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Posts published in February 2019

The flaw in the Medicaid argument


The Idaho Supreme Court decision in the challenge to the Medicaid expansion initiative - the case Brent Regan v. Lawerence Denney - was highly predictable, and a lot of people did predict it. With the decision in hand now, sustaining the initiative, it’s worth reviewing why that is.

We almost didn’t get this decision because two justices didn’t think Brent Regen, the plaintiff (on behalf of, mainly, the Idaho Freedom Foundation) shouldn’t have been able to bring it. The court’s majority didn’t even entirely dispute that point, admitting that it was stretching things even to deliver an opinion. But it’s as well that they did, since the decision made so clear why the argument against the initiative was so deeply flawed.

The Regan argument didn’t have to do specifically with the expansion of Medicaid benefits, or even with Medicaid at all. That may come as a surprise, given the political rhetoric surrounding the case, and the issue. The legal argument for overturning the initiative was, roughly:

The initiative violated the Idaho Constitution for the reason that it gave away legislating authority from the state to the federal government, since the agreement with the federal government on Medicaid expansion might commit the state to agree to future changes in the rules governing Medicaid.

First, the Supreme Court said, that is simply wrong. The court reviewed previous decisions that refer to references to law in other places, and found those, “affirmed the idea that when a statute references a second statute, it adopts that statute as it is in its current form. Subsequent amendment or repeal does not affect the initial statute.”

Anyone who follows the Idaho Legislature should know as much. Look through the annual list of bills passed by that body and often you’ll see new bills passed to update for changes made elsewhere. The state income tax law, which integrates in places with the federal, is regularly updated by the legislature (sometimes provoking debate along lawmakers).

The court made that point in its decision: “It should be noted that section 56-267 [the Medicaid expansion provision] is not the first nor is it the only statute to reference federal law. In fact, many Idaho statutes reference federal law. For example, Idaho Code section 33-2202 provides that: The state board of education is hereby designated as the state board for career technical education for the purpose of carrying into effect the provisions of the federal act known as the Smith-Hughes act, amendments thereto, and any subsequent acts now or in the future enacted by the Congress affecting vocational education …”

A truckload of laws relating just to commercial activities in the state would have been upended if the Medicaid expansion challenge had been approved, because the same principle in law would have torn up all kinds of federal, interstate and other agreements. It wouldn’t be a reach to say that large sectors of Idaho’s economy could have been thrown into chaos by a bum decision in this case.

Here’s another example the court cited: “the statute governing who could sell prescription drugs did ‘not specify which drugs shall require a prescription order, but instead conditions that status upon three possible alternatives: (1) another state law, (2) a law of the United States, or (3) a rule or regulation of the Idaho Board of Pharmacy. … In noting that the area of drug regulation demanded particular practical considerations, this Court said, ‘[i]n deciding whether a delegation is proper the court’s evaluation must be ‘tempered by due consideration for the practical context of the problem sought to be remedied, or the policy sought to be effected.’’’

The practical effects of this Medicaid expansion decision, had it been handled badly, could have been extreme. That partly explains why so many legal analysts thought the decision in favor of the initiative was a slam dunk, and why the court’s major internal disagreement on it concerned whether a ruling on the challenge was even warranted.

The beneficiaries of Medicaid expansion dodged a bullet here, but not only them. So did a lot of other people.

The Idaho Way?


Brad Little has made many statements about how we need to do Medicaid Expansion “The Idaho Way”. The first time I heard it I smiled. The second time I smirked. The third time, I rolled my eyes. C’mon Brad, just what “Idaho Way” are we talking about here?

If you are going with the regional approach to the “Idaho Way” you will have to decide between the North Idaho Way where we bunked down, pile up the ammo and wait for the Feds. Maybe it’s the Blaine County Way where we drink chardonnay and give everybody a guaranteed wage.

But I have a sense you are thinking bigger than regions.

I know you are a student of Idaho history. Is there some historical example that resonates as the “Idaho Way”? We have bargained with the Federal government on water issues and highway funding, nuclear materials and wolves and sage grouse. The only time we stood up strong was when it looked like Idaho was going to be a dumping ground for nuclear waste. I hope you can maintain that stance, but it doesn’t really give me much direction here.

Most states that have gone through Medicaid expansion have seen it as a strong positive. It’s the ones that have tried to mess with it by adding “side boards” that have struggled. Maybe that is the Idaho Way you are suggesting: we struggle?

There’s the example of Arkansas that added work requirements for new Medicaid enrollees. They effectively booted 18,000 off the Medicaid rolls, but costing the state tens of millions to institute. Is that the Idaho Way? Spend lots of taxpayer dollars to get less people health insurance?

You could do the same math with any other “sideboard”: drug testing, co-pay requirements and lifetime limits. The cost of administration for any of these comes from the Idaho General Fund, which takes away from schools, your stated priority.

We both know the legislature is feeling burned by the voters on this one. The Idaho legislature sat on their hands for six years and turned away billions of Idaho federal tax dollars from returning to this state to insure low income Idahoans and felt just fine about that choice. I sure hope you don’t think that’s the Idaho Way. Idaho voters have said it isn’t.

The Idaho legislature has been just fine with spending Idaho tax dollars to pay for these uninsured to the tune of hundreds of millions for the Catastrophic fund and indigent costs. That money could have gone to Idaho schools. I sure hope this isn’t the Idaho Way you keep promoting.

Butch Otter had a little courage a few years back when he decided Idaho could set up a state-based exchange to make health insurance available for those above the poverty level. He had a big fight with the more conservative members of his (and your) party on this one and many dear colleagues heard strong words from their central committees and the Idaho Freedom Foundation. I saw in that move a faint glimmer of the “Idaho Way”. Decide what is right and fight for it.

The most effective way to get the most Idahoans enrolled in health insurance is simple, direct implementation of Proposition 2; now Idaho law as the voters have endorsed. That seems like the Idaho Way to me. How about you?

Blurring the lines

A guest opinion from Levi B. Cavener, a teacher living in Caldwell, Idaho. He blogs at IdahosPromise.Org.

As the legislature kicks into full gear this year, it's worth taking a look at how new charter-friendly legislation is making it the Governor’s desk. The J.A. & Kathryn Albertson Foundation has invested in growing charter programs in the Gem State. In particular, Albertson provides substantial financial support for the charter-friendly nonprofit BLUUM.

The IRS prohibits 501(c)(3) nonprofit groups from engaging in any substantial lobbying activities. However, BLUUM appears to steering some of the legislation at our state’s capital. BLUUM’s CEO, Terry Ryan, even registered as a lobbyist through the Idaho Secretary of State from 2016-2018.

BLUUM and Ryan appear, in particular, to be largely responsible for pushing the charter school-friendly “Innovation School Act” into law in a previous legislative session that allows charters to wiggle out of rules all other public schools must comply with.

According to an interview Ryan provided with Idaho Business Review, Ryan partnered with former Nampa School District David Peterson Superintendent to assist him spearhead the law at the capitol building. Why would Nampa’s superintendent want to push charter-friendly laws at the statehouse?

The answer is in the money. See, a month after the governor signed the Innovation School Act into law, Nampa School District received a million dollars from the Albertson Foundation to build a new “Innovative School” in Peterson’s district that went on to become Gem Prep Nampa. Albertson just also happens to be the same entity that supports BLUUM and Terry Ryan. Quid pro quo.

One wonders if Ryan’s collaboration with Supt. Peterson to press for the law would constitute lobbying. But Ryan appears to have gone further than using Peterson as an intermediary and met with the lawmakers himself.

Disclosure forms filed by Ryan to the Secretary of State indicate that Ryan spent over two hundred dollars to host a lunch for 12 of the 15 house education committee members. Two weeks later the House Education Committee produced and passed the bill for the Innovation School Act. It is hard to believe that Ryan was talking about anything other than this legislation when these representatives were in attendance.

But it gets more complicated. Ryan was also CEO of the Idaho Charter School Network during this time. Unlike BLUUM, the Idaho Charter School Network is a 501(c)(4) which can engage in lobbying activity. Unfortunately, it is impossible to distinguish when Ryan was acting as an agent for Idaho Charter School Network or BLUUM at any given moment.

For instance, in one set of Senate Education meeting minutes, Ryan is introduced as CEO of the Idaho Charter School Network. However, the handouts and visual aid materials presented by Ryan during this same meeting were from BLUUM, not the Idaho Charter School Network. Just which hat is Ryan wearing at any given moment?

Which is the point. Ryan should have known better than to put himself in such a conflict by removing himself entirely from any equation that involved lobbying in order to safeguard the integrity of BLUUM and its nonprofit status with the IRS. By not doing, so BLUUM appears to be a central actor in lobbying for passage of charter-friendly legislation; an action that puts it at odds with its 501(c)(3) status.

Unfortunately, one can expect Albertson to continue to fund “nonprofits” in our state pushing for privatization and charter schools in the Gem state. Their infatuation in pushing these types of schools knows no bounds.

Of the state


Stacey Abrams was an unusual choice to deliver the response to the state of the union speech, and her approach was a little unusual too.

She is best known, nationally, not as an elected official but as an unsuccessful candidate for governor of Georgia (last year). And in quite a few ways her speech sounded as if it could have come from the stump.

But. She was a good choice in part because she's the subject of a lot of discussion about her possible next candidacy - for a Georgia Senate seat - and so about what Democrats are arguing about what may becoming rather than what now is. A subtle but important point.

And the speech, which was well written and skillfully delivered (you could see right away why she's a highly regarded candidate), was properly a campaign speech because, in essence, so was the president's. It was like for like.

She spoke of uplift more than criticism - there was plenty of "this uncommon grace of community".

But there was also "the shutdown was a stunt, engineered by the president of the United States" followed by, "the leaders of our state didn't shut down, we came together". She said that "Democrats stand ready to secure our borders".

And added, "I still don't want him to fail. I want him to tell the truth."

Not a bad choice either - and this is unusual for this kind of speech - for the video feed to show her in front of a cheering audience rather than a quiet room.

It was a notable speech.

As for the state of the union ... nothing in particular to note. More of the same.

A scatter gun


With the start of the 2019 legislative session in Idaho and the continual turmoil in Washington, there is an overload of fodder for political commentary. Here are some brief comments on several of the issues swirling around the political sphere.

Governor Brad Little, has declared public education his “number one priority.” Among other things, he wants about $60 million in additional funding for teachers’ salaries. That is a good step in the right direction, but it did not take long for critics to come forward.

NNU professor Peter Crabb wrote an opinion piece asserting that the Governor’s plan to increase school spending might not pay off. The professor opined that instead of increasing teacher pay, the Governor would get better results by freeing up teachers to employ innovative teaching methods.

The problem is that teachers are leaving Idaho in droves to teach in surrounding states where the pay is better - 15% leave after one year of teaching and 30% of teachers certified in Idaho do not teach here. Teachers can’t innovate in Idaho if they have flown the coop to where they are more valued. We should not only pay them more, but show them in other ways that they are valued and respected for the important service they provide.

Our new Governor has acknowledged climate change and appears to be open to extending protection against discrimination to the gay community. He seems to have an independent streak and an open mind.

Speaking of elected officials with integrity, Congressman Mike Simpson was one of ten Republican House members to vote on January 23 to reopen the government. That vote helped to break the deadlock that was convulsing our country. The rest of our delegation just sat on their hands like tame little minions. Our Senators voiced support for legislation to avoid future shutdowns but did not bother to deal with the one causing immediate havoc.

After the government agencies reopened on January 28, the President expressed regret for the great hardships that the 800,000 government employees had suffered for the sake of his dream of a border wall. Then, he indicated he might do a shutdown replay if he did not get wall money in the next three weeks. It apparently worked so well the first time that a sequel is in the offing.

Mike Simpson also deserves plaudits for opposing the lifting of sanctions against companies controlled by Oleg Deripaska, one of Vladimir Putin’s kleptocratic Russian pals. Deripaska is certainly no friend of the U.S. The House voted overwhelmingly (362-53, including 136 Republicans) against the President’s plan to lift the sanctions. The rest of our delegation voted in favor of Deripaska, resulting in a multi-million-dollar windfall for the oligarch. News reports issued after Deripaska’s victory indicate the Senate was flimflammed into thinking the kleptocrat would not benefit from the lifting of sanctions against his companies.

On January 22, Simpson voted to support our continued relationship with our NATO allies. That relationship has been the cornerstone of our national security for the last 70 years, but the President has been toying with the idea of bailing out. The 357-22 House vote was designed to inform Trump that America stands with NATO. Unfortunately, Russ Fulcher voted the other way. I hope someone clues him in on the importance of our NATO partnership.

Mike is not perfect, but who among us is? Some of his votes have caused my hair to stand on end, but he is the most thoughtful, reasonable and courageous member of the delegation. When it comes to Idaho issues, like protecting the White Clouds, he has been a steady leader. I don’t regret endorsing him when he first ran for the State Legislature in 1984.

Racist bargaining


Let’s get this straight up front.

To the best of my knowledge, I’m not a racist - not a bigot - not anti-Semitic - not opposed to how most folks live their lives or with whom. Around our house, it’s “live and let live.”

But, the other evening, something occurred during a news-talk program that brought on a slow boil.

Under discussion were the travails of Virginia Gov. Robert Northam. He’d been accused of posing in either blackface or a KKK outfit during graduation hoorah’s from medical school. At that moment, he had not admitted to being one of the figures in the picture but had profusely apologized for what it represented. As well he should have. But, the story was only a couple of hours old. More details would come.

The panelists on this particular show were Black. Two women and a man. All familiar faces and all successful professionals. The host asked each one in turn what their reactions were to the Northam story. In summary, they were shocked, saddened and, of course, “Northam should resign.”

Their answers, all worded a bit differently but with the same theme, were expected and I agreed with most of what they said. Until one more thing that brought on the boil.

“What can we trade for.” “What leverage does this give us?” “What can we get?” Direct quotes.

They talked about “trading” for more Black legislators. More Black state officials. Better treatment for Black men arrested. New social programs for Black people. All good. But, “trade?”

This came from a Black activist, a Black professor and a Black New York Times columnist. The talk was they could get something to “restore their faith in government,” soothe their anger, gain some better advantage. “Trade for.”

Now, I’m aware of the disadvantages and often bad treatment of minorities. All minorities. Everywhere in the nation. For some, the history of subjugation goes back 200 years or more. We’ve enslaved, imprisoned and, near our southern border, we’re doing it again today.

But, this was the first time I’d heard anyone talk of “trading” with society over someone’s alleged bad actions. With a story only a couple of hours old , and without waiting for more facts, these people were talking of using someone’s bad personal decision to “bargain” for advantage.

That set off other thoughts. Now, eight decades plus and counting, I wondered about my own life at 25 years. Did I do anything 57 years ago I would not like people to know about today? Did I make some bad decisions, participate in some bad activities back then? Did I do or say then anything not acceptable today? Has my behavior changed? Am I making wiser decisions and being more thoughtful, living a more accepting life now?

The answers to all those questions is the same. Yes!

So, what about Northam? What about all the Northam’s out there? Did they act in ways back then that are unacceptable today? Did they just “go along” instead of making all the right moral decisions at that time? What about their lives since then? Do the make better decisions now? Are they still the same people 25 years later? What kind of lives have they led? Are they better, wiser?

I make no excuses for Northam. “What will be will be.” It’ll all shake out. He made a bad choice - probably more than one. The repercussions will be quick, especially since he has risen to high political office. We do - and should - expect better.

In many issues, we seem to react to today’s bad actions by quickly condemning someone or something because they/it violate contemporary life. We seldom place that unacceptable behavior in the context of when it occurred. We use today’s norms rather than those extant at time.

Racism is - and always has been - unacceptable. It’s both a personal and national shame. As it should be.

But, discussions of how public disclosure of some politicians’ bad behavior can be “traded” for some societal benefit is racist, too. Equality is an absolute right. Guaranteed. Talk of bargaining for racial advantage is racist, too.

Idaho Weekly Briefing – February 4

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for February 4. Would you like to know more? Send us a note at

Governor Little delivers two major executive orders on administrative rules, just as the Idaho Legislature is wrapping work on considering those approved from last year. Meanwhile, state budget hearings are heading toward closure as agency heads talk about stresses in some of their departments.

Governor Brad Little on January 31 signed two new executive orders aimed at reducing state regulatory burdens on Idaho citizens and businesses. Executive Order 2019-02, the “Red Tape Reduction Act,” requires state agencies that have authority to issue administrative rules to identify at least two existing rules to be repealed or significantly simplified for every one rule they propose.

Water Resource Board officials on January 31 lauded a recent agreement signed by 16 cities located in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer region at its regular board meeting last week. In the agreement, the cities committed to contributing an average of 7,650 acre-feet of mitigation water to the board’s ESPA managed recharge program on an annual basis to do their part to restore the aquifer to sustainable levels.

A new study reveals Idaho endowment lands contributed $531.3 million in gross state product in 2017, including $315.4 million in wages from 7,641 jobs.

Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, along with Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin and Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski urged federal officials to deliver Secure Rural Schools (SRS) payments as quickly as possible in the aftermath of the government shutdown.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has announced a former southern Idaho sheriff was sentenced Friday, February 1, for one count of misusing public money. Fifth District Judge Ned Williamson sentenced 61-year-old Douglas McFall, the former Jerome County Sheriff, after he pleaded guilty in November 2018.

Governor Brad Little appointed Regina Bayer of Meridian to fill the Senate seat for Legislative District 21. Bayer’s son, Cliff Bayer, vacated the seat when he became Chief of Staff for Representative Russ Fulcher earlier this month.

The University of Idaho College of Law Library has launched a research and records repository that serves as the only online source for Idaho Supreme Court records and briefs as well as other legal documents.

IMAGE An image from the new state Fish & Game upland game management plan. (photo/Idaho Department of Fish & Game)

On southern Idaho newspapering


During a week that saw major news outlets announce the layoffs of some 1,000 editors and reporters nationwide, including many veteran journalists, the president and publisher of Adams Publishing Group newspapers in eastern Idaho discussed the daunting challenges confronting his industry when he addressed a large crowd at a City Club of Idaho Falls luncheon on Thursday, Jan. 24.

The Florida-based Poynter Institute, arguably the world's most influential school for journalists, called Wednesday, Jan. 23, “another brutal day for journalism” after Gannett, which owns USA Today and 109 other local media companies, began slashing jobs throughout the country. “The cuts were not minor.”

Gannett's massive cost-cutting move impacted the Arizona Republic, including Pulitzer winning cartoonist Steve Benson; the Indianapolis Star, the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Tennessean, the Record in North Jersey, the Westchester Journal News, the Ventura County Star, the Citizen Times, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, the Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, S.D., the Fort Myers News-Press, the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y. and USA Today’s travel section.

(Adams Publishing Group Regional President and Publisher Travis Quast, right, converses with longtime businessman Park Price at recent City Club of Idaho Falls luncheon. photo/Mark Mendiola)

CNN reported: “This week reaffirmed just how dire things have gotten within the industry, with about 1,000 jobs in media lost as the result of layoffs announced at BuzzFeed, HuffPost and Gannett -- the nation's largest newspaper chain. BuzzFeed announced Wednesday that it would lay off 15 percent of its work force, or about 220 employees; Verizon announced it would cut 7 percent or approximately 800 jobs from its media division, which includes brands like HuffPost, AOL and Yahoo News; and Gannett slashed dozens of jobs at newspapers across the country.”

It was noted at the City Club of Idaho Falls function that the newspaper industry's annual advertising revenue has plunged from $60 billion to $20 billion since 2000.

Travis Quast was appointed the Adams Publishing Group's regional president and publisher of its East Idaho Group last April, overseeing 10 newspapers, including the Post Register in Idaho Falls, the Idaho State Journal in Pocatello, the Standard Journal in Rexburg, the Teton Valley News in Driggs, the Preston Citizen, the Montpelier News-Examiner and the Herald Journal in Logan, Utah.

Prior to joining Adams, Quast served as publisher for five years at the Times-News in Twin Falls, a Lee Enterprises newspaper.

In October 2017, it was announced that the Seattle-based Pioneer News Group was selling its media division assets to the family-owned Adams Publishing Group, including 22 daily and weekly newspapers in Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon and Utah. The transaction was finalized the following Nov. 1, making Adams Publishing a dominant media voice in eastern Idaho and elsewhere.

Based at Minneapolis, Minn., Adams Publishing at the time owned and operated 100 community newspapers in 11 states, including the acquisition of five newspaper publishing companies in 2016. It also owned radio stations, outdoor advertising companies, a wine distribution business, label printing companies and a large interest in Camping World Holdings.

Its acquisition of the Idaho Press, formerly the Idaho Press-Tribune in Nampa, and hiring strategic seasoned journalists there is even giving the Idaho Statesman in Boise a run for its money in the Treasure Valley. The Statesman, a McClatchy newspaper, has been undergoing its own shakeup with the loss of two managing editors in recent months.

Quast told those attending the City Club of Idaho Falls meeting that media companies, including local newspapers, are for-profit businesses and require revenue to survive. Twenty percent of the Post Register's revenue comes from subscriptions and 80 percent from advertising, he said, pointing out that Adams Publishing did not exist six years ago.

Quast noted there were 20 newspaper printing presses operating between Idaho Falls and Boise 15 years ago, but now there are only four – and Adams Publishing owns three of them in Idaho Falls, Preston and Nampa. The other one is in Twin Falls.

Quast remarked that what was considered “fake news” five years ago has morphed into a label for anything with which someone disagrees. Cable news networks and social media the past 20 years have concentrated more on commentary than actual news as the nation has become more polarized, blurring the lines, he said, adding there's a danger that approach can filter into local communities.

“If I lose your trust, I lose you,” he said. “If we are not fair, we will not survive or exist.”

Hundreds of thousands of people regularly access one web site that blatantly admits its news items are totally fabricated and yet they view it religiously on a daily basis, Quast mentioned, lamenting that the more outrageous the news, the more some blogs and web sites make money.

Although the Post Register no longer prints a Monday edition, it still posts breaking news on its web site 24/7, he said, noting the Post Register no longer requires payments to view its content online. “The Internet is actually helping us to grow.” Marketing data can be accessed almost instantaneously. “It's scary what the Worldwide Web knows about you,” he remarked.

There must be a balance between competing with electronic news media and maintaining fairness and accuracy, he stressed. “We're not telling people what to think, but to think,” Quast said. “Democracy is at risk when people become complacent. Local journalism makes a difference.”

Adams Publishing's acquisition of groups of newspapers in Idaho and elsewhere allows it to consolidate operations and run more efficiently, reducing costs, Quast said, defending the use of an automated central call center. “We're trying to be all things to all people.” The company's newspapers only endorse political candidates directly interviewed and never presidential candidates, he said.

The Post Register is one of the few newspapers with a dedicated editorial writer – Bryan Clark, who serves on its editorial board with Quast and Managing Editor Monte LaOrange. Quast said he strongly advocates that governments be transparent and accountable, allowing unfettered access to public documents. It's a “slippery slope” when elected officials regularly conceal vital information. “It gets to the point they operate in secrecy,” Quast said.

The old con isn’t selling


When Oregon Republican Congressman Greg Walden went to Bend recently for his first town hall meeting there in two years, he came armed with what he must have thought were two sure fire applause lines.

Walden, a widely respected Republican and until Democrats recaptured the House of Representatives last November the chairman of Energy and Commerce Committee, is a lot like Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson. They were among a tiny handful of Republican House members who split with their party and the president on the issue of the recent government shutdown. When Walden reminded 400 of his constituents gathered in a central Oregon high school auditorium that he had voted with Democrats to reopen the government he got a healthy round of applause.

But when Walden tried to pivot to a key GOP talking point, it didn’t go so well.

“So, tax cuts,” Walden said, ”it is no secret I’ve supported them. And I think they’ve had a strong effect on the economy.”

Here the crowd took over, interrupting the congressman, as Oregon Public Broadcasting recorded, with “a chorus of boos and heckles.”

Walden, in Congress since 1998, was left to say: “OK, let’s try and be respectful.”

The old, sure fire GOP applause line of “every tax cut is good for you” may finally have reached its sell-by date. It just doesn’t seem to be working for Republicans in part because they have handed huge windfalls — again — to the super wealthy and big corporations, windfalls that have directly contributed to skyrocketing deficits and deepened worry about the strength of the economy.

The prediction by virtually every Republican elected official that the $1.5 trillion tax cut would spur investment, job growth and wages has turned out to be just a political talking point rather than some kind of economic miracle. “There hasn’t been a huge surge in response to tax reform,” said Eric Zwick, a professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. What did boom were corporate stock buy backs.

Ian Shepherdson, the chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, told CNN Business, that he saw “no evidence at all” that the tax cuts have lifted business spending above what would have happened anyway.

A survey of American businesses published this week by the National Association for Business Economics found 84 percent of businesses surveyed indicated that the big tax cuts had “not caused their firms to change hiring or investment plans.”

Meanwhile, the deficit grows and, no, the tax cuts don’t pay for themselves. The Congressional Budget Office estimates a $900 billion deficit this year, growing soon to $1 trillion and reaching that number faster than CBO had been predicting.

Financial writer Jim Tankersley put an exclamation point on the trend recently when he noted, “If growth fades in the coming years — as many economists believe it will — the cuts could exacerbate the deficit even more.”

It is a complicated and at times very cynical story about how cutting taxes, particularly for the most wealthy, became a bedrock principle of Republican politics. Republicans have beaten Democrats over the head with “tax and spend” labels at least since the 1970s, but it wasn’t always so. President Dwight Eisenhower actually believed in rather than just talked about balancing budgets and he insisted that the government had to have the revenue to keep the public books in the black.

More recently, rank-and-file Republicans — the Idaho congressional delegation comes to mind — have mastered the political jujitsu of advocating huge tax cuts for those at the top of the economy while preaching the need for balancing the budget. Now that the GOP has a president who seems to care less about fiscal responsibility and has lost control of one house of Congress, Republicans are against talking about balanced budget amendments.

Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Charles Grassley of Iowa, both of whom voted for the tax cuts, actually had the chutzpah to introduce balanced budget legislation recently.

Lee said, presumably with a straight face, “As our federal debt continues to rise at an alarming rate, the least we can do is require the federal government to not spend more money than it has at its disposal.”

One reason the old tax cut then deficit handwringing game has worked so well for Republicans is that the tax code is complicated, indeed downright eye-glazing to many. It’s even difficult for many certified public accountants to navigate the exemptions and loopholes. But the simple language of cutting taxes is easily understood, except perhaps when the fuzzy logic and dodgy math finally loses its political power.

Before last November’s midterm election, Republicans knew from their own polling that they had lost the messaging battle over their tax cut. Bloomberg News obtained internal GOP survey results that confirmed — by a 2-to-1 margin, 61 percent to 30 percent — that voters saw through the hype and knew that “large corporations and rich Americans” benefited over “middle class families.”

That explains why Walden got hooted down at his town hall recently and why you no longer hear Mike Crapo, Jim Risch or Simpson say much about the “signature” accomplishment of the first two years of the Trump administration.

More and more, the tax debate in American politics is going to be shaped by fundamental issues that voters do seem to understand. Economic policy, including repeated tax cutting for the very wealthy, has for the last generation contributed to a hollowing out of the middle class, a flat-lining of income growth, creating vast and growing disparity in wealth and stifling opportunity.

In another recent survey a sizeable majority of Americans now say that “unfairness in the economic system that favors the wealthy” is a bigger problem than “over-regulation of the free market that interferes with growth and prosperity.” Among young Americans that belief is even more surely held.

Ironically, by embracing a candidate who refused to release his own tax returns and gleefully oversold his tax cut, Republicans may have finally lost the political advantage they’ve held on tax issues since the Reagan years.

It was quite a con while it lasted.

Johnson served as press secretary and chief of staff to the late former Idaho Gov. Cecil D. Andrus. He lives in Manzanita, Ore.