Friday, January 06, 2023

Of Distractions

In the video below from October of 2022, The Young Turks' Ana Kasparian slams Republicans because they want to force a debt showdown to cut what conservatives luxuriate in calling "entitlement programs."  At approximately 1:58, she shows a graphic from New York Magazine noting

Bloomberg's Jack Fitzpatrick interviewed seven Republican contenders to lead the House Budget Committee. They all said, with varying levels of specificity, that they plan to instigate a debt ceiling standoff to force Biden to accept cuts to retirement and health-care programs.

Those would be, respectively, Social Security and Medicare, which Kasparian recognizes as vital lifelines for most individuals and families. She adds (at 14:07)

I hope people understand why it's that they spend all of their time crying about CRT, which doesn't exist in grade school. Crying about trans athletes, when they can't even name a single trans athlete that's impacting anyone in their state. The reason why focus on these made up boogie men is to scare their own voters and distract from the fact they want to rob their own voters of programs they've paid into.

So true- and yet, in their own way, Democrats do something similar. They're not trying scare people to distract the attention of their voters from what party officials want to do. However, they try- successfully- to distract their own voters from what they should be doing by giving them some red meat- their own culture war hot button issues.

Putting aside the Senator's obvious problem with English grammar- the concern was not marriage equality in the US Senate but marriage equality in the country- the emphasis Klobuchar and some other Democrats placed on this was remarkable, and telling.  

On November 29 the Senate passed the Respect for Marriage Act with 61 votes, including those of twelve Republicans. The Democratic-controlled House then passed the legislation, which was quickly and signed into law by President Joe Biden at a "triumphant White House ceremony." Notwithstanding Klobuchar's boast that the action "protected marriage equality," prohibition by any political jurisdiction of same-sex marriage already had been outlawed (in Hodges v. Obergefell) by the United States Supreme Court. The Respect for Marriage Act provides assurance that if the Supreme Court were to take up the same issue again and reverse its decision, a state which outlaws the union would be required to recognize the marriage of two men, or two women, conducted in another state. The law guarantees full faith and credit for same-sex and interracial marriages, and does little if anything else.

But that didn't stop many Democrats, Biden and Klobuchar only two of them, from touting the law and ignoring a far more urgent matter. Eight days prior to the Senator's triumphant tweet, Peter R. Orazag, former director of the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office, explained

In October, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) warned that Republicans are planning to use the debt limit as leverage to demand spending cuts, potentially including Social Security and Medicare — cuts that President Biden will not accept. Now that Republicans have won control of the House and McCarthy is potentially the next speaker, the threat is real....

The debt ceiling — now $31.4 trillion, a level that stands to be pierced by the third quarter of 2023 — is an anachronism. Congress enacts changes to tax law and entitlement programs (such as Social Security and Medicare), and sets non-entitlement spending each year. These decisions, in turn, exhaust the policy levers available to control the level of U.S. government debt. (The evolution of debt is also influenced by the economy, market interest rates and other factors, but those are mostly outside the control of policymakers.) So having a separate limit on the permitted level of debt is redundant.

As the Government Accountability Office has written, “The debt ceiling does not control the amount of debt. Instead, it is an after-the-fact measure that restricts the Treasury’s ability to borrow to finance the decisions already enacted by Congress and the President"....

There are two ways to de-risk the situation in the lame-duck session of Congress. One is regular order, which would require the cooperation of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and a number of sitting Republican senators wise enough to join Democrats to address the issue now. But this may well not happen.

The other option involves a new budget resolution, which would facilitate using the reconciliation process to raise the debt limit, as was done in 1990, 1993 and 1997. This approach would require two votes — the first on the budget resolution and the second on reconciliation. It would take up about two weeks of Senate floor time, but it could be accomplished with only 50 votes.

Any Democrats averse to taking such a painful vote now should consider how much leverage their party will lose once Republicans control the House — and how much higher the risk of default will be then. It’s generally not a good idea to enter a negotiation with a ticking time bomb and a counterparty willing to let it go off.

The next two years will be turbulent in any case. The president and Congress can make them less risky by addressing the debt limit in December.

Nonetheless, the President and Congress did not address the debt limit then. Instead, as was reported a few days later, Senate Majority Leader Chuck

Schumer said last week that he would like to “get a debt ceiling done in this work period” but insisted that it would require Republican support, effectively ruling out a go-it-alone approach that would allow Democrats to unilaterally raise the debt limit. Speaking to reporters on the same day, the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, said he didn’t think Congress would take up the issue until “sometime next year”.

At that point and in the lame-duck session, Democrats- not Mitch McConnell's GOP- controlled the Senate, in which an extension of the debt limit could be approved by reconciliation, and the House of Representatives. Yet

Schumer said the Senate will take a final vote on legislation to protect same-sex and interracial marriages when the chamber returns after the Thanksgiving recess. Earlier this month, 12 Republicans joined all Democrats to clear a major procedural hurdle that put the historic measure on track to passage.

“Passing the Respect for Marriage Act is no longer a matter of if but only of when,” he said in recent remarks. A version of the bill passed the House earlier this year, with support from dozens of Republicans.

Schumer believed the Respect for Marriage Act would have passed in the following Congress, anyway. By contrast, the earlier the debt limit is effectively addressed, the less likely Republicans (who have taken control of the House, as was expected) will be able to hold it hostage, threatening the global economy, to cut Social Security and Medicare.

The Republican Party is responsible for this problem. Taking anyone or anything hostage is an impotent gesture unless the threat is credible, and Republicans may be willing to take the economy down if Democrats don’t meet their demands for policy which would slice and dice Americans who need Social Security and Medicare. As Kasparian probably understands, Republicans may go on and on about critical race theory, trans athletes, or the other sexy issue of the moment, but they keep their eye on the prize, consolidation of wealth for the donor class.

The Republican Party is responsible for this problem. Taking anyone or anything hostage is an impotent gesture unless the threat is credible, and Republicans may be willing to take the economy down if Democrats don’t meet their demands for policy which would slice and dice Americans who need Social Security and Medicare.

But, hey, priorities are priorities. Democrats, who would like to protect the country from the mischief Republicans are planning, nonetheless focus on cultural issues of race and sex to keep their own base of voters engaged .  And there are fewer greater priorities for them than making sure that the sanctity of a same-sex marriage is respected. 

Now, if the Supreme Court takes up those unions, rules that states may prohibit them, and conservative states such as Mississippi re-institute a ban, the marriage of a couple which decides to move from Massachusetts to Mississippi would still be recognized. And if next year the economy tanks or earned benefits plummet, we can still celebrate Amy Klobuchar’s tweet, triumphantly.

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