Today’s Edition: A bias toward action.

October 13, 2021

          Congressional Democrats are now practicing the “art of the possible” as they attempt to hammer out details of Biden’s legislative agenda. Barring collapse, whatever bills emerge will be the most significant expansion of the social safety net in a generation. But because Biden’s initial proposal was so ambitious, Democrats will feel an unwarranted sense of disappointment with the final result. They should not. Recall that during the four years of Trump’s tenure, “next week” was also known as “infrastructure week”—a mirage that continuously receded with the horizon. Biden’s infrastructure bill will be a significant achievement standing alone. It will be accompanied by other programs that will improve the lives of millions of Americans. The fact that those milestones will be achieved in the first year of Biden’s presidency is all the more remarkable.

          Speaker Pelosi has begun to condition the House Democratic caucus to accept a reconciliation bill that will fall far short of Biden’s initial proposal. In a letter to her Democratic colleagues, Pelosi wrote,

          Overwhelmingly, the guidance I am receiving from Members is to do fewer things well so that we can still have a transformative impact on families in the workplace and responsibly address the climate crisis: a Build Back Better agenda for jobs and the planet For The Children! 

          “Doing fewer things well” may also mean doing “more things well for a shorter period of time.” The permutations and complicated negotiations are summarized in Talking Points Memo, “The Sausage Making: Progressives Jockey To Keep Their Beloved Programs Off The Chopping Block.”

          To be clear, the political “sausage making” in Congress means “figuring out what will satisfy Senators Manchin and Sinema.” As the TPM article above notes, Senator Bernie Sanders continues to speak for nearly every Democrat by expressing disappointment over the failure of Manchin and Sinema to say which programs in the bill should be denied to Americans. Of course, they will never respond to Senator Sanders’ reasonable request. By remaining stubbornly silent, they will force members of the Democratic caucus to fight among themselves to advance their priorities. Fight climate change or provide day care for preschoolers? Provide dental coverage to Medicare recipients or provide a tax credit for families with children? Manchin and Sinema will never tell!

          The ‘disturbance in the force’ caused by Manchin and Sinema creates the appearance that Democrats lack party unity. (A reader sent a note saying Democrats are in a “circulate firing squad.”) That appearance is misleading. As Peter Dreier recently noted, about 96% of the party agrees on everything. Two Senators and ten House members are putting their reelection prospects above all else. That level of unity is remarkable. See TPM Café, “The Press Keeps Getting It Wrong: The Democrats Are NOT Divided.” Drier writes,

          Currently, 96% of Democrats in Congress support President Biden’s social safety net and clean energy reconciliation package, but the media have consistently described the Democrats as “deeply divided,” “fractious,” “feuding,” and even “in disarray” over the plan. . . . The opposition of the handful of Democrats can be explained in part by their close ties to big business and wealthy donors. They are doing the bidding of corporate America, which wants the physical infrastructure projects that is part of the separate $1 trillion bill but doesn’t want the higher taxes or stiffer regulations to reign in corporate greed that is part of the $3.5 trillion safety net and clean energy bill.

          Drier’s essay (linked above) is a cogent summary of the state of play on the reconciliation bill’s provisions and the opposition from “corporate Democrats.” If you need to catch up on the details, I highly recommend Drier’s article.

          Alas! I have fallen victim to the tendency that I am urging you to avoid: Don’t let the details of the negotiations or the fact that we will not achieve everything obscure the fact that victory is near. Keep calm and let our elected representatives do the hard work of achieving consensus. If you would like to let them know how you feel about particular aspects of the bill, I am certain they would love to hear from you. Jessica Craven’s newsletter, Chop Wood, Carry Water, has a convenient listing of contact information for members of Congress, along with suggested talking points for those who may need help in leaving an effective message.

Governor Greg Abbott is a danger to the health and safety of Texans.

          Governor Greg Abbott has delusions of being president. But he must first be reelected as governor of Texas in 2022. He is being outflanked by uber-conservative Trump wannabes who will challenge him for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. In response, Abbott has decided that the lives of Texans are expendable collateral in his personal quest for power. On Monday, Abbott mandated that businesses cannot mandate that their employees get vaccinated as a condition of employment.

          There is a lot to unpack here, but let’s say the most important thing first: Abbott’s policy will kill people. That’s bad and should end the debate over Abbott’s depraved policy. But there’s more. Republicans are supposed to be the party that favors the right of businesses to set the working conditions of their employees. Republicans routinely describe such mandates as “Big Brother” overreach. As Chris Cillizza of CNN writes, “Someone needs to remind Greg Abbott that he is a conservative.”

          But it gets worse. In August, one of Abbott’s challengers for the GOP gubernatorial nomination (Don Huffines) criticized a Texas suicide hotline and website that provided resources to LGBTQ youth contemplating suicide. Huffines claimed that in providing resources to prevent suicide among LGBTQ youth, the Texas child welfare agency was “promoting transgender sexual policies to Texas youth.” The cowardly Abbott panicked and shut down the suicide prevention hotline in a matter of hours. Let me repeat that: Abbott shut down a suicide prevention hotline for youth because he believed that a competitor was beating him in the race to the bottom of the cesspool that is Texas GOP politics. See Houston Chronicle, “Prompted by Abbott primary challenger, Texas agency removed webpage with suicide hotline, other resources for LGBTQ youth.”

          Words fail in describing Abbott’s hypocrisy. He signed the nation’s most restrictive anti-abortion bill because of his alleged desire to protect life but took down a suicide prevention hotline in a matter of hours because the allegations by Huffines were “starting to blow up on Twitter.” In fairness, Abbott’s fingerprints are not on the closure of the site; that was accomplished by his political appointees whose internal emails expressed concern for the effect of Huffines’ attack on Governor Abbott—just like Chris Christie’s lieutenants knew that it was “time for some traffic problems” on the George Washington Bridge when a Christie opponent would not bend to his will. The Texas website / hotline was disabled in August and remains inoperative through today. See Texas Youth Connection (state.tx.us).

          As miserable and unpopular as Abbott is, it may be difficult to unseat him. But that doesn’t mean Democrats shouldn’t give it their all—because a close gubernatorial campaign may help Democrats flip one of the chambers in the Texas legislature. That would be huge progress. Democrats everywhere must help turn Texas blue—and send a message to Greg Abbott that his political career will end in Texas.

Concluding Thoughts.

          As we move into the 2022 election cycle in earnest, we will continue to hear reports about GOP efforts to “stack the decks” against free and fair elections. We will also be subjected to daily predictions that Democrats will lose or have lost already.

          I have been reflecting on the appropriate response to such articles. I don’t have the bandwidth to discuss every article, podcast, or interview that is laden with dire predictions for Democrats or democracy. But I have concluded that our response must be a bias toward action. If someone were to tell us that a slow-moving super-tanker will collide with our cruise ship in three weeks, our response should not be to speculate about the damage that might be caused by such a collision. Instead, we should take action to avoid the collision.

          A bias toward action should be our response to the “slow-rolling coup” described by commentators like Bill Maher. Accepting Maher’s premise, our response should not be to speculate about the damage that might be inflicted.  Instead, we should take action to prevent the coup. A bias toward action. That should be our mantra.

          Worrying about catastrophic outcomes is a waste of energy. Taking action to prevent a possible catastrophe is the best way to change the outcome. The next time your anxiety level climbs because someone tells you all may be lost, ask yourself, “What can I do to change that outcome?” Then do it. If enough of us take that approach, we cannot fail.

          Talk to you tomorrow!