Reality finally invades Washington’s political theater

Posted on October 6, 2021 by Aquiles Suarez and has no comment

Even by Washington standards, the level of political theater surrounding President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda on infrastructure, climate and expansion of government social spending programs was extraordinary. The same can be said about the ongoing debate about raising the country’s debt ceiling, with even more dire consequences for the global economy if Congress doesn’t suspend or raise it. However, October promises to inject some realism into the ongoing dramas, with hard data on how to solve these problems.

As soon as Biden unveiled his “Build Back Better” agenda earlier this year, which included trillions in new spending on infrastructure (the US Jobs Plan) and on a historic expansion of government social programs he termed “human infrastructure” (the US families) , were proposed. Plan), funded by tax increases for taxpayers and higher-income companies, it was abundantly clear that Senate Republicans would not be on board.

First, the Republicans didn’t buy the “human infrastructure” label, insisting that infrastructure meant roads, bridges, airports and ports and other “physical infrastructure” and not childcare support, universal kindergarten, free community college and other social spending elements of the Biden- agenda. Second, Republicans had no intention of nullifying parts of their most recent signature domestic policy, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, by voting for higher taxes.

The expansion of social safety net programs and tax increases would have to be approved using “budget reconciliation,” a procedural measure exempt from Senate filibuster rules requiring 60 votes to move a bill forward. A conciliation measure can only be adopted by a simple majority. With 50 Democrats in the Senate and with the U.S. Constitution stipulating that the Vice President break a tie, Democrats could get a social spending and tax bill through the Senate on a purely partisan basis, relegating Republicans to the sidelines. But for this the consent of all Senate Democrats.

Biden still wanted to show that he could be bipartisan, which was one of the traits he touted during his presidential campaign. For their part, Republicans were really in favor of increased infrastructure investment in physical assets and wanted to prove that they were not just obstructionists. The result was a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal passed through the Senate, with 19 Republicans backing the measure.

At this point, normal political theaters were kicked up a notch. Prior to the approval, progressive Democrats in the House angrily expressed disappointment with the Senate infrastructure deal, vowing they would not support it unless moderate Democrats backed the larger $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that essentially split the two bills. connects. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Leader Chuck Schumer agreed. This nearly turned the Senate deal on its head, as Republicans now wondered what they were actually voting for: just the $1.2 infrastructure, or did they vote to advance both bills? At a news conference, Biden complicated matters by first appeasing progressives and saying both bills would go together, then having to backtrack those comments the next day, saying he would sign the infrastructure deal independent of the reconciliation bill.

For example, Biden pretended that both bills were disconnected, and Senate Republicans who wanted to vote for infrastructure pretended to believe him, betting that moderate Democrats in the Senate would find it difficult to pass the $3.5 trillion conciliation measure. to make. Democratic Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) — both centrists and key figures in the Senate infrastructure bill passage — made it very clear to the Senate Democratic leadership that they would not support some elements of the president’s proposed spending — and tax plans, with Manchin saying his highest amount was $1.5 trillion. For their part, the House progressives continued to pretend they were living in their own magical kingdom, saying they would not vote for anything less than $3.5 trillion, despite needing unanimity among Senate Democrats. Meanwhile, moderate House Democrats forced Pelosi to promise a vote on the infrastructure bill by Sept. 27, regardless of where they were on the reconciliation bill.

The September drama ended with Biden addressing the Democratic party’s warring factions: He sided with progressives, said both infrastructure and social spending were linked, and told moderates they wouldn’t get their promised vote, and he told progressives that they will settle for much less than $3.5 trillion. Democrats are now hastily engaged in the detailed policy negotiations needed to compromise the larger spending package — a process that should have started months ago. They realize they have to reverse some of the tax hikes to get the Senate.

If the Democrats’ battles over the Reconciliation Act eventually turned into political theater, the debate between the Republicans and the Senate Democrats about the debt ceiling should qualify as theater of the absurd. No one believes the United States would default on its obligations, and the Treasury Department warned Congress that it would run out of credit on or about October 18 unless the debt ceiling is raised or suspended.

The truth? Senate Democrats can do this entirely on their own through an appeasement bill, but don’t want to give Republicans a subject to campaign in next year’s election. Republicans, who have heard Democrats say they passed the reconciliation bill without their input, are telling Democrats to do the same on the debt ceiling. Both sides agree on what should eventually happen (eliminate or suspend the debt limit) and both are playing a game of chicken with the full confidence and credit of the United States at stake. There’s even a hint of Greek tragedy, with a trillion dollar platinum coin scheme being launched as a cure, all as a God of the machine – a god who comes to the rescue at the end of the game to solve an impossible situation.

Expect the finger-pointing and histrionics to continue on this issue for a while yet, but a US default on its debt obligations and the disastrous consequences for the global economy will become very real for those in the Senate who will also have to worry about miscalculations in their frailty.