Whereof One Can Speak 🇺🇦 🇺🇦 🇺🇦

Nothing special, one post at a time since 2012

Finally

With Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote, Senate Democrats accomplished something important today, over the solid opposition of their Republican colleagues. It’s a big deal. The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives now needs to approve the bill. It’s hard to imagine that won’t happen.

First, however, it should be noted that news people can’t resist attaching a dollar amount to a bill like this. The Guardian, for example, has this headline:

Senate passes $739bn healthcare and climate bill after months of wrangling.

You have to read the article to figure out what the $739 billion refers to. Is it what the government will spend? Over what period of time? Or is it what the government will collect in new taxes? When will that happen? It’s a really dumb way to point out that it’s a big piece of legislation.

Much more helpfully, here’s how The Washington Post began its analysis of the bill:

Major changes to the Affordable Care Act. The nation’s biggest-ever climate bill. The largest tax hike on corporations in decades. And dozens of lesser-known provisions that will affect millions of Americans.

The legislation Democrats muscled through the Senate on Sunday would represent one of the most consequential pieces of economic policy in recent U.S. history.

The article includes the Congressional Budget Office’s most recent analysis of what the bill will do in coming years.

There will be new spending and tax breaks amounting to $385 billion on green energy and the climate crisis (including rebates for electric vehicles and other technology) and $100 billion for improved healthcare.

There will be increased taxes and other revenue totaling $470 billion from a new 15% minimum tax on corporations, a tax on companies buying their own stock, and a strengthened IRS, plus $320 billion in mostly drug-related healthcare savings (including allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices).

$485 billion in spending and tax breaks and $790 billion in revenue and savings (roughly the Guardian’s number) equates to a reduction of $305 billion in the federal deficit. Lowering the federal deficit and lower prices on things like prescription drugs and green technology justified calling it the Inflation Reduction Act, although “Deficit and Inflation Reduction” would have been more accurate.

For now, a few comments. From Paul Krugman:

This was a victory for urgently needed policy. Democrats came into power with a three-part agenda: climate, infrastructure, and social programs [they delivered on infrastructure with a bit of Republican help last year].

They just delivered on the first, which was the most crucial — and no, it wasn’t far less than they sought. It accomplished most of the original objective [it’s estimated that this bill delivers about 80% of the cumulative emissions reductions over 10 years that that Biden’s original  Build Back Better plan would have].

What got lost were the extensive social programs. That’s a tragedy; we could have virtually eliminated child poverty, among other things [except Sen. Joe Manchin was opposed to doing that]. Even there, this bill expanded the enhanced subsidies that have helped bring the percentage of the uninsured to a record low.

But overall, it’s a remarkable record for a party with 50 senators and a relentlessly obstructionist opposition [and two obstructive Democrats, Manchin and Sinema].

From a Washington Post reporter:

Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii is visibly emotional and wiping away tears after final passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. “This is a planetary emergency, and this is the first time the federal government has taken action that is worthy of the moment,” he tells reporters. “Now I can look my kids in the eye.”

And just to keep in mind who Republican politicians represent, this is from Rolling Stone:

“Republicans have just gone on the record in favor of expensive insulin,” Sen. Ron Wyden said after Republicans voted to remove an insulin price cap from the Inflation Reduction Act. “After years of tough talk about taking on insulin makers, Republicans have once against wilted in the face of heat from Big Pharma.”

Democrats needed 60 votes, according to Senate math, in order to keep the private insurance cap in the Inflation Reduction Act. While seven Republicans voted to retain the cap, that was still three senators short of the 60 needed.

Around 37.3 million Americans, 11.3 percent of the population, have diabetes. … Insulin is a “catastrophic” expense for 14 percent of the seven million Americans who need it daily, according to a Yale University study. That means those 14 percent are spending at least 40 percent of their monthly income (after paying for food and housing) on insulin.

The goods news is that the bill — at least for the moment — maintained a $35 per month cap on insulin costs for people on Medicare.

Need I mention there’s an election in three months? Make sure you’re registered and vote for Democrats up and down the ballot!

A Tax Break That Will Never Die: Part 2 (Humorous Edition)

A few minutes ago, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer began the process of passing the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act. Among other things, it will make the tax system fairer and give more Americans access to healthcare. It also includes provisions dealing with the climate crisis that are big enough to please Al Gore:

The Inflation Reduction Act has the potential to be a historic turning point. It represents the single largest investment in climate solutions & environmental justice in US history. Decades of tireless work by climate advocates across the country led to this moment.

No deal is perfect and we need many more actions to solve the climate crisis. Yet, this bill is a long overdue and necessary step to ensure the US takes decisive action on the climate crisis that helps our economy and provides leadership for the world by example.

But Al Gore isn’t very funny. Alexandra Petri, who writes for The Washington Post, is. Yesterday, she channeled Krysten Sinema, the “Democratic” senator from Arizona with a unique approach to legislation:

Just to be clear: I do want to reform the carried interest tax loophole! I am so excited to work on it. Sounds bad! Seems bad! It is a no-good, rotten thing, and I don’t want it to keep existing. I look forward to legislating it away. That being said, if you remove it right now, in this Inflation Reduction Act, I will vote against it, and I will torpedo the whole bill.

Why? Whimsy! I just wanted to leave my own special Kyrsten Sinema touch on the bill!

I am a manic pixie dream senator who wants to make this bill slow down and embrace life! Everyone else is sitting there in their penguin outfits in neutral tones! Their idea of a fun, whimsical thing to do is a vote-a-rama! At most, they will go sit on a yacht for a brief time. Not me; I’m different! And I’m here to make sure this bill is different, too.

Inflation Reduction Act, why are you so staid and straightforward? Look at you, sitting there just closing tax loopholes for hedge funds! And you’ve got that across-the-board 15 percent tax on corporations. Don’t you know that corporations can sometimes be friends? Maybe not all corporations deserve an across-the-board tax. Some corporations are really chill, actually, and other corporations are donors and sometimes a private equity firm has a whole other side you might not have expected, if you just give it a chance!

Maybe, you’re so busy closing loopholes that you forgot how to be open. Maybe you need to open up, actually, those loopholes, please. That’s why I’m here: Someone’s got to be just that little bit random, conveniently in a way that consistently involves decreasing the amount of money corporations and the absurdly wealthy pay in taxes.

Sometimes you see a bill and you see how hard that bill is working to do good. That poor bill looks exhausted, doing so much! Reducing carbon emissions and decreasing the deficit and lowering ACA premiums and — and — and! And you’re like, “Bill! Relax! You don’t need to do it all! What you need to do is to stop and smell the roses. Or the rosés, like at the private equity-adjacent winery where I interned in 2020 — while serving as senator! Unrelatedly, do we really need to close the carried-interest tax loophole now? Maybe, actually, we need to live a little.”

I can be the friend this bill needs to urge it to run through a sprinkler at dusk and spin around on a beach listening to the Shins. It’ll be like Amelie, but if instead of freeing garden gnomes from people’s yards, we liberated them from pesky taxes, and if instead of gnomes, those were the account books of private equity firms! You know what they say: Is it really quirky and spontaneous if it doesn’t coincidentally also happen to benefit corporations and hedge funds? Maybe, but we can’t take that chance!

Think about who stands to gain from this bill: Lots of people! People who want to have a nice habitable planet in the future! People who want to pay lower health-care premiums! People who want lower inflation! But now think about the people whom this bill will make sad: hedge funders!

Doesn’t that make you sad? Can’t we do something nice for the hedge funders, too, just — ’cause? We’d better, though, or I won’t support it.

Come, bill! Come put your toes in the grass and run through the rain with me, and also, just for fun, let’s make certain that the new 15 percent minimum tax on corporations doesn’t affect that particular corporation! Or that one! Or that one! I’m pointing randomly, I swear! Just from whimsy, again, my driving feature! But I am finding exemptions — a lot of them!

I don’t know what life is all about, but it’s too short not to do what you can to prevent wealthy corporations and private equity firms from paying taxes. And then we’ll go dance in the moonlight and make a sound nobody has heard before.

Ready? I’ll start, by saying a sentence that has never been said: “I think this loophole that allows private equity firms to pay less than their fair share in taxes should be left open!” Hahaha, wow, I can’t believe I just said that! Maybe no one will ever say it again! Except me. Who knows? I might say it lots of times!

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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.

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