Thursday, December 16, 2021

Something is happening and I don't know what it is

So many signals and so much noise I don't even know who to quote on these developments. Maybe Uncle Dick—

—but I'm getting the impression that the whole strategy in Congress and in the White House has turned upside down, with the BBB mess entirely postponed until the new year and some kind of voting rights bill replacing it as the administration's before-Christmas target, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. Are there commitments from Manchin and Sinema to skip the filibuster on voting rights legislation? Manchin yesterday seemed to be saying no, nothing's changed as far as he's concerned:

“A rules change should be done to where we all have input . . . because we’re all going to live with it,” he told reporters Wednesday. “Because we’ll be in the minority sometime.”

And Sinema as well. Even though they both seemed perfectly cheerful about ignoring the filibuster rule to raise the debt ceiling, as Senator Warnock noted:

“I’m struck by the speed with which we decided to change the rules when it came to the economy,” he told reporters, referring to the one-time exemption for the debt ceiling. “But this has dragged on for months. Our democracy is clearly in peril.”

Warnock said that he had spoken to Democrats, including Manchin, over the weekend but that “Democrats have to decide — first of all it's a moral question — but how do you tell the people, as they did in January and in November, to stand up and use their power and their voice if we won’t use ours?”

But then the point is that the Republicans actually wanted the debt ceiling bill to pass; they just didn't want to be seen voting for it. This wasn't a victory of some kind over Republicans, where we boldly thwarted their evil plans by blowing up their fiercest weapon. This was the usual Democratic approach of dutifully getting the damn job done while the Republicans got the chance to preen and reinforce their anti-government cred without actually causing the government to default.

As far as this new switch of focus from BBB to voting rights goes, if that's what's really going on, if it's really just punting (uh-oh, things are getting really bad when I lower myself to using a football metaphor), I'm not sure that really solves any problems. Especially if Schumer doesn't have the votes for that one either, turning the project from one failure into two failures. The leadership may be thinking at least this reassures some of our most important voters, the most voters of color whose votes are being suppressed in the dangerous actions of Republican state governments, that the party has their back, but if the party can't pass it, that also shows the party is impotent.

Even if the two bills do pass, I don't think that helps much with the 2022 election. I'm looking at the John Lewis Act wondering how much of it could take effect before the Republican redistricting and vote-suppressing techniques are baked in for next year. Department of Justice would have to gear up an awful lot of lawsuits in a very short time to make any of it stick, and so many of them could be delayed. If they reintroduced Manchin's Freedom to Vote Act, which already failed when the Republican friends who helped him draft it bailed out and filibustered it at the last minute, and managed to pass it by changing the filibuster rules, red states would surely sue on states' rights grounds over the requirements for automatic voter registration for eligible citizens, making Election Day a holiday, and creating a minimum 15-day early voting period for federal elections, and our 6-3 fascist Supreme Court would surely grant them an injunction to stop the law until after the election is over. Just passing them would add a real accomplishment to Biden's list, but it wouldn't have practical consequences in November.

And I still think the BBB would, though that's probably getting less and less likely as the Byrd Bath and Manchin pressure make it a less and less transformative program, as David Dayen writes:

Manchin’s sticking points have been relatively consistent, though put together they look like an endless moving of the goalposts. He wanted to keep overall spending in the $1.5-$1.75 trillion range; that’s been secured. He has also argued for months that he doesn’t favor "gimmicks," defined as enacting temporary programs that future Congresses may extend. "If it’s whatever plan it will be, pre-K, child care and in-home care, then it should be 10 years, it shouldn’t just be one year here, three years here, five years there," Manchin said this week.

This double bind is causing all the problems, and there’s a lot of blame to go around. By artificially reducing the resources available, Manchin is forcing unpalatable choices on the rest of his caucus, when they overwhelmingly support the current framework. But as Eric Levitz explained eloquently on Wednesday, by refusing to prioritize and promising that Democrats could have it all, the leadership whittled down these programs to the point where they would no longer even be likely to garner the public support necessary to get them extended.

Dayen, Levitz, and others are now arguing for an approach that kind of gives in to Manchin, with a BBB reduced to just a few really attractive programs funded for the full 10 years, as opposed to "gimmicks", at a level where they'd have a real impact, on people's lives and in November. In fact Dayen has been saying it for months:

I made the case for enacting fewer programs done better and on a permanent basis in The New York Times in October. For approximately $270 billion above what’s devoted to them now, you could make the pre-K and child care programs permanent; that would be a good place to start. Those programs would still be somewhat impoverished, but if they’re permanent, there’s a path to fixing them. Impermanent programs that Republicans can eliminate by doing nothing, combined with watered-down versions of those programs to save scarce funds, is a path to getting no legacy items out of the entire agenda.

I hope somebody thinks about applying this approach to the child tax credit expansion, which is the gimmickiest gimmick in the bunch, set to run just another 12 months, on lines that Manchin himself seemed to be suggesting a couple of months ago, and that the good mothers of West Virginia are willing to pressure him too

On Wednesday’s video call, 11 West Virginia mothers dialed in and waited for a Manchin aide to join them. They aimed to impress upon him how the expanded monthly child tax credit, championed by Biden and most Democrats in Congress and included in the spending bill, had changed their lives....

But less than 20 minutes before the call was supposed to start, the Manchin aide emailed to apologize and ask to reschedule for Thursday, Hutchison said. 

Thursday being today. I wonder how the call went.

We could reduce the cost on the child tax credit quite a lot by not giving it to people who don't want it:

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