So, the backdrop for most of this week will be President Biden at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York and visiting with world leaders. And while that won't be without its complications (mes amis, the French), the real action of the week is still very much back in Washington.
So, that’s where we focus our energy this week with a lot hanging in the balance for not just the Biden agenda, but also the full faith and credit of the United States.
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Paging Nancy Pelosi, Clean Up In Aisle One!
So, just as a reminder, we're now less than 10 days away from the government running out of funding. Legislation will be debated and voted on as early as today to provide stopgap funding through early December. Additionally, Democrats plan to include in that funding legislation raising the debt ceiling past the 2022 elections. Republicans in the Senate, led by Mitch McConnell, have already said, dangerously and irresponsibly, it’s not their job to raise the debt limit, regardless of the economic consequences. At this point, it’s hard to be optimistic for this plan to work given the GOP opposition in the Senate.
In addition, reconciliation is potentially at its messiest of moments. I think there have now been a half dozen either individuals or groups of House Members or Senators who have said if we don't get this or that, they’re not voting for budget reconciliation over the past few days. This is a, no pun intended, where rubber meets the road moment for infrastructure too because moderates had been promised a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure deal next week. Many progressives have said if that vote goes forward, they'll vote no.
The challenge with the bipartisan infrastructure vote is Nancy Pelosi originally wanted to have the reconciliation bill in the House ready to vote on or around the very same time next week, and we know now that it's not likely to be ready. So, there's another big fork in the road decision (I’m really trying with these infrastructure allusions!) for Democrats: do you go forward with that vote and risk it losing in a fairly big way (no one's counting on Republicans to pass this bill), or do you delay that vote and will moderates go along with that or say no bipartisan deal then no reconciliation plan?
So, plenty to be concerned about if you're watching the day-to-day machinations of Capitol Hill.
I remember back in ’94-96 when the House GOP conference under Newt was seen as a bunch of ideological hard ball players who would blow up legislation at the drop of a hat. Today I think there are plenty of parallels to the House Progressives. (Not at the lefty CW beltway would ever report it that way.) The fact is the House Dems are dominated by Progressives and are now not even being shy about threatening to blow up the Big-Win for the Biden bipartisan infrastructure bill if they don’t get the huge $3.5 Trillion social spending bill they pine for. And shocker, they ain’t gonna get it. Joe Manchin and Kristen Sinema have already killed the mega spending bill in the Senate. Without their votes, and those of a few more Senate moderate Democrats who are silently cheering them on, the $3.5T super spending bill is dead as a doornail. So now Nancy is, as you say above, forked in the House. The smart move is to pass infrastructure now and get Biden the political win he really needs, but much like the $3.5T in the Senate, the votes in the House aren’t there. So now it’s about choosing which flavor of political pain to accept. Sloppy, and a good thing for the gleeful GOP.
While Nancy Pelosi does not need strategic legislative advice from me, I do wonder if this a moment to get a group Democratic House Members and Senators who represent the wide array of views here into one room to simply decide what the overall size of reconciliation is going to be, and then filling the funding levels and policy details in to produce one agreed upon package that can get through each chamber. Yes, I know this is far easier said than done. But, it may end up being a lot less messy than spending the next two months fighting every day over the overall funding level. Then we can get on with the urgent business of describing this legislation for what it is: The Democrat’s plan to expand educational opportunities, lower prescription drug and health care costs, make the wealthy and companies pay their fair share of taxes, invest in clean energy to create jobs and combat climate change and give the middle class a tax cut. Or for short: It’s the health care cost cutting, tax fairness, job creating, climate change fighting education and opportunity providing plan.
Right now, every decision and maneuver carries with it a lot of challenges on each side of the Democratic Party. While I'm still optimistic that this will still ultimately happen, it is certainly at a messy moment. In fact, late Monday night, Speaker Pelosi sent a letter to the House Democratic Caucus which included this bit of foreshadowing: “The President and Senate Democrats sent us a budget resolution with a cap of $3.5 trillion. I have promised Members that we would not have House Members vote for a bill with a higher topline than would be passed by the Senate. Hopefully, that will be at the $3.5 trillion number. We must be prepared for adjustments according to the Byrd rule and an agreed to number.” Those four words at the end tell the story – be prepared to accept less.
Throw in the fact that the parliamentarian in the Senate has ruled that comprehensive immigration reform, not surprisingly, can't be included in a final reconciliation package – only increases the tension on the Democratic side. The challenge that Democrats have is that their priorities need 60 votes to pass the Senate, and Republican priorities, namely tax cuts and judicial nominations, only need 50. While I'm not in the least bit optimistic that filibuster reform is in any danger of happening at this moment, it doesn't lessen the tension around what many in Congress are feeling in terms of frustration at unfair rules.
The fractious habits of the Dems always remind me of the old joke about how there was once a fight, and a hockey game broke out. We’ll see if the Dems can get their brawling act together and actually legislate with their majority. As you said, just to make things more difficult, the Senate Parliamentarian (who decides what can be done and not done under simple majority “reconciliation”) has ruled the Democratic plan to include immigration reform with their budget a package a no-go. I’m a pro-immigration reform Republican, so I’m with Team Dem on 90% of the policy here, but the truth is reconciliation (which is supposed to be purely about budget matters as the Senate parliamentarian just had to remind Schumer and company) was always a bad way to try to do it. But, yes, that’ll increase tension among Democratic constituencies who want immigration reform done and pronto. The answer of course is a bipartisan deal, the current Trump GOP is hopeless on doing anything right on immigration, at least in the short to medium term.
Free the Filibuster!
While I'm not terribly surprised by the parliamentarian’s decision, I think it just really underscores the challenge going forward. There not enough votes for filibuster reform, but Democrats are constantly reminded that the majority doesn't prevail in Congress on things that they want to see action on. I think that will exacerbate tensions that will create real challenges for how government operates. I just don't think it's tenable to have Republican priorities through tax changes and judicial nominations go forward with only 50 votes when really anything else in terms of policy is going to need 60. So, inherently the rules are exacerbating a lot of the tensions that we're seeing. The challenge for comprehensive immigration reform is it doesn't take a simple majority, it takes a supermajority essentially. And to make the environment more toxic, immigration reform is supported by an overwhelming majority of people. So, it's not simply that Democrats are thwarted, but an idea supported by 70% of the country is thwarted. It goes to the messiness of how we govern ourselves at the moment.
I think there are a series of really big decisions around next week that Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Schumer – but mostly Pelosi – are going to have to make here in the next few days. The next nine to 10 days are incredibly important for what happens. I'm not one of those people that thinks this is the ultimate week, but a lot of decisions will get made and make it an incredibly important one for the Biden agenda.
Tragic news out of my home state of Alabama. For the first time in the state’s history, more people died in Alabama than were born there last year. Didn’t happen during World War I or World War II, but it happened in 2020. The vaccination rate is also tragically low. So much of this current despair could be prevented with two free shots. If you have friends or relatives there, reach out and see if you can help them make the decision to get vaccinated so this doesn’t happen again in 2021.
I’m sad. My one of my favorite GOP Patriot vs. Trump MAGA nut primaries looming next year was Rep. Anthony Gonzalez’s re-election race in northern Ohio. I think the ex-Ohio State/NFL football star would have won his primary against a Trump-recruited challenger and sent an important signal about Trump’s power waning in the GOP and shown a few badly needed green shoots about a better future for the Republican party. But I get it. Gonzalez was ready to fight and win, but he couldn’t abide the idea of his young kids needing a squad of cops to pick them up at the airport. (The U.S. Capitol Police report that the number of threats against Members of Congress have more than doubled so far this year; a chilling new development.) Plus, it has become tragically lonely for Patriots like Gonzalez to serve in a House GOP Conference with more than a few complete loons and far too many self-preserving cowards. It’s all real banana republic stuff and a bad development for our Democracy. We should all mourn how the current environment is forcing out quality people like Anthony Gonzalez, at a time when we need them most.
We pretty perfectly understand exactly what signal it sends to those that are not in the Trump wing of the Republican Party. If Trump and his acolytes still have the ability to snuff out any dissent, then it just underscores the degree to which it's still very much completely Donald Trump's party. Though that doesn't surprise me one iota.
Finally, a note about L’Affaire Nemo. I like the Biden administration’s move to tool up the Australian navy with long-range nuclear-powered attack submarines as part of our strategy to counter-balance an increasingly aggressive China in the Pacific. But the treatment of our oldest ally, and key NATO partner, France was appalling. And very sloppy. Biden ran as a modern Metternich the Great; a wily statesman easily at home in geo-politics. So, what’s with all this amateur hour stuff? First the Kabul/Bagram mess and now hard slapping a close ally? There should have been an offset strategy to deal with French, since we just hard-shoved them out of the biggest defense deal they’ve ever made (selling shorter range and more defense subs to Australia.) It wouldn’t have been easy, but including France in our new UK/US/Australian alliance would have been a good start. Instead, we have a full-on spat and likely troubles inside NATO.
We’ll be back on Friday! Until then, au revior!
Murphy and Gibbs