So Minority Leader Mitch finally faces the music on the debt ceiling, but we shouldn’t all breathe a sigh of relief just yet. We start there, then give our take on what the future of reconciliation looks like and some tidbits on some big races to watch.
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(cover photo credit: Alex Wong / Getty Images News)
Mitch Folds… For Now…
Well, Gibbsie, you read it here first! Mitch McConnell is a cagey gambler and he knows when to hold ‘em and knows when to fold ‘em and this is a moment for folding his hand. But Democrats don't get too cocky. He also knows when to go all in and break the other guy's bank. But for now, it’s a punt and a debt ceiling deal for at least the short term has been made.
Murphy, I’ll pick up on your card dealing gambling/Kenny Rogers metaphors. He decided not to play this hand, but I think in the long term, he's simply asking the dealer to reshuffle the deck because I have no doubt these cards are coming back again in December. You also read here in the last newsletter, our prediction that McConnell's intransigence was beginning to put pressure on a disparate Democratic caucus around changes to the filibuster. I think McConnell did this for two reasons: one, I think he wants to play this debt ceiling increase out at the end of reconciliation, not before reconciliation to make the debt argument more acute. And secondly, I think he was worried that he was providing a pathway for people to reasonably think about an exemption to the filibuster. While I don’t think Manchin and others were going to change their filibuster positions quickly, Sen. Lindsey Graham acknowledged the GOP didn’t want anything that could begin to put pressure on them to start reconsidering.
Yeah, I agree with that, though I don't think Fort Manchin was in any danger of falling on the filibuster, but Mitch did what Mitch does, which is the smart, if cynical, political move. Now, all focus will go to the Democrat’s internal Battle Royale over the Biden mega-spending plan. Over at GOP HQ they are breathing easier now with the debt limit war postponed. Now they can pop some Jilly and hope the Dems go full Red Wedding…
…over the budget.
That's where McConnell wants it. You've got lined up again for early December, much of what was originally lined up for September. So, if you think Washington kicked the can a few months before it has to deal with this stuff, you'd be exactly right. And so again, reconciliation, (because October 31st is going to be a very hard deadline to meet), and both funding the government and the debt ceiling are now more aligned for the mid-November to December time frame. We've simply postponed the debate that we were going to have. What will be interesting is whether or not any of the pressures that caused McConnell to fold now (McConnell doesn't do anything without a plan) still exists to change McConnell's mind in early December. That I certainly don't know at this point.
So, cooler heads prevailed and the debt limit increase taking us to the end of the year passed Thursday night. Ironically, the GOP still had to come up with 11 votes in order to bring the GOP’s own offer to a vote. Ted Cruz (shocking, I know) made his colleagues find 11 GOP votes to overcome his filibuster and pass this with just a majority of 50 votes.
And there's also the chance, which McConnell is probably hoping for, that a ferocious domestic debate over spending will fuel increasing GOP voter outrage over the size of the Democratic budget and make it easier for the Repubs to force the Dems to raise the debt limit on their own. The Dems hope for the opposite; a new debate on the popular stuff in the Bill after it is passed and signed into law. So, both sides are happy to punt for now and fight again, each hoping for more favorable terrain.
The Remains of Reconciliation
Budget-Reconciliation Update. There have been a few days for all the hot tempers in the Democratic Party to cool down a bit, and it appears there's now at least glacier speed motion, but motion toward a significantly smaller spending package, perhaps in the $2 trillion range that we've discussed before. This will be the week in which the Progressives have to start deciding, are they going to fight for their hopeless $3.5T Nirvana or fold and accept an enviably smaller number. As the Great GOP inspiration Lord Manchin says, “you want to pass this stuff? Elect more Progressives.” They just don’t have the votes. What's your prediction Gibbs?
Murphy I love that you called $2 trillion small! You must have been thinking about either the Reagan, Bush or Trump tax cuts. I apologize for repeating ourselves on this debate. We are now where we’ve been for a while and that is the moderates aren’t going to get infrastructure until reconciliation passes and Progressives are going to need to get comfortable with a funding level close to $1.5-$2 trillion. I’d add, that while the reconciliation package is going to be monetarily smaller, it will still be of enormous policy significance. I think both sides personally should coalesce, declare victory, and start the choice between tax fairness and cutting healthcare costs and tax cuts for billionaires. That's the fight we need to get to. Making this a choice rather than sitting here as a referendum, or a circular firing squad is a whole lot better. Regrettably, the signs are not as clear that each side understands this. Tensions are still sky high and trust is still remarkably low after the events of the last few weeks. It’s going to be a long slog, I fear, that takes most of the rest of the year to get done.
Well you know Gibbsie, I'd say keep the firing squad going and here's some ammunition! Republicans are enjoying this. But you're right the D’s ought to make a deal fast and move on, though, as I wrote last week, now that the House Progressives have tasted moderate blood, they may be even more difficult to deal with. We will see. My gut is any deal will take longer than the White House political staff wishes it would because more infighting and delay is bad for Biden. He’s looking weaker every day.
Independence Daze! I’ve been noting the surge in potential independent statewide candidacies: Matthew McConaughey, aka The Lincoln Lawyer (underrated movie)…
…is aggressively flirting with a third-party gubernatorial run in Texas, where incumbent Governor Abbott has been criticized for his handling of the electric power grid issue, his COVID response and other complaints. McConaughey is doing well in early public polling, but like all interesting candidacies by celebrities, it's early. The trick will the “second look” when (and if) McConaughey comes down from Mt. Olympus and is forced to start taking positions on issues. Still, his effort is interesting and worth watching.
And then there’s my friend Evan McMullin who has announced he’s running as an independent in the Utah Senate race against Republican Mike Lee. If the Utah Democrats decide that a rule of law conservative beats a Trump tainted Republican, this race could get interesting. Polls show Mike Lee is struggling with weak numbers even in rock solid Republican Utah. So, an independent challenger who leans right could provide an interesting race, sort of like what Sen. Angus King did in Maine, albeit King ran left of center. In 2016, McMullin ran for President as a protest against Donald Trump, receiving a small fraction of the vote in most places except for in his native Utah where the Mormon ex-CIA officer received an impressive 22 percent of the vote. If McMullin can peel off some unhappy Republicans (Lee already has two credible GOP primary challengers; neither is likely to upset his nomination, but the very fact they are running is a tell about the Senator’s political weakness) and if the Democrats decide to fold up shop and root for a better outcome than 6 more years of Mike Lee, this could turn into something exciting.
I’ve got two for you this week. The first is, of course, the big development in Texas around a Federal judge stopping the implementation of the abortion law passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor. Obviously, this is act one of many on this front. This ruling came from the Justice Department's lawsuit. There are other citizens who have filed lawsuits around this law and readers of the newsletter will remember the Supreme Court is soon to hear a Mississippi case as well. So, I think all of this continues to put front and center a cultural issue that Republicans don't really want to talk about. So, just one to watch for the radar screens, both from a policy, but also for the political ramifications for next year.
My other tidbit relates to the upcoming Virginia gubernatorial race. Watching what's happening in Washington has gotten Democratic operatives increasingly nervous about the outcome of this race. Remember that while most states or districts in the country aren't obsessed with the daily goings on in Washington, the state of Virginia is part of the Washington, DC media market. The largest local newspaper, The Washington Post, is an important paper covering the goings on of federal government and the debates in Congress, and nothing is worse for a campaign trying to close with momentum and enthusiasm, hoping to get fired up Democrats out to vote than an enormous intra-party squabble that's happening just a few miles away. And so, this race has been close for a while, but again increasing pessimism as Biden's numbers have gotten weaker, as well as what's going on in Congress. Even McAuliffe called President Biden “unpopular” behind closed doors. We’ll see if McAuliffe wants to that unpopular President joining him in the home stretch on the trail.
We’ll keep our eyes on all of these races and what’s happening on the Hill.
In the meantime, have a great weekend!
Murphy and Gibbs