Thursday, September 16, 2021

This One Weird Trick


On Monday, Robert Kuttner/The American Prospect reported a really interesting little development in the reconciliation negotiations: the idea for a kind of finesse that would allow both Senator Manchin and the House progressives to claim a victory.

The idea his Hill sources were telling him about involved a key element of the Build Back Better proposals, the extension of the American Rescue Plan's one-year fully funded child tax credit for $3000 per child ($3600 for a child under six), the second installment of which went out to households yesterday, and which is temporarily cutting our child poverty rate by nearly half. The House Ways and Means proposal is to keep it going through 2025 and then reduce it to $1000, which would be a shame (reducing the reduction in child poverty to 8%), but making the full credit "permanent" (i.e., though 2030) would cost another $700 billion.

Then it occurred to some bright spark that you didn't have to think of the money as "spending". Since it is fully paid to everybody up to a household income of $150,000 per couple (and partly up to $440,000), it can just as well be billed, accurately, as a "middle class tax cut". That plus the credits for childcare and for state and local taxes add up to as much as $1.5 trillion over the ten years, reducing that part that counts as spending to a $2 trillion, or $200 billion per year, the kind of number Manchin and the House "moderates" can live with—while progressives can say it's still $3.5 trillion over all and they've kept their promise.

Now, Kuttner says, there is another potential layer to the cake: if Manchin should agree to a one-time suspension of the filibuster rule for the new version, steered by Amy Klobuchar, of a surprisingly robust voting rights bill:

“With the Freedom to Vote Act, the entire voting rights working group, including Senators Manchin and Merkley, is united behind legislation that will set basic national standards to make sure all Americans can cast their ballots in the way that works best for them, regardless of what zip code they live in. This bill will ensure Americans can request a mail-in ballot, have at least 15 days of early voting, and can register to vote on Election Day,” said Klobuchar. 

“I want to thank Senator Schumer for his leadership pulling together the working group that got this legislation across the finish line and Senator Manchin for his work on this crucial bill. Now let’s get it done,” Klobuchar concluded.

Manchin has been insisting he can get ten Republicans to vote for this, but if he really believes that he's nuts: it has everything in it that Republicans have been working to stop. It's at least as likely that he's preparing for his one-day abandonment of the filibuster. Just as in June he suddenly discovered that his conscience might permit him to vote for a reconciliation bill, in spite of his hatred for partisan legislation—
"I've come to the knowledge, basically, that budget reconciliation is for reconciling budgets. So it's money matters," Manchin told NBC News, calling for bolstering "human infrastructure" — Biden's term for investments in child care, community college and paid leave — and raising tax revenues to fund them.

—so he may very soon "come to the knowledge" that it's OK for a simple majority to end debate and move to a vote on voting rights; and in return thank Schumer for figuring out a way to put that $1.5-trillion  "middle class tax cut" into the reconciliation bill, which is no longer a $3.5-trillion bill, at least unless you kind of squint at it from the left side, as you and I will do.

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