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Fri Oct 8, 2021, 08:09 PM

Friday Talking Points -- (Fiscal) Cliff Notes

The past two weeks were a prime example of why so many Americans are so disgusted and disillusioned with Washington politics. There were scary deadlines, meaningless drama, pointless partisanship, obstructionism, and ego-boosting all around. And at the end of the day, nothing really happened except we are all right back where we started from. What appeared to be a drama-filled few weeks of politics produced precisely zero result. Which is why so many citizens have just tuned out of the process entirely -- because it is usually frustratingly idiotic and nothing short of a massive waste of time.

Last week, of course, all the Kabuki theater centered around the intraparty spat among Democrats over passing President Joe Biden's economic agenda. The end result? Nothing got voted on, no grand bargains were struck, and the Democrats punted the ball another month down the road.

This week was "Kabuki, Part II -- Another Fiscal Cliff!", where Republicans tried to take the American economy hostage merely to create a political talking point they can use on the campaign trail next year. We wish this were a cynical caricature of what happened, but (sadly) it is not. At the end of the week, neither side had really blinked, but they had agreed to kick the can down the road to the start of December.

Which means we'll all get both acts of this cheesy drama all over again, except this time it will be: "Kabuki, Holiday Edition!"

Sigh.

If we sound a little disgusted ourselves, well, that's pretty much par for the course these days. None of this was even really necessary, and it wasted a whole bunch of time that probably could have been used a lot more productively. It's so rare that Congress is actually in Washington at all these days that it seems almost criminal to waste such a huge block of time on Kabuki. But again -- par for the course.

We're at least somewhat heartened by the fact that we're not the only ones disgusted. Some journalists have been managing to show the proper amount of outrage at the situation. HuffPost ran an article with the spot-on title: "This Is The Dumbest Debt Ceiling Standoff," and the Washington Post disgustedly pointed out how Republicans are probably going to get away with their threats to set fire to the economy (emphasis in original):

Republicans in Congress are doing everything they can to manufacture a crisis that brings the American economy to the brink of disaster. And they seem to be having a fine time doing it, as if they know there will be no price to pay.

This is not a story of a "standoff," not a story of partisan bickering, not a story of clever legislative maneuvering. One of our two great parties is managing to be simultaneously psychopathic and rational -- psychopathic because their willingness to wreak destruction is almost without limit, and rational because they understand one of the most fundamental and disheartening truths about the American system.

It's this: There is almost never any accountability for the people who deserve it the most.

Because of the legal abomination known as the debt ceiling, we are now hurtling toward a default on America's obligations within a matter of days -- an outcome that could send America into recession and destabilize the global economy. Democrats are trying to raise or suspend that ceiling to cover spending authorized by both parties. Republicans have not only declined to vote for such a measure, they are filibustering it.

Every Republican senator, even supposedly reasonable ones such as Mitt Romney (Utah), has joined in the filibuster. And they have the gall to claim, as they push us toward the cliff, that they don't want us to fall.

For instance, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) actually defended the filibuster by declaring: "We're not in the mood to facilitate their difficult job, to make their difficult job easier."

And then, when Cramer was asked what happens if the GOP filibuster does lead to default, this happened:

"Then too bad," Cramer said. "It's just really, really unfortunate that they're that irresponsible." He later said he did not think the country would breach the debt ceiling, adding, "I don't think anybody wants that to happen."

It's as though you caught me splashing gasoline onto the walls of your house and fumbling with a lighter, and I said, "Look, nobody wants your house to burn down. You're the one being irresponsible here."


By the end of the week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell "blinked." He stared into the abyss and saw only two possible outcomes: the United States defaults on its debt and the ensuing economic pandemonium gets blamed squarely on Republicans, or the Democrats use his reckless and irresponsible obstructionism to convince Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to further weaken the filibuster rules (to allow debt ceiling increases to avoid filibusters ever again). Neither looked very good for McConnell or the GOP, so he cut a deal with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. A short-term extension bill -- which was not a budget reconciliation bill -- was allowed to pass. Ted Cruz filibustered it anyway, but 11 Republicans voted with the Democrats to begin debate, so this attempt was stymied. When the bill came up for the actual vote, only Democrats voted for it (the total was 50-48) and it passed.

Which just postponed the real fight for another month. What is really being fought over is how the Democrats will raise the debt ceiling. There are two ways to make this happen: by date, or by amount. Picking a future date is by far the easier of the two, politically. Unfortunately, it is also the hardest to do, parliamentarily (which may not even be a word, we fully admit, but we are too lazy to check). Raising the debt ceiling by throwing a dart at a future calendar is only allowed as a regular bill -- one that can be filibustered, in other words. To use the budget reconciliation process (to avoid the filibuster) requires setting an actual dollar amount for the new national debt instead of just picking a date.

This is the whole fight, in a nutshell. Republicans want to force Democrats to pick a number rather than a date so they can use this new number as a political bludgeon against Democrats in campaign ads. Democrats are afraid of this possibility and are insisting that a regular bill be allowed to pass without the Republicans filibustering it. Democrats are saying to the Republicans: "If you won't vote for it in the final vote, fine -- but please get out of the way so that that vote can happen."

This standoff may repeat itself, right after Thanksgiving. Schumer is adamant about not using the budget reconciliation process and McConnell seems just as adamant about forcing the Democrats to do so. However, one strong argument Schumer used this time around may have less impact next time -- that Democrats simply didn't have enough time for the arduous process of getting the debt ceiling hike through the reconciliation process. Next time around McConnell will be able to counter with: "We gave you an extra month-and-a-half. You could easily have done it by now."

Of course, this argument was valid this time around, too. Democrats could easily have already raised the debt ceiling with a reconciliation bill. They could have included it in the first bill they passed -- the emergency COVID aid package. The country was in a crisis and would easily have accepted a debt ceiling rise as part of the recovery efforts. Democrats chose not to go this route, meaning it is now a standalone issue that has attracted a lot more political heat. That is on Schumer and the rest of the Democrats -- nobody's really blameless in this mess.

Meanwhile, in the background, the power struggle between two Democratic senators and the other 48 continues to heat up. To bring the Build Back Better plan down to the level that Joe Manchin has been demanding is going to require massive cuts to the original plan. Progressives are getting stronger in this fight, since they essentially have Joe Biden in their corner (after all, this is truly Biden's agenda). But a pragmatic Biden, who is telling the progressives to get ready to accept drastic cuts that either scale back the timeline for new programs or drops them completely.

Also meanwhile, Kyrsten Sinema has become such a cartoon that, not unlike Sarah Palin, her Saturday Night Live spoof actually seemed more real than she does.

But the deadline is still weeks away, so it's quite likely that nothing but more bickering is going to happen for a while. Again: "Exhibit A" for why most of the public is just flat-out disgusted with Congress and politics in general.

What else was going on this week? Facebook apparently had a hard week, but we find it hard to care since we are not on Facebook.

A federal judge finally shut down the Draconian Texas abortion law -- although who knows what will happen in the appellate court and the Supreme Court? For now, though, this is welcome news.

Corey Lewandowski is a pig and may face charges for sexually harassing and touching a woman at a fundraising party. Normally we wouldn't even mention this, but it does lead into a much funnier item:

Donald Trump announced a new super PAC on Monday -- and his critics couldn't get over the name: "Make America Great Again, Again."

The awkward moniker has been used before by Trump's allies, including former Vice President Mike Pence, who tested it out at the Republican National Convention in 2020 to similar confusion on social media at the time.

In this case, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman said the rebrand was a way to sideline longtime Trump aide Corey Lewandowski, who was purged from the former president's orbit after being accused of sexual misconduct last week. However, Lewandowski remains in charge of the current PAC, "Make America Great Again Action."

"Trump folks had no way to legally replace Lewandowski, one of two board members of the first super PAC, unless he stepped down, so they're now forming a new group," Haberman wrote on Twitter.


The internet, of course, had a field day.

Personally, we would have gone with something snappier than "MAGAA" -- maybe something along the lines of "MegaMAGA"?





We are reluctantly going to give the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, for essentially forcing Mitch McConnell to blink on the debt ceiling.

This was good -- Schumer winning a battle of wills with his counterpart -- but it was also needlessly dramatic. In the end, Schumer even got 11 Republicans to vote to begin debate on the short-term extension bill that McConnell offered, and it is rare indeed these days to see any filibuster defeated. Schumer also didn't give in to McConnell's demand that even the short-term bill be a Democrats-only effort, which strengthens his whole argument that such contortions shouldn't be necessary (since Democrats helped raise the debt ceiling multiple times under Donald Trump).

Schumer even made Trump get publicly annoyed with McConnell, which is always fun to see.

So while we're reluctant to congratulate anyone on what happened this week, we must in all honesty admit that Schumer sticking to his principles worked, in the end.

This time, at any rate. We'll see what happens next time.

[Congratulate Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]





However, to balance things out, we're also handing Schumer the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award as well.

In the first place, it didn't have to be this way. Democrats could have hiked the debt ceiling all the way back in February. Schumer chose not to. Schumer also could have taken the necessary time to insert the debt ceiling into the budget reconciliation deal at any point in the past few months, so his excuse of: "There just isn't time to get it done" is a little threadbare.

But mostly, we are handing Schumer the MDDOTW award for not fighting for what he really should be fighting for -- abolishing the debt ceiling forever. Why allow this hostage-taking nonsense to even take place? With one vote, Democrats could make it turn into a pumpkin (hey, it's October, it's time for pumpkin metaphors...).

This is the only sane path forward. Republicans will play this suicidal game, every chance they get (with a Democrat in the White House, of course -- they don't play this game when a Republican in in charge). So why continue to let them?

For not leaning in hard to abolishing the debt ceiling in the midst of this pointless political fracas, Schumer missed a real opportunity to educate the public about a permanent solution to this problem. And that is what earned him this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award.

[Contact Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]




Volume 637 (10/8/21)

We've got a fairly cohesive pair of issues this week, separated by one unrelated talking point. The first three deal with all the new revelations about the attempted insurrection and coup (and how much of it is being flat-out ignored by the mainstream media), and the last three deal with vaccines and mandates. So let's just dig right in....



Trump tried to stage a coup

For some reason, this isn't a big deal to the media. It really should be, so Democrats should point it out even if they aren't asked about it.

"As we learn more and more of what happened between the election and the sixth of January, it just gets more and more frightening to anyone who cares about democracy in America. The sitting president tried to use the Department of Justice to orchestrate what can only be called a coup d'état. He was all set to fire his attorney general and install someone who would be a willing participant in this coup. Only the threat of mass resignations -- what a White House counsel called 'a murder-suicide pact' -- kept him from doing so. The Senate just put out a damning report titled: 'Subverting Justice: How the Former President and His Allies Pressured DOJ to Overturn the 2020 Election' and yet the political media responds with a collective yawn. Republicans just shrug. Let me state it again: the sitting president tried to use the Justice Department to overthrow a presidential election. You'd think that would be big news, right?"



Another collective yawn

It's just mindblowing what the media deems important and what they consciously choose to ignore.

"The political media spent a lot of time handwringing over some activists who followed Senator Kyrsten Sinema into a public bathroom, but when the story broke of a memo that outlined a six-point coup strategy for Vice President Mike Pence to use to subvert the will of tens of millions of American voters, you know what happened? In the two days after the bombshell release of the memo, the news departments at ABC, NBC, and CBS all decided it was worth zero coverage on their evening and morning news shows. Zero. The only way the public heard about this seditious memo was through the networks' late-night comedy shows. That is a pretty damning indictment of the state of broadcast journalism in American today, folks."



No lawyer jokes for a while, promise!

They've earned the respite.

"While I would much prefer to see the architects of the attempted insurrection and coup be charged in a court of law for their seditious and treasonous acts, at least somebody is working hard to see that there are some consequences for trying to overthrow American democracy. John Eastman, the author of the infamous memo laying out a six-point roadmap for how Donald Trump could remain in power after losing a presidential election, is going to have to face the California State Bar to answer for his actions. A group of California lawyers (including ex-judges and former governors) sent a letter to the State Bar requesting an investigation into his legal misconduct. Hopefully, they'll move swiftly to disbar Eastman. Rudy Giuliani already got his law license yanked, and I sincerely hope that everyone with their fingerprints on this attempted coup is eventually banned from practicing law ever again."



Your people?

Hoo boy.

"Senator Chuck Grassley, who was born during the Great Depression, addressed Lucy Koh, a judicial nominee who happens to be Korean-American, by saying, and I quote: 'If I've learned anything from Korean people, it's a hard work ethic. And how you can make a lot out of nothing. So I congratulate you and your people.' Seriously, in this day and age, a sitting senator used the racist phrase 'your people.' I wonder how he would have reacted if a minority member told him: 'I'm glad to see that your people finally realized that owning other human beings was wrong.' This type of stereotyping not only has no place in politics anymore, it has no place in polite society, period. Grassley should apologize and swear never to use such a term ever again."



Double down on fighting COVID

This is good politics, as more and more Democrats are realizing.

"You know what? The anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers get a whole lot of media attention because they are so loud and obnoxious, but that does not make them any kind of majority. The majority of people want to see their political leaders stand up to the pandemic and do what is necessary to get us out of it as quickly as possible. This means mandating vaccines for as many workers as possible. It means mask mandates where they are needed. It means telling people to do stuff they don't want to do. That's hard, but that is also known as leadership. And the majority of the public welcomes such leadership, as poll after poll shows. Thankfully, some Democratic politicians have realized the political potency of this issue and are actively running on it. The Democratic candidates for governor in both Virginia and New Jersey have doubled down on pandemic leadership. Gavin Newsom beat a recall effort in California by doubling down on the issue, too. Voters reward such leadership. President Biden is leading the way on this one, with the speech he gave this week on vaccine mandates. The time for mollycoddling the unvaccinated is over. The public wants this pandemic to end as soon as possible and they welcome strong measures to make that happen. And, as usual, Republicans are completely on the wrong side of the issue."



Vaccine mandates work!

Biden's speech contained a few key ideas. Rinse and repeat.

"Joe Biden gave a speech this week in advance of his Labor Department rolling out new rules for businesses with 100 or more employees. They'll all have to either institute a mandate for employee vaccines or require unvaccinated employees to get tested every week. Biden's biggest point is that this is the pathway to getting the economy completely back on its feet as soon as possible. This is also the pathway to ensuring that workers have a safe workplace and don't have to risk death for a paycheck. Biden put it quite simply: vaccine mandates work. Where they've been instituted, vaccination rates have shot up to above 90 percent. Sometimes as high as 99 or 100 percent, even. That's what it is going to take to get us out the other side of this nightmare. As Biden put it: 'Let's finish the job.' I could not agree more."



Six words

We're not going to repeat them here, you'll have to watch the video.

"Recently a seemingly-deranged woman was caught on video walking down Hollywood Boulevard, using a megaphone to rant and rave about the COVID-19 vaccines. Hilariously, a man pushing a shopping cart down the street shut her nonsense down with only six words. Rarely do you see such a wonderful example of instant karma in action."




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

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Fri Oct 8, 2021, 10:15 PM

1. K&R. nt

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