Dok is Mad About A Thing.
One of the recurring mysteries getting in the way of progress on the Build Back Better reconciliation bill is that nobody really knows what exactly the the two Democratic holdouts, Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, are holding out for. They've both been extremely coy about not saying in public what top-line amount of spending they could vote for, other than "Not $3.5 trillion over 10 years."
Now, last night, Manchin did release that screed about the "fiscal insanity" of spending lots of money on social programs while raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans to pay for it, but even that wasn't terribly specific about changes he might want to make to the reconciliation package beyond insisting Congress should wait and see whether poor people stop being poor, and also we should means-test any new benefits to make sure the middle class won't support the bill since it's frozen out of getting any help.
As for Sinema, she's been even less clear. Asked whether the rest of the Democratic caucus knows where she is, she hilariously said "I'm clearly right in front of the elevator" because she's the second coming of goddamn John "turn left at Greenland" Lennon.
Today, however, Politico reports it has dredged up a copy of a July 28 document that it says Manchin has been handing to Senate colleagues who want to know what his own position on reconciliation might be, if he'd be so kind. It's a brief outline of some fairly radical changes he'd like to make to Biden's first-term agenda, like slashing most of it. Look at this shit, would you just LOOK AT IT:
We'll bullet point for you if you can't read that mess above:
Families and health
- Needs based with means testing guardrails/formulas on new spending
- Targeted spending caps on existing programs
- No additional handouts outs or transfer payments
- Inclusion of S. 1783 Budgeting for Opioid Addiction Treatment Act (LifeBOAT Act)
- Sole ENR jurisdiction on any clean energy standard
- Spending on innovation, not elimination. Fuel neutral
Energy and Vehicle Tax policies:
- That CCUS be included and ensure that CCUS on coal and natural gas can feasibly qualify
- If tax credits for solar and wind are included and extended, then fossil tax credits are not repealed (eg. intangible drilling costs and credits for enhanced oil recovery)
- Vehicle and fuel tax credits shall not be limited to electric vehicles — they must include hydrogen.
- Any revenue exceeding $1.5 T shall be used for deficit reduction
- Corporate tax rate: 25%
- Corporate domestic minimum tax: 15%
- Raise the top rate on ordinary income: 39.6%
- Raise cap gains rate: 28% All in
- End carried interest
- Tax Gap, Rebate Rule, Dynamic Growth
Manchin — in late July at least — wanted the bill to be no larger than $1.5 trillion, just hacking out well over half of what the proposal called for after it had already been hacked down to Biden's agenda essentials. Worse, it appears to share the same complete misunderstanding of the Build Back Better agenda that we saw in his September Wall Street Journal op-ed, in which he called for a "pause" on the reconciliation bill until the economic effects of the American Rescue Plan became clear. Manchin really seems to think Build Back Better is another emergency stimulus package, not the thorough revamping of the social safety net and climate agenda that its proponents — including the president — see it as.
For instance, he called for debate on the package to not even start until October 1 (oh look, here we are), and insisted that none of the new spending for Build Back Better be disbursed "until all funding from COV1D legislation and [the American Rescue Plan] has been spent" and until the Federal Reserve has ended "quantitative easing" — another emergency measure to prop up the economy.
We sure hope someone has at least clarified to Manchin that this is Biden's legislative agenda for his first term, not a short-term plan to boost the economy. Has anyone told him? Senator? Have you heard?
Politico notes that the document's date, July 28, was "right before the Senate passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill that Manchin helped write," and the Senate's passage of a basic framework for the reconciliation plan.
Among other demands, Manchin insisted on a top corporate tax rate of 25 percent (Build Back Better sets it at 26.6), a top capital gains tax rate of 28 percent (higher than BBB's 25 percent), and a top marginal income tax rate of 39.6 percent, which at last everyone agreed on. He also wanted any new revenue over $1.5 trillion to go to paying down the deficit, because OMG deficit.
Manchin's beloved means tests were in there, too, insisting that all benefits be "needs based," which would turn Biden's vision of educational and family benefits for working class Americans, a means of building the economy from the middle out and from the bottom up, into a set of safety-net benefits that the middle class would resent, because why are those people getting help and I'm not? Say goodbye to broad-based family and medical leave, free community college, universal pre-K, help for caregivers for the elderly, and childcare.
And on another key part of Build Back Better, Manchin appeared to completely reject the idea that the federal government should be working to transition the US to clean energy. Instead, he insisted that coal and natural gas qualify for government assistance if they adopt carbon capture technology (those CCUS's in his memo above are for "carbon capture, utilization, and storage"), and that if the government subsidizes clean energy, it may not cut any subsidies to fossil fuels. And while he was open to tax credits for electric vehicles, he insisted that similar credits be extended to hydrogen-powered vehicles, which is a problem since, as the New York Times reports, current technology for producing hydrogen is so energy intensive that it's really a misnomer to call hydrogen a "zero emissions" fuel.
The hostage note closes with the line "Senator Manchin does not guarantee that he will vote for the final reconciliation legislation if it exceeds the conditions outlined in this agreement." Politico notes that while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer signed the document and hand-wrote "will try to dissuade Joe on some of these," a spokesman for Schumer said today that Schumer
never agreed to any of the conditions Sen. Manchin laid out; he merely acknowledged where Sen. Manchin was on the subject at the time. [...] Sen. Manchin did not rule out voting for a reconciliation bill that exceeded the ideas he outlined, and Leader Schumer made clear that he would work to convince Sen. Manchin to support a final reconciliation bill — as he has doing been for weeks.
Again, that was where Manchin was in July, and Joe Manchin can be notoriously difficult to pin down. It's not terribly encouraging that Politico reports Manchin is still handing out copies of his list to colleagues, though, and it's difficult to imagine Democrats caving to all his demands from July, particularly the remaking of much of Build Back Better into means-tested programs that wouldn't help the middle class, or the insistence on propping up fossil fuels in the face of the climate crisis.
Since the document was published this morning, Manchin has very helpfully clarified to reporters that he is not now nor has he ever been a liberal, that he believes "in my heart" that the US can't possibly afford to spend more than $1.5 trillion (despite all of it being paid for), and that America shouldn't become "an entitlement-based society." Guess we shouldn't be too surprised: Since the 1980s, the very wealthy and huge corporations have been entitled to everything they ask for, so if progressives want to change that, he explained, they should "elect more liberals."
From your lips to the Cosmic Whatever's ear, Mr. Senator. We need to expand the Democratic majority in the midterms, that's for damn sure.
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Also 11,000 new jobs in Kentucky and Tennessee.
Ford Motor Company announced yesterday that it's partnering with South Korean energy firm SK Innovation to build two new factories in Tennessee and Kentucky to manufacture electric vehicles and the batteries that go in 'em. The two complexes — wait, they're "hubs!" — will employ some 11,000 workers total when they open in 2025.
"vertically integrated ecosystem" consisting of a vehicle assembly plant, a battery plant jointly operated by Ford and SK, as well as facilities for suppliers and battery recycling operations. Ford says the new assembly plant will be carbon neutral with zero waste to landfill when it's fully operational in 2025.
Ford says it will be "among the largest auto manufacturing campuses in US history."
Ford and SK will also construct two battery factories in Kentucky, which will produce batteries to be used in Ford and Lincoln EVs built at other assembly plants around North America. An industry insider we just made up right now said the Kentucky and Tennessee sites were "chosen deliberately to fuck with Doktor Zoom," who can never keep the two states straight.
In a press release, Ford kvelled that the company's $7 billion share in the joint venture will be "the largest ever U.S. investment in electric vehicles at one time by any automotive manufacturer," and that the company intends to "lead America's transition to electric vehicles and usher in a new era of clean, carbon-neutral manufacturing," according to Executive Chair Bill Ford.
The press release said the new plants are part of a more than $30 billion investment in EVs, and that it "expects 40% to 50% of its global vehicle volume to be fully electric by 2030."
Jim Farley, Ford's president and CEO, said that the company's EV offerings will aim at expanding the market for EVs beyond wealthy early tech adopters and granola-munching greenies, albeit not in those exact terms: "We are moving now to deliver breakthrough electric vehicles for the many rather than the few." We aren't sure if that was a Star Trek reference or not.
Marketing bafflegab aside, Ford's green bafflegab about the Tennessee plant sounds pretty darned impressive:
Through an on-site wastewater treatment plant, the assembly plant aspires to make zero freshwater withdrawals for assembly processes by incorporating water reuse and recycling systems. Zero-waste-to-landfill processes will capture materials and production scrap at an on-site materials collection center to sort and route materials for recycling or processing either at the plant or at off-site facilities once the plant is operational.
That sounds pretty good, as does the goal of "localizing the supply chain network, creating recycling options for scrap and end-of-life vehicles, and ramping up lithium-ion recycling," which Ford says is vital to making EVs a sustainable business. Seems like a good idea to focus on. You certainly wouldn't want to have too many lithium ions in the fire.
Also too, the artist's rendering of Blue Oval City in Tennessee looks pretty nifty, what with the employee parking all covered with solar panels.
Ford Motor Company
You know what would be pretty damn nice? For Congress to pass the Build Back Better reconciliation bill and get a bunch of EV recharging infrastructure and grid upgrades built, plus tax credits for people buying all those EVs.
If we get to feeling all socialisty, we can even fantasize about future legislation that would make it easier for lower-income folks to trade their gas guzzlers for an EV. Like Obama's cash for clunkers, but juiced. Eventually, all those cars out there running on Direct Current might even demand DC statehood.
And that's all for your current news.
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Defense contractors: What are they good for? (Absolutely nothin')
Here's your feel-good video for the morning, with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) speaking Wednesday in favor of an amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act that would cut 10 percent, or roughly $77 billion, from the defense budget. The amendment was offered by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin), with co-sponsors Ocasio-Cortez and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-California), after the House Armed Services Committee voted earlier this month to add $24 billion to Joe Biden's requested defense budget, matching a similar spending boost by the Senate.
Ocasio-Cortez argued that there are plenty of better things we could be spending that $77 billion on right now:
During a time when our country is withdrawing from foreign wars, when COVID-19 and its fallout is one of the greatest threats that we face, when record levels of unemployment, housing and healthcare crises are among us, the United States should be reducing its military spending by at least 10% and prioritize the very needs of our communities here at home.
But wait! If we cut defense spending, won't that make America less safe? Surely we absolutely need every single dollar to protect America from its many enemies. AOC had some suggestions for stuff we might do without, in this excerpt of the debate posted to Twitter by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota):
Responding to a claim by ranking Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, Ocasio-Cortez said,
There's a point brought up that this could potentially threaten our readiness and I would counter that it is not the readiness that cutting the defense budget threatens, it is the profit margins of defense contractors.
In fact, every major defense contractor in the US has had to pay fines or settlements for fraud or misconduct, all while getting $1 trillion in public funding in defense contracts.
I have seen this personally on my work on the Oversight Committee, where we have encountered contractor after contractor gouging the public and draining our resources.
The $77 billion is not that hard to find. The Pentagon could save almost $58 billion by eliminating obsolete weapons, like Cold War-era bombers and missiles designed and built in the last century that are completely unsuitable for this one.
Well yeah, but how are we going to prevent international communism from spreading if we aren't ready to vaporize the USSR?
Ocasio-Cortez then got to one of my personal favorite "why the fuck do we keep doing this?" items, the bizarre "use it or lose it" spending sprees at the end of every fiscal year, to make sure all those "defense" dollars get spent, lest it look like the Pentagon doesn't actually need the same amount of funding — or an increase, please — in the next budget.
We could find $18 billion by preventing the end-of-year spending sprees that leads to contract money being shoveled out the door. The Congressional Research Service has documented these spikes, and set your watch to it each September as offices at the Pentagon go on a last-minute spending spree to justify next-year budget increases.
We have increased our military spending year after year, senselessly and needlessly, and during a time when we have ended an almost two-decade war, there is no reason for us to be increasing our military spending and our defense budget when we are not funding child care, health care, housing priorities, and the climate crisis here at home.
Now, that wasn't all she had to say on the matter; earlier in the debate (you can find the full video at CSPAN), Ocasio-Cortez made the perfectly reasonable point that in the pursuit of "national security," we're blowing billions of dollars on guns at the expense of Americans' basic needs:
We ask Americans and people in this country, year after year, to engage in the magical thinking that defense spending comes at no real cost. It does. It comes at the cost of our security. [...] The degradation and erosion of our social systems here domestically is a threat as well.
AOC's comments certainly horrified a warhead at National Review, who fretted that calling for cuts to defense spending was utterly "unmoored from reality," because America faces "an increasingly belligerent government in Beijing," and how are we supposed to contain the Red Chinese menace if we don't keep shoving more and more money at the Pentagon?
In the end, war enthusiasts didn't need to worry so much, since the amendment was defeated, as was another more modest cut also sponsored by Pocan, Ocasio-Cortez, and Lee. That one would have chopped $25 billion from the NDAA, returning the Pentagon budget to the amount Biden had proposed, but while it did get 142 votes from Democrats, the larger, bloated defense budget will go forward.
We can now rest assured that next September there will once again be some hilarious stories of helicopter pilots being ordered to hover to burn off fuel, or soldiers being sent out to shooting ranges all day, so the Pentagon will get all the funding it "needs." Behold our military might, China, and despair!
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This is kind of huge!
If you want to take the risk of getting a little optimistic about the prospects of getting this crazy world through the climate emergency, take a look at the latest edition of David Roberts's "Volts" newsletter, which is pretty much a green nerdy love letter to the ambitious new climate bill that the state of Illinois just enacted. Gov. JB Pritzker signed the state's Climate and Equitable Jobs Act on September 15, and Roberts, who knows his climate legislation, says it's "one of the most environmentally ambitious, worker-friendly, justice-focused energy bills of any state in the country," and makes Illinois the first state in the Midwest to commit to reaching net zero carbon emissions.
It's not just a really good bill; it was also passed through a process that other states should look to in their own climate plans, bringing a whole bunch of very diverse stakeholders into the negotiations. In fact, only one major stakeholder — the state's biggest electric utility — wasn't at the table, and that may have made a huge difference:
Exelon subsidiary ComEd had been caught up in a bribery scandal that left it disempowered and weak, under a deferred prosecution agreement. The scandal also led to House Speaker Michael Madigan, a reliable utility ally, being removed from his position.
Utilities were, to put it crudely, on the shit list, allowing political leadership to restrain their historic (and largely counterproductive) influence.
It remains to be seen whether the Illinois example will lead climate activists to urge their states' biggest carbon polluters to please get caught taking bribes; perhaps it would be enough to simply do everything possible to keep them from bigfooting states' climate plans.
Even without the utility interests there to muck things up, Roberts says, the negotiations weren't easy:
the bill was declared dead several times. Senate President Don Harmon (D) said several times that it is the single most complex piece of legislation he'd ever worked on. There were uncertainties and impasses right up through the final week.
But they got it done! It passed with bipartisan supermajorities: 83-33 in the House and 37-17 in the Senate. [...]
By all accounts, everyone performed their roles ably, holding an unwieldy coalition together through choppy waters. Illinois politics reporter Rich Miller has a nice rundown of the final passage, which he calls "a spectacular victory."
From the beginning, everyone involved was more or less aligned around rapid growth of renewable energy and full decarbonization of the electricity sector by 2045.
So what's in this thing? As Roberts points out, renewable power currently makes up a bit less than 10 percent of Illinois's electric mix; 40 percent comes from nuclear, so the plan includes $700 million in subsidies for three nuclear generating stations over the next five years. That's just a fraction of the $5 billion Exelon had wanted, but an analysis commissioned by the state determined the lower amount would be sufficient.
The new renewable portfolio standard (RPS) will raise renewables' share to 40 percent by 2030 and 50 percent by 2040, with the goal of a zero-carbon electricity sector by 2045 — and beyond that, a net-zero-carbon state economy by 2050. This is extremely ambitious and a new benchmark for the Midwest.
The plan includes subsidies to renewable energy, and an expansion of a solar power program that "helps get rooftop solar power to low-income renters and homeowners (as well as public buildings and nonprofits serving environmental justice communities)." And the bill also sets retirement schedules for the state's fossil fuel generating plants, with all commercial coal and oil-fueled plants set to be shut down by 2030. Natural gas power plants will have to either close or switch to hydrogen gas by 2045, with limits on their emissions as well.
One of the thorny elements of the negotiations involved figuring out a schedule for shutting down two relatively new municipally owned coal-fired plants; ideally, you'd want them shuttered as fast as possible, particularly since one of them "costs more to run than its power is worth." Because the communities that had funded the plants with municipal bonds worried they'd lose money if the plants closed early, they'll keep running until 2045, but will have to cut emissions along the way. Negotiations are complicated things.
And here's a pretty awesome environmental justice part of the law:
fossil fuel plants will be shut down according to their proximity to low-income and marginalized communities, not necessarily according to greenhouse gases or economics.
That commitment to going green with justice is built into a lot of other parts of the plan as well. For instance, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency will subsidize 80 percent of the cost of building up the state's electric vehicle infrastructure, and a full 45 percent of those rebates "will be channeled to projects in low-income and marginalized communities."
The law also includes a bunch of labor protections, and even a requirement that projects demonstrate that they've recruited a diverse workforce. Says Roberts:
As far as I know, this gives Illinois the most stringent labor and equity requirements of any state clean energy program. Similar policies tying renewable energy projects to labor standards have passed in Connecticut, New York, and Washington, but no other state's energy policy has as comprehensive a package of labor, diversity, and equity standards.
Oh, we can hardly wait to see Tucker Carlson cry big fat bigot tears over that.
Also too, the law includes a number of provisions aimed at helping workers and communities make the transition from depending on the fossil fuel economy and to help marginalized communities attract clean energy projects. Some of the ideas just make me smile at how smartly they target spending, like a "program to train and place soon-to-be-released incarcerated people in clean-energy fields," and subsidies to help develop "solar and storage on the site of closed fossil-fuel plants, to help employ laid-off workers." There's also a "scholarship fund for children in families of laid-off workers."
And to prevent sudden, lurching changes, the law requires companies to give communities two years' advance notice before shutting down fossil fuel plants, "so that such communities can be identified and receive transition assistance."
Go read the whole thing; it's a really neat look at how democracy really can work to move us toward a cleaner, more just future. It definitely wasn't easy, but it got done, compromises and gains and all.
Good going Illinois. Now other states have a model to follow, even if there's no conveniently timed federal corruption charges to help take big utilities out of the process. But muckrakers and journalists should keep their eyes open anyway.
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