Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Mustache of Conciliation and Compromise


Old Tom Friedman bothsidesing the Democrats internally ("Do Democrats Have the Courage of Liz Cheney?"):

I have only one question for them: Are you ready to risk a lot less than Liz Cheney did to do what is necessary right now — from your side — to save our democracy?

Because, when one party in our two-party system completely goes rogue, it falls on the other party to act. Democrats have to do three things at the same time: advance their agenda, protect the integrity of our elections and prevent this unprincipled Trump-cult version of the G.O.P. from ever gaining national power again.

It is a tall order and a wholly unfair burden in many ways. But if Cheney is ready to risk everything to stop Trump, then Democrats — both moderates and progressives — must rise to this moment and forge the majorities needed in the Senate and House to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill (now scheduled for a Thursday vote in the House), a voting rights bill and as much of the Build Back Better legislation as moderate and progressives can agree on.

I guess Rep. Gottheimer (leading the tiny rump in the House who say they won't vote for the human-insfrastructure bill unless they get to vote for the structural-infrastructure bill first, but refuse to say whether they will vote for the former if they get their way on the latter) might think he's already doing the same kind of thing as Cheney when she voted to impeach Big Donald—fearlessly bucking his party.

Of course he'd be completely wrong; that's not displaying any particular Cheney-type courage, in the sense that he isn't risking anything as far as reelection goes—he thinks he's doing exactly what his constituents in suburban North Jersey want, focusing on the deficit-financed roads and bridges and tunnels in the bipartisan bill (which you'll understand if you've been on a New Jersey highway any time in the last 20 years) and detaching himself from the things that involve spending tax money, unless it's spending tax money on the exorbitant demands of drug makers, who traditionally make up an outsize part of the state's economy. David Wildstein (yes, Christopher Christie's old high school friend and unpardoned felon, now founder and editor-in-chief of an online newspaper, the New Jersey Globe) reported on a poll from early September:

Asked about spending programs under consideration by Congress, 59% said “the federal government needs to spend responsibly to keep the national debt and inflation in check,” while 37% believe “the federal government should spend as much as it takes to help the post-pandemic economic recovery.”

Of the proposals, 30% of voters rank infrastructure projects – including rebuilding roads and bridges – as their top priority.  That’s followed by health care reform (19%)....

When voters learned about proposals to eliminate the non-interference clause in Medicare, Eighty percent (80%) agreed that the federal government shouldn’t be interfering with what medicines are available to people with Medicare and that there are better ways to lower what seniors pay for medicine.

The "noninterference clause" is the bit of the Medicare Part D law that prohibits the federal government from negotiating drug prices—interfering in the operation of its own program. And Gottheimer's almost certainly politically safe, though he is probably wrong about the economic value of coddling the pharmaceuticals industry, which has been abandoning the state wholesale for the last 25 years. (He'd be smarter to worry about the money his voters will be paying for drugs themselves as the state's population rapidly ages, which is what they were mostly thinking about as recently as July, according to the local polls.) 

On the other hand, Friedman isn't actually asking him to do anything. It is the members of the House Progressive Caucus he is asking to surrender their leverage tomorrow and vote for the bill Gottheimer wants in the hope that he might vote for the bill he doesn't seem to like very much a few weeks later, or, as Friedman says, "as much of it as he can agree on." While the Democratic party, from Biden, Schumer, and Pelosi down to Ilhan Omar and Ritchie Torres, already agrees on all of it, and has done so ever since Biden first proposed it during the 2020 presidential campaign. In other words, Friedman wants the party to give Gottheimer, Manchin, and Sinema a line-item veto,  and Gottheimer, Manchin, and Sinema to graciously accept it. That's a compromise?

Also, as Speaker Pelosi and Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal rightly keep complaining, they refuse to say what they "can agree on"—or what it is in the bill that they might object to, other than that number, $3.5 trillion, that seems to spook them (though Manchin said he was OK with $4 trillion in January):

REP. JAYAPAL [on Face the Nation]: Yeah, you know, what we've said is we are happy to hear what it is that somebody wants to cut. They- so far, we have not seen any negotiation back from the Senate, and we understand, Margaret, that we've got to get every Democrat on board in the House and the Senate. We don't have the margins to do anything except that. So, we've put out our vision. And I think the key thing is not the top line number. It's what is it that you actually want to fund because if you want childcare, if you want paid leave, if you want to take on climate change, if you want to repair housing in this country, if you want to make sure people have health care, there's going to be a price tag that goes with it.... 

But President Biden also said something very important the other day, which is this is a zero-dollar bill because it's going to be completely paid for with taxes on the wealthiest and the largest corporations.

What does Gottheimer "want" to cut? He dropped a hint or two back in August as to what he doesn't want to cut, which includes a tax cut on the wealthiest:
our next major priority — called “budget reconciliation” — which will include reinstating the State and Local Tax Deduction (SALT); adding hearing, vision, and dental benefits as part of Medicare; increasing support for child care; and implementing critical climate protections and other important provisions. That bill hasn’t even been written yet, and it will take time to consider it appropriately.
That is: under the original Trumpy tax cuts the SALT deduction was to be eliminated to punish blue states for their high and progressive taxation policies, but bad publicity persuaded his people to put a cap on the deduction instead, at $10,000 in state and local taxes, and the Gottheimer proposal is to lift the cap (rather than raising it so that only the wealthiest will lose the deduction); half the benefits of removing it will go to taxpayers making more than $1 million a year, and the whole thing will cost the Treasury around $90 billion a year. The big thing Gottheimer doesn't mention at all, in contrast, is the fully funded child tax credit, which mostly goes to couples making under $150,000 or single parents making less than $75,000. 

So it looks like what he "wants" is to transfer $90 billion or more a year from the bottom 60% of earners to the top 5%, being such a middle-class "moderate" and all, and if that's the case, it's no wonder he doesn't want to talk about it. Until he does, though, members of the Progressive Caucus are right to hold on to the only bargaining chip they have for whenever the rump decides they are ready to start bargaining, which they haven't yet done, as Jonathan Chait explains this morning:
the progressives are begging the centrists to meet them somewhere in the middle. The centrists — really, just the tiny handful of holdouts — are refusing to negotiate, threatening to torpedo the entire Biden presidency if they don’t get exactly what they want.

Meanwhile, lives are at stake. Rep. Ritchie Torres was saying on the radio, "Build Back Better is too big to fail. The child tax credit is too big to fail. Letting it go throws ten million children into poverty." He was too polite to add, and cui bono?

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