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Fri Apr 2, 2021, 09:17 PM

Friday Talking Points -- Biden Introduces His American Jobs Plan

So, let's see... Joe Biden has been in office for over two months, and the only scandal to emerge from the White House so far has been from First Dog Major Biden. While over in Republicanland, Representative Matt Gaetz reportedly not only had sex with a 17-year-old minor while using the illegal drug ecstasy, but he also paid her online (possibly through a setup on a "sugar daddy" dating site); and not only took nude photos of all his conquests (which apparently included a naked hula-hooping video), but actively shared them with other congressmen on the floor of the House of Representatives. He's now under federal investigation for possible sex trafficking. But he has retained his seat on all his House committees, since Republicans are now noticeably more in favor of "due process" than they are whenever Democrats are in trouble. So could someone please remind us, once again, exactly which party is supposed to be the "party of family values"? After all, they used to brag about it so loudly....

Salacious and criminal Republican behavior aside, however, there was some really good news this week, as President Joe Biden travelled once again to Pennsylvania (a key swing state) to unveil the first of two parts of his "Build Back Better" blueprint. The first initiative, the "American Jobs Plan" weighs in at $2.3 trillion, an eye-popping amount even by Washington standards. The next round will likely be almost as large (reports are the total package will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 trillion). Biden will raise $3 trillion in additional taxes to at least partially pay for his ideas, with the first such increases proposed solely for the business community.

This is not going to be an easy lift, of course. As House Democrat Emanuel Cleaver put it, after expressing his belief that the American Jobs Plan will pass the House: "I don't mean it will be approved easily and people will be laying outside on the grass while the vote's going on, sipping on iced tea. It's going to be hard work." He's probably right.

Republican opposition, at least so far, has been rather anemic and unfocused. Mitch McConnell immediately panned the plan, stating he felt confident that the idea would get no GOP support. But really, all the Republicans have in the way of a counter-argument is: "raising taxes on anyone at any time for any reason is bad," and "replacing lead pipes and paying to boost broadband access for all is somehow left-wing socialism and should be feared." They're left simultaneously trying to argue that increasing the deficit/national debt is bad, but also that it is equally as bad to attempt to pay for anything through tax increases. In other words, they have taken the position that partisan gridlock and inaction in Washington is somehow better for the public than all the things Build Back Better would accomplish.

That's a pretty weak political position to be in, it should be noted. At least, these days.

Biden, on the other hand, has all sorts of good things to point to in the plan, in order to sell the public on the idea. And the public's already largely with him, if the polling is correct. Call it a continuation of Biden's redefinition of the term "bipartisan" to mean: "widespread support from voters across the spectrum" rather than: "what Mitch McConnell's caucus will vote for."

Here's just a partial rundown of how well-received Biden's plan already is:

The latest Morning Consult/Politico poll finds that "voters broadly support this expanded notion of infrastructure, with measures like increasing housing options for low-income families garnering the support of 70 percent of registered voters, including 87 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of Republicans."

Gosh, it's just like Biden's COVID-19 stimulus package. Republicans in Congress are dead-set against it, but a lot of their own voters think it is a fine idea.

This article also included the most stunning thing the poll revealed:

The bill is more popular with the tax hikes than without them. "57% of voters say they'd be more likely to support Biden's infrastructure plan if it were funded by tax increases on those making over $400,000," the poll found. "47% of voters say they'd be more likely to support the $3 trillion proposal if it were funded by increases to the corporate tax rate." Only 27 percent support infrastructure without tax hikes, which appears to be the GOP's stance. A plurality of Republican voters (42 percent) -- well short of a majority -- favor that approach. (Remember the good old days when Republicans cared about debt?) Among independents, 52 percent support the plan with tax hikes while only 26 percent support an infrastructure bill without them.

The media, it seems, are caught in a Republican framing of policy that does not match reality. There is not a hue and cry over a mammoth infrastructure bill. To the contrary, it is super popular. And Republicans might want to stop harping on the tax increases: Those make the bill even more popular.

Pretty tough to fight that, when your own party's cupboard of ideas is so laughably bare. Biden, meanwhile, is rightfully comparing such an investment in America's future to the halcyon days of the Baby Boom, in the 1950s and 1960s. Back then, Republicans were completely on board with paying for infrastructure improvements -- even those that wouldn't bear fruit for years. It was all seen as investment in the country's future, which is exactly how Biden is pitching his plan now.

Biden's big challenge is going to be whether he can keep up the sense of political urgency which allowed him to pass the COVID-19 relief bill so fast. Some are predicting that the infrastructure bill (or bills) might take six months, or even the rest of this year to accomplish. That would slow Biden's entire agenda down if it does happen.

But maybe things will move faster than that. There will be a period of outreach to moderate Republican senators, one assumes, since Biden's entire reason for splitting his initiative into two parts was that the first part -- the American Jobs Act -- could maybe, possibly get 60 votes in the Senate. All of the most contentious stuff (including tax hikes on high-income individual taxpayers) was put into the second part of the plan, which is designed to pass the Senate through budget reconciliation rules (only 50 votes needed).

But Biden won't get suckered in to endless negotiations only to wind up with a weaker bill that Republicans still won't vote for. He's already proven that with how he passed the COVID bill, and the White House chief of staff has already indicated that -- should it become necessary -- the president will be just fine with moving the entire package through the Senate with reconciliation. This was a big warning to the GOP, obviously.

After the window for bipartisan Senate support closes, though, Biden will have to move this massive imitative through Congress as fast as possible, in order to begin tackling all the other important things on his agenda. This may be challenging, because any large must-pass bill is going to attract all sorts of things not initially envisioned (translation: all the D.C. lobbyists are champing at the bit to get a piece of the pie). So we'll see how long the whole process takes. But at least here at the start of it all, the prospects look pretty good.

Let's see, what else is going on? The economy added over 900,000 jobs last month, in a sign that people getting vaccinated is jump-starting the economy already. We've still got a long way to go to get back to the pre-pandemic highs, but adding close to a million jobs a month is going to get us there a lot faster, that's for sure.

The Iowa Democrat who had been challenging the certified election result in her House district (she lost by only six votes, out of hundreds of thousands cast) by appealing directly to the House itself has now dropped her effort and conceded the race to the Republican. Republicans were (quite laughably) already crying foul, essentially saying: "Well, OK, we tried to overturn Biden's election, but hey you guys do it too!" Rita Hart dropping her challenge will avoid all of that, going forward.

The trial of the policeman accused of murdering George Floyd began this week, and is already taking up an immense amount of news coverage. This will be a long trial (probably lasting a whole month), so everyone should really pace themselves a bit.

Vaccination is getting more and more popular, with the most recent poll putting the public's willingness to get vaccinated at 74 percent -- just under the 75 percent figure many use as the minimum for herd immunity. That is good news indeed, especially considering this figure was at a low of only 50 percent back in September.

In a related story, Sarah Palin has now tested positive for COVID-19. Initially, she was one of the ones on the anti-mask bandwagon, painting the whole thing as some sort of Democratic plot to undermine Donald Trump. Now, however, she's singing a different tune, and is encouraging everyone to -- you guessed it -- wear masks. It's amazing how catching the disease can change people's minds, isn't it?

And let's end on a positive note, because it has been a rather amazing week for marijuana reformers. Two states -- New York and New Mexico -- passed laws through their legislature which will legalize recreational marijuana for adults. One state is teed up and ready to be next, after Virginia's legislature passed such a measure but the governor is demanding changes so that it can happen sooner than previously scheduled.

If all three states join the growing recreational legalization movement, it will mean over one-third of the states will have done so -- a milestone of sorts. It is tough to get an accurate count of how many states this is, currently, because the voters of South Dakota passed a legalization referendum, but it is currently tied up in the state courts. The other states which have already legalized: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and Washington D.C. Even without counting South Dakota, that still adds up to 16 states plus D.C., or 17 out of 51 jurisdictions. One-third down, two-thirds to go!

Since Congress is off on yet another one of their many multi-week vacations, there wasn't a lot to choose from this week. Which is why we're just going to hand another Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award to President Joe Biden, for the first part of his infrastructure plan rollout.

We admit, we were not early fans of Joe Biden (way back in primary season). We considered him to be far too compromising and incrementally-minded than we wanted to see in a Democratic presidential candidate. But as we will also freely admit, Biden has been pleasantly surprising us ever since he took office. He has chosen bold over compromising and transformative over incremental, in both of his first two major legislative initiatives. For once it is the White House who decided: "That's too small -- make the bill bigger," to put it another way.

Not everybody's completely happy with the plan in the Democratic Party, but all can begrudgingly admit it certainly is an impressive step in the right direction. Progressives got five times more spending on green initiatives than any previous proposal, but they are arguing that this still falls woefully short of what is required. Moderates got more tax hikes included, so the bill is more fiscally responsible. But on both sides of this spectrum, there isn't any truly contentious issues that both sides are lining up as opposites on. There is no ideological objection to taxing the rich from the progressives (far from it, in fact -- progressives are actually upset that Biden didn't tax the rich more, since he rejected Elizabeth Warren's "wealth tax" proposal), or any major objection to spending on green energy from the moderates, in other words. This could make passage of the whole package a lot easier -- both sides may have things they grumble about, but both will likely in the end vote for it. Biden's plan is not the New Green Deal or solely a roads-and-bridges bill, but both sides seem content enough at how things turned out.

What both sides can agree upon is that the total amount to be spent is impressive indeed. Rather than going small in an attempt to convince Republicans in Congress to vote for it, Biden went big instead. By doing so, he is proposing government infrastructure investment on a scale not seen since the 1960s. If even two-thirds of it manages to pass, it will still wind up being historic.

For all of this, and for an impressive rollout as well, Joe Biden more than deserves this week's Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week.

[Congratulate President Joe Biden on his White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]

Um... "Bad dog, Major!"

Nah... dogs gotta be dogs, and all of that.

We really don't have a strong candidate for the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award this week, since the only one we do have is so minor as to not rise (or sink) to that level. So we're going to put the main award back on the shelf for the week (and, as always, if we've missed someone obvious, please make your own nominations in the comments).

The minor case was the news that the chief of staff for Deb Haaland, newly-minted Secretary of the Interior, was forced to accept a demotion this week. Here's the not-so-sordid story:

The White House is removing the Interior Department's chief of staff, Jennifer Van der Heide, who recently planned a 50-person indoor party at the agency that the White House ordered canceled, and is moving her to a senior counselor job at the agency, according to two Biden administration officials.

The White House's Cabinet affairs office ordered that party, which was intended to celebrate Interior Secretary Deb Haaland's confirmation, to be called off amid fears it could become a superspreader event, as Politico first reported late last week.

There were also concerns about the political optics of holding the event as the Biden administration urges the American public to continue to take the coronavirus seriously.

Senior Biden administration officials voiced their reservations about the event, which was going to be held in the Interior Department's library, and the White House then stepped in before invitations could be sent out.

One Biden administration official said that "the party was the thing that broke the camel's back" and was the "latest lapse in judgment" on Van der Heide's part in her new job, which she started on Jan. 20. The official also said that the party planning expedited the job switch, which had been in the works before the kerfuffle. A White House official said that it was always intended for Van der Heide to move to a different role after setting up the department. Another administration official said that unspecified other issues precipitated the move.

So we suppose Van der Heide deserves at least a (Dis-)Honorable Mention award, for being so blind to the optics of holding a big party right now, but as we said it just didn't seem to rise to the level of the MDDOTW award.

Volume 612 (4/2/21)

Before we get to the talking points, we have to mention some late-breaking news (which occasionally happens while we are writing the rest of this up). Another deadly attack happened at the U.S. Capitol today, which resulted in the death of one Capitol Hill policeman and the hospitalization of another. Thankfully, it was just a lone guy with a car and a knife, so the damage was limited. Also thankfully, the Capitol is a lot better protected now than it was at the start of January. In other semi-related news, two Capitol officers are suing Donald Trump for their injuries on January 6. More power to them.

Also late-breaking was the news that Major League Baseball has officially decided to pull the All-Star Game out of Atlanta this year, in protest of Georgia's new Jim Crow 2.0 law. The only way state Republican legislatures will ever do the right thing is if they get hit where they hurt the most -- in the pocketbook. So we applaud the players, who were instrumental in demanding the All-Star Game be held anywhere but Georgia.

With all of that being said, let's just get right to this week's talking points, a somewhat-mixed bunch, but with at least one theme.

Nothing to do with fraud

A Kinsley gaffe happened in Georgia this week, as the governor said the quiet part out loud.

"The Republican Party's continuing assault on voting rights -- especially for minority voters -- continues, as more and more Jim Crow 2.0 laws are either introduced or passed, in statehouses across the country. Republicans in Georgia, who went first in this parade of shame, tried to convince everyone that they were only passing the law to deal with all that pesky (and completely non-existent) 'voter fraud,' but this week Governor Brian Kemp admitted what was really going on, stating: 'A lot of this bill is dealing with the mechanics of the election. It has nothing to do with potential fraud or not.' Got that? We simply have to pass this law because we flat-out lied to our voters about election fraud, and then they all started believing in the non-existent fraud, so we of course had to assuage their feelings by passing a law that, by the governor's own admission 'has nothing to do with election fraud.' There's some serious fraud going on here, but it has nothing to do with the voters and nothing to do with elections -- it is all coming from within the Republican Party itself. As Kemp just admitted."

Overreach? Backlash!

Hopefully, at any rate....

"The frenzy of Jim Crow 2.0 legislation has not only continued, it has increased. We're now up to (by one count) 361 laws proposed by Republicans in 47 states which would all restrict voting or make voting harder in one way or another. Most of these are just like Georgia's -- they don't even pretend to deal with fraud in any way. They're just blatant attempts at voter suppression. Black and Brown voter suppression in particular. But you know what? This time around, people are paying attention. And when any party overreaches to the point of attempting to rig an election, sometimes the voters express their displeasure by delivering a huge backlash in the next election. We're obviously hopeful that that's the way voters in Georgia and all the other states will react. Throw the bums out, and let's make voting easier again, instead of dreaming up new ways to make it harder."

Ignoring the will of American voters

This was rather eye-opening.

"Republicans are obviously worried about the For The People Act (otherwise known as H.R. 1). In a leaked phone call between a policy advisor to Mitch McConnell and 'the leaders of several prominent conservative groups -- including one run by the Koch brothers' network,' they all had to face the grim conclusion that it wasn't even worth spending the money for an ad campaign against the bill, since, quote, in private, they concede their own polling shows that no message they can devise effectively counters the argument that billionaires should be prevented from buying elections, unquote. One of the people on the call was 'a senior Koch operative' who ' said that opponents would be better off ignoring the will of American voters and trying to kill the bill in Congress.' That one line should run in every single Democratic ad both in support of this bill and for any Democratic candidate during the midterm elections, because it sums up Mitch McConnell and the rest of the Republicans' attitude perfectly. This is all the Republican Party has left to stand for, folks -- ignoring the will of American voters."

Friendly fire

The issue is even getting hot within the Democratic Party. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia is the only Democratic senator not to co-sponsor the For The People Act. He could be the key vote, if it comes down to changing the filibuster rules to pass it. So far, he's been only lukewarm at best, and has given lip service to an effort to get bipartisan support for the measure. This is, obviously, impossible, yet Manchin has yet to admit it. And Representative Jim Clyburn -- the third-highest-ranking member of the House leadership -- is getting more than a little righteously annoyed. Here is what he had to say about his fellow Democrat this week:

I'm insulted when [Senator Joe Manchin] tells me that it's more important to maintain a relationship with the minority in the U.S. Senate than it is for you to maintain a relationship with the minority of voters in America. That's insulting to me. Since when do their rights take precedence over your fellow Democrat [Raphael] Warnock, who saw his state just pass laws to keep him from getting re-elected? And you're going to say it's more important for you to protect 50 Republicans in the Senate than for you to protect your fellow Democrat's seat in Georgia? That's a bunch of crap.... The issue of civil rights and voting rights, these constitutional issues, should never be sacrificed on the altar of the filibuster. I've been saying that for a long time. I don't understand why we can't see that my constitutional rights should not be subjected to anybody's filibuster.

The mark of the beast?

Sigh. Here we go again. We wrote about this earlier in the week, as well.

"Republicans are now on the warpath over the proposed idea of a 'vaccine passport,' because, well... who knows these days... because they want to continue their perfect streak of being absolutely wrong about absolutely everything throughout the entire COVID-19 pandemic? That's the only thing I can figure. Before anyone at home believes Republicans for an instant, please consider: any such 'passport' or vaccination identification app on your phone will be entirely voluntary and will certainly not be the only way to prove you've been vaccinated. People already get an official card from the C.D.C. when they get their shots, so this proof already exists and does not require anyone to do anything. So, please, everyone, let's all just calm down a bit, shall we?"

I didn't vote for it, but I'll gladly claim credit for it

Another blatantly false attempt by a Republican to rewrite himself as the hero of the story.

"Representative Madison Cawthorn happily tweeted out the news to his constituents that a whole bunch of federal money would be coming home to his district, from the COVID-19 relief bill. The big problem with this, of course, is that Cawthorn, like the rest of the Republicans, voted "No" on the bill. So he's now bragging about a bill he tried to kill. That's pretty hypocritical, but sadly enough he's not the only Republican to attempt this trick. Try to rewrite history though they might, the voters know that this was passed by Democrats, as Republicans fought hard against it. Nice try, Madison."

Mr. Family Values

We mostly refrained from using Matt Gaetz as a poster child for Republicans behaving badly this week (mostly because we felt it was too easy a shot to take), but we have to at least point this one out.

"You know Matt Gaetz? The pro-Trump House Republican from Florida? The guy who is being investigated by the F.B.I. for sex trafficking across state lines, paying an underage girl for sex, showing naked hula-hoop videos to other GOP members on the House floor, and taking ecstasy during his sexual excesses? That guy? Recognize him? Well, as it turns out, a few years back Congress passed an anti-sex-trafficking bill with overwhelming bipartisan support. Except there was one Republican who decided to vote against it. His name? Matt Gaetz. His vote makes a little more sense, now, I suppose, as revolting as it is to contemplate."

Chris Weigant blogs at: ChrisWeigant.com
Follow Chris on Twitter: ChrisWeigant
Full archives of FTP columns: FridayTalkingPoints.com

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