Occasionally, Someone Tells the Truth

You know times are changing when even Jonathan Chait is snarking at the “centrists” to suck it up and negotiate with the progressives.

Congress’s failure to hold a vote over the bipartisan infrastructure bill last week set off a wave of media hyperventilation and whining by Democratic centrists. “This far left faction is willing to put the President’s entire agenda, including this historic bipartisan infrastructure package, at risk. They’ve put civility and bipartisan governing at risk,” raged Representative Josh Gottheimer. “Canceling the infrastructure vote,” complained Senator Kyrsten Sinema, “betrays the trust the American people have put in their elected leaders.”

The delay does nothing of the sort. It saves Democrats — all of them, moderates included — from an embarrassing debacle. And it forces the whole party to hold a negotiation that one side, the centrists, was trying to prevent.

The “centrists” have some nerve claiming that progressives are opposed to President Biden’s agenda, when it’s plainly obvious the progressives are saving that agenda and the “centrists” are trying to kill it. Seriously, if the “centrists” were that good at lying and demagoguery, one wonders why they haven’t been using those skills against Republicans all these years.

The outpouring of emotions stems from the unusual circumstances of this negotiation. In most cases, a party’s centrists hold all the leverage, because walking away from the table with no bill is more acceptable to them than it is to more ideologically pure members. On this issue, however, the left has real leverage. Centrists care inordinately about the success of the bipartisan infrastructure deal, mainly because of its political symbolism: since their political brands are built around working with Republicans, they desperately need the infrastructure bill to be signed into law and be seen as a big deal. Progressives are fine with the bipartisan infrastructure deal, but its failure would hurt them much less than it would hurt the centrists.

Paul Waldman disagrees with Chait on this point and thinks most of the “centrists” would be okay with the failure of both bills. He wrote last week,

The centrists, on the other hand, might want to see the bills pass, but for them, failure is an option. They’re much less likely to have run for Congress because they were passionate about policy issues and social problems (not that ideologues don’t have ambition; every politician does). But if the end result is that the whole thing goes down in flames, they’ll be able to live with that.

I’m inclined to agree with Paul Waldman on this. Remember, once upon a time there was just one bill that included infrastructure and all the other stuff. Manchin and Sinema made noises about how they could craft a bill that would get some Republican votes and didn’t need to be done through reconciliation. The bill they came up with was mostly about roads-and-bridges infrastructure spending, plus some goodies for the fossil fuel industry. Progressive Democrats then went to work on a reconciliation bill that retained the stuff the “centrists” had cut. So now there are two bills, known for short as the BIP (for bipartisan) and the BBB (for Build Back Better).

Chait seems to take the speeches about the glories of bipartisanship and reaching across the aisle at face value. I do not. I think the whole point of splitting out the smaller and less objectionable (to conservatives) bill was to kill the big bill, which includes a lot of tax cuts and stuff that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and No Labels and a lot of industry groups and other deep-pocket donors want to drown in a bathtub. My suspicions are that the “centrists” would be happy if BIP passes, but they won’t lose any sleep if it doesn’t. They can always blame the progressives, after all.

There’s a whole lot of money and power pushing to kill the Build Back Better bill, and Democratic “centrists” work for that money, not for the people or the Democratic Party or President Biden’s agenda. That’s something not a lot of the media bobbleheads like Jonathan Chait are willing to say out loud, but there it is.

It’s also the case that there are still plenty of media bobbleheads who are reflexively siding with the “centrists.” David Atkins:

The framing of most mainstream news stories after the delay of the infrastructure vote in Congress has been remarkable. Supposedly “straight” news stories assume a reflexive editorial position that the Democrats on the more conservative edges of the caucus are wiser and more pragmatic on both policy and political grounds—and that the more progressive positions are intransigent, pie-in-the-sky, and electorally irresponsible.

The New York Times declares that “progressives flexed, but remain empty-handed” and “moderates feel betrayed.” The Politico Playbook lede begins with astonishment that President Joe Biden did not help the few centrist holdouts who were sabotaging his campaign promises. “‘The fact that the president came to the Hill and whipped against his own bill is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen,’” a source told the news site. “The late-night observation was just one of many we heard from frustrated lawmakers and senior aides stunned by what happened in the House on Friday.” Dan Balz at TheWashington Post similarly portrays the impasse as a “revolt” by liberals taking advantage of a “gaffe” by Biden in suggesting that the bipartisan infrastructure and Build Back Better bills would move in tandem—as if the entire strategic purpose for the centrists delinking the two bills were not to hamstring or even scuttle the bulk of the Biden agenda entirely.

Perhaps most stunningly, another piece at the Times makes the remarkable editorial statement that “liberal lawmakers, who by and large come from safe Democratic districts, have the political luxury of holding firm, but they will now face the ire of Democrats in swing districts who gave their party its slender majorities in the House and Senate.” The bias betrayed here by coauthors Jonathan Weisman and Emily Cochrane is a disservice to readers and to the truth.

Whether political reporters are writing this way out of habit or to please their publishers or both, I cannot say. But it’s making me crazy. And it’s worth reading the David Atkins post all the way through.

See also Paul Krugman, who is done with the conformist thinking in media and politics.

A decade ago elite opinion was obsessed with the supposed need for immediate action on budget deficits. This consensus among what I used to call Very Serious People was so strong that as Ezra Klein, now a Times Opinion writer, wrote, deficits somehow became an issue to which “the rules of reportorial neutrality don’t apply.”

The news media more or less openly rooted not just for deficit reduction in general, but in particular for “entitlement reform,” a.k.a. cuts in future Medicare and Social Security benefits. Such cuts, everyone who mattered seemed to argue, were essential to secure the nation’s future.

They weren’t. But here’s my question: If elite opinion cares so much about the future, why isn’t there any comparable consensus now about the need for climate action and spending on children? These are two of the main components of President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, and the case for both is much stronger than the case for entitlement cuts ever was.

This weekend there was a massive oil spill off the coast of Orange County, California. It used to be that a big ocean oil spill would dominate the news for days on end; now, not so much. It’s kind of like mass shootings. After a while they seem almost normal. But how can you look at that and not say, enough. A big part of BBB is dedicated to ending the dominance of fossil fuels.

And I see that Rolling Stone is running an article headlined The Koch Empire Goes All Out to Sink Joe Biden’s Agenda — and His Presidency, Too: The dark-money network is spending tens of millions to undermine Democrats’ effort to protect the climate and shore up the social safety net. However, I can’t get through the subscription firewall to tell you what it says.

Back to Paul Krugman:

But elite opinion — and much reporting — somehow fails to highlight the extreme irresponsibility of opposing clean energy plans and the immense waste of human potential that comes from failing to address child poverty. Instead it’s all “$3.5 trillion! $3.5 trillion!” — often without pointing out that this is proposed spending over a decade, not a single year, and that it would amount to only 1.2 percent of G.D.P.

OK, I don’t fully understand this double standard — why Very Serious People became obsessed with the supposedly urgent need to limit government debt yet are blasé about if not hostile to proposals to tackle the issues that really matter for our future.

What’s hard to understand? First, there is just too much damn money bribing people to not notice child poverty or the climate crisis. And second, America (and the world, frankly) is being run by a decadent aristocracy. We are no longer the new nation of scrappy settlers but an old nation with too many people at the top who are spoiled and insulated from real-world problems that don’t involve tax shelters and asset management. See Our Decadent Aristocracy from 2019 and The Virus vs. Our Ruling Fatuous Asses from 2020.

Facebook Loses Face

Facebook is offline. And when I noticed this, my first impulse was to post to Facebook about it. Hmm. I understand this is a global problem — although I can’t tell from news stories whether it’s offline for all users or some users — and it also affects other Facebook apps like WhatsApp and Instagram. The DNS management system Cloudflare says that FB’s Facebook’s border gateway protocol routes have been “withdrawn from the Internet,” whatever that means.

It possibly wasn’t a hack.

Two Facebook security team members, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said it was unlikely that a cyberattack caused the issues. That’s because the technology behind the apps was still different enough that one hack was not likely to affect all of them at once.

This happened the day after FB was featured on 60 Minutes in an interview with a former employee who left with boxes of documents she has shared with the Securities and Exchange Commission and which were leaked to a lot of news outlets. The former employee claims the platform’s ranking algorithm amplifies “angry” content, contrary to what FB claims to be doing with its content. She also said Facebook turned off safeguards designed to tamp down misinformation and inflammatory speech after Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in last year’s US elections, and that this was done purely to ramp up traffic and make more money.

See also Kevin Roose, Facebook Is Weaker Than We Knew, at The New York Times.

Facebook is in trouble.

Not financial trouble, or legal trouble, or even senators-yelling-at-Mark-Zuckerberg trouble. What I’m talking about is a kind of slow, steady decline that anyone who has ever seen a dying company up close can recognize. It’s a cloud of existential dread that hangs over an organization whose best days are behind it, influencing every managerial priority and product decision and leading to increasingly desperate attempts to find a way out. This kind of decline is not necessarily visible from the outside, but insiders see a hundred small, disquieting signs of it every day — user-hostile growth hacks, frenetic pivots, executive paranoia, the gradual attrition of talented colleagues.  …

… The documents, shared with The [Wall Street] Journal by Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager, reveal a company worried that it is losing power and influence, not gaining it, with its own research showing that many of its products aren’t thriving organically. Instead, it is going to increasingly extreme lengths to improve its toxic image, and to stop users from abandoning its apps in favor of more compelling alternatives.

Mark Zuckerberg might want to consider cashing out now, while the cashing out is good, rather than wait until the company’s value begins to deflate.

This whole thing with algorithms needs more examination, although not by me, as I am not a technogeeky sort of person. During my time writing for About dot com I learned how much Google algorithms can make or break web traffic and commerce, and Google is perpetually tweaking its algorithms to benefit itself at the expense of others. Maybe some kind of regulation is in order, although possibly by some independent commission and not the government itself.

The House Dem Centrists Hit a Wall

Apparently the Democratic “centrists” still haven’t read the memo. Rachael Bade and Rylan Lizza write at Politico,

— What senior Dems thought was going to happen: President JOE BIDEN was coming to the Hill to support Speaker NANCY PELOSI’s efforts to rally the party behind his historic $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan ahead of a Friday vote.

— What ended up happening instead: Biden told them he wanted to hold off on BIF until there was a reconciliation deal — even if that means delaying the vote for several more days or even weeks.

As I wrote last week, the Democratic House “centrists” seriously believed President Biden should bring the hammer down on progressives to force through a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill. Instead, the President is taking the progressive position, that the reconciliation bill is the important one and cannot be left behind.

By all accounts, some of the centrists are still stunned. That is not what they expected.

The House Democratic centrists are led by Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, a Clinton acolyte from way back. I’ve written about him before; see House Moderate Democrats Are the Bad Guys on Infrastructure from August 16 and “Moderate” Troublemakers Still Threaten to Derail Biden Agenda from August 25. Gottheimer and his crew of eight other Dems are closely aligned with big money groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and No Labels (billionaires into capital management, equity firms, hedge funds, etc.). The Nine have worked hard to de-couple the bipartisan bill from the reconciliation Build Back Better bill. It’s possible they don’t really care if the bipartisan bill passes; they just want to use it to weaken if not stop the bigger bill.

Do read Ryan Grim at The Intercept, How Rep. Josh Gottheimer Got Outmatched by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Late yesterday Gottheimer released a statement complaining about how a “far-left faction” was trying to destroy the President’s agenda, never mind that the President’s agenda is wrapped up in the bill Gottheimer has been trying to destroy. It may be significant that Gottheimer was the only member of the Nine to sign the statement.

But come Friday, Gottheimer was the lone name on the statement after, according to Politico’s Heather Caygle, no one else from his “unbreakable nine” would sign on. Later that evening, a Republican representative said one angry Democrat called Pelosi a “fucking liar” for not putting the bill on the floor, and there was little question about the identity of that angry Democrat.

This was the plan:

The goal of Gottheimer’s group had been to pass the infrastructure bill and then train their fire on the bigger bill. Free the hostage, then blow up the insurgents. Their demand went against the grain of the Democrats’ two-track strategy, but Pelosi conceded by giving them a date for the infrastructure floor vote: September 27.

Gottheimer and some of his allies then huddled with the dark-money group No Labels, which finances their campaigns and was instrumental in organizing the opposition. “You should feel so proud, I can’t explain to you, this is the culmination of all your work. This would not have happened but for what you built,” Gottheimer told them, according to a recording of the conversation obtained by The Intercept. “It just wouldn’t have happened — hard stop. You should just feel so proud. This is your win as much as it is my win.”

Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., former chair of the right-wing Blue Dog Coalition, celebrated that the victory would let them focus next on fighting the reconciliation package, which he told the group he opposed. “Let’s deal with the reconciliation later. Let’s pass that infrastructure package right now, and don’t get your hopes up that we’re going to spend trillions more of our kids’ and grandkids’ money that we don’t really have at this point,” Schrader said.

Until very recently, like maybe this week, the pattern has been that Conventional Wisdom automatically sided with the centrists, and all of the pressure in Washington would have come down on the progressives to back off. Ryan Grim continues,

But House progressives quickly responded, vowing to block the bill — to hold the line — if it came to the floor without the broader spending bill. Gottheimer remained confident over the next several weeks, saying privately that he was sure the progressives would fold. On September 27, it was clear that there weren’t enough votes to pass the bill, and Pelosi pulled it from the floor, rescheduling it for a September 30 showdown.

On CNN Thursday, Gottheimer gave the bill a “1,000 percent” chance of being passed that day. He never got close, and the bill was pulled again, leaving Gottheimer to meekly argue that the House had not been technically adjourned. Friday would still be the same “legislative day,” he tweeted, and negotiations were ongoing and he was grabbing Red Bull and Gatorade and — hey, where’s everybody going?

The times, they are a-changin’. President Biden has made it clear he agrees with the progressives — if the bipartisan bill is allowed to pass by itself, the reconciliation bill will be destroyed. That’s been the entire purpose behind coupling the two bills; factions supporting one will have to support the other also.

The progressives have been clear that they have agreed to that plan, and that they will vote for the bipartisan bill to secure passage of the bigger bill. It’s the centrists who are trying to break the deal.

Greg Sargent:

In the through-the-looking-glass media coverage of the Democrats’ brutal slog to pass President Biden’s agenda, the story has often been that radicalized progressives are threatening to derail the whole thing, because they refuse to accept the “reality” that the final package must be in sync with what the conservative faction of Democrats says is “possible.”

But this gets the story wrong. In fact, the progressives’ stand on Thursday makes successful passage of Biden’s agenda more likely, not less. To be clear, it’s very plausible the whole thing could still implode. But if so, that lefty stand won’t be why.

By refusing to help pass the infrastructure bill, progressives helped secure more space for negotiations on the reconciliation framework. The reconciliation bill is the Biden and Democratic Party agenda: It’s made up of all the climate provisions, economic infrastructure and tax reforms designed to secure our decarbonized future and rebalance our political economy after decades of upward skew.

The centrists are the ones who oppose passing this agenda.

I’m still seeing news stories and commentary that make the progressives out to be radical bomb throwers who are trying to stop what’s practical and possible. But after President Biden’s visit to the House yesterday, perhaps there will be less of that. We’ll see.

Paul Waldman:

The savvy journalist’s view of politics is based in part on the assumption that ideologues are problematic — they’re inflexible, they’re impractical, they care more about purity than that most noble of objectives, Getting Things Done.

Centrists and moderates, on the other hand, supposedly understand the real world and are willing to work with others to solve problems. Which is why, for instance, a bipartisan group of House centrists named themselves the Problem Solvers Caucus.

But what if all those ideas are backward? What if it’s the ideologues who are able to get things done, and it’s the centrists who stand in the way of solving problems while they knuckle under to special interests who don’t have the welfare of the country at heart?

The current Democratic attempt to pass President Biden’s agenda is demonstrating just that.

A lot of us have been saying that for years; it’s the centrists holding us back, not the progressives.

Waldman goes on to say that while Joe Biden wasn’t their preferred candidate, progressives worked hard to elect him. And progressives are not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good; they are accepting compromises to get something from their agenda passed. Failure is not an option. But for the centrists, failure is an option. If both bills go down in flames, they can live with that. The centrists are centrists because they are comfortable with the status quo and aren’t on fire to make big changes.

That general lack of urgency about addressing issues may be one reason that the Problem Solvers Caucus, which was formed in 2017, can’t say it has actually solved any problems. On their website, these lawmakers tout a few areas of agreement among themselves, but they haven’t managed to use their alleged problem-solving prowess to push any legislation to passage.

And that, children, is why we can’t have nice things. But maybe something can be salvaged from this.

Josh Gottheimer, left, and some other guy.

 

What the Bleep Is Wrong with Kyrsten Sinema?

It’s been a while since I’ve quoted Charles Pierce.

So, in Wednesday’s installment of How Nothing Gets Done, the starring role appears to be going to Senator Kyrsten Sinema, International Pest of Mystery. She seems to be enjoying her new position as a pointless partisan roadblock jamming up the agenda of a president. It admittedly takes a lot of work, if not much of a conscience. She met a few times with the president on Tuesday and, at the end of the day, she was still sabotaging the entire agenda without giving the slightest indication of why she’s doing it.

Joe Manchin has been opaque about his reasons for clogging the process, but him I can almost understand. He’s in pharma’s pocket because of family considerations, and he’s opposed to the climate provisions of the reconciliation bill because coal. And his devotion to the filibuster probably has a lot to do with both of those. At least he budged, a little, on voting rights. (We all remember voting rights? It was a big deal a while back?) Sinema, however, baffles me. Not only is she throwing sand in the gears of policies the country desperately needs, she seems utterly heedless of how bad she looks doing it.

Last night, Rachel Maddow said that the Arizona Democratic Party is so fed up with Sinema that they threatened her with censure.

In Senator Kyrsten Sinema`s home state of Arizona, the state`s Democratic party is so fed up with her not being on board with the bill that they passed a resolution this weekend part of which reads, quote, if Senator Sinema votes against the reconciliation bill supported by President Biden and the vast majority of Democrats in both the House and the Senate and if she continues to delay, disrupt votes to gut the reconciliation package of its necessary find funding, then the Arizona Democratic Party state committee will go officially on record and will give Senator Sinema a vote of no confidence.

See also Jonathan Weisman in the New York Times, As Sinema resists the budget bill, she is set to raise money from business groups that oppose it. Basically, she’s getting money from business lobbying groups like the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors who are opposed to tax hikes on big business. At the rate she’s pissing off Democrats and left-leaning independent voters in her state, I’m not sure what good a big campaign war chest will do for her. Maybe her ultimate goal is to be a big-shot corporate lobbyist, after all.

Here’s where we are: House progressives say they insist on passage of the bigger reconciliation bill as a condition of their support for the bipartisan infrastructure bill. It may be that if Sinema and Joe Manchin would both publicly commit to some framework of a reconciliation bill that they will vote for, most progressives would go ahead and vote for the bipartisan bill and not wait for passage. That’s speculation, but possible.

But the latest I’m hearing is that Sinema won’t even talk about the reconciliation bill until after the bipartisan bill passes. That means nothing passes. And it’s making people crazy that she won’t even clearly articulate what she wants, or what she doesn’t want, or what she’ll settle for. She’s just saying no.

Of course, Joe Manchin is a problem also. There appears to be less frustration with Manchin, in some quarters at least, because he is from a state that voted to re-elect Donald Trump by more than 30 points. But Sinema doesn’t have that excuse. And Manchin seems a bit more willing to actually negotiate. Sinema is not negotiating. She’s putting on a one-person my way or the highway act.

Greg Sargent writes with frustration that too much of news media is reporting this issue as if it’s the progressives who are the problem. But it’s the progressives who are actually standing up for President Biden’s agenda. And House centrists don’t seem to understand they are just hurting themselves by not doing the same thing.

Sargent also says that progressives are right to worry that “if Democrats pass the infrastructure bill first, there’s no telling whether Sinema (or Manchin and other centrists) will be there to support something substantial in reconciliation.” History tells us that once the infrastructure bill passes, more conservative Dems will quit negotiating and go home. If there is a reconciliation bill, it will be chopped down to nothing first.

Josh Marshall writes,

I had a conversation yesterday similar to a number I’ve heard over recent days: a business lobbyist explaining that yes, they want the infrastructure bill real bad and that their optimal scenario is that the infrastructure bill passes and the reconciliation bill goes down to defeat entirely. A separate irony is that most of those people – the ones who appear to have Sinema’s ear – seem entirely unable to grasp the implications for the Democratic party if that is indeed the final outcome. It will rip the Democratic coalition apart. Of course, in general, that’s not their concern or their problem. But it certainly means all the self-styled “moderates” they’re working with now will go down to defeat – both because of primaries but also just as the natural consequence of a Democratic rout. More business friendly Democrats in blue seats will also get replaced by more progressive members. I am consistently surprised how people whose whole job is politics, supposedly, seem to have so little grasp of its basic functions.

In other words, it’s the Dem House moderates in swing districts who have the most to lose if the reconciliation bill is blocked. Most of the progressives — although not all — are in safe Dem districts. The moderates more than the progressives need to have some big thing they can show voters they have accomplished. The infrastructure bill, by itself, is not likely to be it. As Rachel Maddow said last night, “You know, the bipartisan infrastructure bill by itself doesn`t really do much. It`s mostly a series of giveaways to the fossil fuel industry.” I understand it’s also the case that even if it passes this week, most of the projects the infrastructure bill would fund won’t be underway by this time next year. To midterm voters, that will sound like one more empty promise.

Rep. Katie Porter, a progressive in a swing district, was on Chris Hayes’s show last night making it clear where she stands.

I plan to vote no on the Infrastructure Bill until we have an assurance to the American people that the Build Back Better plan will pass. Like I said, we can`t leave anybody behind. The American people work in lots of different industries and lots of different kinds of occupations, they face lots of different challenges not just roads and bridges and airport and transit, but they face challenges regarding child care, challenges regarding the greening of our — the need to green our economy, challenges regarding college costs.

So, we need to see an assurance from the Senate that we`re going to be able to pass President Biden`s agenda. And that means all of the different pieces that the American people elected him and us to do.

The infrastructure bill pretty much became Kysten Sinema’s vanity project only to get her support on the reconciliation bill. Progressives don’t like it (see above about giveaways to the fossil fuel industry) and are only promising to vote for it for the sake of the larger bill. I don’t think there’s any chance of it passing the House this week, or ever, until Sinema (and Manchin) get a clue.

Update: Some excellent commentary by Sarah Jones at New York magazine.

Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona appear to relish the power they wield over the rest of the party. They are, in effect, holding the president’s priorities hostage to their personal whims. That’s not a new story in politics. But their stubbornness in the face of contemporary challenges reveals the bottomless emptiness of their brand of centrist politics. …

News that she is about to raise money from business interests that oppose the budget bill has invited speculation that she is doing her donors’ bidding. Meanwhile, the budget’s climate provisions disturb Manchin, who makes a sizable profit from the coal industry. Perhaps plain old corruption is at work here.

But there is more to it than that. Everyone involved in this saga, from President Biden down, is making a moral choice. The president’s budget is, like all presidential budgets, a public expression of the administration’s values. Sinema and Manchin have also expressed their values in public, even though these are cloaked in boilerplate rhetoric about inflation and taxes. Sinema’s donors are a reflection of her personal priorities. The same is true for Manchin when it comes to the profit motive. They’ve chosen their benefactors, not their voters, as their real constituency.

Jones goes on to point out that the provisions in the Build Back Better bill are widely popular across much of the political spectrum, and that “As countless wonks have pointed out, however, the bill is largely paid for and should have minimal effect on inflation and the national debt.” I doubt there is any political risk for a Democrat, even Joe Manchin, to support it. Jones concludes,

Some version of the bill may well pass, but these tortured negotiations have exposed the barrenness of their position. Sinema and Manchin have a way of doing politics that redounds to no one else’s benefit, and sometimes not even themselves. They are risking Biden’s legacy, the prospects of their party, and the well-being of the American public for reasons they can’t even articulate. If only they were capable of shame.

Will the Dem Centrists Ever Get the Memo?

Today was supposed to be the day that the bipartisan infrastructure bill would be put up for a vote in the House. Instead, Nancy Pelosi has moved the vote to Thursday, because the progressives said so.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said she wasn’t bluffing when warning that progressives were willing to tank the infrastructure plan until the House and the Senate also pass a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill that’s still far from finished. And it seems she meant business.

Jayapal told us in a Sunday night interview, before Pelosi’s announcement, that the number of Democrats willing to kill the infrastructure bill is growing.

“It’s actually increasing, and it’s increasing from members who aren’t just within the Progressive Caucus,” she said.

The CPC chair estimated last week that more than half of the 95 House Democrats in the caucus were prepared to vote “no.” “I think it’s now probably somewhere around 60,” she said.

“They’re members of the [Congressional] Black Caucus, the [Congressional] Hispanic Caucus, the [Congressional] Asian [Pacific American] Caucus, some of whom are not members of the Progressive Caucus, who feel very strongly that this is really the only shot we have to deliver on the agenda that the president ran on,” she said.

House centrists appear to believe they are holding some kind of winning hand. Greg Sargent:

But the centrists — or “moderates,” as some call them — now want Biden to bring down the hammer on progressives. Some centrists anonymously leaked to Politico Playbook that they’re “infuriated” that Biden has not yet pressured progressives to pass the bipartisan bill this week, before reconciliation is done:

Moderate Democrats expected Biden to start twisting House progressives’ arms during their White House meeting last week. But we’re told by sources in the progressive camp and another senior Democratic aide that the president has neither asked progressives to drop their demand that the reconciliation bill pass in tandem with [the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework], nor pressed them to accept a stand-alone vote on BIF this week — at least not yet.

As one moderate griped to Playbook: “The president needs to pick up the phone and call people.”

You see, from the point of view of centrists, this is an indictment of Biden. But this misses the point entirely. If anything, this shows that Biden does not see utility in pressuring progressives, at least not in this fashion, meaning this gambit is already backfiring.

On August 30, Sahil Kapur reported at NBC News that centrist Democrats used to steer the ship in the Obama era. Now, progressives are taking the wheel.

Since 2010, a political realignment fueled by the election of the first Black president has wiped out most rural Democrats. The new, slimmer Democratic majority hinges on suburban districts that used to reliably vote Republican but drifted away from the GOP in the age of Donald Trump. The new suburban “majority makers” are from well-educated districts with more liberal social values.

The result is a narrower Democratic majority, but one that is more cohesive and progressive.

The Progressive Caucus has grown to 95 House members. Centrist Democrats have split into three factions, with some overlapping membership: The Problem Solvers Caucus (which stresses bipartisanship), a shrunken Blue Dog Coalition (which emphasizes fiscal responsibility) and the New Democrat Coalition (which calls for bridging left-right divides).

My take is that much of the country is done with Clinton-style third-way hypercautious incrementalism and wants to see the Democrats actually DO SOMETHING for a change, but a lingering few haven’t gotten the memo and don’t realize they aren’t calling the shots any more. Anyway, obviously it’s the so-called moderates, not the progressives, who are killing President Biden’s agenda and putting the party at risk in the midterms, and they are too stuck in their old paradigms to see that.

Back to Greg Sargent:

I can report that the office of Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, confirms this to be the case.

“The White House has not asked progressives to change course,” Chris Evans, a spokesperson for Jayapal, told me. He noted there has been no pressure to vote for the infrastructure bill “before” the reconciliation one is “passed.”

“Like the overwhelming majority of Democrats, progressives support President Biden’s entire Build Back Better agenda and look forward to sending both bills to his desk,” Evans added.

Note that progressives are working hard to cast themselves as the true champions of Biden’s agenda. And it’s true: The reconciliation bill’s provisions on global warming, child care, paid leave, health care and education — offset by reforms making the tax code fairer, more progressive and less prone to elite gamesmanship — comprise the blueprint from Biden and the Democratic Party to secure our nation’s future.

Can we call up the Clintonistas moderates and call them splitters and ask them to start being real Democrats and stop being divisive? Can we please please please?

Axios is reporting now that two of the nine House Dem moderates who demanded the bipartisan bill be voted on today — Reps. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Texas) and Filemon Vela (D-Texas) — are on board with voting on the reconciliation bill also. However, they are denying that this is because anyone exercised “leverage” on them. Whatever floats your boat, folks.

This may be the moment at which we see if the Democratic Party really is moving to the left, or if the so-called moderates can still veto everything the party wants to accomplish to keep it stuck in the 1990s. Personally, given the debt ceiling deadline we’re up against, if it were up to me I’d put off everything else until next week. But if Nancy Pelosi can steer through this mess successfully, all power to her.

MAGA-Heads Will Never Be Happy

I don’t know that the final “official” Cyber Ninja fraudit report has been released yet — it’s due any minute now — but a draft report that got leaked is all over the news has caused much amusement. As you must have heard, the fraudit “recount” that took so very long found that Joe Biden won the state by a few more votes than the original results said he did.

Of course, this will not stop the Big Lie. The MAGA-universe has already gone into overdrive manufacturing reasons for why the Cyber Ninjas report didn’t say what it said. In brief, even though the actual numbers reported say Biden won, the report issues enough questions about irregularities that certainly seem to leave room for shenanigans that stole the election from Trump.

We might ask what they were doing all that time if they couldn’t find the answers to those questions. Fortunately Philip Bump at WaPo has gone through these questions left unanswered and explains why they don’t add up to anything. Not that facts will cause the MAGA-heads to shut up.

Greg Sargent:

If anything, the audit’s conclusion only confirms the very worst suspicions that have arisen about the true significance of Trump’s continuing insistence that the election was stolen from him, the response of many Republicans to that mythologizing, and the broader continuing threat all this poses.

That’s because it’s already clear that some Republicans will not use the audit news to affirm that confidence in our election system has been restored. Instead, they’ll use it to continue undermining that confidence, for the express purpose of justifying further anti-democratic tactics. …

… That’s because the audit also magically did purport to “find” serious problems with the vote counting. As The Post notes, it “undercut” its own conclusion about the validity of the outcome by suggesting that some ballots might have been “improperly accepted and counted.”

It probably took them so long to release the thing because they had to manufacture reasons why their own conclusions are wrong. Do read Philip Bump. The excuses add up to pretty tepid stuff, really.

Four Democrats Who’ve Been Bought by Big Pharma

Yesterday I ran into an article that claimed Kyrsten Sinema had benefited recently from a big email and digital campaign on her behalf bankrolled by Big Pharma, and it was after that she announced that she doesn’t support allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices. I didn’t link to it right away because I was waiting for some corroboration. Well, today I am seeing the same claim in a lot of places, so I assume there’s some corroboration somewhere. This is from Salon:

Sinema got major backing from the industry before her threat to derail the Democrats’ drug bill. Center Forward, a Washington nonprofit that has received at least $4.5 million from PhRMA, has run TV and digital ads praising Sinema for the past two weeks, according to The Daily Poster, and sent out pro-Sinema mailers urging recipients to thank the senator for “fighting as an independent voice.” The group’s board includes at least two PhRMA lobbyists who work on drug pricing issues and represent numerous pharmaceutical companies.

So, to the question of why she is taking such an unpopular position, the answer is, she’s being paid to take it.

There’s been a discussion going on at Talking Points Memo this week about why the senator from Arizona behaves as she does. The emerging consensus is that she really has no core convictions or values other than fancying herself to be “independent” and a “maverick,” as some called the late Arizona Sen. John McCain. McCain did have moments of personal integrity, but he was still a creature of the Republican Party and went along with his party’s positions and talking points most of the time.  Sinema seems to be in a party by herself.

One correspondent from Arizona wrote at TPM,

Like you, I think she believes that passing the Sinema-Romney infrastructure bill will prove that she can get things done in bipartisan fashion. Now apparently she’s got Big Pharma and the Chamber telling her she’s gotta put the brakes on reconciliation because it threatens too many of their interests. And her Dem colleagues are saying she can’t have one without the other.

She’s in a DC bubble of her own making. She has virtually no in-state presence, no public schedule, no press conferences, no interaction with regular voters, and other than industry-funded SuperPACs, no support system. She’s in a tough spot, and she put herself there.

Poll numbers show that Arizona voters are not happy with Sinema. She got a tepid 54 percent approval from Democrats based overwhelmingly on “somewhat approve” rather than “strongly approve,” which doesn’t look good campared to the 85 percent approval of Mark Kelly, the other Democratic senator from Arizona. Independent voters, the group she is allegedly trying to impress, gave her only a 40 percent approval. Both Mark Kelly and Joe Biden did better with independents.

Josh Marshall wrote that Sinema is “cratering” in Arizona.

When Arizona Democratic primary voters (who can be Dems or independents) were given the options of “I would vote to reelect Kyrsten Sinema” or “I would vote for a different candidate who would get rid of the filibuster” the numbers were basically catastrophic. Sinema got 22% and the unnamed filibuster-buster got 66%.

Yeah, she’s cratering.

When I talk to people who’ve known Sinema for a long time they talk about her ambition and mutability (not rare in politicians) but also her rigidity. There’s no deftness or nuance. It really seems like she got the idea she’s the next John McCain and that Arizona wants another independent maverick and that playing to DC “moderate” worship is her ticket to power and possibly a future presidential run. But it turns out she’s just too rigid and clumsy to pull it off and she appears to be on course to a one term career in the Senate as a result.

A presidential run? As a Democrat? By pissing off the party and Democratic voters everywhere? At this point I’m not sure she’ll be able to get work as a pharmaceutical lobbyist. Nobody likes her.

Dylan Scott writes at Vox that cutting prescription drug prices is critical to just about everything else Democrats want to do regarding health care.

Democrats had big dreams for health care reform this year. In the forthcoming budget reconciliation bill, they planned to cover millions of uninsured people and offer dental and vision benefits to people on Medicare, while also cutting prescription drug costs. …

… Right now, it all depends on the fate of the prescription drug proposals.

Democrats need to come up with a plan to pay for the health care provisions because centrists are demanding it. From an accounting perspective, the drug plan — which gives Medicare more power to set prices for medications — is projected to save the government hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming decades. Democrats are using those savings to expand coverage in Medicaid and Medicare.

Sinema is not the only Democrat who has apparently been bought by the pharmaceutical industry. For example, three Dem House members — Scott Peters (CA), Kurt Schrader (OR), and Kathleen Rice (NY) — also are fighting it. And the only apparent reason for their opposition is that they don’t want to give up the generous donations of the pharmaceutical industry.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

Back in July, Salon reported on Peters’ apparent flip-flop on H.R. 3, a Democratic-backed House bill aimed at radically reducing the price of high-cost drugs. Peters supported the measure in 2019. But in the years following, he received hundreds of thousands in campaign contributions from Big Pharma. Later he told Roll Call that the bill was a bad idea, saying that it would “dry up all the private investment that does that research.”

Do see this Atlantic article from 2019, Big Pharma’s Go-To Defense of Soaring Drug Prices Doesn’t Add Up. In brief, research and development costs have little to do with how drugs are priced in the U.S.

This is sad, not just because it’s likely to torpedo an important reform. Most voters have no idea what’s going on in Congress. They only know that, once again, Democrats failed to do much that was of any use to anyone. Might as well not bother to vote.

No More Nice Democrats, Please

One side effect of the California recall election is that it appears to be inspiring Democrats to do something bold and unusual: run against Republicans.

People noticed that many 2020 election campaigns amounted to asymmetrical warfare. Democrats often ran on “reaching across the aisle” and bragging about how well they work with everybody to “get things done.” Their Republican opponents, meanwhile, were running ads saying that Democrats will take away your guns and Bibles and eat your babies. Guess who won most of the time?

David Atkins writes that Dems are eager to blast the opposition on covid mitigation.

As of this writing, the United States is once again suffering more than 2,000 deaths per day—the most since over 200 days ago. It is uncomfortable but necessary to point out that it is a primarily Republican plague at this point: The infection rate is twice as high in red counties as in blue ones. Seventy percent of new cases are emerging in red states, and the red-blue divide in vaccination rates is stark.

So it scarcely matters if Republicans are doing this out of ideological fervor or Machiavellian conspiracy. Regardless, the real results of laissez-faire public health policy are a clear abysmal failure. Insofar as it’s an intentional ploy to drag down Biden’s approval rating and the broader economy, the slight dip in public confidence well over a year out from the midterms is hardly worth the anger Republicans are stoking from everyday Americans who have been vaccinated, or are soon to be, and furious over being endangered by conservative anti-vax, anti-mask extremists.

The GOP intransigence is fiercely motivating Democrats to vote even in off-year and special elections, even as Republicans and their conservative infotainment allies are functionally killing and incapacitating literally thousands of their own voters almost every day, including and especially the ones so politically engaged and devoted to the cause that they’re willing to risk death rather than wear a mask or get a shot.

If Roe v. Wade goes down, or if the Texas vigilante law spreads to other states, that’s going to fire up a whole lot of people also. Paul Waldman writes that the pro-choice backlash is already brewing. Noting that polls consistently say that a comfortable majority of Americans want Roe v. Wade to remain in effect, Waldman also says that most American probably still don’t believe it will ever be overturned.

Quinnipiac found that by 54 percent to 35 percent, Americans didn’t think that Roe is likely to be overturned within the next few years. They’re in for a big surprise.

On Dec. 1, the court will hear oral arguments in a case concerning Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, a case that supporters quite clearly hope will be the vehicle for overturning Roe.

If and when it does, you won’t need vigilante laws. Republican-run states will just outlaw abortion entirely, with no need to concoct some kind of legal legerdemain to prevent the courts from striking the laws down. But in the meantime, Republican state legislators are already moving to create their own copycat versions of the Texas law. …

… Most Americans may not be paying much attention to the grim situation now faced by women in Texas who need to terminate a pregnancy. But when it’s happening in as many as 23 states where a total of 42 percent of Americans live — the number of states where Republicans control the legislature and the governorship — it will be impossible to ignore.

This week the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis heard arguments about a Missouri law passed in 2019 that bans abortions after eight weeks’ gestation, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Whether it allows abortions to be terminated to save the life of the mother isn’t clear to me. Judges for this court include four Trump appointees, three Reagan appointees, ten Bush appointees (father and son), and one Obama appointee. Be afraid.

But let us hope that in 2022 Democrats make it clear they are not going to cooperate with any of this. No more nice. No more reaching across the aisle.

Here’s More of Trump’s Scheme to End Democracy

Thanks to the new Woodward-Costa book, a memo has emerged detailing a “January 6 scenario” intended to hand the election to Trump. This scenario was proposed to Mike Pence in an oval office meeting with Trump on January 4, it says here. Written by John Eastman, a lawyer on Trump’s legal team, the memo proposed that Mike Pence could toss out the Electoral College votes from the Seven Disputed States (Arizona et al.),, which would have given Trump 232 E.C. votes and Biden 222. If Democrats object, the memo continues, throw out all the E.C. votes and have the election settled by the House. Each state gets one vote, which no doubt would have given the election to Trump. (That’s a very simplified explanation; the memo provides more details.) According to Woodward/Costa, Trump urged Pence to go ahead with what the memo proposed.

I’m not lawyer, but wouldn’t that be sedition, on its face?

A fellow named Ned Foley explains in great detail on the Election Law Blog that this would not have worked, or at least it would not have worked legally and constitutionally. This assumes everyone agrees on what’s “legal” and “constitutional,” which is assuming a lot, IMO.

Among other things, this episode has revealed serious ambiguities in the Electoral Count Act of 1887, which is cited by Eastman copiously in the memo. Eastman points to some of the ambiguities to decide the ECA is unconstitutional, which is a leap according to Ned Foley, but Foley urges that the ECA be tightened up anyway.

Greg Sargent wrote,

In a great new draft paper, election law scholar Richard L. Hasen warns that we face “serious risk” of “election subversion” or an “actual stolen election.” Hasen discusses reforms that could avert such scenarios, which will also be the topic of a conference on Friday.

In the last election, no GOP legislature appointed rogue electors, a majority of Congress voted to uphold Biden’s electors, and Pence ultimately backed away from the plot. But some GOP legislators did consider this scheme, around 150 congressional Republicans did vote to subvert Biden’s electors, and Pence did explore the outer limits of what he might do for Trump.

And if the GOP controls the House and Senate on Jan. 6, 2025, Congress can simply count rogue electors sent by a given state, or refuse to count the rightful ones. If Republicans control just the House, Congress might deadlock, prompting a contingent election in the House decided by state delegations, and the Republican would win.

Indeed, as Hasen notes, the scheme getting even this far shows we are vulnerable to a future “respectable bloodless coup,” one “dependent upon technical legal arguments overcoming valid election results.” This, plus the fact that some Republican candidates are now campaigning on a vow to subvert future losses, requires cutting off these pathways.

Reforms include putting more conditions on congress critters objecting to electors so that they can’t do it for frivolous reasons. We also need to tighten up definisions of “failed elections.” A hurricane wiping out polling places on election day would qualify, whining by the losing candidate would not.

But of course, any election reform depends on reforming the filibuster rules first. So we’re probably screwed.

Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi, January 6, 2021.

Some People Just Like to Watch Things Burn

I am seriously glad I’m not Joe Biden, or even in Congress. The destruction tag team of Manchine and Sinema are effectively slamming the brakes on everything the Democrats want to accomplish. And the Republicans are determined to force the government into default at the end of this month by stopping a debt ceiling increase. If it were left to me to deal with this I’d probably resort to head smacking.

Today the Democrats announced they would propose a bill that would fund the government through the end of this year and suspend the debt ceiling until the end of 2022. Mitch McConnell immediately announced Republicans would oppose it.

Raising the debt ceiling, of course, is about giving Treasury the ability to pay bills already incurred. “The debt limit is the total amount of money that the United States government is authorized to borrow to meet its existing legal obligations, including Social Security and Medicare benefits, military salaries, interest on the national debt, tax refunds, and other payments,” it says here. Much of the public has been led to believe that raising the debt ceiling allows the government to increase the debt, which is not true. The debt is whatever it is; if the debt ceiling isn’t raised, the government will run short of money and default on loan payments. This would be bad.

As they presented their plan, Democrats on Monday once again sounded dire warnings about consequences of failure, which they said could destabilize global markets, shutter critical federal services during a pandemic and hold back assistance to millions of Americans in the aftermath of storms that battered the Gulf Coast and parts of the Eastern Seaboard. They urged Republicans to join them in adopting the measure, arguing that the debt ceiling helps cover prior spending, including the roughly $900 billion coronavirus relief package approved by both parties last year.

And, of course, if those bad things happen Republicans would be all over Fox News and other rightie outlets blaming Joe Biden. Americans would suffer, but otherwise it’s a win/win for Mitch.

I’m not sure, but I believe the debt ceiling/government funding bill is not subject to the filibuster rule, which in theory means the Democrats could pass it by themselves. We’ll see.

But the Democratic caucus is falling apart, mostly because of the aforementioned Manchin and Sinema and a few other deadheads, mostly in the House. See, for example, Kyrsten Sinema Threatens to Kill Her Own Infrastructure Bill; Democrats in Congress are melting down by Jonathan Chait.

If you recall, the genesis of this drama began over the summer, when a handful of centrist House Democrats decided to blow up the legislative strategy their party had in place for weeks by refusing to support a budget unless the House passed an infrastructure bill first. That gang, led by Josh Gottheimer, ultimately settled for a promise by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to bring up the infrastructure bill by September 27.

However, the hollowness of that victory became evident to the centrists this weekend, when House Progressives threatened to oppose the bipartisan bill when it comes for a vote. The Gottheimer Gang had simply assumed that bringing the bill to a vote, with Pelosi’s promise to try really, really hard to pass it even though its passage was not in her interest, would ensure passage. It doesn’t. They have simply set up a scenario where the bipartisan infrastructure bill fails, and the Democratic Party looks incompetent.

That’s where the new threat comes in. Via Playbook, Sinema and the renegade House Democrats now warn that, if the infrastructure bill does not pass next week, they will oppose any budget reconciliation bill, presumably forever.

Sinema also recently announced she will not permit the Senate to pass a plan to lower prescirption drug prices. We wonder why this would be so.

Hmm, a mystery. Paul Waldman:

But in this case, Sinema is putting her foot down on one of the most popular elements of the reconciliation bill: the provision allowing Medicare to negotiate prices for prescription drugs, which would save the government hundreds of billions of dollars. She has reportedly told the White House that she will not stand for it to be included in the bill and even opposes a far more modest proposal to allow for negotiation over a small number of medications.

There is absolutely no political advantage in taking this position. Allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices is absurdly popular, with some polls showing over 8 in 10 Americans supporting it. Given Arizona’s large population of senior citizens — who know more about high prescription drug prices than anyone — supporting price negotiation would be a clear political winner for Sinema.

It’s important to understand how central the Medicare provision is to the entire bill. Because Democrats are determined to pay for every last penny of new spending in this legislation, and because negotiating drug prices would save the government hundreds of billions of dollars, eliminating the provision would mean cutting all kinds of other priorities from the bill.

Maybe she’s being paid under the table to keep drug prices high? Maybe she doesn’t plan to run for a second term? The latter is Josh Marshall’s theory.

Like many people I spent a lot of time trying to figure out Kyrsten Sinema’s motivations this year. I’ve discussed my conclusions in other posts. But what I’ve focused on more recently is that as near as I can see, unless she shifts her stance pretty dramatically the odds of Sinema being elected to a second Senate term in 2024 are pretty poor. And that’s made me consider another question: does she just misread the politics of her situation that badly or is she not planning on running? …

… Let’s say things more or less come together on infrastructure but voting rights and a bunch of other stuff goes down in flames. She and Joe Manchin will be the main reasons for that. How well will Sinema be able to sell that record in a Democratic primary? I wouldn’t want to be in charge of running that campaign. What’s her argument exactly? This is wildly more so if her antics crater this infrastructure package.

So, clueless or corrupt? Or both?

 

Sen. Simena