The Mahablog

Politics. Society. Group Therapy.

The Mahablog

Mini-BBB Bill Passes in the Senate!

The Inflation Reduction Act bill, a.k.a. the Reader’s Digest Condensed BBB bill, passed in the Senate, people. Fifty Dems voted yes, fifty Republicans voted no, and Kamala Harris broke the tie. Woo HOO!

Now it goes to the House, which had better not screw it up.

The next question is, what is still in this bill? One provision that got chopped at the last minute was a $35 price cap on insulin. The cap will still apply to Medicare, but that’s all. As I understand it, the Senate parliamentarian had flagged some parts of the cap as being in non-compliance with reconciliation, and the Republicans used that to take it out..

And that sounds like an issue that could be used against all Republican senators running for re-election.

As described in the last post, the bill isn’t all we could have hoped for regarding prescription drugs.

The prescription drug pricing reforms aim to help cut costs for seniors enrolled in Medicare. It caps their out-of-pocket costs at $2,000 annually, while allowing the U.S. government to negotiate the price of a small set of medicines beginning in 2026. The landmark proposal is expected to save elderly Americans money and achieve billions in savings for Washington over the next decade. Pharmaceutical giants, which forcefully opposed the bill, also would be required to pay “rebates” to the federal government if they raise Medicare drug prices beyond the rate of inflation.

We still would get $369 billion for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and investing in renewable energy sources. It renews current subsidies in the Affordable Care Act, which were about to expire. It also dedicates some money for staffing up the IRS, a provision that really has Republican panties in a twist.

To get Joe Manchin’s support,

Democrats agreed to mandate new oil and gas leasing in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska, while party leaders committed to pursue a separate bill in the coming months that makes it easier for developers to override some environmental objections. That proposal could greatly benefit a long-stalled pipeline in Manchin’s home state, a trade-off that some Democrats described as an uncomfortable necessity.

And to mollify Kyrsten Sinema, they had to dial back proposed tax increases on wealthy investors. Sinema is up for re-election in 2024; I trust we can get rid of her then. We’re stuck with Manchin until 2026.

The Mini-BBB Bill Could Pass

The Big News last night was that Kyrsten Sinema agreed to the Schumer-Manchin reconciliation bill, with some changes.

To win Ms. Sinema’s support, Democratic leaders agreed to drop a $14 billion tax increase on some wealthy hedge fund managers and private equity executives that she had opposed, change the structure of a 15 percent minimum tax on corporations, and include drought money to benefit Arizona.

This is what Ed Kilgore predicted a few days ago. “While Sinema may not want to personally kill this heaven-sent deal herself, it would be surprising if she doesn’t take at least a pound of flesh in concessions to show her corporate friends she is still a major player,” Ed Kilgore writes. Looks like he was spot on.

Today he writes,

Sinema (and, for that matter, Schumer) seems to have calculated that liberal revulsion over the price she demanded for her support would be more than offset by joy that she didn’t kill the whole thing. So Senate Democrats went along with her demand (they also added some additional drought money, while offsetting the cost of concessions to Sinema via an excise tax on stock buybacks). That means on paper, at least, the Inflation Reduction Act has the 50 votes it will need (along with Kamala Harris’s tie-breaker) to finally emerge from the upper chamber.

There are still some hurdles. The parliamentarian has to sign off on the bill before it can be voted on as a budget reconciliation bill, without having to deal with the filibuster/cloture rule. Then it has to be subjected to the “vote a rama” process in which many senators will offer amendments. And then it has to pass the House, where the usual assholes, a.k.a. “moderate” Democrats, will probably try to bleep it up by adding other things that will require it to go back to the Senate.

But if it does pass, it would be a great thing both for the nation and for the Democrats’ chances in the midterms. The bill contains $369 billion to combat climate change, and a lot of that investment will go to creating “green energy” manufacturing jobs. Greg Sargent writes,

At its core, the bill constitutes industrial policy that would invest in the creation of clean-energy manufacturing jobs, including in former coal communities. As I’ve argued, this would allow Democrats to shift the debate: Rebuilding jobs in the industrial and Appalachian heartlands requires accepting realities of global warming and technological change — and harnessing them to our advantage — rather than remaining mired in backward-looking nostalgic fantasies.

In other words, when Republicans oppose the bill, Dems can honestly say they’re trying to stifle job creation.

The bill also extends the expanded Affordable Care Act subsidies through 2025. Otherwise they would have expired right before the midterms, I understand.

It also includes some provision for Medicare to negotiate drug prices, but only some drugs, and it doesn’t kick into effect until 2026.

Still, this is a big deal, and it could be voted on very soon. Fingers crossed.

DoD, Cuccinelli, Alex Jones: Text News

Too much is happening all at once. It’s hard to keep up.

This week CNN reported, “The Defense Department wiped the phones of top departing DOD and Army officials at the end of the Trump administration, deleting any texts from key witnesses to events surrounding the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, according to court filings.”

The departing officials included former acting Secretary of Defense Chris Miller, former chief of staff Kash Patel, and former Secretary of the Army Ryan McCarthy. It doesn’t sound as if these people deleted anything from their government-issued phones when they left the DoD; rather, the DoD wiped the phones without making backups first when they were turned in, the article says.

But I do remember that Miller and Patel were part of the plan to replace as many key officials as possible with Trump loyalists in the closing days of the Trump Administration. Miller was acting SecDef from November 9, 2020 to January 20, 2021. He replaced Mark Esper, whom Trump fired on November 9. This was just two days after the 2020 election had been called for Joe Biden. Shortly after that, Kash Patel was named Miller’s chief of staff.

By then, the fake elector plot already was taking shape. (McCarthy was Secretary of the Army from September 2019 to January 20, 2021, so his appointment probably wasn’t connected to the election overturning scheme.)

Note also that both Miller and Patel were accused of blocking cooperation with the Biden transition team.

Also, “Miller, Patel and McCarthy have all been viewed as crucial witnesses for understanding government’s response to the January 6 Capitol assault and former President Donald Trump’s reaction to the breach. All three were involved in the Defense Department’s response to sending National Guard troops to the US Capitol as the riot was unfolding,” CNN reported. This is a part of the January 6 picture that hasn’t been much addressed so far.

A few days ago it was reported that text messages of acting homeland security secretary Chad Wolf and acting deputy secretary Ken Cuccinelli were missing also. You might remember Chad Wolf’s unconstitutional activities in Portland, summer 2020.

And now Cuccinelli has been subpoenaed by a federal grand jury regarding January 6. Cuccinelli strikes me as a guy who would like to just walk away from the mess that is Trump. He’d probably rather not denounce Trump, but I doubt he’s going to take any bullets for him, either.

I’m looking forward to the second season of the January 6 committee hearings. It could be even better than the first season.

Much hilarity ensued yesterday at Alex Jones’s trial when it was revealed Jones’s lawyer accidentally had sent all of his text messages to the prosecuting attorneys. It amounted to several hundred gigabytes of material that revealed a lot of deceptions and withholding of evidence on Jones’s part.

Jones is so screwed. His attorney asked for a mistrial this morning; the judge promptly denied it. This judge is all out of bleeps, I believe. For more on that, see Alex Jones Can’t Pretend His Way Out of This Reality by Charlie Warzel at The Atlantic.

Update: The January 6 committee wants Alex Jones’s texts.

In other news — the Senate voted to allow Sweden and Finland to join NATO. This was a near-unanimous vote. The only holdout was Josh Hawley, who says we can’t waste time on NATO because China is bad. Yeah, he just wanted to draw attention to himself. Before the vote Mitch McConnell addressed the senators and basically advised them that voting against the admissions would be an extremely stupid move, and I guess everybody but Hawley heard him.

A Big No in Kansas Lights the Way for Dems

The most interesting commentary I’ve seen so far on the Kansas referendum vote is this one in the New York Times. The overwhelming victory for “no” was not just a result of big turnouts in the cities aned suburbs, although that helped. “No” overperformed everywhere, and “yes” underperformed everywhere, compared to votes for Biden and Trump in 2020.

Consider far western Kansas, a rural region along the Colorado border that votes overwhelmingly Republican. In Hamilton County, which voted 81 percent for Mr. Trump in 2020, less than 56 percent chose the anti-abortion position on Tuesday (with about 90 percent of the vote counted there). In Greeley County, which voted more than 85 percent for Mr. Trump, only about 60 percent chose the anti-abortion position.

By the same token, “no” won in the more Democratic urban areas by bigger margins than Biden carried them in 2020. This suggests to me that Democratic candidates even in Red states will benefit enormously by emphasizing support for abortion rights in their campaigns.

As of this writing, with 95 percent of the votes counted, “no” is ahead 58.8 percent to 41.2 percent. That’s decisive.

It may be significant that the only polling on this issue was way off. It showed a tight race with a small majority in favor of “yes.” I can’t speak to how or why the prediction could have been that wrong. However, the Kansas results do seem to be in line with long-standing opinion polls saying a majority of Americans support Roe v. Wade.

That said, I doubt yesterday’s vote will cause the anti-abortion faction in Kansas to back off, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the Kansas legislature tried to pass an abortion ban anyway. That’s what the Missouri legislature would do.

In other abortion news — yesterday the Department of Justice sued the state of Idaho over a state abortion law that violates the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA), a federal law that requires medical facilities that receive federal funds to give “stabilizing treatment” to patients. The Idaho law allows abortions only in the case of the imminent death of the mother, but not to stabilize someone who is circling the drain but might live a few more hours. This could very well be only the first of such lawsuits against other states. And President Biden is expected to sign an executive order to provide some kind of insurance coverage or other help for women who have to travel out of state for abortions.

Looking at the rest of the election results — a lot of the MAGA election deniers won primaries yesterday, Arizona went batshit. Democrat Mark Kelly will be defendng his Senate seat against Blake Masters, who sounds like a walking dystopian novel. Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers was rewarded for his forthright testimony to the January 6 committee by losing his primary.

I am seeing some “relief” that Eric Schmitt defeated Eric Greitens, but believe me, relief is premature. Schmitt is going to be one shit show of a senator, if he’s elected, and he probably will be.

Also, too, yesterday the Senate passed the burn pit bill.

File this under, Yeah, we knew he was stupid.

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) has suggested that Social Security and Medicare be eliminated as federal entitlement programs, and that they should instead become programs approved by Congress on an annual basis as discretionary spending.

The voters will love that, Ron. You should get your other Republican friends to run on that, too.

Crazies vs. Normies: Lots of Primaries Today

Today there are primaries in five states — Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Washington, and Missouri. I wrote about the Missouri primary yesterday. Here is Steve Benen’s preview at MSNBC. Several state contests are being viewed as epic clashes between the crazies and the normies in the Republian party.

I’m especially interested in the abortion referendum in Kansas. Apparently the Kansas constitution has been interpreted in a court ruling to protect a right to abortion, and  a yes vote on the referendum would overturn that protection and allow the legislature to ban abortion. I’m hearing the “yes” vote advocates are better organized and funded, so abortion may be banned even though 60 percent of Kansans don’t want a ban.

I am hoping “no” prevails, because if Kansas goes there would be a huge solid block of states that have banned abortion. Some women would have to travel halfway across the country to terminate a pregnancy.

I’ll be back tonight to watch returns. Feel free to leave comments about anything.

Update: NBC News is calling the Kansas referendum for “no.” This means abortion will remain legal in Kansas. Even better, so far the “no” votes are the votes are not close. A huge number of voters came out and voted “no.”

Update: The Missouri Senate nominees are Eric Schmitt and Trudy Busch Valentine. I don’t think Busch Valentine has much of a chance. I hope I am wrong.

Missouri Primary (from Hell) Tomorrow

The Missouri primary election is tomorrow, so at least some of the Stupid Television Ads will disappear soon. Then we’ll get new Stupid Television Ads.

The big vote is the one to fill Roy Blunt’s Senate seat, a.k.a. the Missouri state primary from hell, which I’ve written about here, here, and here. On the Republican side, the latest polls I’ve seen have former governor Eric Greitens down and state Attorney General Eric Schmitt up. Republicans were desperate to not have Greitens be the nominee, because they believed him to be vulnerable in the general. So they paid for a bunch of effective ads highlighting the accusations of spousal and child abuse from Greitens’ estranged wife. I doubt Greitens’s infamous RINO hunting ad hurt him with voters, although I notice it got taken off the air quickly. I haven’t seen many pro-Greitens ads at all, so I’m guessing the Greitens campaign fell behind in fundraising.

Note that if Schmitt wins, he will be no improvement on Greitens at all. Schmitt is a Republican in the Ron DeSantis mold, all about protecing our “freedom” to behave as he wants us to behave. Or else.

The other Republican contender thought to have a shot at the nomination is Vicky Hartzler, a state representative. She is mostly known for being homophobic. Sure enough, she is running an ad boasting about how she will ban trans women from women’s sports. It’s not like the people of Missouri have any other problems to deal with, you know.

Yes, there are other Republicans running; none are an improvement on the top three. At least I haven’t heard anything from the Mark McCloskey campaign, which went nowhere.

The two viable Democratic candidates are Lucas Kunce and Trudy Busch Valentine, whom I wrote about in this post. Their stands on issues are pretty much alike and in line with the Dem party mainstream, and I wouldn’t have a problem voting for either in the general. However, Busch Valentine has refused to debate and is said to be shy about public appearances. Kunce, on the other hand, is a much more aggressive campaigner who will no doubt take the fight to whoever wins the Republican nomination. So I’m going with Kunce.

There is one other factor in the Senate contest, but not one that will be on a ballot tomorrow. A Republican named John Wood is running for Senate as an independent. He is being promoted in television ads featuring former Senator Jack Danforth, who calls on Missouri voters to find a middle way between the two absolutely awful parties, according to Danforth, by voting for Wood. The ads are a crashing bore. I have taken to muting them whenever they come on. Wood, of couse, would caucus with the Republicans if elected, so he’s a Republican candidate as far as I’m concerned. I have no idea where he stands on issues, and he’s not saying anything except that he’s for “traditional” and “mainstream” conservative values, whatever those are. I’d like to think that Wood would split the Republican vote in the general, but seems to me he’s as likely to take votes from the Democrat as the Republican if he can maintain the “pox on both their houses” position.

Because of redistricting I am in a different House district but somehow have the same representative as the old one. My rep in the U.S. Congress is Jason Smith, a factotum in service to any hard-right MAGA-head issue you can think of. Overturning the 2020 election? Check. Banning abortion? Check. Repealing Obamacare? Check. Opposing gun control? Check. Privatizing Social Security? Check. He has also declared that the January 6 insurrection was a false flag operation instigated by Nancy Pelosi. So, yeah, he has no redeeming value of any sort. I’d sooner vote for ripe road kill.

Running against Smith for the Republican nomination is some guy named Jacob Turner. All I know about him I got from his Facebook page. He’s running on the slogan “take back control.” As near as I can tell, he’s as far right as Jason Smith, so I’m not sure who he thinks he would be taking control from in the unlikely event he defeats Smith tomorrow.

There is one Democrat running for the nomination, so I will assume she will win her primary. She is a pleasant looking lady named Randi McCallian who is … a lactation consultant? Well, okay. I take it she hasn’t held an elected office before.

Now we move to state races. We will be electing a new state auditor. The current auditor, Nicole Galloway, is the person who got shafted when she ran against Mike Parson for governor in 2020. She’s done with politics now.

The Republican candidates for auditor are named David Gregory and Scott Fitzpatrick. David Gregory is running ads boasting that he has the endorsement of Missouri Right to Life and also promises to “investigate” the teaching of Critical Race Theory in schools. So he’s not running for Auditor as much as Grand Inquisitor. Scott Fitzpatrick is the current State Treasurer, and he promises to block tax dollars going to illegal immigrants and is also opposed to Critical Race Theory and anything associated with the Biden administration. So neither guy seems all that interested in auditing.

There is one Democratic candidate, Alan Green, and I will have no problem whatsoever voting for him.

The only person running to represent my State House District is the Republican incumbent, Mike Henderson. He is anti-choice. Otherwise he seems pretty good at flying under the radar. Likewise, the only person running for the State Senate district is the Republican incumbent, Elaine Gannon. She was born in the same hospital I was; aww.  She is a former teacher so perhaps she isn’t as rabidly anti-education as some of the rest of her party. Otherwise she seems to be good at not taking positions.

So, basically, my only real choice tomorrow on the Democratic ballot is for U.S. Senator, and I will also check the boxes for Randi McCallian for U.S. House and Alan Green for state auditor. There is also a tax provision on the local ballot that is being promoted as a help to the county police force. I suspect it will pass, as I haven’t seen any arguments against it.

In other Missouri related news — my other so-called senator, Josh “the Flash” Hawley, has an article in National Interest explaining why he will vote against Finland and Sweden joining NATO. Basically, it’s because China is bad. Seriously. Apparently the United States is not capable of dealing with more than one malevolent world power at a time. This would have been news to Franklin Roosevelt. I sent Hawley a sternly worded email explaining to him that he is an idiot.

Update: Here’s a nice article on the Missouri Senate race by Michelle Cottle in the New York Times, who wrote that for a time Eric Greitens appeared to be cruising to the nomination —

Until late last month. That’s when a group of Republicans rolled out a super PAC, named Show Me Values, aimed at bringing down Mr. Greitens. Just a few weeks — and an estimated $6 million in ad spending — later, the effort seems to be working. Multiple polls show the former governor’s support slipping, dropping him behind a couple of his opponents. The state’s attorney general, Eric Schmitt, appears to have taken the lead. He, too, is an election-denying Trump suck-up. But at this point the G.O.P. is operating on a curve; simply weeding out those alleged to be abusers and other possible criminals can feel like a major achievement.

I don’t see sending Eric Schmitt to the Senate as an improvement over sending Greitens. Schmitt is indeed an election-denying Trump suck-up with no discernible moral compass other than furthering the ambitions of Eric Schmitt. He’d be indistinguishable from Josh Hawley, except for being heavier and slower.

When the Government Watchdog Needs Watching

Lately I’ve been collecting stupid headlines. Here’s one.

Baffles? There’s nothing baffling about any of this. Obviously somebody didn’t want something to be preserved.

Now we’re learning that the current Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security started to collect phones earlier this year and try to recover the deleted texts, or at least try to understand what happened to them, and then just a few days later shut the investigation down. This was in the Washington Post yesterday:

In early February, after learning that the Secret Service’s text messages had been erased as part of a migration to new devices, staff at Inspector General Joseph V. Cuffari’s office planned to contact all DHS agencies offering to have data specialists help retrieve messages from their phones, according to two government whistleblowers who provided reports to Congress.

But later that month, Cuffari’s office decided it would not collect or review any agency phones, according to three people briefed on the decision.

Now CNN is reporting that Cuffari had known about the missing text messages since May 2021. Democrats in Congress are calling for Cuffari to recuse himself from further involvement in the investigation into the missing text messages.

Joseph V. Cuffari was nominated to be the DHS Inspector General by Donald Trump and was confirmed by the Senate on January 2019. The previous inspector general was an acting IG, never confirmed, named John V. Kelley, who served from 2017 to 2019. Kelly announced his resignation in June 2019 “following revelations that he directed his staff to whitewash audits of the agency’s performance after federal disasters,” it says here.

Prior to being the acting DHS IG, Kelly was part of the Emergency Management auditing staff.

Kelly’s announcement follows The Post’s report last week that an internal review found that Kelly overrode auditors who had found problems with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to various disasters.

When teams of auditors flew to local communities to assess how well FEMA was helping residents recover, Kelly — then in charge of the emergency management auditing staff — directed them to ignore most problems, according to the internal review and interviews. Instead, he told them to produce what the staff dubbed “feel-good reports.”

These records went back to 2011, I understand.

The guy who served in the DHS IG position in the latter part of the Obama Administration, John Roth, quickly ran afoul of the Trump Admiistration over the Muslim travel ban fiasco. Roth wrote a report saying that the Trump Administration’s Muslim travel ban was a chaotic mess that violated two court orders. The report was blocked from release by somebody, apparently acting for Trump. Roth notified some Senators about the report. Roth also decided to resign in 2017. Eventually in 2018 the DHS released a heavily redacted version of Roth’s report. This statement from Rep. Bennie Thompson points some fingers at the actiing IG, John Kelly. I still haven’t found out if the full and unredacted report was ever released.

But let’s assume there hasn’t been an honest IG in that position since Roth resigned in 2017.

Regarding other stupid headlines I’ve collected recently, this one is my favorite:

Schumer-Manchin Deal Is Good News, Maybe

The other big news today is that Schumer and Manchin reached a deal on a climate and drug pricing reconciliation bill. The bill is brillinatly titled “The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022” to address Manchin’s reasons for nixing similar bills in the past, not that there was a rational reason to assume lowering drug prices and transitioning away from fossil fuels was going to fuel inflation. Negotiating with Manchin must be a bit like herding cats.

Anyway, this would be a good bill to pass. As I understand it, it provides $369 billion to transition away from fossil fuels, allows Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices, and extends critical Affordable Care Act subsidies for three years. It also includes a 15 percent minimum corporate tax on companies of $1 billion or larger.

Of course, nobody trusts Manchin until this thing is passed, and I don’t believe anyone has heard from the Senate’s other free radical, Kyrsten Sinema (D-Rabbit Hole), yet. “While Sinema may not want to personally kill this heaven-sent deal herself, it would be surprising if she doesn’t take at least a pound of flesh in concessions to show her corporate friends she is still a major player,” Ed Kilgore writes.

This proposal also has to pass in the House, of course, where Josh Gottheimer (D-the 1 Percent) and his merry band of blue dog “centrists” are always ready to kill any part of the Democratic Party agenda, just because they can.

One interesting part of the story is that apparently the Dems put one over on Mitch McConnell. Per Josh Marshall:

While Senator Schumer and the White House were trying to revive some skinny version of the BBB and climate legislation with Joe Manchin Senator McConnell tried to scuttle those talks with a threat. He would pull GOP support from the China competition/CHIPs bill if the Democrats did not drop those negotiations. As it happened, Manchin scuttled the deal so the threat became moot. Then the CHIPs bill passed the Senate yesterday and then within like an hour – voila – the Manchin deal was back and somehow finalized. Senate Republicans were clearly pissed but the bill had already passed the Senate.

The “chips” bill has passed the House and can be signed by President Biden. It is intended to boost domestic production of semiconductor chips so that the U.S. is less reliant on other countries to keep our computers going. I take it that some House Republicans who had planned to vote for it changed their minds when the Schumer-Manchin deal was announced, but it passed anyway.

Susan Collins (R-Ozone Layer) said that the surprise announcement of the Schumer-Manchin deal could doom bipartisan efforts on a bill to protect same sex marriage. That makes no sense whatsoever to me, either. It’s like everyone in the Senate is a 12-year-old.

In other legislative news, a bill “aimed at protecting veterans exposed to toxic materials during their service was shut down yesterday in the Senate, in a 55 to 42 vote that failed to meet the 60-vote threshold necessary to advance the legislation.” Here is a list of the Republicans who voted against it. Chuck Schumer’s was the only Democratic vote against it, and I understand he cast that vote as part of a procedural maneuver that might allow reviving it at some other time.

No, We’re Not in a Recession yet

The headlines this morning told us that GDP shrunk and we must be in a recession. But some disagree. I think perhaps it can’t be a very bad recession if the experts can’t agree we’re in one.

On the “we’re in a recession” side: Everybody on Fox News, I’m sure.

On the other side: Paul Krugman

There’s a pretty good chance the Bureau of Economic Analysis, which produces the numbers on gross domestic product and other macroeconomic data, will declare on Thursday, preliminarily, that real G.D.P. shrank in the second quarter of 2022. Since it has already announced that real G.D.P. shrank in the first quarter, there will be a lot of breathless commentary to the effect that we’re officially in a recession.

But we won’t be. That’s not how recessions are defined; more important, it’s not how they should be defined. It’s possible that the people who actually decide whether we’re in a recession — more about them in a minute — will eventually declare that a recession began in the United States in the first half of this year, although that’s unlikely given other economic data. But they won’t base their decision solely on whether we’ve had two successive quarters of falling real G.D.P.

Then there’s a bunch of nerdy economic stuff, and then he says the more accurate measure of the beginning of a recession is a rising unemployment rate.

The Sahm Rule, developed by Claudia Sahm, a former Fed economist currently at the Jain Family Institute, tries to identify the start of recessions by looking for significant increases in the unemployment rate.

According to the Sahm Rule, we are not in a recession. A guy named Kevin Dugan at New York Magazine says something similar

The question of whether the U.S. is currently in a recession has taken on greater urgency since the first quarter saw a decline in gross domestic product and the following three months were a period of rising inflation. Powell seemed to not take that much stock in the negative GDP print and noted that those numbers change all the time. And Claudia Sahm — who, as an economist at the Fed, came up with a widely followed recession indicator that looks at rising unemployment — wrote that the negative growth has a lot to do with retailers’ imports and the weird effects on the supply chain from the pandemic rather than anything to do with the health of the economy.

Here’s Claudia Sahm herself.

Unemployment rates are going down, not up. Therefore, there is no recession. Whether it’s a good idea for the Fed to continue to crank up interest rates to slow inflation is another question. Back to Krugman:

The U.S. economy is not currently in a recession. No, two quarters of negative growth aren’t, whatever you may have heard, the “official” or “technical” definition of a recession; that determination is made by a committee that has always relied on several indicators, especially job growth. And as Jerome Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, noted yesterday, the labor market still looks strong.

That said, the U.S. economy is definitely slowing, basically because the Fed is deliberately engineering a slowdown to bring inflation down. And it’s possible that this slowdown will eventually be severe and broad-based enough to get the R-label. In fact, on this question I think I’m a bit more pessimistic than the consensus; I think the odds are at least 50-50 that history will say that we experienced a mild recession in late 2022 or early 2023, one that caused a modest rise in the unemployment rate. But what’s in a name?

The real question is whether a moderate slowdown, whether or not it gets called a recession, will be sufficient to control inflation. And the news on that front has been fairly encouraging lately.

Overall inflation is at a 16-month low, he says, although it is too soon to declare victory. I suspect food prices are going to remain high because of the hot, dry summer here in farm country. Crops are burning up in some places, and with the war in Ukraine wheat is going to be way scarce globally. There’s nothing the Federal Reserve can do about that.