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One Way to Dilute the Senate’s Filibuster Rule

Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post suggests a way to get around the Senate filibuster that I’ve never heard before. It’s probably too rational for “Democratic” filibuster fans like Sen. Joe Manchin and Sen. Krysten Sinema to accept, but it’s interesting just the same:

… Democrats are close to pulling off something that has eluded them for the past year and a half: passing legislation to address climate change and the costs of health care [note: while reducing the deficit and moderating inflation], and doing it without any Republican votes,” The Post reports. “This has been one of President Biden’s top goals since he took office, so much so that he and Democratic leadership have reserved their one legislative tool to get it done: reconciliation.” Pretty impressive, huh?

Now, imagine telling [Sen. Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat] he would need 60 votes to pass the package. Even he would likely agree that would be an outrageous hurdle to overcome.

As Manchin explained on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Republicans have refused to engage in any reasonable discussion on the deal. “I think it’s a great piece of legislation and on normal times, my Republican colleagues would be for something such as this,” he said. He pointed out that their opposition is irrational and driven by rank partisanship. “We’ve basically paid down debt, [which] is what they want. We’ve accelerated [issuing drilling permits], which is what they want,” he said. “And we’ve increased production of energy, which is what they want. We’ve done things that we should be doing together.”

But since Republicans won’t cooperate, Democrats must move ahead with the reconciliation process — a gigantic loophole in the allegedly sacrosanct filibuster rules. Huge policy goals can be achieved even though the other side willfully obstructs progress.

Why, then, do Manchin and others cling so tightly to the filibuster rules when equally important — if not more important — policy goals are up for discussion, such as on abortion rights, voting rights and reforming the Supreme Court? It’s tautology to say that the reconciliation process applies only to tax and spending rules under limited circumstances. Why should items not directly tied to spending have to be stripped out of legislation?

Democrats can leave the filibuster in place if they must but can simply alter the Senate’s “Byrd rules” governing reconciliation bills so that measures pertaining to the restoration or protection of fundamental rights can be included. An infrastructure bill could also include “democracy infrastructure” that protects voting rights. The same limit on reconciliation legislation (once or twice per fiscal year) could still apply.

Manchin’s current legislative effort highlights just how hypocritical he is for opposing filibuster fixes. Indeed, he has relied on demonstrably false premises to defend his position.

For example, he often argues that Democrats and Republicans can always negotiate things together. Not so in the era of petulant obstruction from MAGA Republicans. In the case of his own mammoth bill, Manchin has realized that Democrats should not allow Republican opposition to deter them.

Manchin also frequently insists that if Democrats take steps to weaken the filibuster, Republicans will do the same when they are in power. Well, Republicans have already weakened Senate rules by lowering the votes needed to confirm Supreme Court justices to a simple majority. Republicans have also already used the reconciliation process in an attempt to pass bills such as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. That failed because their extreme measures were so unpopular that they could not get even a majority for that.

I don’t expect Manchin to acknowledge his intellectual dishonesty and blatant inconsistency. But that doesn’t mean the rest of his party has to go along. If voters send two more Democrats to the Senate and somehow hold the House (if not in 2022, then win it back in 2024), they should consider using [no, absolutely use] their power to secure fundamental constitutional rights that the Supreme Court has stripped away.

We Should Believe It When We See It

Minutes after passing a bipartisan bill to increase US production of semiconductors, Senate Democrats announced that, believe it or not, conservative “Democratic” Senator Joe Manchin has agreed to pass a Democrats-only budget reconciliation bill that addresses some of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda.

One cool thing about this is that evil Republican Senator Mitch McConnell said he wouldn’t support the semiconductor bill if Democrats tried to do any good Build Back Better stuff. So it appears the Democrats waited until right after the semiconductor bill passed to announce they were doing something Build Back Better-ish (i.e. good) after all. Maybe this will work out, assuming erratic “Democratic” Senator Krysten Sinema goes along, giving Senate Democrats the 50 votes they need (with Vice President Harris breaking the tie in the 50-50 Senate):

From Crooked Media’s free, informative, daily newsletter:

Dear readers, have we ever told you how wise and handsome we’ve always found Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to be? No? Well it’s totally true, and senator, if you’re reading this, you would look especially good allowing the passage of climate legislation that will prevent our country from simultaneously burning and drowning. 

In a surprise turn of events, Manchin and Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced today that they struck a deal on a domestic-spending package that includes climate and energy programs and tax increases on the wealthy. This is a breakthrough after more than a year of negotiations that looked all but dead two weeks ago when Manchin abruptly announced he would not support any new climate spending, because he was just too concerned about inflation, you guys!!! 

Manchin has been a thorn in the side of his Democratic colleagues, the main holdout on most of the progressive social policies the Biden administration had hoped to enact. In his somewhat-opaque statement, Manchin signaled support for climate and energy programs, as well as “adopting a tax policy that protects small businesses and working-class Americans while ensuring that large corporations and the ultra-wealthy pay their fair share in taxes.” Is this the same Joe Manchin we have come to know and mostly-disdain? Could it be?  

Well yes, it still mostly is the same old Joe. The bill agreed upon was titled the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 [eyes roll out of my head] and Manchin in his statement made sure to include a jab at the much more comprehensive Build Back Better, which he can now brag to his pals across the aisle about helping to kill. His statement also focuses mostly on inflation, and not the climate emergency or the many ills that Build Back Better was trying to treat. But for once I will resist dragging Joe’s ass too hard, because this bill is much better than the extremely-narrow drug-pricing package Dems were prepared to accept when it looked like Manchin was ready to walk away entirely last month.

And now that Fossil Fuel Joe is on board, the bill is much more likely to actually become law, and the bill is actually good [although we don’t know all the details yet].  

The climate provisions in the proposed bill are the largest fiscal piece of it, to the tune of $369 billion, which is good. All aspects of the bill—the reduction in energy and health care costs, and the deficit reduction—are anti-inflationary, which is also good. The bill allows Medicare to negotiate drug prices and lowers ACA premiums, and closes a whole host of tax loopholes with increased funding to the IRS, all without any regressive, shit-eating spending cuts you’d normally expect Congress to include in a big budget bill. We’re not sure where his change of heart came from (was he visited by three ghosts when he had covid this week?) but we’re not questioning it.  

Assuming Dems can pass the bill in the House and the Senate parliamentarian allows it to be approved with 51 votes (or 50 and a tie break from VP Harris) through the budget reconciliation process, this has a serious chance of becoming law as early as August. This would be a huge win for Democrats going into midterms, who will need every single win they can get. It will give them a concrete answer to voters rightly asking, “What have you done for me lately?” 

The bill faces a number of hurdles before it can become law, but White House Joe has signed off on it in a statement, so we thank you, Senate Joe, for your begrudging cooperation at last. Kyrsten Sinema don’t even FUCKING think about it.

An initial summary of the compromise bill.

The Dumbest Timeline

When did we stumble into the dumbest timeline? Maybe we did it in 1914 when the European powers blundered into a devastating world war. Maybe it was in 1964 when Barry Goldwater accepted the Republican nomination for president while claiming that “extremism in defense of liberty is no vice”. Or maybe it wasn’t until 2016 when a demagogic con man eked out a victory in the Electoral College. Regardless of when we got here, there’s strong evidence that that’s where (or when) we are. Jonathan Chait of New York Magazine offers two pieces of evidence:

First, the demise of Biden’s social policy agenda:

The most depressing thing about the demise of the Biden administration’s social-policy agenda — other than the demise itself, of course — is the atmosphere of sheer economic illiteracy that surrounded it. Critics of the measure, ultimately including Joe Manchin, made arguments against it that were not so much misguided as lacking any elemental grasp of the basic principles involved (“not even wrong”).

The main argument used against Biden’s plan was that it would worsen inflation, with conservatives scolding Biden for ignoring the sage insights of Larry Summers. To take just one example, pundit Marc Thiessen wrote that Biden signed an economic stimulus in March 2021 “despite warnings from even liberal economists, such as former Treasury secretary Lawrence H. Summers…. But instead of trying to tamp down the flames, Biden keeps trying to pour gasoline on the inferno, with more spending and more free money from Washington.” The tone of this column, like many of the right-wing polemics, is one of incredulous condescension: Biden is such a blithering idiot that he is ignoring the obvious conclusion and instead digging holes and pouring gasoline or whatever.

Whatever the case against Build Back Better, this was not it. The American Rescue Plan did contribute to inflation; its purpose was to stimulate demand by injecting deficit-financed spending into the economy. Build Back Better had a different purpose: to address social needs over a long period of time and finance that spending through taxation.

Spending financed by new taxes is not inflationary. That is why Summers himself endorsed Build Back Better. Yet [reactionaries] spent the better part of a year citing Summers as the authority on why Biden’s long-term plans would cause inflation, oblivious to the fact that any economist, very much including Summers, would say otherwise.

In deference to public concerns about inflation, Manchin ultimately reshaped the last version of the bill as an anti-inflationary measure. The plan would have raised $1 trillion in new revenue (or reduced spending) and used half the proceeds for deficit reduction. This would not have had a large effect on inflation, but there is no question that … it would place downward pressure on prices.

[Republicans] simply refused to acknowledge this aspect of the plan at all. In the end, even Manchin himself abandoned his own plan, which was designed in part to reduce inflation, on account of inflation, which is like deciding not to cut greenhouse-gas emissions because it’s too hot.

… When the 9.1% inflation number was released, Manchin [supposedly] said to Schumer, “Why can’t we wait a month to see if the numbers come down? How do you pour $1 trillion on that tempo with inflation?

Remember, $1 trillion is not the size of the spending in the bill; $1 trillion is the size of the revenue. That’s the pay-for aspect of the bill Manchin insisted on maintaining in order to fight inflation. The $1 trillion would not be poured onto economic growth. It would be poured out of economic growth.

In the end, Biden’s attempt to enact permanent social change died in an atmosphere in which the most ignorant fallacies carried the day.

Next, incoherence and derangement on gay marriage:

In 2004, the Republican Party was united in anger at the idea that judges would seize the issue of gay marriage from its rightful place in the legislative arena…..“The only question is whether the constitutional status of marriage will be determined by unelected judges or the American people,” claimed the Alliance for Marriage.

[Republicans] may finally get their wish. The matter of gay marriage is finally coming for a vote before what they have always insisted is its rightful venue: Congress. And yet, far from expressing gratitude that Congress is finally exerting its sacred Article III powers, conservatives are angry that elected officials are now meddling in business properly settled by the courts…..The old danger of activist judges has passed, and now conservative principle requires the party to take a stand against activist … legislators.

Congress is voting to codify same-sex marriage because the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade undercut the main legal theory that supported other unenumerated rights, including marriage equality….

It wasn’t long ago that opposition to gay marriage held pride of place atop the ideals of the right-wing firmament, second only to the strategic genius of the Bush administration’s “global war on terror” strategy. Conservatives thundered daily against the horrific terrors that would ensue if gay people were permitted to wed each other….

After their heroic stand at the gates of civilization failed, essentially none of the things conservatives warned would happen actually transpired. The cycle of failed prophecy is a familiar one for American conservatism. Every new social or economic reform, from the abolition of child labor to the establishment of Social Security to Obamacare, brings hysterical predictions of collapse that eventually give way to silent acceptance without any stage of reconsidering the failed mental model that produced the erroneous fears in the first place.

At the moment, the case against gay marriage has reached an awkward phase. Marriage equality has enough broad acceptance (around 70 percent support) that the party doesn’t wish to emphasize the issue. But the minority in opposition forms a large enough portion of their base that few Republicans wish to renounce their old stance completely.

Hence the incentive to declare the matter an improper subject for public debate. Unable to take a stand either in favor or against the marriage-equality bill, Republicans are instead directing their arguments … against the Democrats for bringing it up at all….

Finally, an exchange on Twitter between a right-wing blogger and a history professor:

Blogger: Remember when they spent years telling us to panic over the hole in the ozone layer and then suddenly just stopped talking about it and nobody ever mentioned the ozone layer again? This was also back during the time when they scared school children into believing “acid rain” was a real and urgent threat.

Professor: The ozone hole and acid rain. Two things that were LITERALLY fixed by science-led, globally-coordinated, long-term, concrete international action. It’s like being held hostage by the world’s stupidest serial-killer.

When Will We Build Back Better? And What Will We Do?

“Build Back Better”. It’s not a great slogan, but Biden’s BBB bill will be passed eventually. It won’t be as sensible as what Biden originally proposed. A few “conservative” or flaky congressional Democrats insisted on making it worse. But it will make a difference in millions of lives when it finally becomes law.

Democrats in the House say they want to pass it this coming week, which means by Thursday, November 18. Then, however, both the House and Senate take another much needed break until the end of November. Assuming House Democrats do their job next week, Senate Democrats will then have two weeks to do theirs, before it’s break time again.  Unless Senate Democrats approve it by December 10, it won’t get done until 2022 (we really are living in the future). 

Almost all the news about BBB has been about the spending side of the bill, leaving out the popular offsetting taxes the bill would impose on corporations and people with plenty of cash to spare. The other thing the news has mostly ignored is what the bill would do. A relatively objective and nonpartisan group called the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has kindly provided the list below. The CFRB concludes it would have a small effect on the federal deficit in its present form. In the long run, they say it would have a bigger effect, assuming all the temporary parts of the bill are made permanent. But there’s no doubt whatsoever these things are worth doing and we can afford to do them (unlike the last Republican tax cut, for example, which wasn’t worth doing and made good things like BBB less easy to afford).

What’s in the Build Back Better Act?

Policy Cost/Savings (-)
Family Benefits  $585 billion
Provide universal pre-k & establish an affordable child care program (6 years) $390 billion
Establish a paid family and medical leave program $195 billion
Climate & Infrastructure  $555 billion
Invest in clean energy & climate resilience $220 billion
Establish or expand clean energy & electric tax credits $190 billion
Establish or expand clean fuel & vehicle tax credits $60 billion
Establish or expand other climate-related tax benefits $75 billion
Enact infrastructure & related tax breaks $10 billion
Individual Tax Credits & Cuts $210 billion
Extend Child Tax Credit (CTC) increase to $3,000 ($3,600 for kids under 6) for one year $130 billion
Make CTC fully refundable for 2023 & beyond $55 billion
Extend expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for one year  $15 billion
Other individual tax changes $10 billon
Health Care  $335 billion
Strengthen Medicaid home- and community-based services $150 billion
Extend expanded Affordable Care Act (ACA) premium tax credits & make premium tax credits available to those in Medicaid coverage gap through 2025 $125 billion
Establish Medicare hearing benefit $30 billion
Invest in the health care workforce $30 billion
Other Spending & Tax Cuts  $310 billion
Build & support affordable housing $170 billion
Increase higher education & workforce spending $40 billion
Other spending & investments $100 billion
Reduce or Delay TCJA Base Broadening $290 billion
Increase SALT deduction cap to $80,000 through 2025 $285 billion+
Delay amortization of research & experimentation expenses until 2026 $5 billion’
Enact Immigration Reform  ~$100 billion
Subtotal, Build Back Better Act Spending & Tax Breaks  $2.4 trillion
Increase Corporate Taxes -$830 billion 
Impose a 15 percent domestic minimum tax on large corporations -$320 billion
Impose a 15 percent global minimum tax & reform international taxation -$280 billion
Impose a 1 percent surcharge on corporate stock buybacks -$125 billion
Enact other corporate tax reforms -$105 billion
Increase Individual Taxes on High Earners  -$640 billion
Expand the 3.8 percent Net Investment Income Tax -$250 billion
Impose a 5 percent surtax on income above $10 million & an 8 percent surtax on income above $25 million -$230 billion
Extend and expand limits on deductibility of business losses -$160 billion
Other Revenue -$170 billion
Reduce the tax gap by funding IRS & other measures -$125 billion*
Reinstate superfund taxes on oil -$25 billion
Expand nicotine taxes -$10 billion
Reform tax treatment of retirement accounts -$10 billion
Health Care -$250 billion
Repeal Trump Administration drug rebate rule -$150 billion
Reform Part D formula, cap drug price growth, & allow targeted drug price negotiations -$100 billion
Establish $80,000 SALT deduction cap from 2026 through 2030 & $10,000 cap in 2031 -$300 billion+
Subtotal, Build Back Better Act Offsets  -$2.2 trillion
Net Deficit Increase, House Build Back Better Act  ~$200 billion
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