Thursday, September 23, 2021


Two of these states are Arizona and West Virginia. Via Data For Progress.

I'm starting to get too anxious. I'm anxious about going back to the office, which I keep putting off week by week, not because I think we won't be adequately protected against Covid (the protocols look very good) or not wisely but too well protected (hybrid Zoom meeting today had unmasked people gathered around my desk that I haven't sat in for 19 months, and I knew everybody was vaccinated) but because I'm afraid I may have become too weird. Or incompetent (I've had two tech emergencies in two days that involved endless hours of head-desking panic before I realized they involved tasks I've figured out and done before). Or unable to skip my mid-afternoon nap.

And I'm really anxious about politics, with the sense that, as Steve says, 

Biden is the third Democratic president in a row who thought he could outmaneuver Republicans and turncoat Democratic centrists so they couldn't sabotage his presidency in its first two years. Barack Obama got a healthcare plan out of that period at least, but he and Bill Clinton both spent the next six years playing defense while Republicans (and some Democrats) acted as if they were illegitimate usurpers.

And the next time Republicans have control of the White House as well as Congress, I assume they'll pass election laws that make it impossible for another Democrat to ever win the presidency again. Biden is fighting a two-front war -- as he should have known he would -- but he has to win it, or we lose. He's not winning now.

Biden's entire agenda is on the line over the next couple of weeks or so, with the dual infrastructure bills and Klobuchar's voting rights proposal, and if they don't pass there may not be a chance for Congress to do anything worth doing between now and the 2022 midterms, and there are only two things that can influence the midterms to go the Democrats' way: the programs passed in the infrastructure bills, which, as I keep saying, really can shake the electorate as the vote comes up that fall (road crews! child tax credit!), and elimination of Republican bias through legislative vote suppression and gerrymandering. Our voters need to see good things happening; theirs don't care what happens as long as there's a punch line ("libs suck"). 

And Republicans will work to rig the federal electoral system permanently if they take over Congress in 2022, as seems more than a little likely at the moment—once again, presidential parties don't improve their positions in the midterms of a first term, with the single exception of 1934, a time of serious social crisis, after the Roosevelt administration had demonstrated that it really could do something big. 

That's why the Build Back Better agenda is so politically important. Obamacare was a B.F.D. too, but the present package is BIG, and already extremely popular, including the hike in taxes on the rich, if these survive the ongoing assault. We want to do everything in the agenda because the people want and need it, but we have to do something—we have to do as much of it as humanly possible—now, because if we don't we won't get another chance. 

That is, the only hope of doing more than whatever gets done now is if whatever gets done now is big enough, 1934-style, to give Democrats two more years of congressional control. Otherwise, it's two more years of stasis under majority leader Mitch McConnell followed by the permanent minority rule that Republicans have been planning, whether with a President Zombie Trump or Ronald DeSantis or Donald Junior or whatever thug they want to put up—it really doesn't matter, from their party's perspective, who the president is. And a real end to all of our fitful progress in everything from healthcare to the health of the planet.

And it depends on the congressional passage of both parts of the package—the "bipartisan" infrastructure bill in the vote scheduled for next week, which Republicans are backing off of, and the reconciliation bill known as the "$3.5 trillion" bill (though it spends $350 billion a year and should offset every dollar with tax revenue) still being written, the former threatened by the 95 members of the Progressive Caucus who fear if they vote for it the "moderate" rump of nine or so House Democrats will renege on their promises to vote for the latter.

That's why I'm starting to look seriously at a set of proposals Ed Kilgore just released for breaking the logjam:

With the clock running down on the endgame for the 2021 legislative saga, Biden and his closest congressional allies really need to adopt a strategy and demand universal support for it right now, even if that means some backtracking by congressional factions. If the infrastructure bill is going to be salvaged, Biden has to bluntly tell progressives the days of “linkage” between reconciliation and infrastructure are now over: The infrastructure bill will be on the House floor next week and it has to pass. But at the same time, Biden needs to tell centrists that while he and Pelosi and Schumer will listen to everyone’s point of view on reconciliation, he needs commitments of support now for the final product, and to threaten permanent ostracism by the entire federal government (within the limits of the law) for anyone who refuses to comply.

This is unfair. The "moderates" are now a tiny faction who don't represent any significant segment of the electorate (they're chasing after Republican voters but there's no evidence they have them, except for Manchin)—most of the Democratic leadership, including President Biden and Majority Leader Schumer, is fully on board with the progressive program, which was central to Biden's presidential campaign. And they've been negotiating in endlessly bad faith. And as Josh Marshall is saying in regard to the Kilgore piece,

given the antics of the last six months from Manchin and Sinema, that’s a helluva lot of trust to put in the process for progressives to pass the mini-bill on the basis of promises. I don’t get why the bill absolutely has to get voted on next week. As I’ve written in other posts, the whole idea that this is the progressives or the Progressive Caucus vs Manchin and Sinema is just off. The coupled bills is the President’s agenda and its supported by the overwhelming majority of Democrats in Congress. Are Manchin and Sinema ready to give those assurances? Is Biden in a position to enforce them?

It's clear that they can't be trusted. But we might, in the end, have no choice. As Josh adds,

But the reality is that public infighting between different factions is about to lead the Democrats to pure calamity in every way.

He goes on to express the hope that there are really a million ways to work out the timing, and that the most important element in Kilgore's idea it's that Biden has to take control of the process and be the one who extracts assurances from both "sides", the Democrats' side, fighting for the president's agenda, and the anti-Democrats' side, fighting against it, for reasons they've never been able to clarify, except to complain that they don't like the number "3.5 trillion". À propos, there's another condition I'd like to add, that I think I got from Pramila Jayapal: that the "moderates" have to come up with not just objections to "$3.5 trillion" but specific proposals: which programs in the Biden agenda do they want to drop? Let their constituents know that they've decided to drop childcare, or whatever it turns out to be, and take responsibility to it.

In the end, I'm a little heartened by the calm of some of the old hands:

“We are on schedule — that’s all I will say,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters after meeting with Mr. Biden for more than an hour. “We’re calm, and everybody’s good, and our work’s almost done.”

But Democrats conceded that the process was painful.

“When you’ve got 50 votes and none to lose, and you’ve got three to spare in the House, there’s a lot of give and take — that’s just the way it is,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is chairman of the Budget Committee. “It’s tough. But I think at the end of the day, we’re going to be fine.”

But it's really getting stressful.

Update: This just showed up (confirmed on NPR); an agreement on the revenue side of the reconciliation bill, but we don't yet have any idea what's in it.

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