Today’s Edition: Republicans play “chicken” with the economy.

September 20, 2021

          As we move into the second half of September, the challenges are coming fast and furiously for Biden’s legislative agenda. Overhanging that agenda like a brooding presence is the possibility that the U.S. Treasury will exhaust its ability to borrow money (commonly referred to as the “debt ceiling”). Although raising the debt ceiling is effectively a ministerial function that authorizes the Treasury to issue bonds to finance the operations of the U.S. government, Mitch McConnell has declared that no Republican in the Senate will support an increase in the debt ceiling. A default would be unthinkable because it would affect the credit worthiness of U.S. treasuries and roil the economy. Before you panic, there is a way out of this impending disaster: Democrats have sufficient votes to raise the debt ceiling, which they should do even if Republicans refuse to support that measure. A summary in The Hill is instructive, “Five questions and answers about the debt ceiling fight.”

          Democrats do not want to raise the debt ceiling on a party-line vote because the ceiling represents the accumulated deficits of spending bills (and tax cuts) passed by Republican and Democratic administrations over the last several decades. But not wanting to do something because of political optics is insufficient reason to allow the U.S. to run out of borrowing authority. Democrats may just have to ‘screw their courage to the sticking-place’ and do the right thing.

          The Congressional Budget Office published a helpful guide that explains the steps that the Treasury can utilize to avoid defaulting on U.S. obligations. See CBO, “Federal Debt and the Statutory Limit, July 2021.” As the CBO explains, Treasury can engage in a number of “extraordinary measures” and cash management to avoid default for several months—until “October or November.”

          It is important to note that the “debt ceiling” standoff has nothing to do with Biden’s proposed $3.5 trillion reconciliation package. First, Biden’s reconciliation package has not yet been approved and is not part of the national debt or the debt ceiling. Second, Biden proposes to pay for the reconciliation package by raising taxes to prior levels. Third, the reconciliation package relates to spending over a ten-year period—so it is not related to the impending debt ceiling crisis.

          Despite the fact that Biden’s reconciliation resolution has nothing to do with the need to increase the debt ceiling, Republicans are hoping to exploit the proximity between the $3.5 trillion reconciliation proposal and the need to increase the debt ceiling. The connection is misleading, but that hasn’t stopped McConnell from making that connection. See Fox News, “McConnell says GOP won't help Dems pay for 'socialist shopping list' despite Yellen debt ceiling request.” It is shameful that the few remaining persuadable Republican Senators like Romney, Murkowski, and Collins will join McConnell in a financial suicide pact that would wreck the economy.

          Democrats must step up to the plate and increase the debt ceiling. If the worst McConnell can say is that Biden’s reconciliation package is a “socialist shopping list,” Democrats should win that argument easily. That “socialist shopping list” includes expanded Medicare benefits (dental and vision), lower drug prices, free community college, childcare credits, and investments in American industry. When most Americans understand what benefits are included in Biden’s package, I suspect their only question will be, “Where do I sign up?”

The filibuster raises its ugly head once again.

          The Senate Parliamentarian has ruled that an immigration reform proposal that Biden wanted to include in the reconciliation package is subject to the filibuster. See Politico, “Democrats blocked from including immigration reform in spending bill.” It cannot be said often enough: The Senate is an anti-democratic institution by design. That is a historical fact we must accept (unless we amend the Constitution). The filibuster amplifies the anti-democratic features of the Senate in a way that was never contemplated by the Framers. The filibuster is unconstitutional and should be abolished. See Gregory L. Diskant, in The National Law Journal, “The Filibuster Is Unconstitutional.” See also an op-ed by Erwin Chemerinsky, in The Los Angeles Times, “The filibuster is unconstitutional. Here's how Vice President Harris can take it on.”

Trump praises January 6th Insurrectionists.

          This is not another story that goes like this: “Can you believe what Trump said? He is horrible!” Instead, it goes like this: “Can you believe what Trump said? He is signaling that he will attempt another coup in 2024.” See the difference? With that distinction firmly in mind, let’s look at what Trump said over the weekend.

          There was a rally at the Capitol over the weekend in support of the alleged “political prisoners” who were arrested for assaulting the Capitol on January 6th. Most Republicans pretended to ignore the rally because it reminds them of their complicity in the insurrection. Not Donald Trump. He used the occasion to praise the domestic terrorists of January 6th. See Business Insider, “Trump: My Heart Is With 'Persecuted' Jan 6 Rioters As DC Protest Looms.” Trump said,

          Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election.

          Although I wrote about Trump’s statement in the last edition of the newsletter, it struck me over the weekend that the statement is an encouragement to further violence in support of Trump’s quest to reclaim the presidency. Folks, he is going to attempt another insurrection if he can. He is saying that as clearly and loudly as possible.

          Trump is continuing his unfinished business of taking over the Republican Party so that it will support the next insurrection without exception. In the last week, Trump has been floating the idea of replacing Mitch McConnell as Minority (or Majority) Leader in the Senate. See Talking Points Memo, “‘Very Bad For The GOP’: Trump Floats Recruitment Effort To Oust McConnell.” As explained in TPM, Trump wants to replace McConnell because he failed to “fight for the presidency like he should have” by not blocking the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory.

          The most effective way to prevent Trump’s next attempted insurrection is to win every race on the ballot from the ground up—voter registrars, city council, county supervisors, state legislators, congressional representatives, and the presidency. He is on the ballot in every race in 2022, and we should make his surrogates pay for their twisted loyalty to a man who wants to overthrow democracy. If we do that, Trump has no hope of prevailing in 2024.

John Durham’s Indictment of Michael Sussman is shameful.

          Bill Barr picked John Durham as Special Counsel to inflict political retribution on those who initiated the investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Last week, Durham secured an indictment of attorney Michael Sussman, who provided information to the FBI regarding a “Trump computer server” that seemed to be communicating with a Russian bank. The report was relevant because Trump repeatedly claimed that he had no business dealings with Russia—a claim that was a lie, as Michael Cohen’s testimony to Congress established.

          John Durham indicted Michael Sussman for allegedly lying to the FBI about whether he was acting as legal counsel for a client in turning over the information. The indictment is an embarrassment—to John Durham. The usually restrained Barbara McQuade called the indictment “a hoax.” See op-ed by Barbara McQuade at MSNBC, “Durham's Sussman indictment is a bizarre coda for DOJ's Russia investigation.”

          The indictment is here: U.S. v. Michael A. Sussman. There are many weaknesses in the case alleged in the indictment. But most of them are irrelevant because Durham bases his entire case on second-hand notes made by someone who did not attend the meeting in which Sussman allegedly made a false statement. You don’t have to be a lawyer to know that notes made by someone not at the meeting are inadmissible hearsay. Because the notes are the totality of Durham’s case against Sussman, it will be dismissed before it ever makes it to a jury.

Concluding Thoughts.

          To my grammarian friends and proofreaders, before you send a note telling me that the correct usage is “an historical fact” rather than “a historical fact,” please read Merriam Webster: "A" vs. "An": When to Use Indefinite Articles.”

          The press is (again) beating up Joe Biden about the supposed setbacks he experienced last week. As to his legislative agenda, it is too early to make a judgment. He won’t get everything he has asked for, but if he gets a substantial portion through Congress, it will still be a once-in-a-generation accomplishment. On another front, the fact that the FDA did not approve Pfizer’s request for clearance to give booster shots may complicate Biden’s plan to contain the coronavirus. But the FDA’s ruling was based on the fact that the vaccines remain sufficiently effective to make a universal booster unnecessary. That may not be what Biden wanted, but the underlying rationale for the decision is positive news about the effectiveness of the vaccines.

          I suspect that the rest of September will be a rocky and wild ride. But the reason it will be so is because Biden is swinging for the fences. It is Biden’s ambitious agenda that is creating the framework for the high drama to come later this month. That’s a good thing, not a bad thing. Don’t let the media convince you otherwise.

          Talk to you tomorrow!

(P.S. – our cabin community is still safe; the situation is very complicated and may drag on for weeks. But we remain hopeful for a positive outcome.)