It seems like the president is being fairly prudent in dealing with the inmates of Bedlam at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. He’s projecting a image of calm in the middle of the intensifying crazy and, at the same time, he’s preparing the government for the worst. From the Washington Post:
Administration officials stress the request is in line with traditional procedures seven days ahead of a shutdown and not a commentary on the likelihood of a congressional deal. Both Democrats and Republicans have made clear they intend to fund the government before its funding expires on Sept. 30, but time is running out and lawmakers are aiming to resolve an enormous set of tasks to in a matter of weeks…
Privately, though, Democrats also began to acknowledge they are unlikely to prevail in the face of a GOP blockade. Democrats have started discussing the mechanics of how to sidestep Republicans as soon as next week, according to lawmakers and aides, as they maintain they will not allow the government to shut down in a pandemic or the country to default for the first time in history.
Being at least agnostic on the subject of cooler heads prevailing in anything political these days, I am not sanguine about much of anything ending well in this whole mess, but it seems as though the series of meetings at the White House went fairly well, including the ones held on Thursday, and the House did pass that funding bill that is DOA in the Senate, but which at least demonstrates (again) that one of our two major political parties is interested in governing the country. Later, both Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that a “framework” to pay for the $3.5 trillion human infrastructure bill had been developed, but declined to give any further details. From the New York Times:
The Senate Finance Committee chairman, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, and the House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Representative Richard Neal, signed off on provisions that their respective committees already saw eye to eye on: a top income tax rate of 39.6 percent, which affluent taxpayers faced before President Donald J. Trump cut it to 37 percent in 2017; a crackdown on tax-preferred conservation easements, often used by the rich to lower taxation on historical properties; and closing a loophole, famously used by Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley billionaire, that can shield huge investment gains from taxation within an individual retirement account.
Of course, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was around to pull the rugs out from under things. From the Washington Examiner (via the Denver Gazette):
"People have differences of opinion, but the one thing, I think, everybody now sees is what the bill passed in the Senate is a different situation now that it came to the House," McCarthy said in a press conference on Thursday. "It's one bill. So you're not voting for a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill, you're voting for a $5 trillion bill.” House Republican leaders announced on Tuesday that they will whip votes against the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which was crafted by a bipartisan group of senators and passed with support from 19 Senate Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, last month.
The two-track strategy—a.k.a. Just Crazy Enough to Work—is rattling and quaking like an old wooden rollercoaster, but it appears to still be moving forward. Despite the attention lavished upon conservative Democratic congresscritters, it is the progressive caucus in both houses that is most closely hewing to the administration’s original plan, and to the campaign promises that helped get the president elected. They also appear to be responding most directly to the immediate crises that the country is facing. The conservative Democratic argument seems to be that they are conservative Democrats, period. Meanwhile, as Greg Sargent points out in the Washington Post, Rep. Pramila Jayapal hinted to NPR that negotiations are possible.
“If there’s something that somebody wants to cut out from those priorities, then they need to let us know,” Jayapal said. But, importantly, Jayapal also put a timeline on how long progressives would like the infrastructure bill delayed, by saying they expect reconciliation to be finished very soon. “We’re saying, let’s get this done,” Jayapal said. “We need a little bit more time, just maybe two weeks, three weeks, but we can do this.”
As far as clearing the road forward is concerned, it’s time for the filibuster to go, at least with regard to voting rights. And it’s time to listen to Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky and rid the process of the debt ceiling as well. “There is no sense to it,” he told Chuck Todd on MSNBC. “We’re the only country in the world that has a debt ceiling that operates this way. We’ve raised it 100 times since it was put into effect 100 years ago…This statutory debt ceiling is stupid and we need to get rid of it. The only thing it does is allow either political party to play political brinksmanship.”
The debt ceiling is a relic dating back to the Liberty Bonds issued to help pay for World War I. It mostly paid for wars until 1974, when the Congressional Budget and Impoundment Control Act passed in the middle of the climatic Watergate summer, a moment in which the government was losing its mind. At this point, since this act overhauled the entire congressional budget process, it would have been possible to do away with the debt ceiling altogether. Instead, in 1982, the debt ceiling was codified into law. That 1974 was a lost opportunity did not become entirely clear until the late summer of 2011, when the Republicans in the Congress pushed the country to the brink of default. Mitch McConnell signaled the change with one of the more memorably nihilistic quotes of all time.
I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting. Most of us didn’t think that. What we did learn is this — it’s a hostage that’s worth ransoming. And it focuses the Congress on something that must be done.
At which point, the debt ceiling was fully sharpened as a political blade. And the Republicans have unsheathed it again. It’s time to keep the toddlers away from the cutlery.
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