Monday, May 03, 2021

Joe did what? He didn't—yet


Republican Chuck Hagel and Democrat Joe Lieberman in 2008, when they were both being considered for cross-the-aisle vice presidential candidacies. Remember who won the vice presidency? Via Politico.

Really interesting tidbit from Anita Kumar/Politico, passing on what look to me like some pretty carefully orchestrated hints from the White House as to what's likely to happen to the Biden agenda this summer, after he's finished with the essential task of looking hopeful for Republican cooperation:

But Biden aides also are hinting that there are time limits to how long that engagement will last. They say the president hopes to make progress on both spending bills — either as a pair or individually — by Memorial Day and sign them into law this summer. And the calendar creates some urgency: By the end of his first year, members of Congress will be consumed by the midterms and then the next presidential race. The White House also knows how a drag-on legislative process can consume a presidency and party.

“Biden and the people around him understand you have to get as much done this year as possible,” said Republican Chuck Hagel, who served with Biden in the Senate and later served as Defense secretary in the Obama administration. “At what point then — if you’re not making any progress on any front and you've been willing to compromise on some things — do you have to go it alone. That’s a decision they’re going to have to make. You don’t have a lot of time.”

Namely, that (just as Minority Leader McConnell announced that there will be zero Republican votes for any Democratic infrastructure bill) the White House knows nothing is going to happen with Republicans on the Jobs Plan and Families Plan, and is now preparing us for the next phase, after the negotiations on whether to have negotiations break down irretrievably sometime around the end of the month or early June, when they will begin issuing the final outlines of the legislation to consist—I always wanted to be the Dr. Bill Kristol of the left, so I'll make this a formal prediction—of two budget reconciliation packages, one devoted to the whole $4-trillion tax proposal and the physical infrastructure of the Jobs Plan and the "social infrastructure" of the Families plan, and later on one devoted to raising the debt ceiling.

Raising the debt ceiling? What? Yes, kids, that's something I just happened to land on the other day; it seems the debt ceiling, memorable for the way Senate Republicans used it to torture President Obama, has been basically suspended since 2015—the suspension expires every so often but they always renew it in time, most recently in August 2019, and it's due to be renewed again on 1 August, but Republicans have been threatening to start up with the debt ceiling battles again, most recently and loudly on 21 April:

Senate Republicans on Wednesday signaled they might oppose any future increase to the debt ceiling unless Congress also couples it with comparable federal spending cuts, raising the specter of a political showdown between GOP leaders and the White House this summer.

Republican lawmakers staked their position after a private gathering to consider the conference’s operating rules this session, issuing what GOP leaders described later as an important yet symbolic statement in response to the large-scale spending increases proposed by President Biden in recent months.

“I think that is a step in the right direction in terms of reining in out-of-control spending,” Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) told reporters after the meeting.

But it's just remotely possible that Ted doesn't remember what I happen to remember, and what President Joe Biden unquestionably knows very well, which is that the Senate Parliamentarian has ruled (you may have read about it here) that Congress is entitled to as many as three more reconciliation bills this year, one each devoted devoted to tax, spending, and the debt ceiling. So Democrats will be able to raise the debt ceiling before 1 August without any Republican votes, and without submitting to any Republican extortion attempts. 

So that, I think, is pretty much how they're going to manage it. (And just in case you think I really am Bill Kristol, please recall that I did this 25 January for the American Rescue Plan, passed with no Republican votes on 11 March.)

And that's what old Chuck Hagel and Kumar's anonymi are signaling in this report, for anybody who needs to know: there's a time limit within which the Republicans have to decide whether to shit or get off the pot, it's only two or three months away, and they're expected to be unable to do it, whether because they're too divided or because they're not divided enough. 

It's very cool that Hagel was chosen to deliver the message, a good old relic of the Senate of bygone days of friendship and comity who wasn't too proud to cross the aisle and be a Democrat's defense secretary. That alone should make Manchin feel warm all over. 

No, I don't know that Manchin himself will be able to live up to the opportunity, so those bills could still fail to pass—I do tend to think, because his explanation of what he wants is so incoherent (he wants spending of $3 or $4 trillion, he wants it all paid for out of revenues, but he doesn't want too many taxes), that he's really holding out for something specific. In 2009 Joe Lieberman held out for ditching the public option from the Affordable Care Act, because that's what Connecticut's insurance companies paid him to do; Manchin doesn't have something like that, surely, but he wants something. If he manages to make up his mind to go with the program, it will be a good thing, and not necessarily the end of Biden's, and our, run of good luck—that's when it will be time to go back to talking about getting rid of the filibuster, and either Manchin or the Republicans may find themselves interested in taking a more helpful attitude. I hope it's both, but that is not something I'd bet on.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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