Last Wednesday night one of you fine readers and commenters emailed me asking what I thought was going on with the fun times we’ve been watching take place in Congress. This was the first part of my initial response:
Shit is definitely fucked up right now. Sinema has basically decided to be Heath Ledger’s version of the Joker from the 2nd Christian Bale Batman movie. Manchin is just Manchin. Biden, Pelosi, and Schumer know their business. And Clyburn is the House whip and he’s not a fool, which is why he’s not whipping votes. I expect that Manchin, Sinema, and their catspaw in the House Gottheimer are going to get their pee pees smacked good and hard tomorrow. I expect that an abject lesson is being prepared for them. And, frankly, they deserve one. They made a deal. They are now reneging on that deal. They claim to have issues, but refuse to delineate them so they can be negotiated. They deserve what is coming to them tomorrow. If, indeed, an abject lesson is going to be taught.
And an object lesson was had by those who needed it. From all the reporting Manchin and Sinema are both now engaged and negotiating. And Gottheimer’s power move was so impotent that his statement, which BettyC brought to all of our attention, had to be issued unilaterally because none of the nine other Democratic representatives he was supposedly leading on this were willing to put their names on it!
If there’s one Democratic member of the House and Senate that comes out of this with improved political capital and stature, or who should, it is Congresswoman Jayapal. She knows her caucus, she knows the entire Democratic caucus in the House, and she knows her business.
The real, ongoing crisis in Congress is actually playing out in the Senate. And it, as every crisis that has originated in the Senate for the past twelve years, will be because of Senate Minority Leader McConnell. Part of McConnell’s strategy was counting on his pet parliamentarian, who he’s cultivated for years, continuing to make rulings adverse to the Democrats and the Democrats not having the political will to either override her rulings or do what Trent Lott did in 2002: fire the parliamentarian the GOP majority inherited from the previous Democratic majority and replace the parliamentarian with someone of their own choosing. He was specifically counting on her disallowing a debt ceiling raise through the reconciliation process. While I’ve seen one reference to her ruling that using reconciliation to deal with the debt limit would be acceptable, I can’t actually find any reporting that confirms this. Senator Schumer is left with a dilemma: an unelected official that he inherited from his predecessor
who hired her, whose power exists solely because of a 100 plus year old Senate rule, and is currently out for two weeks for treatment of her stage 3 breast cancer, so he can’t fire her because it would make him look like an asshole.
It won’t make much difference, however, because the Senate Democratic leadership recognize that Senator McConnell’s attempts to force the Democrats to use reconciliation to deal with the debt ceiling is an attempt to prevent them from using reconciliation to pass all the infrastructure programs that are not in the regular order infrastructure bill. The intent is to force the Democrats to rush the process so as to prevent a debt default and by doing so make it impossible for them to actually negotiate the infrastructure that is supposed to be the focus of the reconciliation bill. By doing so, McConnell seeks to force the Democrats to either prevent a global financial meltdown caused by the US defaulting on its debt or pass their larger infrastructure package through reconciliation and in doing so prevent them from doing either. McConnell is counting on this because he doesn’t want either of them to pass and this is his best tactic to achieve that strategic goal. Which is why he taunted President Biden and the Senate Democrats this morning in the form of a formal statement.
The Democratic leadership also recognize that even though it would technically only take two weeks to push a debt ceiling waiver through reconciliation, that would be under ideal and optimal conditions. The reality, however, is that McConnell will use every possible procedure to drag out the process, grinding every other bit of possible business the Senate could conduct over the next two weeks to a standstill.
Given it would eat up at least two weeks of floor time to amend the reconciliation bill to include the debt ceiling, and that the current parliamentarian would be unlikely to allow anything but a direct, specific number increase – so no just tying it to the total debt or permanently suspending it – that’s not happening. Especially because the Democratic Senate leadership has stated they’re not going to go that route anyway.
Right now the Democrats have no leverage until or unless Manchin and Sinema are willing to at least reform the filibuster, because Manchin and Sinema are giving McConnell leverage, and what appears to be no actual strategy other than trying to shame Manchin, Sinema, and 10 Republicans into doing the right thing. You can’t shame the shameless.
McConnell’s strategy, as it’s been since JAN 2009, is to allow nothing of consequence be done when there’s a Democratic president because he’s learned that the Democratic president in specific and the Democrats in general will be blamed. The looming debt default is his current 3 meter target. McConnell knows that a debt default is going to cause serious significant economic disruption right now. In fact he’s counting on it. McConnell doesn’t care if it destroys the US economy or the global economy or how much real damage it will do. His donors have all protected their assets. I expect that they’ve all shorted the US and are actually betting on and planning on US default in the markets right now. I expect most of the Republican senators are also making that same bet with their own investments. And McConnell fervently believes, based on the past 12 years of actual events, that if he burns the American economy to ashes that he’ll be rewarded with being put in charge of those ashes.
If he can, he is going to kill the hostage this time. He has decided that this time, it is not in his interest to even try to ransom the debt ceiling. He’s gone from being an insurrectionist to a senatorial IED emplacer to being a senatorial suitcase nuke. McConnell has seen how the news media, especially the political reporters and the pundits have been on a feeding frenzy of misrepresentation and bad faith framing since the withdrawal from Afghanistan in August. The reporting on the Democratic negotiations and the process for getting the two infrastructure bills passed has been just as bad if not worse. All of this just reinforces McConnell’s view of whether his strategy will work once again. To be perfectly honest, I do not see anything that would indicate that his assumptions are wrong; that the strategy he is continuing to pursue and the tactics that he is using to achieve his strategic objectives is going to fail. It has never brought him anything but success since he first implemented it in JAN 2009.