Finally, the man gets his stopped clock moment.
They say even a stopped clock is right twice a day, but I honestly cannot recall a time when the New York Times's David Brooks has been right about anything. I have yet to recover from the time he thought gabagool and other Italian meats were beyond the ken of those without college degrees. I mean, I will be the first to admit that I have encountered people who have only ever seen Italian-American people on TV (and are sometimes a little weird about it), but that's geography. I'm pretty sure that regardless of their education level, they understood the concept of "ham." They might even know what capicola is, given that they actually do sell it everywhere and not just New York City.
But I digress! David Brooks is actually right this time. Sort of. He's about the most right David Brooks is capable of being. Brooks published a column yesterday about the Build Back Better reconciliation bill titled "This Is Why We Need to Spend $4 Trillion." It seems fair to say that if David Brooks, a man who cannot figure out how to politely say "It's ham" to a friend bewildered by sub shop options, can figure out that this bill is actually necessary, anyone ought to be able to.
I've spent the last few weeks in a controlled fury — and I'm not normally a fury kind of guy. Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi and others are trying to pass arguably the most consequential legislative package in a generation, and what did I sense in my recent travels across five states? The same thing I sense in my social media feed and on the various media "most viewed" lists.
Have we given up on the idea that policy can change history? Have we lost faith in our ability to reverse, or even be alarmed by, national decline? More and more I hear people accepting the idea that America is not as energetic and youthful as it used to be.
We've been told, for decades, by those with power, those with platforms, those like David Brooks, that it is bad and stupid and naïve to want things or to expect anything to change and that things being as terrible as they are is actually a wonderful, character-building experience for us all. The generations before us jacked up the price of college, refused to hire anyone who didn't go to college, kept wages as low as humanly possible (even for those who have college degrees), implemented right-to-work laws in order to kill unions, and then called us spoiled brats for not being able to pay back our ridiculous student loans and suggesting that maybe it is bad that we are all in horrible debt. They made rent impossibly high, houses impossible to afford, and then wrote snide articles about all of the lazy and childish millennials still living with their parents, not buying houses and not having children. It gets you down after a while!
David Brooks has called Medicare For All an "impossible dream." If the idea that maybe we could all go to the doctor when we are sick is just straight up laughable, I don't know how David Brooks expects too many people to really believe we can "reverse national decline."
I can practically hear the spirits of our ancestors crying out — the ones who had a core faith that this would forever be the greatest nation on the planet, the New Jerusalem, the last best hope of earth.
My ancestors were aspiring immigrants and understood where the beating heart of the nation resided: with the working class and the middle class, the ones depicted by Willa Cather, James Agee, Ralph Ellison, or in "The Honeymooners," "The Best Years of Our Lives" and "On the Waterfront." There was a time when the phrase "the common man" was a source of pride and a high compliment.
Well, it's not the greatest nation on the planet. Other nations did things better than we did and made life more livable for "the common man."
Over the past few decades there has been a redistribution of dignity — upward. From Reagan through Romney, the Republicans valorized entrepreneurs, C.E.O.s and Wall Street. The Democratic Party became dominated by the creative class, who attended competitive colleges, moved to affluent metro areas, married each other and ladled advantages onto their kids so they could leap even further ahead.
Yes, this is true.
There was a bipartisan embrace of a culture of individualism, which opens up a lot of space for people with resources and social support, but means loneliness and abandonment for people without. Four years of college became the definition of the good life, which left roughly two-thirds of the country out.
And yet even that isn't a guaranteed ticket to the middle class. It's considered the bare minimum, like high school once was. Except it's a whole lot more expensive.
And so came the crisis that Biden was elected to address — the poisonous combination of elite insularity and vicious populist resentment.
Read again Robert Kagan's foreboding Washington Post essay on how close we are to a democratic disaster. He's talking about a group of people so enraged by a lack of respect that they are willing to risk death by Covid if they get to stick a middle finger in the air against those who they think look down on them. They are willing to torch our institutions because they are so resentful against the people who run them.
That is certainly A Thought but even I don't think that the kind of "respect" they want can be achieved through economic legislation or spending money on the right things. I do think that an economic climate where people feel ultimately hopeless is socially dangerous in that it has historically led to people being more vulnerable to radicalization, but I am not sure that is the problem with these particular people. But honestly I'm not going to dissuade people from thinking that it is, because hey, whatever gets shit done.
The Democratic spending bills are economic packages that serve moral and cultural purposes. They should be measured by their cultural impact, not merely by some wonky analysis. In real, tangible ways, they would redistribute dignity back downward. They would support hundreds of thousands of jobs for home health care workers, child care workers, construction workers, metal workers, supply chain workers. They would ease the indignity millions of parents face having to raise their children in poverty.
This is good. This is the part that is good and in which David Brooks is correct. This bill would restore dignity to a whole lot of people and that is a very good way of thinking about it.
In normal times I'd argue that many of the programs in these packages may be ineffective. I'm a lot more worried about debt than progressives seem to be. But we're a nation enduring a national rupture, and the most violent parts of it may still be yet to come.
Well, there won't be any debt because the package is spread out over 10 years and is fully paid for, but it is worth considering that you have to spend money to make money. This package will lead to Americans making more money, having more money to spend and therefore more tax revenue all over the place. If we don't invest in our country, if we don't invest in our people, in our children — if we don't make it possible for everyone to earn a fair living, we are not going to have a whole lot of tax revenue in the long run, which will lead to more debt. This is not a spending bill, it is an investment bill.
These packages say to the struggling parents and the warehouse workers: I see you. Your work has dignity. You are paving your way. You are at the center of our national vision.
This is how you fortify a compelling moral identity, which is what all of us need if we're going to be able to look in the mirror with self-respect. This is the cultural transformation that good policy can sometimes achieve. Statecraft is soulcraft.
Yes, yes and yes.
We have spent a lot of years in this country telling people that if they can't make it here, in a country we have made it incredibly difficult to make it in, that they are morally deficient and not worthy of any respect. We let things go too far, we let things get really bad for people, and it's going to take a lot of work to reverse that. The more we put it off, the more expensive and less sustainable it is going to get.
It is lovely that David Brooks is on board. He should be. Everyone should be. Hopefully some others can get on the ball and figure that out before it's too late.
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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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Senate Republicans' game of chicken with a government shutdown and a possible default on the federal debt continues today; if a stopgap funding bill isn't passed by the end of Thursday, the government will shut down, and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Congress yesterday that if the federal debt limit isn't increased, the government will be all out of money to pay its bills on about October 18. Monday, Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would have averted both crises, and then yesterday, they did so again.
The shutdown is probably the easier to avoid; all Democrats have to do is remove the provision suspending the debt limit, and enough Republicans in the Senate will vote for the bill. But the debt limit, an arbitrary restriction on the government's ability to borrow to pay for spending it's already done, is harder, because Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell not only won't allow any Republicans to vote to raise it; he also won't agree to let Democrats pass it with 50 votes plus VP Kamala Harris's tie-breaking vote.
So instead, Democrats will probably have to pass the debt limit using the budget reconciliation process, which as we've discussed before, they can do with a stand-alone bill and just 51 votes in the Senate. (Let's stop your objection in its tracks. Reconciliation can be used three times a year, once for taxing, once for spending, and once for the debt limit. Using reconciliation for the debt limit doesn't use up the "tax and spend" reconciliations which would be used to pass Joe Biden's Build Back Better agenda.)
Unfortunately, as Politico reports, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer keeps saying he won't do that, at least not yet. Why? Honestly, we don't effing know. WHY NOT, CHUCK?
Schumer concluded on Tuesday afternoon that "going through reconciliation is risky to the country and is a non-starter." Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Schumer's position is "shared by many members" but declined to say if she supports the idea or aligns herself directly with Schumer: "We'll see what our options are."Now, yes, reconciliation is a cumbersome process; it would require consultation with the Senate parliamentarian, and it would be subject to a tiresome "vote-a-rama" in which Republicans could spend hours and hours adding amendments, each of which would have to be voted down. But from the Politico story, at least, we still don't entirely see why Schumer isn't willing to go ahead, swallow the frog, and just get the process rolling now so the nation won't risk a default.
Schumer has been walking his caucus through how cumbersome it could be to use the arcane budget process to raise the debt ceiling and the many pitfalls ahead if leaders choose to follow that route. [...]
Schumer has warned his caucus that the gambit would be "burdensome and untenable," according to one of the Democrats.
"Using reconciliation is a non-starter. We have gone through it twice, I've listened, and it takes him about 15 minutes for Chuck Schumer to explain how that works, what it involves. Three or four weeks of activity in the House and Senate," said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.).
So it would be more work than just passing a regular bill, the way the GOP suspended the debt limit — with unanimous Democratic support — when Donald Trump was president. We get that. What we don't get is why Schumer thinks it would be any easier to shame 10 Republicans into voting to raise or suspend the limit now, or at any point before the government defaults on its debt.
And sure, it would mean McConnell got what he wanted: forcing Democrats to be the responsible ones. But so what? The debt limit could be raised, default avoided, and the economy would be saved until the next time Republicans decide to hold the world economy hostage.
For fun, Vox has a nice overview of some creative measures Democrats — or Joe Biden on his own — could take to get rid of the debt limit once and for all. We rather like this One Weird Trick suggested by Georgetown Law prof David Super (thanks for asking), who told the Washington Post Democrats could use a reconciliation bill to flat out eliminate the need for another debt limit fight.
"The Congressional Budget Act gives Democrats the chance to do a stand-alone reconciliation bill on the debt limit if they want," Super told us. He noted Democrats could effectively repeal the debt limit by, say, writing language tying it to covering whatever the national debt is at any given moment.
This, Super says, would be "faithful to the purpose of the debt limit, which allows the United States to meet its lawful obligations."
Of course, that would require an OK from the Senate parliamentarian, so perhaps it's best to hold in reserve for a time when America isn't staring default in the face.
Now, the good news in the Politico story is that, for all Schumer's insistence that raising the debt limit through reconciliation won't fly, the article also notes,
Privately, however, Democrats say congressional leaders are not ruling it out as it may be the only way around the Senate GOP.
Schumer appears to think there's some political advantage in framing Republicans as irresponsible maniacs willing to toy with economic catastrophe. But we're more inclined to agree with WaPo's Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent, who argue that the American public "doesn't care about the debt limit." At least not for more than a few days every couple years when Republicans pretend that refusing to pay the nation's bills is some sort of principled stand.
And since Republicans are so willing to take radical stances for the sake of slowing down Joe Biden's agenda, then why not do everything possible to get past this stupid arbitrary fight and actually pass the Build Back Better reconciliation bill, so Democrats have a real achievement to run on in 2022 and 2024?
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Wow, bet not voting would really make women carefree!
The US Supreme Court will be hearing arguments on Mississippi's abortion law on December 1, in a case that could overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, unless of course the Court's refusal to block Texas's abortion law already did that. Last Friday, Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch said in an interview with the Catholic TV network EWTN that if the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health, were to overturn Roe, it would actually "empower" women. You see, every woman who wants to "have it all" can have a baby and a career, and women who only want a career can also have a baby and a career, which is clearly a bonus.
The Mississippi Free Press watched so we wouldn't have to. Fitch was positively brimming with excellent news for all women, whether they want control over their own bodies or not:
Think about this: the lives that will be touched, the babies that will be saved, the mothers that will get the chance to really redirect their lives. [...] And they have all these opportunities that they didn't have 50 years ago. Fifty years ago, professional women, they really wanted you to make a choice. Now you don't have to. Now you have the opportunity to be whatever you want to be.
Unless what you want to be is no longer pregnant, but Fitch just said you can have whatever you want, so you clearly wouldn't want that. Instead, she explained, "You have the option in life to really achieve your dream and goals, and you can have those beautiful children as well."
Guess that covers all the options: having children and a career, or just having children. What an amazing modern world Mississippi is opening up for the mothers of tomorrow!
Fitch went on to gush about what a terrific development banning abortion would be for all concerned:
Just think about the uplifting, the changing of course for women that have for these new babies, these women. And everyone knows it's all right, it's acceptable. You can have these beautiful children and you can have your careers.
What about women who didn't want children? Oddly, that somehow didn't make it into the conversation. Are there really such women, after all? You'd think Fitch would mention them if there were, so there aren't. Besides, this is about God's plan to empower women by giving them babies! Sometimes that is "more babies," because they already have some, but is there such thing as too much empowerment?
And so this really gets into, how do we empower women? How do we prepare for that next step? And we have to look at it with this whole vision and strategy. And I just think God has given us this opportunity to be here.
Reporter Ashton Pittman notes Fitch made a slightly similar claim, albeit a bit less chirpily, and minus the God stuff, in the state's formal argument to the Supreme Court in the case, asserting that the old-fashioned restrictive choices for women that informed Roe are simply not a problem that women today have to think about! For one thing, contraception is far more readily available (for now) than in 1972, and presumably it works flawlessly, doesn't it? And with Obamacare, women don't even have to pay for birth control! Lucky thing last year's Texas lawsuit against the ACA, which Fitch signed on to, didn't eliminate that, huh?
Further, Fitch argued, having a child is no longer a burden of any kind, unlike in 1973:
Roe suggested that, without abortion, unwanted children could "force upon" women "a distressful life and future." [...] But numerous laws enacted since Roe — addressing pregnancy discrimination, requiring leave time, assisting with childcare, and more — facilitate the ability of women to pursue both career success and a rich family life.
The Free Press notes that a group of economists filed an amicus (or WTF?) brief with the Court, specifically challenging Fitch's assertions, calling them "particularly bizarre, as the United States is one of only two countries without a national paid maternity leave policy," and noting that even the US's existing law providing 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave is only available to about half of working women because the law has so many exceptions.
The economists also noted that childcare is often prohibitively expensive, and not even a realistic option for many low-wage workers whose shift times frequently change, and which include nights and weekends. As for federally funded daycare, forget it because only one in six eligible parents can actually get in. Maybe Fitch should support Joe Biden's Build Back Better agenda!
Fitch's claims are further belied by the demographics of women who actually seek abortions, the economists said. Roughly 75 percent
are "low income"; 59% already have children; and 55% "report a recent disruptive life event such as the death of a close friend or family member, job loss, the termination of a relationship with a partner, or overdue rent or mortgage obligations." Those women, the economists note, "overwhelmingly lack access to paid maternity leave or to affordable childcare."
The brief also cites a 2020 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research that compared the outcomes of women who either got abortions "just prior to a gestational age cutoff" and those who were denied abortions because they went to clinics later than the cutoff point. Not a big surprise: The women who were able to get the abortions they sought had significantly fewer financial hardships five years later than the women who had to carry the pregnancies to term:
[Over] the subsequent five years, the average women in the turnaway group experienced a 78% increase in past-due debt and an 81% increase in public records related to bankruptcies, evictions and court judgements.
"The financial effects of being denied an abortion are thus as large or larger than those of being evicted, losing health insurance, being hospitalized, or being exposed to flooding due to a hurricane.
Then again, if Mississippi really is able to ban abortion altogether, that disparity would go away, at least among women who couldn't get themselves the fuck out of Gilead, so maybe Fitch has a point. They'll all be so happy with the babies the state will make them have, and if they aren't, well they're just not doing it right. What a blessing!
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