Friday Talking Points -- Crunch Time

[ Posted Friday, September 24th, 2021 – 16:58 UTC ]

It's one of those rare weeks in Washington, where Congress is actually forced into doing its job -- legislating, holding hearings... you know, the things the taxpayers actually pay them to do. As usual, they are facing multiple deadlines. They deserve zero pity, though, since they just returned from their annual month-long summer vacation. If they had stayed and worked instead of gone and played, then they wouldn't be facing all these time crunches simultaneously. Which is why we say: zero pity.

Right now, there are two enormous legislative efforts underway. One is to raise the debt ceiling as well as keep the government functioning past the first of October (when a new fiscal year begins). It's a double-whammy, both a fiscal cliff and a government shutdown rolled into one. The second is to finalize the huge budget reconciliation bill, which has a laughably impossible deadline of next Monday attached to it. As a quick glance at a calendar shows, that doesn't leave a whole lot of time for an enormous amount of work. Right now the media is mostly spotlighting the fight to raise the debt ceiling, but next week the reconciliation bill will also deserve some attention in one way or another.

First, the debt ceiling. There is an obvious answer to this problem, but Democrats are likely not going to act as boldly as the situation demands. They may timidly raise the debt ceiling by wrapping it into a bill that only requires Democratic votes to pass the Senate, but what they really should do is to just obliterate the entire concept of a debt ceiling altogether. It is absolutely clear that, while Republicans don't currently have the leverage to issue demands, at some point in the future they will have this power once again, and they will hold the American economy hostage to further their own political agenda. There is absolutely no doubt that this is true. So Democrats should really do the right thing and avoid all such future showdowns by eliminating the legal need for a debt ceiling once and for all.

We wrote about this earlier this week, but it's a pretty simple concept -- one that all other countries worldwide use, in fact. When a budget is passed, this authorizes the Treasury to raise any money necessary to pay for that budget. Automatically. Without the secondary layer of a "debt ceiling" constraining the Treasury. Again, this is how every other country operates, so it would work just fine for the United States. We even had a period of over 15 years when this was the case, when the "Gephardt rule" was in place (right up until Newt Gingrich took over control of the House of Representatives). The sky did not fall, chaos did not ensue, everything worked just fine. And now Democrats have the power to take us back to such halcyon days.

But they probably won't. Their timidity knows no bounds, it seems. They'll probably settle for bumping the debt limit up perhaps enough to cover the next year or more (they'll try to punt the next debt ceiling hike until after the midterms, most likely). And they'll have to do it alone.

This is something the media is spectacularly failing to accurately report, because Mitch McConnell has come up with a brand new "rule" which states it is perfectly fine for the "out" party to vote for the utter destruction of not just the American economy but also the world's, merely out of spite. Destroying the economy is an acceptable outcome if it contributes in any way to "owning the libs." Think this is overstated? We don't:

If that were not sufficient evidence of irresponsibility, recklessness and lack of patriotism among Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Monday displayed total indifference to potential economic calamity. "We will not support legislation that raises the debt limit," McConnell said flatly. This follows a statement from the Republican leader last week that perfect crystallizes the GOP mind-set: "Let me make it perfectly clear. The country must never default. The debt ceiling will need to be raised. But who does that depends on who the American people elect." Other Senate Republicans seem inclined to filibuster raising the debt ceiling, another gross abuse of the Senate arcane mechanism.

Got that? The country must never default, but I and my colleagues will be voting for the country to default. The debt ceiling will need to be raised, but we're not going to lift a finger to help because if the economy craters we intend to blame the whole thing on the Democrats, not the Republicans who will be voting for precisely that outcome. It's downright Orwellian, and yet this basic fact seems to have escaped almost everyone in the mainstream media.

Democrats likely will solve this problem, especially since the deadline for default is later than the other two big deadlines they are already facing. The Treasury can perform some smoke-and-mirrors accounting to keep things running until roughly mid-October, it has been reported.

The government shutdown deadline is earlier than that. Some sort of continuing resolution will need to pass by the end of this month, or else we'll all be watching scenes of National Parks closing their gates once again as the federal government won't be able to operate. Again, hopefully this won't actually happen and some sort of continuing resolution (hopefully paired with a debt ceiling hike) still has a decent chance of passing before we hit the deadline.

But both these measures may have to piggyback somehow on the budget reconciliation bill, which could be the only train leaving the station which only requires 51 votes in the Senate. Since Republicans are in lockstep obstructionism mode, everything may have to be bundled together into one giant bill.

The problem with the reconciliation bill is that it is the one facing a self-imposed deadline of next Monday. Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised the corporatist Democrats in her caucus that the bipartisan infrastructure bill (which has already passed the Senate) would receive a floor vote in the House. The big problem is that this was supposed to allow enough time for Democrats in both chambers to coalesce around a finalized budget reconciliation bill.

This is not going to happen in time. There has been plenty of squabbling between House corporatists (together with the two big Senate corporatist Democrats, Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema) and the progressive wing of the Democratic party. But there has (as of this writing) been no real breakthrough. Progressives have made their wants known, led by Bernie Sanders insisting on a $3.5 trillion bill. The corporatists have been much more vague, at least in public. They want the total amount to be lower (but they won't say by how much). They want drug companies to be allowed to continue their highway robbery against prescription drug patients in the United States. They don't want their rich donors (individuals or corporations) to pay too much more in taxes. They want a future chock-full of fossil fuels, not a greener one.

As you can see, these positions are not exactly popular with the Democratic base. Or the general public, for that matter. Perhaps that's why the corporatist Democrats are being so quiet about what it is they're fighting for. So far, these battles seem mostly to be happening in back rooms, rather than in the media, which might just be a good thing. Democrats from both factions have been meeting with their own chamber's leadership and also (a welcome development) directly with President Biden and his advisors.

As things stand, the infrastructure bill will likely be voted down if Pelosi puts it on the floor Monday. Progressives were promised a companion bill to vote on, and that bill doesn't yet exist (much less "has made it through the Senate already"). So the progressives will vote against the infrastructure bill. This won't utterly kill it -- it will still be able to come back up for another vote in the future -- but it would prove to the corporatist Democrats that the progressives should be taken at their word (something they now don't seem inclined to believe). The two-track plan all along has been that both bills have to pass -- or neither of them will pass.

Right now it seems like Pelosi and Chuck Schumer and the White House are trying to at least nail down the big picture of the reconciliation bill. Their goal is to at least get a "framework" agreed upon by Monday, which (they hope) will be enough for the progressives to vote for the infrastructure bill. Pelosi could, at that point, then refuse to send the bill to the White House -- which would mean it will never become law until the companion reconciliation bill is ready as well. But it remains to be seen whether all of this will be acceptable enough to the progressives -- who will be taking on faith the future votes of the corporatists once the "framework" is actually written up as a bill. It's all about trust, on both sides of the factional divide.

One way or another, something is going to happen on Monday. Either the vote for the infrastructure bill will be postponed (until the reconciliation bill is ready), the vote will be held and fail, or the progressives will wind up voting for it because they feel they've somehow gotten a solid agreement on the reconciliation bill. One way or another, though, it'll be a notable day in the House.

Let's see, what else is going on? There are a few amusing stories worth mentioning here before we move along to the awards segment of the program.

Republican things which gloriously fizzled this week: the rally in support of the insurrectionists of January 6th wound up being a real dud. Only a few hundred people showed up, and they were vastly outnumbered not only by police but also by journalists. It's pretty embarrassing when you can't even estimate a crowd's size because over half of them are journalists covering the event, to state the obvious. And today we got the news that the Arizona "fraudit" also fizzled badly. Astonishingly, even though the organization selected to conduct the "forensic audit" was run by an election conspiracy-theorist (who scanned the ballots in an attempt to find secret bamboo fibers) -- and who was given months and months and months longer than he had promised -- in the end even he had to conclude that Donald Trump lost Arizona. And lost by 360 more votes than the official count, even. This won't stop Trump and his Big Lie minions from calling on more states to conduct such "fraudits" of the 2020 election, but this was the big cheese -- and it turned out to be pretty stinky for Trump.

Charles Grassley will be running for another term in the Senate despite being 88 years old. Democrats can't really point the finger on this one, however, as the oldest sitting senator isn't actually Grassley, it is in fact Dianne Feinstein from California. Anyone for a mandatory retirement age in the Senate? Anyone?

Britain's Boris Johnson addressed the United Nations General Assembly this week, and made a rather odd case for transitioning to a green economy:

When Kermit the Frog sang, "It's Not Easy Bein' Green" I want you to know that he was wrong. It is easy, lucrative and right to be green, although he was unnecessarily rude to Miss Piggy, I thought.

Um, OK, Boris. Sure. Whatever you say.

And speaking of politicians doing comedy, we have to end on a cheerful note. Al Franken has announced his "The Only Former U.S. Senator Currently On Tour Tour," where he'll be ripping into all the senators he used to work with. Unfortunately for us, as of this writing it seems the farthest west he'll get is Colorado. We're hoping maybe he'll add some West Coast dates at the end of the tour, however. For those elsewhere, check out the tour's schedule. And don't forget to tip your waitress, of course....


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

While Democratic timidity is a perennial problem, for once Democrats have stepped up to the plate and delivered. Well, House Democrats, at any rate.

Which is why we're giving the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for shepherding through a bill which will codify the Roe v. Wade decision into law. Please note, Democrats could have done this at any time since Roe was decided, back in the 1970s, but have not.

For all that time, American women have been subjected to more and more outlandish restrictions being put on their right to an abortion by conservative state legislators, and have only had the Supreme Court as a backstop. The justices have interpreted and reinterpreted the original Roe decision, splitting all kinds of hairs, but mostly reaffirmed a woman's right to choose. This is now in jeopardy, with the current makeup of the Supreme Court.

But all along, there has never been anything stopping Democrats from just passing a law rather than relying on the re-reinterpretation of the Roe decision. Which the House has now done:

The House on Friday passed legislation that would create a statutory right for health-care professionals to provide abortions, amid an intensifying legal battle over a Texas law that is the most restrictive in the nation.

H.R. 3755, the Women's Health Protection Act, was approved by the Democratic-controlled House 218 to 211, but faces tough odds in the evenly divided Senate.

The measure states that health-care providers have a statutory right to provide, and patients have a right to receive, abortion services without any number of limitations that states and opponents of the procedure have sought to impose.

The measure would essentially codify Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision guaranteeing the right to abortion before viability, usually around 22 to 24 weeks.

There are two major reasons why this has not happened until now. The first is that, historically, the Democratic Party used to be more diverse on the issue. There was an antiabortion faction in the party, so there was no party unity. Over time, fewer and fewer of these Democrats remained in office. Now, the party is not completely unified, but is pretty close to that goal. The Republicans have charted the opposite course over the same time period -- there used to be a faction of pro-choice Republicans, but no longer (Susan Collins doesn't count).

The second big reason this hasn't happened until now is Democratic timidity. They were afraid of the issue politically, since the antiabortion people were so well organized and so forceful in their advocacy. Now, however, Democrats are beginning to wake up to how politically potent an issue this is -- and how they are actually on the winning side of it. Polls back this up. A recent poll asked questions specifically about the new Draconian Texas law, which essentially outlaws abortion past six weeks (before most women are even aware they are pregnant):

In the Monmouth University poll, 70 percent of Americans say they disapprove of "allowing private citizens to use lawsuits to enforce this law rather than having government prosecutors handle these cases."

Meanwhile, 81 percent say they disapprove of giving $10,000 to "private citizens who successfully file suits against those who perform or assist a woman with getting an abortion."

The poll also finds that 54 percent of Americans disagree with the Supreme Court's decision to let the law stand while the legal battle over it continues.

. . .

The poll finds that 62 percent of Americans say abortion should either be always legal or legal with some limitations. About 24 percent of respondents say it should be illegal except for rape, incest or to save the mother's life, and 11 percent say it should always be illegal. Those numbers are largely unchanged from a Monmouth poll two years ago.

That is a healthy and persistent majority. Which puts Democrats on the right side of the argument. All they have to do is realize it and start fighting as hard as they can in the court of public opinion. Thankfully, this is now much easier to do, as Republicans get more and more extreme in their own stances. Here is a well-known candidate for Senate in Ohio, explaining what is fast becoming the new Republican orthodoxy on abortion:

When asked during a local interview whether abortion laws should include exceptions for rape and incest, [J. D.] Vance, a Republican, said he thinks "two wrong[s] don't make a right."

"It's not whether a woman should be forced to bring a child to term, it's whether a child should be allowed to live, even though the circumstances of that child's birth are somehow inconvenient or a problem to the society," Vance told Spectrum News in Columbus on Wednesday.

"The question to me is really about the baby," Vance added. "We want women to have opportunities, we want women to have choices, but, above all, we want women and young boys in the womb to have a right to life."

That is the new normal for Republicans -- if you get raped, you have to have the rapist's child. If a 13-year-old girl is molested by her father, she has to carry the baby to term. These used to be considered extremist positions even among Republicans, but no more.

Democrats need to lean in to this issue in a big way. The bill the House passed is almost certainly going to die in the Senate, but that doesn't mean it can't be a potent issue in the next election -- especially if the Supreme Court further dismantles (or even overturns) Roe v. Wade. This is a real possibility now, with court cases already lined up for their consideration.

Women played an enormous part in electing Joe Biden and rejecting Trumpism. This could be a huge motivator to get them to the polls in 2022. Which is why Nancy Pelosi deserves the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week, for putting the House on the record, passing the codification of the right to choose in federal law.

[Congratulate Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on her official contact page, to let her know you appreciate her efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

We did note one Democrat worthy of a (Dis-)Honorable Mention award this week, but she was so minor we simply couldn't see giving her the main award.

Here's the story:

Speaking before a group of Democratic leaders in Florida's Miami-Dade County on Zoom last week, Miami Beach city commission candidate Kristen Rosen Gonzalez made her pitch as to why the party should endorse her.

She called herself "the most high-profile Hispanic Democrat in the city of Miami Beach." Not endorsing her, she continued, "would be upsetting and confusing" for constituents.

But Rosen Gonzalez is not Hispanic.

The 48-year-old picked up the latter name after she married Emilio Gonzalez. They divorced in 2009, according to WFOR, which first reported on the video.

If you read further, it becomes pretty apparent that this wasn't a misstatement on her part but rather a calculated move to boost her support among Latino voters. But, again, "city commission candidate" is pretty far down the political ladder, so we're just giving her a (Dis-)Honorable Mention for her cultural appropriation.

Instead, we decided on one of our two default candidates for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Senator Kyrsten Sinema represents a state with a rather large population of seniors. High prescription drug prices are a potent issue, both in Arizona and all over the country. It polls stratospherically high among the general public -- people want to see the drug companies reined in. They want the obscene gouging of American customers to stop. So of course, Sinema is against all of that.

Here's a headline which really speaks for itself: "Big Pharma, medical firms donated $750K to Kyrsten Sinema -- then she opposed drug bill."

Before she jumped into this debate, a battle was already raging in the House. Part of the budget reconciliation bill would have forced drug companies to set reasonable prices for prescription drugs. But bought-and-paid-for House Democrats wanted the provision severely watered down. Progressives were holding firm. After all, the public is squarely on their side. Even Donald Trump supports lowering prescription drug prices, after all.

Sinema jumped in and has made it known that not only is she against the strong version of the plan, she's also against the watered-down version as well. Drug companies should be allowed to continue to gouge all of her elderly constituents in Arizona, because big Pharma had so generously donated to her election fund, obviously.

This -- right here -- is why we refuse to call this faction "moderate" or "centrist." They are neither. They are corporatist, plain and simple. That headline really says it all. Which is why Kyrsten Sinema is this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week.

[Contact Senator Kyrsten Sinema on her Senate contact page, to let her know what you think of her actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 635 (9/24/21)

We took last Friday off, so it's been two weeks since we wrote out our talking points. We must admit that we didn't even attempt to cover all two weeks of this period, and instead concentrated just on the past week's news. We've got another mixed bag as a result, including one excerpt that is rather long but deserved to be included.

Enjoy, and as always, use responsibly.


   The right to choose needs to be written into law

As we mentioned, this issue is a lot safer and a lot more politically potent than ever. So use it!

"Democrats are not waiting for the conservatives on the Supreme Court to toss out Roe v. Wade, because we believe that a woman's right to choose -- a woman's right to determine what medical care she gets -- is so important it needs to be written into federal law. Passing federal legislation would mean we wouldn't have to rely on whatever the Supreme Court decides and we wouldn't have to accept Draconian restrictions at the state level any more -- restrictions that are all designed to shame women and make exercising their constitutional rights as hard as possible. Elect Democrats and know that all women will not be put into some Handmaid's Tale dystopia merely because they live in the wrong state. We think women's rights to healthcare of their choosing is more important than leaving it to all the men in the state legislature who think they should decide what happens in a doctor's office between a woman and her physician. Republicans now want to outlaw abortion for even rape and incest victims. Don't let them! Vote Democratic instead, to protect a woman's right to choose."


   GOP voting to destroy the economy

Make this point plain, because the media is falling down on their job to do so (once again).

"Republicans have announced that they intend to vote against raising the debt ceiling, which, if they win the vote, would mean the United States would default on its debt. This would destroy millions of jobs, it would mean trillion-dollar losses for investors, it would double unemployment, and it would crater not just the American economy but likely send the entire worldwide economy into a depression. This, obviously, is not just irresponsible; it is downright reckless. How can Republicans make the case with a straight face for voting for such widespread destruction and economic devastation? How can they justify voting to do as much damage to our economy as possible? I have no idea. Perhaps some journalists might want to ask them that, because I for one think their constituents should hear why Republicans are voting in unison for such chaos."


   Kill the debt ceiling

As previously discussed, this relic needs to go.

"There simply is no real reason for the debt ceiling to exist. We're the only country in the world that has this crazy two-tier way of authorizing federal government spending. So I am calling on all Democrats to not just vote to raise the debt ceiling, instead I call on them to abolish the debt ceiling forever. Republicans are showing once again that they cannot be counted on to avoid economic catastrophe, and that they will engage in such hostage-taking whenever they have the chance. So why let them ever have this chance again? Abolishing the debt ceiling forever would make it impossible for these hostage-taking games to even happen. We could do it with one vote, and then Congress would never have to vote on it again. When we pass a budget, it should automatically authorize the Treasury to raise whatever funds are necessary for the agreed-upon spending. Plain and simple. Abolish the debt ceiling now and we'll never have to hear the term 'fiscal cliff' ever again."


   Kill the filibuster

This is a bit long for a talking point, but it is so important that we expanded a bit to fit it in.

The Senate filibuster is currently blocking Democrats from acting on immigration reform, police reform, raising the minimum wage, raising the debt ceiling, a new Voting Rights Act, and reforming the Electoral Count Act which lays out the steps for how a president is officially elected. In other words, a major portion of the Democratic agenda is at risk. Meanwhile, Donald Trump is backing only Republican candidates who believe and support his Big Lie and will do anything under the sun to subvert democracy to always declare Republicans the winners in any election (no matter what the voters say about it). We are in a crisis, in other words.

Which is why Paul Waldman made the case in the Washington Post for the filibuster issue to become a big litmus test for the Democratic Party. We find his argument persuasive, which is why we had to include so much of it here (emphasis in original).

It's now time for a real litmus test. Or even a purge.

If Democrats actually care about the things they say they believe in, they have to place filibuster reform at the absolute center of their agenda and their identity. No less than support for abortion rights, fair treatment for workers, universal health coverage, or action to address climate change, it's time to say that if you don't want to reform the filibuster then you can't call yourself a Democrat in good standing.

Which means that if you're already in office, Democrats should run primaries against you if you don't support filibuster reform. If you haven't been elected yet, no primary voter should accept that you're sincere in what you say you believe. And they should vote accordingly.

That may sound radical, but let's start here: The situation Democrats face now -- in control of the White House and Congress, but unable to act on many promises that got them elected, while forced to cram a more limited agenda through the legislative Rube Goldberg machine of reconciliation -- is the best they can hope for. That is, if the Senate's abominable rules are not changed.

It doesn't matter how many Americans support their agenda. It doesn't matter how big their electoral victories are. Their hands will be tied, and the voters will not get what they asked for.

. . .

It was absolutely predictable, and those who help maintain the system that guaranteed this outcome have to be held responsible. If someone says, "I support abortion rights, but I also think Roe v. Wade should be overturned," your response would be, "Then you don't actually support abortion rights."

And so, if someone says, "I believe in passing a new Voting Rights Act, a minimum-wage increase, and a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented, but I don't think we should get rid of the filibuster," then the only reasonable response is, "Then you don't actually support those things."

. . .

There is and will remain plenty of diversity within the Democratic Party. But there should be no disagreement on this fundamental principle: When Democrats win elections, they should be able to enact the agenda they ran on (and that applies to Republicans too). If you don't support that, you don't deserve the trust and support of your party.


   Fraudit fizzles

Too, too funny.

"Arizona spent a whole bunch of money paying an organization that had zero experience in conducting election reviews to perform what they called a 'forensic audit' (and what most everyone else called a 'fraudit') of the 2020 election results in the most Democratic county in the state. They fully expected these charlatans to manufacture a win for Donald Trump somehow. They were supposed to do so many months ago, in fact, but they were so inept and disorganized it took them forever to issue their report. But -- surprise! -- the leaked copy of this report purports to show that Donald Trump lost by an even bigger margin in Maricopa County. The fraudit fizzled -- or perhaps even backfired! This is no real surprise, since pretty much every review of the election to date has shown exactly the same thing -- Trump lost. Period. And now Arizona doesn't even have faked, ginned-up 'evidence' to show anything more than Trump got beat by 360 more votes than has been reported. What a monumental waste of time, and what an absolute joke."


   Getting to the bottom of the insurrection

This whole process needs to start moving a lot faster.

"This week, a bunch of pro-insurrectionists rallied right by the United States Capitol, in support of those who tried to violently overthrow our government in the biggest coup attempt in over a century. We also learned, through another tell-all book about the Trump administration's last days, that there was a six-point memo being circulated with specific steps Vice President Mike Pence was supposed to take to throw out the votes in seven states, so that Donald Trump could retain power illegally. This was not just a bunch of hotheads attacking the shrine of our democracy on January 6th, folks, this was a concerted effort to ignore and subvert the will of the voters. Thankfully, it didn't succeed -- this time. But to make sure there is no 'next time' the House committee charged with uncovering the truth about that dark day has issued its first subpoenas to four Trump henchmen. It's about time! I urge the committee to start holding regular hearings on the matter, because the American people deserve to know the truth about this insurrection attempt as soon as possible."


   Tax the rich

This has been true for a very long time, but Democrats never seem to get behind it with the proper amount of fervor.

"Once again, a poll recently came out which shows how wildly popular taxing the rich truly is among the American people. This echoes just about every other poll taken on the subject over the past few decades, at the very least. Fully 61 percent of the public supports raising the income tax rate on the wealthiest earners by a few points. Even 41 percent of Republicans support this. Large majorities also favor increasing the corporate tax rate as well as taxing investment income more, instead of letting those who make all their money off of stocks and bonds pay half what a hardworking family pays. Taxing the rich is incredibly popular, no matter what Republicans tell you. This is why Democrats are going to raise revenue to pay for their reconciliation budget by making the top earners in this country finally pay a little more of their fair share. And you know what? The people are solidly behind us in this."

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground