Today’s Edition: Governing is hard.

September 22, 2021

          On Tuesday, the House passed a bill that would continue funding government operations and authorize an increase in the debt ceiling. The bill will fail in the Senate, where it is subject to the filibuster, a fact that does not matter in this case because every Republican will vote against keeping our government operating. See Politico, “House sends shutdown patch, debt fix to Senate demise.” Democrats hoped that they could force Republicans to vote against approving disaster relief by including it in a debt relief bill. Mitch McConnell easily circumvented that trap by releasing a mirror image of the bill that excludes the increase in the federal debt ceiling but includes funding for disaster relief.

         True, Republicans are acting despicably in refusing to vote for an increase in the federal debt ceiling. See WaPo Editorial Board, “This shouldn’t be hard: Republicans must help the U.S. avoid default.” But Democrats need to get over the fact that Republicans don’t care about a federal default that could put 6 million people out of work. Democrats must do the right thing by preserving the ability of the Treasury to borrow. The inevitability of this outcome was foreseeable and foreseen weeks ago. Schumer and Pelosi need to move ahead on substance and quit trying to parry with Republicans over political advantage. We have important work to do—and trying to create talking points for political ads is slowing us down. Republicans will lie no matter what Democrats do (see below), so let’s not let that fact determine our legislative agenda.

Biden gives speech before U.N. General Assembly.

          Biden gave his first speech as president to the U.N. General Assembly. Many newspapers placed coverage of the speech “below the fold.” (For younger readers unfamiliar with the concept, a newspaper is like the internet, except printed on paper. It has a “fold” in the middle because . . . Oh, never mind! This is too complicated.) As noted in the NYTimes, Biden called for diplomacy and global action to confront common threats like climate change. Most of the reporting on Biden’s speech was overwhelmed by the shiny objects of the U.S.-French contretemps over submarines and the U.S. withdrawal of 2,500 troops from Afghanistan. The Times did manage to include the important fact that there were no traffic jams in Manhattan because many world leaders attended the session by videoconference. Glad to see that the media has its priorities straight.

Biden addresses Border Patrol treatment of Haitian refugees.

More than 15,000 Haitian refugees have set up encampments in Del Rio, Texas. The Biden administration is seeking to repatriate those refugees, to the disappointment of many Biden allies. See The Hill, “Advocates 'in utter disbelief' after Biden resumes Haitian repatriations.” Amidst that controversy, images and video of mounted Border Patrol agents rounding up refugees fleeing on foot have provoked outrage among all Americans. The images are horrific and suggest an out-of-control Border Patrol that views refugees as “less than human.”

          Biden has condemned the tactics and welcomed an investigation announced by Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas. Biden promised to “get [the situation] under control” and described the images as “horrific.” Through his spokesperson, Biden said that the images “don't represent who we are as a country.” See NBC News, “Biden addresses images of Border Patrol agents chasing migrants: 'We'll get it under control'.

Coal mine owner and U.S. Senator Joe Manchin in charge of climate provisions in reconciliation package.

          A report in Popular Information exposes the incredible conflicts of interest that mar Senator Joe Manchin’s position as Chair of the Senate Energy Committee. See Judd Legum in Popular Information, “The Manchin industry.” Legum notes that Manchin “is planning to craft the climate portion of the reconciliation bill to ‘protect and extend the use of coal and natural gas.’” Manchin owns two coal processing companies and is one of the leading recipients of campaign donations from the fossil fuel lobby. His staffers routinely obtain employment as lobbyists for fossil fuel companies, where they lobby their former boss (Manchin) to do the bidding of his corporate funders.

          As with Krysten Sinema’s support for big pharma companies that have showered her with campaign donations, Manchin’s predictable support for fossil fuel companies illustrates the pervasive corruption that drives the political process in America. As with many dysfunctional aspects of  our democracy, the fault lies (in part) with the U.S. Supreme Court, which has ruled that corporations are “citizens” with equal rights to influence elected officials as the real “citizens” protected by the Constitution.

          As usual, Legum’s reporting is well-researched and consequential. If you don’t subscribe to Popular Information, I recommend it highly.

          In a similar vein is Robert Reich’s essay, “Why Are House Democrats So Reluctant to Tax Wealth?” Reich’s answer is, of course, that Democrats need the campaign donations of the wealthy billionaires they refuse to tax. Until we get corporate donations out of the political process, wealthy individuals will purchase influence in Congress, even among Democrats.

An important race in New Hampshire.

          A reader who lives in New Hampshire sent a note about her fears that troubling developments in New Hampshire are being ignored. She writes,

          It’s stunning to me that Texas and Florida are getting so much attention when New Hampshire is spiraling into madness. Chris Sununu is poised to take a Republican seat in the US Senate from Democrat Maggie Hassan next year. A batch of proposed bills in the attached article represent an unprecedented assault on public health. Lawmakers Take Aim at Vaccines and Face Masks. The few remaining abortion services have been hobbled by the archaic executive council [in the legislature] that denied contracts for any women’s health care at the few remaining clinics.

          The reader’s worries highlight two facts. First, the Republicans in the New Hampshire legislature are running the same gambits as Florida and Texas with respect to vaccines and masks. This fact demonstrates once again that Democrats must take local elections as seriously as national elections. But at least as importantly, we must defend Maggie Hassan’s seat in the U.S. Senate. She was elected by a margin of a few hundred votes and will face a strong challenge from Chris Sununu. Maggie Hassan’s profile in Ballotpedia is here, “Maggie Hassan - Ballotpedia,” and her campaign site is here, “Maggie Hassan | U.S. Senator for New Hampshire.” Hassan’s race will be important in 2022. If you don’t know Hassan, check out her background in Ballotpedia and her campaign website.

Concluding Thoughts.

I heard from many readers that yesterday’s newsletter was a downer—referring to the news, not to my summaries. I acknowledge that the news seems distressing, but that distress reflects the fact that Democrats won a trifecta in 2020 by gaining control of both chambers of Congress and the presidency. Going into the 2020 election, most experts predicted the odds of that outcome as “slim to none.” The infighting over the reconciliation package arises from the ambition of Biden’s agenda. He could have asked Congress to repair a few bridges, watched that legislation breeze through both chambers, and then taken victory laps for the next three years.

          Because Biden has acted boldly, he has stressed the Democratic Party. We should welcome that state of affairs as compared to the alternative of GOP-controlled congresses that did nothing except confirm judges. Governing is hard. It is easier to be unified in opposition than in creating a path to an America that is more just, secure, and democratic. If there is pain and conflict in that process, we should be glad of it.

          Indeed, the very fact that there is a reconciliation package reflects the fact that Democrats pushed the Senate Parliamentarian for an exception to the filibuster rule. If Biden achieves passage of a single item in the reconciliation package, it will be a victory over the fatuous Senate rule that has come to control the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans. But Biden will likely achieve much more, despite the infighting, greed, and disloyalty that has marred the process. As I said, governing is hard. Let’s be glad that we are the governing party, even with all of our glorious imperfections!

          Talk to you tomorrow!