Lazy Caturday Reads: Congressional Follies

Woman in Pink Dress and Cat, Teresa Tanner

Woman in Pink Dress and Cat, by Teresa Tanner

Good Morning!!

President Biden made a dramatic appearance on Capitol Hill yesterday to urge Democrats to find a compromise on the infrastructure bills. His visit was apparently prompted by the progressive caucus forcing Speaker Pelosi to delay the planned Thursday vote on the bi-partisan portion of the bill separately from the budget bill that is to be passed by reconciliation.

The New York Times: Progressives Flex Muscles on Biden Agenda, Adopting New Tactics.

The nearly 100-member caucus refused to support a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that is a major piece of President Biden’s agenda, seeking leverage for a bigger fight.

Their stance forced Speaker Nancy Pelosi to delay a planned vote on the measure and ultimately prompted Mr. Biden to side with them in saying that there could be no vote on the infrastructure legislation until agreement on a far broader, multitrillion-dollar social policy and climate measure.

The maneuver drew plaudits from liberal activists who had watched with dismay in the past as their allies in Congress caved to pressure from Democratic leaders and surrendered in policy fights. And it signaled that the progressives enjoyed newfound influence, including the backing of a president long associated with his party’s moderates.

“Things only happen here when there is urgency,” Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said on Friday. “I’m just so proud of our caucus, because they are standing up for people who feel like they have not been heard in this country for a very long time.”

Still, while the progressives scored a tactical victory, negotiations continued to whittle down the size of the social policy and climate bill, which was already much smaller than the initial $6 trillion to $10 trillion that many of them had envisioned.

Their persistence also risked the collapse of both bills, angering moderates in the party who had delivered the slim majority to Democrats and are at the highest risk of losing their seats in the midterm elections.

Click the NYT link to read more.

Leslie Ann Ivory

Painting by Leslie Ann Ivory

Axios reports that: Biden floats roughly $2 trillion price tag for reconciliation.

President Biden, meeting with House Democrats on Capitol Hill on Friday, indicated they must further delay a final vote on a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and scale back his $3.5 trillion social spending package to around $2 trillion range if either is to pass, lawmakers told Axios.

Why it matters: Biden made clear he wants to keep the two packages linked together and that he is optimistic there can be an agreement.

  • “It doesn’t matter if it’s six minutes, six days or six weeks, we’re going to get it done,” the president told reporters on his way out of the meeting.
  • Two lawmakers told Axios they anticipated it could be another month before both bills can be passed.
  • While moderates don’t want to wait on the infrastructure vote and progressives don’t want to spend less on the social programs, the pause likely moves the fragile Democratic coalition closer to ultimately securing major portions of the president’s agenda ahead of the 2022 midterms….

What they’re saying: “He is the President of the United States and he says that he wants to get this done, and he basically linked them together,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), a moderate Democrat, told Axios.

  • “He basically said it’s not going to be $3.5 (trillion). It could be $1.9 trillion-$2 trillion. The president threw out some numbers, so I assume there was a reason why.”

  • The president discussed a range that went as high as $2.3 trillion, other sources in the room said.

  • “The president said we’re gonna get both bills done, and in order to get the rest done, we have to get this agreement on the reconciliation,” Rep. Pramila Jaypal (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, told reporters.

Yesterday, before Biden’s visit to Congress, the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent wrote that the White House didn’t pressure progressives to vote for the infrastructure bill on Thursday. Opinion: The Biden agenda is in peril. Here’s the hidden reason it might survive.

Natalya Bronnikova

By Natalya Bronnikova

If you want a glimpse into the deeper choreography behind the Democratic maneuvering around President Biden’s agenda, start with a call that Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) received from a senior White House adviser late Thursday night.

The adviser informed Jayapal, the Congressional Progressive Caucus chair, that the White House had yet to reach a deal with Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.-Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) on a framework for the multitrillion-dollar social policy bill that is to pass by reconciliation, a Democratic aide familiar with the call tells me.

Democratic leaders were set to hold a House vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed the Senate — yet the White House adviser exerted no pressure on Jayapal to get progressives to vote for it, the aide confirms. Soon after, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) canceled the vote because it would have failed.

This underscores a critical element of the dance unfolding among Democrats: The remarkable absence of Democratic leadership pressure on progressives to drop their strategy of withholding support from the infrastructure bill to leverage centrists into supporting a robust reconciliation package.

This dynamic is key to understanding what might happen next — but also how it could all come crashing down.

Sargent explains:

By refusing to help pass the infrastructure bill, progressives helped secure more space for negotiations on the reconciliation framework. The reconciliation bill is the Biden and Democratic Party agenda: It’s made up of all the climate provisions, economic infrastructure and tax reforms designed to secure our decarbonized future and rebalance our political economy after decades of upward skew.

The centrists are the ones who oppose passing this agenda. For that framework, Manchin seems to be insisting on a top line of $1.5 trillion — less than half the $3.5 trillion target Biden wants — as well as making its welfare benefits less universal via means testing and its climate change provisions more friendly to fossil fuel interests. And it’s still unclear what Sinema wants.

By Sandra Bierman, 1938

By Sandra Bierman, 1938

But importantly, they all seem to be seriously negotiating. The key nuance here is that Democratic leaders would have preferred the infrastructure bill to pass Thursday, to bank this as a win, but at the same time, they didn’t lean very hard on progressives to help do this. They knew it wouldn’t work, because progressives are dug in, and it’s precisely because Democratic leaders have largely accepted this that success is more likely.

In short, the White House and Democratic leaders aren’t asking the left to function as their bad cop against centrists — but they know having a bad cop is useful. It’s spurring along these negotiations over the reconciliation framework. All this helps explain why that lack of pressure on the left is a critical ingredient.

Read the rest at the WaPo.

Congressional Democrats also face an upcoming battle with Republicans on the debt ceiling. The Federal government will run out of money in mid-October. Mitch McConnell says that Republicans won’t support raising the debt limit and Democrats will have to do it on their own somehow. Jennifer Bendery at Yahoo News: 

Congress has less than three weeks left to raise the debt limit before the U.S. government runs out of money, something that’s never happened before and would translate to economic disaster for the entire country.

But there’s no plan on how to get this done in the Senate, where Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) keeps saying that Democrats, led by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), are on their own and that it’s totally normal for Republicans to stand in the way of doing this.

“The facts are that the majority party has had in the past, in this situation, to raise the debt ceiling by themselves,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday. “The last time that happened, during [President George W. Bush’s administration], both Schumer and [then-Sen. Joe] Biden voted against raising the debt ceiling. So, there is no tradition of doing this on a bipartisan basis.”

He added, “Sen. Schumer and now-President Biden were in exactly the same position, in reverse, during the Bush years. They handed us the opportunity to raise the debt ceiling one-party only. Around here, almost everything comes around.”

Muppet on the Quilt, Lesley Anne Ivory

Muppet on the Quilt, Lesley Anne Ivory

But the GOP leader is wildly mischaracterizing what Republicans are doing right now, which is far more dangerous than he’s letting on. He’s simply hoping that people aren’t paying attention or don’t know what he’s talking about as the U.S. government inches closer to defaulting on its debt obligations.

McConnell is arguing that because Democrats voted against raising the debt limit in 2006, when Republicans controlled the White House and Congress, it’s no different than Republicans forcing Democrats to raise the debt limit by themselves this time around.

It is very different. In 2006, Democrats agreed to a request by then-Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) to let the Senate increase the debt limit by a simple majority vote, or 51 votes, instead of requiring 60 votes to break a filibuster. That ensured that Republicans had enough votes to raise the debt ceiling themselves, by a vote of 52-48. Getting it done was never in doubt.

The Washington Post reports that the White House explored possibilities for dealing with the debt ceiling emergency, but didn’t come up with many ideas: Senior Biden aides privately explored whether payments could continue even if U.S. breached debt ceiling.

The review concluded that the White House would be unable to avoid falling behind on obligations and catastrophic economic consequences even if the administration effectively tried to spend in defiance of the debt ceiling, according to one of the officials familiar with the deliberations.

The debt ceiling sets a legal limit on how much the Treasury Department can borrow, and the government will run out of flexibility to avoid breaching the debt ceiling on Oct. 18.

By Sandra Bierman

By Sandra Bierman

As part of their internal review, White House officials have circulated internal memos with a range of untested theories should Congress fail to resolve the debt ceiling standoff, including the creation of a $1 trillion “coin” idea that has been popular among some liberals for years, the people said. But these options have been set aside as unworkable, the people said….

A senior official familiar with the matter said it was the administration’s responsibility to review all possible options. Still, White House officials have reached the conclusion that unilateral action is not viable and the only way to avoid economic devastation is for Congress to act to maintain the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, according to the officials and Michael Gwin, a White House spokesman.

But experts argue there are solutions. This is from Dylan Matthews at Vox: How Joe Biden could end the debt ceiling — all by himself.

The obvious solution, proposed by Georgetown Law professor and congressional procedure expert David Super, would be for Democrats to use the budget reconciliation process to eliminate the debt ceiling with a majority vote in the Senate. That path faces myriad procedural obstacles, though, and unless Congress moves decisively toward pursuing it, the Biden administration needs to start thinking about backup options.

Some of these options might seem unacceptably extreme. But an absurd crisis calls for absurd solutions. The Biden administration should, if Republicans in the Senate continue to promise a filibuster of a debt ceiling increase, unilaterally abolish the ceiling using executive powers.

There are at least four available to Biden, each with their own advantages and disadvantages:

  • Minting super-high-value coins to fund the government
  • Invoking the 14th Amendment to nullify the debt ceiling
  • Issuing more debt as the “least illegal” option available to the Treasury
  • Creating a new class of bond to fund the government while it cannot issue Treasury bonds
Taņa with a cat, Aleksandra Beļcova, 1928

Taņa with a cat, Aleksandra Beļcova, 1928

Each of these actions would effectively make the debt ceiling law a dead letter. Congress (or a minority thereof) would no longer be able to threaten default as a means of extracting concessions from the president, and the single biggest source of inter-branch conflict in the federal government would cease to exist.

The short-term political implications could be tough for the Biden administration to bear. But if the choice is between default and a presidential power grab, a power grab is the only defensible course of action. A responsible leader does not plunge his people into a wholly preventable financial crisis. If backed against a wall, Biden mustn’t flinch. He must kill the debt ceiling once and for all.

More reading on the debt ceiling conundrum:

Lindsay M. Chervinsky at The Bulwark: The Disturbing Precedent for McConnell’s Debt-Ceiling Brinksmanship.

Bloomberg: Biden Says GOP Filibuster on Debt Limit Would Be Unconscionable.

Insider: Republicans gear up to inflict maximum pain on Democrats as the debt default deadline inches closer.

Paul Krugman at The New York Times: Wonking Out: Biden Should Ignore the Debt Limit and Mint a $1 Trillion Coin.

I’ll add a few more stories in the comment thread. Have a great weekend, Sky Dancers!!

12 Comments on “Lazy Caturday Reads: Congressional Follies”

  1. bostonboomer says:

    NBC News: Bannon fires up ‘shock troops’ for next GOP White House

    Scores of former Trump political appointees gathered at a GOP social club Wednesday night to hear Steve Bannon detail how they could help the next Republican president reconfigure government.

    “If you’re going to take over the administrative state and deconstruct it then you have to have shock troops prepared to take it over immediately,” Bannon said in a telephone interview with NBC News. “I gave ’em fire and brimstone.”

    Bannon, who ran former President Donald Trump’s first campaign and later worked as a top adviser in the White House, said that Trump’s agenda was delayed by the challenges of quickly filling roughly 4,000 slots for presidential appointees at federal agencies and the steep learning curve for political officials who were new to Washington.

    He is not alone in that view. His appearance at the Capitol Hill Club came at the invitation of a new organization called the Association of Republican Presidential Appointees, which was formed to create a resource for future GOP officials tapped to fill federal jobs.

  2. bostonboomer says:

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  7. dakinikat says:

    Muppet on a quilt looks like Keely!! So many cute kitties today!

    • NW Luna says:

      Yes, and the painter really captured a typical kitty expression on Muppet’s face! I love the affectionate bonds shown between cat and human.