Whereof One Can Speak 🇺🇦 🇺🇦 🇺🇦

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Almost Anyone Can Be a U.S. Senator (There May Be New Evidence Pretty Soon)

The Constitution has three requirements to be a member of the U.S. Senate. You have to be at least 30 years old, have been a U.S. citizen for at least 9 years, and — by the time of the election — live in the state you will represent (so it’s perfectly fine if you live in New Jersey but, for some vague reason, are running for the Senate in Pennsylvania). Competence and interest in the job aren’t required.

Paul Waldman of The Washington Post asks what it means that a well-known, former football player (who meets the three qualifications) is running for the Senate in Georgia:

In the race for U.S. Senate in Georgia, Republican nominee Herschel Walker is forcing people to ask: Just how clueless is too clueless to serve in Congress? And what would it mean if our national legislature was filled with people like Walker?

The former football star’s campaign has been a series of howlers and head-scratchers, the latest of which is his argument against the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act: “They continue to try to fool you that they are helping you out. But they’re not … Because a lot of money it’s going to trees … Don’t we have enough trees around here?”

The possibility that Georgians are fed up with all their trees notwithstanding, no one says that Walker is the first office-seeker to lack even the most rudimentary understanding of policy or the issues he would confront. And there is in fact some money in the IRA to promote trees, including urban “heat islands” where a lack of shade trees increases temperatures.

But Walker’s comments on policy have been particularly colorful, including his thoughts on China hurting our environment by taking “our good air” and his proposal to address school shootings with “a department that can look at young men that’s looking at women that’s looking at social media.” Then there’s his recent debunking of evolution: “If that is true, why are there still apes? Think about it.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently predicted his party might not win control of the chamber, saying “candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome” of these races. No one doubted that Walker was one of the candidates he had in mind.

Yet Walker is hardly the only one; since so much rides on former president T____’s endorsement in Republican primaries and the most important qualification for winning that endorsement is an embrace of his conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, from coast to coast we’ve seen the party’s nominations won by crackpots and halfwits, perhaps more than ever before.

What would it mean if a bunch of these people actually won?

The greatest danger lies in executive positions such as governor and secretary of state, where they would have the power to steal elections and create all kinds of other disasters. But it’s not immediately clear that a Republican-controlled Congress dominated by the party’s worst and dimmest would be appreciably different from one led by its best and brightest, or at the very least its marginally clever.

There are multiple ways to be a terrible legislator, and being a dolt is only one of them. For instance, until 2021, Georgia was represented in the Senate by Republican David Perdue, who in his six years in the chamber wrote just a few bills that became law, including one to create a parking lot at the National Zoo and another renaming a post office. Georgians were left to wonder what, if anything, Perdue was actually doing in Washington, and when given the chance they tossed him out.

Perdue wasn’t too dumb to legislate; the job just didn’t seem to grab his interest. The truth is that while it doesn’t hurt to be smart if you’re a senator, you don’t have to be. You can let other people write the laws, and just have your party’s leadership or the hosts on Fox News tell you which way to vote when the time comes.

Today’s Republican Party also contains a cadre of extremely smart politicians educated at the most prestigious universities, people such as Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas (Princeton undergrad, Harvard Law School), Tom Cotton of Arkansas (Harvard undergrad and law school) and Josh Hawley of Missouri (Stanford undergrad, Yale Law School), who spend most of their time trying to Own the Libs, because they see that as the path to success in their party.

Which may be the smart thing to do if you’re a Republican who wants to run for president. And it shows the problem: When there are few incentives to do the hard work of legislating to address complex policy challenges, even the smart people see advantage in pretending to be stupid.

There’s a critical imbalance here as well: As members of the party that believes in government, Democrats know their supporters expect them to produce results, and as we’ve seen this year, that takes a lot of doing. Some may be better at it than others, but all are expected to demonstrate their commitment to the process.

Liberal voters also tend to value intellect in a way conservative voters just don’t. They may not always choose the smartest person (if they did, Sen. Elizabeth Warren would have been their 2020 presidential nominee). But they’re far less likely to fall for a politician telling them that all their problems can be solved by nurturing their resentment of supposedly snooty “elites.”

So the truth is that while Walker would probably displace Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) as the widely acknowledged dopiest member of the Senate if he were elected, that’s not why he’s such a threat. It’s not even Walker’s extraordinary record of telling easily disprovable lies. It’s the fact that if he wins it could mean Congress being in control of a party that elevates people like him.

The problem isn’t Walker, it’s that the Republican Party is dominated by politicians who in one way or another resemble him. His party doesn’t just tolerate ignorance and dishonesty, it often seems to want nothing more….

Unquote.

According to the FiveThirtyEight site, Georgia opinion polls say the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock (a longtime Baptist minister and political activist with a PhD in theology, who has never threatened his wife with a gun, hasn’t lied about how many children he has and has never played football for the University of Georgia), has a small lead over Herschel Walker, after trailing in the Spring.

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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.

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.

What He Knew and When He Knew It

Charles Pierce of Esquire points out a big difference between the Watergate scandal and the attempted coup that led to January 6th:

As it happens, Tuesday was a kind of anniversary. On June 28, 1973, Senator Howard Baker, Jr. (R-Tenn) of the Senate Select Committee On Presidential Campaign Practices —the Watergate committee — began his questioning of former White House counsel John Dean, who had spent several days laying out with bloodless precision what would become known as “the White House horrors”. Baker asked the question that made him famous.

The central question at this point is simply put: What did the President know and when did he know it?

Nobody asked Cassidy Hutchinson that question. It was moot. The answer, as she spent Tuesday telling the committee, was “Everything” and “Immediately”.

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