Weird pandemic economy remains weird.
The monthly jobs report for September was released Friday by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and it was another of those months for new jobs that fell short of economists' forecasts, largely due to the continued effects of the pandemic, with a downturn in government jobs, particularly in education. Total non-farm payrolls increased by 194,000 jobs, well short of the Dow Jones forecast of 500,000.
There were also some positive numbers, particularly in the overall unemployment rate, which fell to 4.8 percent, its lowest point since the start of the pandemic in February 2020. CNBC notes,
The drop in the jobless rate came as the labor force participation rate edged lower, meaning more people who were sidelined during the coronavirus pandemic have returned to the workforce. A more encompassing number that also includes so-called discouraged workers and those holding part-time jobs for economic reasons declined to 8.5%, also a pandemic-era low.
More good news: Wages increased by .6 percent, reflecting the continuing competition by re-opening businesses for a pool of workers who find themselves with more options for work.
And as the Washington Post points out, the report
was another blow to Republicans who claimed repeatedly that generous unemployment aid was keeping people from work. Millions of people lost all aid or had it significantly scaled back at the start of September. But there was not an immediate wave of workers returning to jobs.
The report also reflected the bind many women find themselves in as the pandemic hangs on:
[An] alarming number of women had to stop working again to deal with unstable school and child-care situations.
The numbers are striking: 309,000 women over age 20 dropped out of the labor force in September, meaning they quit work or halted their job searches. In contrast, 182,000 men joined the labor force, Labor Department data showed.
And as with other monthly employment reports in our weird pandemic economy, the timing of the Labor Department sample had an effect on the overall outcome that it wouldn't in normal economic times. Again, here's CNBC's explanation:
The survey week of Sept. 12 came just as Covid cases were peaking in the U.S. The delta variant spread since has cooled, with cases most recently dropping below an average of 100,000 a day.
President Biden referred to that in his remarks today on the employment news, pointing out that since the week of the survey, "we've seen the daily cases fall by more than one-third and they're continuing to trend down, and we're continuing to make progress." Assuming that trend continues, and that vaccination rates improve as both the federal government and private industries mandate vaccines, that ought to mean a better jobs report for October.
Oh look, it is video!
Biden's remarks focused primarily on the positive parts of the monthly report, like the improvement in the unemployment rate, increased wages, a big decline in long-term unemployment, and the overall trends in employment, "on average, 600,000 new jobs created every month since I took office."
Biden downplayed the significance of the jobs report falling short, particularly because of the distortions caused by the pandemic, and argued that overall trends remain strong:
Right now, things in Washington, as you all know, are awfully noisy. Turn on the news and every conversation is a confrontation. Every disagreement is a crisis. But when you take a step back and look at what's happening, we're actually making real progress. [...] Maybe it doesn't seem fast enough. I'd like to see it faster and we're going to make it faster. Maybe it doesn't appear dramatic enough. [...] We're making consistent and steady progress, though.
For its part, Fox News treated Biden's remarks as an absolute catastrophe, calling the jobs report "bleak" and "dismal," although those are usually words you'd expect in a report on jobs losses, not slower-than-hoped jobs gains. Fox also griped that Biden didn't take questions from reporters, because what is he hiding from, huh? The Fox story delicately hinted that maybe it's because Biden is actually a senile vegetable who may in fact already be dead, saying he has "repeatedly implied that his handlers set the rules and determine when and where he's allowed to take questions from the press." The link is to a story about Biden joking that he'd "get in trouble with my staff" for taking questions at an appearance when no Q&A had been scheduled. See? Total puppet! Who's really running things?
We'd like to suggest the most sinister explanation of all for Biden's not taking questions after the remarks on the jobs report: He had a pretty full schedule today, and shortly after the jobs report, held another event to announce his order restoring the full boundaries of national monuments that Donald Trump had shrunk.
Or maybe Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton told him to do it.
Also too, Yr Dok Zoom is taking a much needed vacay and will be back Tuesday, Oct. 19, so here is a photo of Thornton the cat. He is, as ever, photogenic AF.
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What's Up With The Debt Ceiling? What Channel Is The Debt Ceiling? When Does The Debt Ceiling Start?
Take that, search engines!
With the US just 11 days away from defaulting on its debts, the Senate has reached a deal to temporarily raise the debt ceiling until sometime in early December so we can go through the same stupid fight all over again in two months. The deal was announced by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer this morning while we were writing the first draft of this story and joking that an actual deal would probably be announced two minutes after we clicked "publish." We were so close! CNBC has the deets:
The agreement allows the debt limit to increase by $480 billion, according to people familiar with the deal, a sum the Treasury Department estimates will allow it to pay bills until Dec. 3.
Yesterday afternoon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed the temporary extension of the debt limit, although it's hardly a terrific deal. But by heading off a possible default, it will at least prevent a meltdown of the world economy, at least until the new limit draws closer.
So did McConnell blink? Or was it just some weird turtle reflex? McConnell and Senate Republicans have been playing chicken with the economy and people's lives for weeks now by refusing to cooperate on raising the debt limit, which is usually a routine part of governing. But because McConnell sees a political advantage in portraying Democrats as fiscally irresponsible with next year's midterms coming up, he's not only refused to let the bill pass with a bipartisan vote, he's also refused to allow 10 Republicans to vote for "cloture," which would let Democrats pass the bill with only 50 votes, plus a tie-breaker vote by Vice President Kamala Harris.
We're inclined to think McConnell may have begun to realize that threatening to crash the economy over nothing wasn't a good look, judging by the weapons-grade bullshit he deployed in his statement, insisting that the delay he'd caused was all Democrats' doing, but lucky for America, he was generously willing to save America from default.
Let's decode McConnell's ransom note, shall we? He said that, to "protect the American people from a near-term Democrat-created crisis" — again, a crisis that exists solely because of McConnell — Republicans would "allow Democrats to use normal procedures to pass an emergency debt limit extension at a fixed dollar amount to cover current spending levels into December."
Translation: Instead of suspending the debt limit, the way Republicans did for four years with Democratic cooperation while Donald Trump was in office, the temporary extension won't be for two months, but will be a new ceiling with a definite number — that $480 billion — that Republicans can use in campaign ads. Beyond that, McConnell made clear he still wants those terrible irresponsible Dems to use the reconciliation process, which Schumer has opposed because it takes a long time and would still be subject to Republican delays, and because it too would have to have a definite number instead of a timeframe. [Wonkette Editrix Rebecca is still irked that Democrats won't just bite the bullet and do it on their own, because "waah unfair we have to SAY A NUMBER," and "waah they will do ADS AGAINST US" both strike her as SHUT UP AND GOVERN. You're perfectly willing to do Build Back Better on a party line vote, just BE MEN AND WOMEN ABOUT IT, MY GOD.]
Under Senate rules, reconciliation can be used once a year to increase the debt ceiling, so using reconciliation for the debt limit wouldn't prevent Democrats from also passing the Build Back Better reconciliation bill,. That's the big ball of New Deal that would expand social benefits and tax relief to the middle class, and begin fighting global warming by starting the transition to clean energy.
McConnell had ideas about that, too! He generously offered Democrats the option of a long-term extension of the debt limit if they'd simply scrap Build Back Better. Mitch really knows his Bible, we guess — he was willing to let Democrats exchange Joe Biden's entire legislative agenda for a mess of pottage.
The New York Times reports that the main reason McConnell offered the two-month extension was far less grandiose: Not only did the proposal blunt criticism of GOP intransigence,
It also put off, for the time being, the prospect that Democrats might change the filibuster rules to allow themselves to go around Republicans and raise the debt ceiling unilaterally. It was that possibility, some G.O.P. senators said on Wednesday, that had motivated Mr. McConnell to seek a deal.
Now, there are plenty of reasons not to like the short-term extension of the debt ceiling. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki pointed out yesterday that it would be a hell of a lot simpler for Republicans to simply choose not to filibuster a debt ceiling suspension bill that's already on the table, "so we can move on to more business for the American people."
Why kick the can down the road a couple more weeks? Why create an additional layer of uncertainty? Why not just get it done now? That's what we're continuing to press for and that's our first choice.
Schumer had planned another debt ceiling vote yesterday, but held off on it once McConnell announced his proposal. The bill for the short-term extension is expected to pass in the Senate today, and then move rapidly through the House and on to Biden for his signature.
Sen. Chris Murphy told the New York Times yesterday that Democrats are "willing to take this offer in order to stave off fiscal ruin," but added that Democrats are "are all beside ourselves that the only thing Republicans are willing to do is prevent disaster for three months and put us right back in this position." Two months, Senator. It's October now. We guess he was including the month that McConnell has already spent blocking any progress.
So where do we go from here? Now that the immediate crisis is averted (the Dow increased by 540 points after the agreement was announced), the options look about the same as they were yesterday: 1) Hope 10 Republicans will break ranks and allow a vote on the goddamn bill, which is pretty unlikely; 2) when the next deadline gets close, actually get rid of the filibuster for debt ceiling bills, which would largely amount to ending the legislative filibuster (which you know Republicans will do if they take the Senate anyway, no matter how much Joe Manchin sighs about tradition and bipartisanship); 3) Raise the debt ceiling by reconciliation between now and December, even though that would involve a definite upper debt limit number that Republicans would wave around in 2022 midterm elections while claiming that Democrats are spending America into the Apocalypse.
For our money (hey, because taxes, some of it is our money), we still think 3 is the best option, even if it gives McConnell a pointless "win," because it solves the problem. The short-term increase already has a number, and it's not like Republicans won't just lie about Democrats anyway while pulling numbers out of their asses.
Put the work into Build Back Better, make sure the benefits get to voters as soon as possible in 2022, and sell the hell out of the success while pointing out that Republicans are trying to end democracy and want you to die of COVID.
Then if Dems can solidify their majority in the Senate, how about we kill the filibuster and repeal the debt limit altogether? It's a stupid pointless relic of World War I that has never done a damn bit of good to prevent deficit spending, so send it to the trash, please.
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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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Trying to get 'Republican obstructionist' points is irrelevant when everyone blames Dems anyway.
Americans sometimes believe some weird things, like thinking the moon landings were faked, that a malaria drug can cure COVID-19, or even that you can sit in a bathtub as the water goes out and not be sucked down the drain, a pernicious myth that has led to countless tragedies. So it shouldn't be too surprising that a new Politico/Morning Consult poll shows that if the US were to default on its national debt, more Americans say they would blame Democrats than would blame Republicans.
The poll, taken between September 18 to 20, asked respondents, "If the United States were to default on the national debt, would you tend to blame the Democratic party more, the Republican party more, or both parties equally?" Thirty-three percent said they would blame Democrats, and only 16 percent would blame Republicans. Irritatingly, a whopping 42 percent said they'd blame both parties equally.
That's just kind of maddening to people who've been paying even the least bit of attention. Mitch McConnell, after four years of routinely suspending the debt ceiling to add some $8 trillion in debt for Donald Trump, has instructed Senate Republicans not to agree to any increase in the debt limit now that a Democrat is in office. It's a cynical political move that merely threatens to throw the US economy back into recession, probably taking the rest of the world with it. So this is absolutely not in any sense a "both sides" thing.
Happily, it's fairly safe to say that this polling shouldn't really be giving Republicans any ideas about riding this debt thing to victory in the 2022 midterms, for several reasons. For one thing, most people are not political junkies who watch Rachel Maddow and know that the debt limit is a stupid law passed because Congress was cheesed at getting involved in World War I just months after Woodrow Wilson campaigned on the slogan "He kept us out of war." The debt limit has never once prevented deficit spending or reduced that national debt, but nobody's paying attention but us geeks.
As a rough barometer of how much Americans pay attention to politics in a non-election year, we'd also note that in the same poll, nearly a quarter (23 percent) of respondents said they knew "nothing at all" about the recent California recall election.
But most Americans do know that Democrats have the presidency and slim majorities in Congress, so if they're asked about virtually anything involving government, of course they'll say "Democrats" or "both sides."
That's certainly the analysis put forward by Sen James Lankford (R-Oklahoma), who seemed fairly tickled Democrats might take the blame for his party's fuckery:
"The American people will say, 'I'm mad at everybody'," Senator James Lankford told Reuters. "But I don't know that it becomes the fault of the group that's in the minority in the House, in the minority in the Senate and not in the White House."
That said, there's not much chance Republicans will get the chance to blame Democrats for crashing the economy, because everyone in both parties knows, as we've discussed earlier, there's no way in hell Democrats are going to allow a default.
This week, House Democrats passed a bill suspending the debt ceiling through the end of December 2022 and also funding the government for three more months, to prevent a government shutdown and an eventual debt default. Now that bill goes to the Senate, where McConnell is likely to block it. But for all the talk of fiscal Armageddon if the US defaults on its debt, it's just not going to happen, because Democrats are the good responsible Student Council kids who actually care about governing.
If they really can't get 10 Republican votes next week to avoid a filibuster, Democrats will raise the debt limit via the budget resolution process. As the Source of All World Knowledge explains, that's perfectly cromulent under the weird Senate rules governing reconciliation, and wouldn't get in the way of Democrats' also using reconciliation to pass the Build Back Better bill this year as well.
So why haven't Dems just gone ahead and raised the damn thing, to take it out of the news? The reasoning we've seen is that Dems want to give Republicans a chance to be bipartisan first (and to have a talking point about Republican obstruction when R's filibuster). Also, a bipartisan bill would allow the debt limit to be suspended, while reconciliation would require the ceiling to be raised to a specific number, which Republicans could then wave around in campaign ads about those spendy spendy Dems next year. Maybe someone would care?
Frankly, we think it would probably be better for Dems to just pass the debt limit increase by reconciliation right now and get all the gloom and doom scenarios off the news sooner, because if that Politico/Morning Consult poll demonstrates anything, it's that voters aren't really paying attention to any of this crap anyway, so how about removing it from the conversation altogether. Whatever small political points might be gained by painting Republicans as obstructionists probably won't outweigh the effects of pundits fretting about default, and in a year, nobody is likely to remember any of it anyway.
But we are not political consultants, so we guess it may be another week or so until Democrats get there.
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