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How did Biden do it?
May 31, 2023
A key part of the Republican mythology heading into 2024 is that Joe Biden is addled to the point of incoherence and incompetence. So, on the eve of the House vote on the debt ceiling legislation, Republicans are struggling with the reality that Biden bested them in a high-stakes negotiation in which they were holding a nuclear bomb they were willing to detonate.
As Rep. Lauren Boebert admitted on Twitter, “We got absolutely destroyed in this negotiation.” Or, as former-adult-in-the-room GOP Rep. Nancy Mace tweeted, “Republicans got outsmarted by a President who can’t find his pants.” [See my criticism of Rep. Mace in Concluding Thoughts.]
As Charlie Sykes aptly noted, Republicans are experiencing “cognitive dissonance” as they struggle to digest their defeat. In the Orwellian logic of the GOP, Kevin McCarthy is declaring “total victory” for negotiating a deal that has ignited calls for his removal as Speaker. As Freedom Caucus member GOP Rep. Chip Roy said,
I want to be very clear: Not one Republican should vote for this deal. Not one. It is a bad deal. No one sent us here to borrow an additional $4 trillion to get absolutely nothing in return. . . . [The deal is] a complete and total sellout . . . and a betrayal of the House power-sharing arrangement.
While McCarthy is attempting to convince his caucus that the sow’s ear compromise bill is a silk purse for Republicans, Biden is being praised in the political press for his Ninja-like negotiating skills. See Jennifer Rubin in Washington Post, Opinion | The debt ceiling shows Biden’s underrated deal-making prowess. Or, as Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo put it, How the “F” Did Joe Biden Do That? For a comprehensive analysis of Biden’s negotiating strategy, see Daily Kos, The many levels of genius in Pres. Biden's negotiating strategy.
It may take a few days for Republicans to understand what just happened to them, but here is an example. One of McCarthy’s proudest achievements is that he imposed new work requirements for SNAP food assistance for recipients between 50 and 54 years old. But Biden negotiated “carve-outs” to that expanded work requirement that will actually increase the amount of SNAP funding by expanding the pool of eligible recipients. Per the NYTimes,
[The Congressional Business Office] said a series of changes in work requirements for food stamp eligibility — tightening them for some adults, but loosening them for others including veterans — would actually increase federal spending on the program by $2 billion.
While Republicans demanded stricter work requirements be a part of the compromise, the White House bargained to lessen the impact, and the budget office estimated that overall, the deal would increase the ranks of the program, making an additional 78,000 people eligible for nutrition assistance.
Got that? The signature achievement of Republicans designed to kick people off SNAP will instead increase funding for the program (by $1.8 billion) and expand the number of eligible recipients. As Josh Marshall said, “How the “F” did Biden to that?” Democrats should help pass the bill through Congress before more such details emerge.
The “good” news is that a floor vote in the House will likely occur on Wednesday—five days before the US will not have sufficient cash to pay all of its bills. Late on Tuesday evening, the legislation cleared a key hurdle in the House, passing out of the House Rules Committee. As a result, the bill will be put to a vote on Wednesday. See NYTimes, Debt Ceiling Deal Moves Toward House Vote Despite GOP Revolt.
But . . . many Democrats are unhappy with compromises made by Biden to avoid default. Two of the leading criticisms involve the age-based increased work requirements for SNAP recipients and changes to the permitting process for energy projects.
As to SNAP, Biden agreed to increase the existing work requirements to include beneficiaries 50 to 54 years old. But as noted above, carve-outs to those increased work requirements have the effect of increasing the total number of Americans eligible for SNAP benefits. Still, the precedent of using a debt-ceiling negotiation to target the poorest and most vulnerable Americans is a bad one. See Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, Hiltzik: Debt ceiling deal is all about punishing the poor.
A corollary to the GOP's effort to punish the poor is their effort to protect the rich. By reducing funding for the IRS and leaving tax rates untouched, the two groups unaffected by the debt-ceiling compromise are ultra-wealthy Americans and large corporations. See Raw Story, Progressives condemn Biden-GOP debt ceiling deal as 'cruel and shortsighted'.
A second major point of criticism is the concession to “fast track” future energy projects, thereby limiting environmental review. And the deal expressly grants special consideration for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a Joe Manchin pet project. See The Guardian, ‘An egregious act’: debt ceiling deal imperils the environment, critics say | Environment.
Per The Guardian,
Environmental groups, already angered by Biden’s ongoing embrace of large fossil fuel projects, such as the recently approved Willow oil drilling operation in Alaska, said these provisions mean that Democrats should block the debt deal when it is voted upon in Congress this week.
“President Biden made a colossal error in negotiating a deal that sacrifices the climate and working families,” said Jean Su, energy justice program director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Congress should reject these poison pills and pass a clean debt ceiling bill.”
But apart from the permitting concessions, Biden managed to protect the massive investments in climate and clean energy achieved in the infrastructure bill and Inflation Reduction Act passed during the last session of Congress. The Inflation Reduction Act alone invested $369 billion in climate protection and clean energy—the largest investment in protecting the environment by an order of magnitude. That investment will reduce carbon emissions by 40% by 2030. See CNBC, Inflation Reduction Act: Climate change provisions.
The criticisms over cruelty targeting the poor and special accommodations for a pipeline that will make Joe Manchin richer are well-taken. But as the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Shalanda Young, said in defense of the bill:
We are in divided government. This is what happens in divided government. They get to have an opinion and we get to have an opinion, and all things equal, I think this compromise agreement is reasonable for both sides.
And we must remember that as we evaluate the provisions of the bill, the implied question is always, “Compared to what?” Here, the relevant comparison is to a national default that would have injured hundreds of millions of Americans and millions of American businesses. Retirement savings would have been decimated, and monthly benefit checks would have been diminished or halted. It is legitimate and reasonable to evaluate (and criticize) the proposed bill, but to do so without recognizing the alternative outcome is an incomplete analysis.
Join BigTentUSA for a discussion with Jonathan Alter and David Greenberg.
BigTentUSA is hosting a discussion with Jonathan Alter and David Greenberg about “our current political and cultural reality.” Jonathan Alter is an award-winning author and political analyst. David Greenberg is a professor of History and of Journalism & Media Studies at Rutgers University. The event will be moderated by Evangeline Morphos, who was a Professor in the Theater and Film Divisions of Columbia University.
BigTent USA is an inclusive and collaborative community empowering women to take action. Its motto is, “It's Not Partisan. It's Democracy.” Check out the organization’s webpage: BigTent USA.
Register HERE to join the discussion with Jonathan Alter and David Greenberg. The event will be held on Wednesday, May 31, 2023, at 7:00 PM. The event is free!
Keen observers of the newsletter will note that it has been shorter than usual over the last week, a change that will continue for the next two weeks. My wife and I are driving a family member to daily intensive physical therapy sessions for three weeks—a trek that begins at 5:30 AM for us. (Not to worry; the therapy is designed to help improve a long-term situation.)
Although the drive is relatively modest in terms of mileage, we must traverse the Sepulveda pass and brave the LAX logjam on the 405 Freeway. The first morning’s drive took two hours (one way); subsequent drives have been more reasonable but a commitment nonetheless. For the next two weeks, I need to be in bed before midnight (which is about the time I finish the newsletter and audio version most nights.) Thanks for your understanding.
What happened to Republican Rep. Nancy Mace? She arrived in Congress as a “moderate” who wanted Republicans to “stop being a**holes” to women and LGBTQ people. But it did not take long for Mace to adopt the ways of the former Bully-in-Chief as she discovered that MAGA extremists do not want moderation or civility. They want cruelty and crassness.
Joe Biden does not have dementia, but Nancy Mace clearly believes he does. Given her (erroneous) belief about Biden’s cognitive decline, mocking him for being unable “to find his pants” is an insult to every person (and their family members) struggling with dementia. Cognitive decline is not a joke; it is a reality for millions of Americans. But Rep. Mace believes the struggle of those suffering from dementia is nothing more than an occasion for a snappy punchline.
To reduce Mace’s joke to its essence, she is saying, “Biden has dementia! Ha, ha! He can’t even find his pants!” I dare Mace to walk into any memory care facility in America and mock an Alzheimer’s sufferer for not knowing what day of the week it is—the first sign that my mother was beginning her slow decline into dementia. If Rep. Mace had an ounce of decency or remorse, she would remove her offensive tweet and apologize to all dementia sufferers and their families across America.
Like virtually every other Republican in Congress, Mace has lost her nerve and is now subservient to Trump and MAGA extremists. Worse, she has adopted the cruelty and depravity that seem to be the price of admission to the Republican caucus in Congress. Mace started her career, in part, because she was a rape survivor and high-school dropout who went on to become the first woman to graduate from The Citadel military academy.
A career that began in idealism and hope for Nancy Mace has descended into mocking people she believes suffer from dementia—because her overlord Trump has told his followers that mocking people with disabilities and disease is a sign of strength in today’s GOP. It did not take long for Nancy Mace to forget the life lessons that made her sympathetic to the struggles of women and LGBTQ people facing discrimination.
At long last, have you no sense of decency, Nancy Mace?
Talk to you tomorrow.