The debt ceiling negotiations were on-again-off-again over the weekend. The details are less important than the ongoing theme: Republicans are “negotiating” in bad faith. Indeed, McCarthy has no authority to negotiate for a caucus controlled by Donald Trump jeering from the sidelines. See US News, Republicans Press Pause on Debt Talks, Trump Tells GOP Not to ‘Fold’.
President Biden responded from the G-7 meeting in Japan by declaring that he had the authority to use the 14th Amendment to exceed the debt ceiling. See The Hill, Biden says he thinks he has authority to use 14th Amendment on debt ceiling. Biden said, in part,
I’m looking at the 14th Amendment as to whether or not we have the authority — I think we have the authority. The question is, could it be done and invoked in time that it would not be appealed, and as a consequence past the date in question and still default on the debt. That is a question that I think is unresolved . . .
Is Biden bluffing? It doesn’t matter. Bluffing or not, Biden cannot concede defeat on the 14th Amendment strategy. As explained by Josh Marshall in Talking Points Memo,
[O]ne thing is clear: even if President Biden has no intention of [invoking the 14th Amendment] or resorting to other extraordinary measures it is insane to rule it out in advance publicly. At a minimum he needs Republicans to think he might take an action that would leave them with no ransom at all. Otherwise, you’re simply negotiating against yourself.
As the nation edges closer to default, the more likely it becomes that the parties will work out a deal or Biden will invoke the 14th Amendment. How can we be sure of those outcomes? If there is a deal, everyone goes home unhappy, but the US avoids default. If there is no deal, the US will have lots of money beyond June 1st—just not enough to pay all of its bills.
If the US does not have enough money to pay all its bills, Biden has three choices:
Pay none of the nation’s obligations until Congress authorizes sufficient money to pay all obligations. This option is a doomsday scenario and will not happen. Moreover, this option would violate multiple provisions of the Constitution and the 1974 Impoundment Control Act.
Pay some obligations but not others, an option that would result in a massive increase in presidential power by transferring to the president Congress’s legislative authority to decide which programs to fund. This option would violate multiple provisions of the Constitution and the 1974 Impoundment Control Act, and fundamentally change the balance of power between the executive and legislative branches.
Pay all obligations created jointly by Congress and the President—a course of action mandated by the 14th Amendment, the 1974 Impoundment Control Act, and related case law. This option violates only one provision of the Constitution and is the least offensive of the three options.
The above analysis is overly simplistic but has the virtue of being true and logical. So, Republicans can make a deal or not. If they do not, the US will not default on its debt—because Biden will authorize additional borrowing. That is the only logical choice available to Biden if Congress fails to authorize borrowing to pay obligations created by Congress. That is the end game—and Republicans know it.
The debt ceiling stand-off is NOT the Democrats’ fault.
Commentators continue to peddle the revisionist history that Democrats are (or may be) at fault for the current crisis because they did not raise the debt ceiling when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress. The latest pundit to float that idea is David Frum, who tweeted:
So why didn't Dems raise debt ceiling to a quadrillion dollars in 2021? Some hints that Manchin/Sinema would not have approved, but I've not seen that authoritatively reported. Did Biden regard the ceiling as some kind of anti-GOP trap? Was it negligence? Something else?
Frum dismisses the argument that Manchin and Sinema would not have voted for a debt ceiling increase by noting that Manchin “voted with Democrats 50-49 to raise the debt ceiling by $2.5 trillion in December 2021.” The problem with Frum’s argument is that the vote to increase the debt limit in 2021 did not require an override of the filibuster. Per the NYTimes, the 2021 vote to raise the debt limit was “a one-time fast-track process to increase the debt ceiling with a simple majority vote, instead of the 60 votes needed to move most legislation through the Senate.”
In 2021, Republicans gave Democrats a one-time carve-out of the filibuster to raise the debt limit by $2.5 trillion. Republicans did NOT grant a one-time carve out in the filibuster to (in Frum’s words) “raise the debt limit to a quadrillion dollars.”
Manchin and Sinema have steadfastly refused to unilaterally override the filibuster over GOP objection—so the notion that Democrats “could have” raised the debt limit unilaterally is nonsense, and Frum knows it. But blaming the Democrats for this mess is what passes for smart political commentary. Don’t believe it.
NYTimes article on No Labels is misleading and irresponsible.
Commit this to memory and tell everyone you know:
The “No Labels” organization is a GOP dark-money PAC designed to elect Donald Trump by running a doomed third-party candidate to draw votes away from Joe Biden in 2024.
Do NOT believe any claims to the contrary. Do NOT fall for the claim that “No Labels” is a “centrist” political party. IT IS NOT. It is funded by the Koch brothers, Harlan Crow, and Peter Theil (among others). See The Intercept, As Manchin Eyes Presidential Run, His Allies at No Labels Face Mounting Legal Challenges.
Worse, “No Labels” is operating as a 501(c)(4) charitable organization so that it does not have to disclose its donors like every other political party—even though No Labels is registering as a political party across the nation for the 2024 election. That strategy is being challenged in Arizona, as explained by The Intercept:
Arizona Democrats also allege that because No Labels is currently run as a 501(c)(4) organization — which legally cannot primarily be engaged in political activity — and has failed to disclose its campaign donors, it cannot be in compliance with federal election regulations governing political parties. “No Labels is not following the rules for political party recognition, while attempting to be placed on the ballot alongside actual, functioning political parties who do,” a spokesperson for the Arizona Democratic Party said in March.
No Labels, a dark-money group, bills itself as a bipartisan effort. Yet a 2018 investigation revealed that No Labels had solicited funds from major right-wing donors, including the Koch brothers and Peter Thiel. Since then, the nonprofit organization has failed to disclose its financial backers, raising questions about the end game of its electoral project and the full composition of political megadonors financially backing its efforts.
Why am I ranting about No Labels? Because last Friday, the NYTimes ran a wildly irresponsible article that repeatedly referred to No Labels as a “centrist” or “bipartisan” political group. IT IS NEITHER “centrist” nor “bipartisan.” The NYTimes article was journalistic malpractice. See NYTimes, ‘No Labels’ Eyes a Third-Party Run in 2024. Democrats Are Alarmed.
The NYTimes article repeatedly referred to No Labels as “centrist,” “bi-partisan,” and as promoting a “unity ticket.” Per the Times,
The centrist group is gaining steam — and raising money — in its effort to get a candidate on the 2024 ballot, with Joe Manchin at the top of their list.
The bipartisan political group No Labels is stepping up a well-funded effort to field a “unity ticket” for the 2024 presidential race, prompting fierce resistance from even some of its closest allies who fear handing the White House back to Donald J. Trump.
The centrist group’s leadership was in New York this week raising part of the money — around $70 million — that it says it needs to help with nationwide ballot access efforts.
Twenty paragraphs into the Times’ article, readers are finally informed that some “detractors” of No Labels believe it is designed to elect Trump:
No Labels has long had its detractors, variously accused of ineffectuality, fronting for Republicans and existing mainly to raise large amounts of money from wealthy corporate donors, many of whom give primarily to Republicans.
Harlan Crow—Justice Clarence Thomas’s benefactor—and the Koch brothers are among the largest known contributors to No Labels. That should tell you all you need to know to conclude that No Labels is neither “centrist” nor “bi-partisan”—no matter how many times the NYTimes repeats those misleading descriptions.
North Carolina’s alleged “twelve-week” abortion ban is a ten-week ban.
In Friday’s brief newsletter, I referred to North Carolina’s “ten-week” abortion ban. A reader sent a note saying North Carolina passed a “twelve-week” abortion ban. I disagree; it is a ten-week ban. I believe that the media have been duped by the North Carolina legislature into mischaracterizing the length of the ban. Let me explain.
First, it is important to know that prior to the North Carolina ban, most abortions were drug-induced (54%)—referred to as “medical abortions.”
The North Carolina bill effectively outlaws the other type of abortion—surgical abortions. The bill imposes onerous obstacles on patients and providers for surgical abortions.
The restrictions on surgical abortions mean that drug-induced abortions may be the only option remaining for a woman seeking an abortion in North Carolina. But the North Carolina legislature imposed a ten-week ban on drug-induced abortions.
The text of the North Carolina bill is here: S20v5.pdf (ncleg.gov). It provides that a physician may not distribute “abortion-inducing drugs” unless the physician has
“Verif[ied] that the probable gestational age of the unborn child is no more than 70 days.”
“70 days” is ten weeks. (Moreover, “gestational age” includes two weeks during which the woman is not yet pregnant. So, the 70-day period in the bill actually equates to eight weeks of pregnancy.)
The reference to “70 days” for drug-induced abortions is buried deep in the bill at section 90-21.83B and has been overlooked by most media outlets. The fact that the media has misreported the true time period of the ban imposed by the North Carolina bill is inexcusable.
A note on grammar, usage, and style.
Readers send corrections every week to the grammar, usage, and style in this newsletter. Most of the alleged “corrections” are wrong. Over the weekend, I penned a standard reply to volunteer copy editors and have appended that reply as a postscript to this newsletter. The reply is partly humorous, partly serious, and mostly cathartic. Don’t bother to read it. I will keep it handy and use it as needed. But if you want to send corrections in the future, I ask that you follow the guidelines in the postscript. Thanks!
Over the weekend, my wife and I toured the “West Wing” of the White House. It was a moving and fascinating experience. The most surprising impression was how small and cramped the executive offices are. The Oval Office, Cabinet Room, Situation Room, press briefing room, and offices for the Vice President, Chief of Staff, press secretary, and press corps feel like a warren.
While the offices in the West Wing are beautiful and dignified (except for the press briefing room), the people who run the executive branch nearly sit on top of one another. The small physical scale is in jarring contrast to the enormity of the decisions made in those offices.
The scale was a good reminder of the frailty and fallibility of the occupants and visitors to the West Wing. Remember that fact when you see Kevin McCarthy sitting on a sofa in the Oval Office on Monday. He will look uncomfortable (in part) because the Oval Office is a ceremonial setting for a photo opportunity—not a working space for determining whether the world’s largest economy will default on its obligations. The real work of negotiating will likely take place ten short steps across the hall—in the Roosevelt Room.
Talk to you tomorrow!
Requirements for submitting grammar, style, and usage corrections.
[Please note: This exhortation was written in good humor. My humor is sometimes so subtle it is undetectable. No offense is intended.]
Readers sometimes send notes correcting the grammar, usage, or style used in the newsletter. The notes are almost always preemptive and rarely include citation to authority:You said ‘X.’ The correct word/usage/style is ‘Y.’’ Readers are frequently (read: almost always) wrong—or at least wrong in their assertion that there is only one accepted usage. Language changes, and what was ‘received wisdom’ in the 18th century—or the newsroom where the reader worked in the 1970s—may no longer be the only acceptable usage.
So please do both of us a favor: Before you send a note correcting the grammar, usage, or style in the newsletter, consult a reputable source. Include a link to the source along with your correction. I prefer Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary, which includes sections on usage, grammar, and style. Merriam-Webster is the oldest dictionary publisher in the US, and its dictionaries are based on Noah Webster’s groundbreaking publication, An American Dictionary of the English Language. Webster is credited with reforming and standardizing American English. Indeed, his goal “was to rescue our native tongue from the clamor of pedantry that surrounds [British] English grammar and pronunciation.”
If you insist on citing a style guide, I use the Chicago Manual of Style (current edition only!) There are many style guides, and they contradict one another on important topics. So, I have adopted CMOS; if you prefer another style guide, that is a personal preference you should not attempt to force on the rest of the English-speaking world.
I do not accept explanations that include any part of the following phrases: “That’s the way we did it at The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Time Magazine, etc.” Equally unacceptable is, “That’s what my sixth-grade teacher taught me.”
I do accept (and appreciate!) references to Google Ngram Viewer. If you don’t know what Google Ngram Viewer is, you should learn how to use that tool before attempting to instruct anyone about current usage. Language evolves. It emerges from the actual usage, vocabulary, whims, and mistakes of native speakers. While evolving trends do not necessarily determine correct usage or grammar, they provide evidence that should be considered before issuing definitive statements about “proper” usage.
Here is an example. Readers frequently tell me that a book or article is not “entitled XYZ” it is “titled XYZ.” The former usage is both earlier in time and more frequently used than the latter. See the Merriam-Webster usage note: Can You Use 'Entitled' to mean 'Titled'? | Merriam-Webster. And here is a link to Google Ngram Viewer comparing the frequency of use of “titled” vs. “entitled”: Google Ngram Viewer: titled vs. entitled. As you can see, “entitled” is older and more frequently used today than “titled.”
So, which is correct: “titled” or “entitled”? (To clarify, I am referring to the past participle of transitive verbs.) Both are acceptable, but I have received dozens of emails scolding me for using “entitled”—emails that exhibit no apparent awareness of the history or relative frequency of use of the two terms. (It is also possible these readers are confusing the past participle and adjectival forms of “entitled,” but that is another kettle of worms!) A little research before correcting my grammar, usage, or style might educate us both!
As to typography, reader “Mim E.” has proven herself to be a reliable guide on all matters relating to typography. I do what she says.
One final note: After cooking over a hot stove for hours to produce the newsletter each night, it is disappointing to receive a reply 30 seconds after publication that says only “Them is a plural pronoun; you should have said him.” If you intend to (incorrectly) criticize my grammar, try buttering me up first with something like, “I love your newsletter and appreciate the fact that you stayed up past midnight to comment on late-breaking news. By the way, you don’t write good.”
Just my opinion here but this insistence on proper grammar, usage, and style seems a lot like following decorum in the Tennessee and Montana state houses. Don’t we have more important things to worry about? Thank you for keeping the focus on the big picture issues!
You are a gift to the Nation - and people who waste your time by trying to correct how you write to us have too much time on their hands; they should put their energies into canvassing neighborhoods, writing postcards into swing states, opening up Act Blue to contribute to regular folk who are courageous enough to run for (any) office in these perilous times swing; in other words, do something constructive to help lead us toward a better Union as you try to do every single day that you and your ME write your excellent- invaluable- blog... grammar be damned.