Friday, October 22, 2021

The Soul of Moderation

Drawing by Hugh Lofting of Dr, Dolittle and his creatures, with the Pushmi-Pullyu at left.

Another day, another confusing story on the mysterious views of Senator Sinema. Yesterday, a leaker speaking to Politico asserted that she had agreed to accept some kind of tax program to fund somewhere around $2 trillion for the reconciliation bill—

"Senator Sinema has agreed to provisions in each of President Biden's four proposed revenue categories — international, domestic corporate, high net worth individuals, and tax enforcement — providing sufficient revenue to fully pay for a budget reconciliation package in the range currently being discussed."

— A source familiar with the discussions

—but then House Ways and Means chair Richard Neal came away from a 40-minute conversation with her on the subject unsure whether she had anything specific in mind at all, though he was convinced she was ready to make a deal:

Neal said he made the case for keeping both the corporate tax hike and the international minimum tax in the package. Sinema did not agree, he said, but nor did she push back. 

"I made the argument for efficiency in tax policy, and the way you do that is simplicity of corporate increases, and pointed out that not only are they efficient, but they weren't punitive — [that] this was still good pro-growth economics," Neal said. 

"She didn't say no, she just listened to what I had to say."

Meanwhile, President Biden had his own leak, in a town hall discussion on CNN

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She`s smart as the devil, number one. Number two, she`s very supportive of the environmental agenda in my legislation, very supportive. She`s supportive of almost all the things I mentioned relating to everything from family care to all those issues. Where she`s not supportive is she says she will not raise a single penny in taxes on the corporate side and/or on wealthy people, period, and so that`s where it sort of breaks down. (Transcript from MSNBC)

So well, hmm. And then there were the five veterans from a group that advises her on matters involving Arizona military members who resigned yesterday, with a really angry statement:

“You have become one of the principal obstacles to progress, answering to big donors rather than your own people,” the veterans wrote in a letter that is to be featured in a new advertisement by Common Defense, a progressive veterans’ activist group that has targeted Ms. Sinema.

“We shouldn’t have to buy representation from you, and your failure to stand by your people and see their urgent needs is alarming,” they added

Maybe the Politico leak was meant as a kind of counter to that, to suggest that the angry veterans were mistaken about her and in reality she is not an obstacle to progress at all, but merely plays an obstacle to progress on TV. Who knows? I started out getting pretty excited, in conjunction with some other startling statements in the MSNBC coverage on the state of play,

O`DONNELL: Today, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seemed to say that the Democrats might be able to reach an agreement on the basic outlines of the Biden social infrastructure bill tomorrow. Today, Senator Jon Tester said there could be an agreement tomorrow.

but now I'm pretty much “¯\_(ツ)_/¯“.

Something that's occurring to me is that "moderates" are funny people. The two Senate "moderates" on whom the Biden agenda seems to depend don't represent a point of view. In fact, they don't actually agree on more or less anything, at least according to the rumors on what Sinema thinks, for which little evidence exists:

  • Manchin feels whatever programs he agrees to allow in the bill must be fully offset by taxes, and even voted against Trump's 2017 cuts, but Sinema opposes (as a matter of principle, however negotiable that turns out to be) raising taxes for the legislation by "a single penny";
  • Manchin is at least theoretically in favor of allowing Medicare to negotiate prices with manufacturers of drugs and medical devices (in spite of his own daughter, the notorious Epi-Pen profiteer), while Sinema (along with the Gottheimer faction in the House) is dead against it;
  • Manchin is a merciless opponent of the Clean Electricity Payment Program at the heart of Biden's long-term program for eventually eliminating fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy sources, Sinema cheerfully backs it (though she has sometimes been reported as wanting to cut the climate change proposals by $100 billion, which does not sound much like support);
  • Sinema likes the extension of the child tax credit, Manchin is horrified by the moral hazard recipients will encounter unless they are forced to take the jobs that don't exist in their communities;
  • Sinema opposes expanding Medicare to provide seniors with dental, hearing, and vision care, and Manchin doesn't mind it at all as long as only poor people get it;
  • Sinema seems to have problems with the universal pre-K program, Manchin created one when he was governor of West Virginia...

In this way, you can't really construct a bill to satisfy one of them without losing the other one. While the "progressive" faction, uniting Biden and Schumer with Sanders and Jayapal, has been able to arrive at a unified proposal, the "moderate" faction can't make a unified critique. Which one, actually, should we compromise with? Will the real moderate please stand up?

Or perhaps we should think of them as a tag team, or Pushmi-Pullyu, dedicated to making sure nothing ever happens at all. Perhaps that's what moderates really believe, that it's always better to keep debating than to come to a vote on anything. No wonder they're so unwilling to give up on the filibuster—it's the soul of moderation!

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