Office. Given that, it seems Puzder might have survived had he hired a different cleaning lady.

Looking forward, whomever Trump picks to replace Puzder will almost certainly be just as bad on labor rights and worse on issues like immigration. One likely contender right now is Peter Kirsanow, who as a member of the National Labor Relations Board under George W. Bush had a habit of siding against workers. Kirsanow, who is black, testified before Congress that, “Not only do illegal immigrants compete for jobs with African-Americans, but that competition drives down wages for the jobs that are available.” He has other opinions that are sure to enrage the left—among them, he's a critic of affirmative action and seems to think there should be religious exemptions to rules barring discrimination against gays and lesbians. “In our constitutional order, the first reason that religious liberty takes precedence over sexual liberty is that this is enshrined in our Constitution,” he wrote last year while sitting on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

Kirsanow may not turn out to be the nominee, but chances are whomever Trump picks will fit his profile more closely than that of an immigration-loving burger exec. Puzder's public attitudes toward workers and his alleged history of marital violence may have been loathsome. But the man still might have been the best we could expect from this administration.

Ironically, he might not have even been the nightmare on workers' rights progressives imagined. As one key Labor Department official told me: “If the staff he brought in are a reflection of the kind of Secretary he would have been, he would have been someone who could be open to reasonable labor policies.”

“Democrats needed a win and they got one,” the official added. “Now we'll get worse, I'm sure.”

Feb. 15 2017 2:24 PM

Andrew Cuomo’s Bizarre Logic for Killing New York City’s Plastic Bag Fee

On Tuesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo found himself in a familiar predicament: how to reconcile his progressive self-image with a pattern of governing that generates more opposition on the left than on the right.

Confronted with the state Legislature’s pre-emption of a New York City rule to reduce plastic bag use, Cuomo signed away the city’s regulation. In doing so he joined a group of Republican governors—Arizona’s Doug Ducey, Idaho’s Butch Otter, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Vice President and former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, to name a few—who have approved bans on well, bag bans. It’s a model law incubated by the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council, and a favored method of the plastics industry, which correctly sees local action against plastic bags as a precursor to wider prohibitions.

Most of those governors are happy to align themselves with the business interests of plastic bag manufacturers. But Cuomo has a reputation to uphold. And so he offered a long statement that, with the acrobatics of a plastic bag darting down a windy Manhattan avenue, argued that the city’s now-gutted law was actually too pro-business.

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