Biden can fight climate change, guarantee housing, and halve poverty — without the GOP

“That gives Biden two years to move — two years with a 50-50 Senate when he’ll be constrained by what moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are willing to vote for.

Still, Biden and his allies in Congress can accomplish an awful lot through a process called budget reconciliation. The Senate filibuster means that a bill typically requires 60 votes to move forward. With only 50 Democratic senators (plus tie-breaker Vice President-elect Kamala Harris), that’s a nearly insurmountable barrier. But the budget reconciliation process exempts certain legislation that primarily affects taxes and spending from the filibuster, meaning the 50 Senate Democrats can pass it on their own.”

“Not everything can pass through budget reconciliation. It likely rules out measures like a minimum wage increase, or DC and Puerto Rico statehood, or updates to the Voting Rights Act, or gerrymandering reform.

Still, it’s plausible that Biden and his allies in Congress can use budget reconciliation to accomplish large swaths of his agenda, including paid parental and sick leave, universal pre-K, a $3,000 child allowance, universal housing vouchers, a massive investment in clean energy, expanded health care coverage, and more.”

“what Biden can do — consensus items that most congressional Democrats agree on and have been campaigning on for years or decades — could nonetheless transform American life dramatically. An America where pre-K is universal and child care is affordable for all, with trillions in clean energy investment, free community college, paid maternity leave, a child allowance for parents, and a housing program that nearly eliminates homelessness, is a very different America. And it is in reach for the Biden administration.”

“The filibuster, a Senate practice developed in the mid-19th century, gives senators the power to delay legislation by either speaking indefinitely or (most often) merely threatening to speak indefinitely. Initially, there was no way to end a filibuster as long as the senator in question was committed to delaying; in the 20th century, though, the Senate developed the “cloture” rule, which allows a supermajority of senators, currently 60, to end a filibuster. Under the Obama and Trump presidencies, filibusters became so frequent that there is an understanding that all legislation supported by one party but not the other will need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster and pass the Senate.

But there is a catch: In the 1970s, the Senate crafted a process called “budget reconciliation” that allows certain legislation to avoid a filibuster. It’s a major advantage that has unsurprisingly been used for lots of major legislation over the years: the 2017 Trump tax cuts and 2001/2003 Bush tax cuts, the 1996 welfare reform act, and the 2010 bill in which Obama and allies nationalized the student loan industry.

It also means that the 50 Democratic senators plus Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will be able to pass some types of legislation, so long as all Democrats are in agreement.

However, reconciliation comes with profound limitations. It can usually only be used once per budget resolution, which in theory works out to one reconciliation bill a year. (Since Congress hasn’t yet passed a budget resolution for fiscal year 2021, Democrats could do two bills this year, one for 2021 and one for 2022; the details are a bit complicated, as the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ David Reich and Richard Kogan explain.)

Then there are the limits on what a bill passed under reconciliation can do, imposed by the “Byrd Rule,” which offers a way for senators to raise an objection against “extraneous” provisions in bills being considered under reconciliation. If the Senate presiding officer (who has historically always acted on the advice of the nonpartisan Senate parliamentarian) agrees, the provision is struck.

The basics of the Byrd Rule are that reconciliation bills cannot change Social Security, or have merely “incidental” effects on spending/revenue, or increase deficits after 10 years. There are a couple of other limitations as well, but those are the major ones. In other words, reconciliation can be used for spending and taxing, but usually not for pure regulation or legal changes. If the main effect is not budgetary, it’s not reconcilable.”

Biden’s Coronavirus Relief Package Has Almost Nothing to Do With the Coronavirus

“even if you think substantial additional funding is strictly necessary for rapid reopening, there’s a problem: The vast majority of the relief plan’s money for schools wouldn’t be spent in the current fiscal year, or even next year. Previous coronavirus relief and congressional spending bills have already included more than $100 billion in funding for schools. But according to the Congressional Budget Office, “most of those funds remain to be spent.”

As a result, just $6 billion would be spent in the 2021 fiscal year, which runs through September. Another $32 billion would be spent in 2022, and the rest by 2028.”

“Biden and his communications team raise the issue of food insecurity—then insist that checks should go to a two-earner family with stable jobs making $120,000 a year in a city with a roughly $40,000 annual median income for couples.
This is despite the fact that the average couple with comparable six-figure earnings has experienced no unusual job loss and has piled up record levels of personal savings.”

“Biden’s plan calls for $350 billion to backstop state budgets, which were projected to be down as much as 8 percent overall this year. Yet according to The Wall Street Journal, total revenues were down just 1.6 percent for the 2020 fiscal year, and 18 states ended the year with above-projection revenue. As Reason’s Christian Britschgi noted last week, Biden’s plan would disburse money to every state—including California, which is set for a $15 billion surplus. Previous coronavirus relief bills, meanwhile, have already doled out $300 billion to bolster state budgets. The billions in extra funding Biden’s plan would deliver to soaring state budgets would, in all likelihood, not be spent this coming year.”

Trump won’t be convicted. Impeachment is still worth it.

“The central fact of American politics today is that one of the country’s two major political parties is broken. Not merely wrong, but broken in a fundamental way, hostile to democracy and incapable of serving as a good-faith partner in governing.

Trump repeatedly attempted to overturn a legitimate election, an effort that culminated in inciting a mob that threatened the lives of members of Congress. Yet Republicans in that body cannot bring themselves to inflict the appropriate constitutional punishment for this kind of offense even after he has left office and is no longer needed to get judges confirmed and tax cuts passed.

Democracies require accountability to function. Political elites must be held responsible for grievous errors and punished accordingly. The GOP’s decay has destroyed this possibility — but the Senate trial is a necessary step toward fighting back.”

“It will show that, even in the dramatic case of outright insurrection against the US government, the country’s political system is incapable of holding elites accountable largely due to one party’s extreme partisanship. Demonstrating this will serve as a justification for people, Democrats and civil society alike, to take more dramatic steps to repair American democracy down the line — including pushing for significant reforms of the political system.”

“To really fix America, Democrats need to engage in a kind of partisan warfare: They need to inflict costs for past misbehavior not only on Trump, but on the Republican Party that enabled him. Most fundamentally, they need to roll back the anti-democratic practices — like extreme gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics — that permit Republicans to remain competitive while appealing primarily to the most reactionary elements of the American public.

There are no costs that politicians pay attention to more than electoral ones. And if Republicans can’t win in the future by embracing leaders like Trump, they won’t be so comfortable excusing anti-democratic abuses down the line.

The tactics Democrats will need to employ in doing this — most notably, radically revising the filibuster to allow the passage of pro-democracy legislation along party lines — will seem extreme. But they will be more justifiable, including to moderate Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) — in a world where it’s clear that the normal levers of political accountability are broken. It is a way of showing that radical procedural reforms really are a “last resort.”

So failing to convict Trump again will further underscore that impeachment is a paper tiger, at least for Republican presidents. But that horse is already out of the barn. Trying and failing once again, when the anti-democratic offense is much greater and the cost to Republicans for convicting is much lower, will help underscore just how deeply complicit they are in the events of January 6 — and build the case for others, Democrats and non-politicians alike, to punish them accordingly.”

5 Profiles in Courage and Cowardice in a Trump-Dominated GOP

“Even before last week’s deadly invasion of the Capitol, McConnell, to his credit, forcefully rejected efforts to challenge duly certified electoral votes for Biden. “If this election were overturned by mere allegations from the losing side, our democracy would enter a death spiral,” he warned less than an hour before he was forced to flee the president’s enraged fans. “We would never see the whole nation accept an election again,” he added, and “every four years would be a scramble for power at all cost.”

Based on “sweeping conspiracy theories,” McConnell noted, “President Trump claims the election was stolen,” but “nothing before us proves illegality anywhere near the massive scale…that would have tipped the entire election.” He added that “public doubt alone” cannot “justify a radical break” from historical practice “when the doubt itself was incited without evidence.”

These were strong words, but they came two months too late. From the moment that Trump began insisting that he actually won the election by a landslide, it was clear that the president’s conviction had no basis in reality. Yet McConnell humored Trump, neither backing nor rejecting his wild claims, based on the premise that Biden’s victory should not be conceded until the president had exhausted his legal options and the Electoral College had met. In the meantime, the fantasy underlying last week’s riot grew and spread, unchallenged by all but a few Republican legislators.”

“Even McConnell and Pence are models of bravery compared to Sens. Ted Cruz (R–Texas) and Josh Hawley (R–Mo.), who led the legally groundless objections to Biden’s electoral votes in the Senate. In doing so, they cynically and recklessly reinforced the twin delusions that gave rise to last week’s violence: that Trump won the election and that Biden’s inauguration could still be prevented.

At the same time, neither Cruz nor Hawley had the guts to explicitly endorse those beliefs. They calculated that they could reap the political benefits of kowtowing to the president’s supporters without paying the political cost of looking like kooks. It apparently never entered the minds of these two Ivy League lawyers that they might pay a cost for so blatantly trying to advance their careers by sacrificing their supposed devotion to the Constitution. The crucial question for the Republican Party now is whether they were right to ignore that possibility.”

Congress has finally reached a deal on coronavirus stimulus

“After eight months of back and forth, Democratic and Republican leaders announced on Sunday that they’ve arrived at an agreement on a roughly $900 billion plan. The House of Representatives will vote on the bill Monday, according to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.”

“The legislation contains much-needed coronavirus relief including a weekly $300 enhancement in unemployment insurance, a new round of $600 stimulus checks, and renewed support for small businesses.
Lawmakers in both chambers will have a chance to review the bill — which is being attached to the annual government spending package — before they take a vote.”

“The $900 billion legislation ultimately offers far less aid than a prior $2.2 trillion proposal House Democrats had put forth, and significantly more than the narrow $550 billion bill that Senate Republicans have favored. Democrats signaled Sunday that this wasn’t the last of the relief they planned to send out.”

“$325 billion is dedicated to small-business aid including repurposed funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, a forgivable loan program that business owners can apply for to cover payroll and operational costs. These loans are aimed at businesses that have seen revenue declines this year. For many, however, this aid comes too late — according to a Fortune report, almost 100,000 small businesses have already closed permanently during the pandemic.”

“$25 billion in rental assistance is included as well as the establishment of a federal eviction moratorium.”

“$13 billion for food aid to help fund a monthly 15 percent increase in individual SNAP benefits, aid for children who received food support at school, and money for other programs including Meals on Wheels and WIC (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children). Demand for such aid has spiked dramatically during the pandemic”

“There is an extension of paid leave tax credits for businesses, which continues a policy established in the Families First Coronavirus Response Act”

“other provisions as well, including $82 billion to help schools reopen; $15 billion in aid for airlines — which would be required to bring furloughed employees back — according to Reuters; and language that bans surprise medical bills for emergency care.
It also has new guidelines for the Federal Reserve after Republicans — led by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) — demanded emergency lending programs at the Fed be canceled in any final version of the bill.

As Vox’s Emily Stewart has explained, the Fed will be forced to eliminate several emergency lending programs created with CARES Act funding in the spring, and will be barred from restarting them without congressional approval. It will also return the unused portion of the $454 billion Congress allotted it under the CARES Act to the Treasury Department, something the Fed had agreed to do in November.”

The two competing stimulus proposals, explained

“There are now two competing proposals in Congress, neither of which has garnered the support needed to move forward.

The first is a $908 billion bill that a bipartisan group of senators is working on, which has been heralded as a strong “starting point” by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. The second is a $916 billion offer from the White House via Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, which Republican lawmakers — including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — have rallied behind.

Both contain funding for small businesses and vaccine distribution, though they differ on a couple key points. The bipartisan proposal, for example, includes far more funding for unemployment insurance (UI), guaranteeing a weekly $300 boost to recipients for 16 weeks, on top of what they are currently receiving on the state level.

The White House offer, on the other hand, only includes $40 billion to extend expiring programs that have increased access to UI. It also contains funding for a second round of $600 stimulus checks, while the bipartisan proposal does not.

Democrats have already rejected the Mnuchin plan given its treatment of UI, while McConnell has balked at the bipartisan proposal as unnecessarily broad and favored a more targeted bill. These disagreements leave lawmakers at yet another impasse, though both Republicans and Democrats have emphasized they’d like to get something done before leaving for the holiday break, something they’re currently scheduled to do by December 21.”

“The recurring issues that lawmakers have struggled to navigate throughout stimulus negotiations are still liability protections — a top Republican demand — and state and local aid — a top Democratic one. Earlier this week, McConnell had even suggested stripping both out of a stimulus bill in order to advance it, signaling some movement given his previous commitment to preserving liability protections.”

“Democratic leaders have noted, however, that any package without state and local aid would be completely inadequate given huge budget cuts that regional governments are being forced to make. They’ve said, too, that state aid has support from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. “State and local funding is bipartisan unlike the extreme corporate liability proposal Leader McConnell made which has no Democratic support,” Schumer has said.

Republicans thus far have insisted that liability protections are necessary to ensure that small businesses don’t get hit with a deluge of lawsuits for how they handled the pandemic, while Democrats counter that such shields are intended to protect corporations from accountability. Some Republicans, including McConnell, have opposed state and local aid because they claim that states could use this funding to cover other unrelated costs. Researchers, however, have emphasized that these funds are needed to address what could be up to $500 billion in shortfalls that states have accrued due to lower revenues and higher costs during the pandemic.”

How Joe Biden can rescue the economy in the face of Republican obstruction

“Reconciliation is weird. First, Congress needs to adopt a budget resolution (which it doesn’t always do) laying out tax and spending priorities for the future. These resolutions are not laws, the president doesn’t have to sign them, and they pass by simple majority vote. Then with a budget in place you get to write one — but only one — bill that aims to “reconcile” national tax and spending priorities with the framework laid out in the budget. This reconciliation bill cannot be filibustered. It also cannot change Social Security, or otherwise make big legislative changes that are not directly focused on the budget.

At Vox, we have often focused on the limits the reconciliation process places on what can be achieved on climate policy or aspirations for Medicare-for-all. A reconciliation bill also can’t increase the budget deficit over the long run.

But while these limits are very real, they also do open up some fairly large horizons.”

“a reconciliation bill can do the following:
Increase the generosity of the social safety net
Raise taxes on the rich
Impose the tax increases after the safety net increases, generating short-term stimulus”

“Consider the following ideas Biden has embraced:
Creating a new universal child allowance to help parents and slash child poverty.
Creating a fully funded rental housing voucher program to ensure that every family that needs help gets it.
Expanding the Affordable Care Act to cover millions more and make coverage more generous for those who get it.
A climate plan that centers investments in clean energy, rather than taxes on dirty energy.
A huge increase in funding to low-income school districts.
Biden does not need to treat these ideas as separate from the short-term need to stimulate the economy. He can simply do all five of them, and throw in a short-term boost to unemployment insurance and state/local budgets and some cash for specific public health interventions. Then the long-term increases in spending can be offset by enacting his proposed tax increases on the rich. That will ensure the deficit falls over the long run. But since the short-term deficit is not a problem and the whole idea is to stimulate the economy, the tax cuts can be delayed until 2023.”

“To get it done, Biden needs to convince members of Congress that it’s in their collective interest for him to have a successful presidency with a roaring economy and real accomplishments. And if they don’t want to curb the filibuster, they need to get the job done with a massive reconciliation bill.”

“if Biden thinks that his personal charm can bring back the low-polarization Senate he remembers from his service there in the 1970s and ’80s he’s mistaken. And if he genuinely tries to do that, he’s setting himself up for catastrophic failure. Times have changed, the media has changed, institutions have changed, and incentives have changed. The good old days aren’t coming back.

Still, Biden can break the toxic allure of obstruction by refusing to be obstructed.”

The Supreme Court just dealt a huge blow to Congress’s power to investigate Trump

“Trump v. Vance, largely maintains the status quo. As Chief Justice John Roberts states in the first line of that opinion, “in our judicial system, ‘the public has a right to every man’s evidence,’” and “since the earliest days of the Republic, ‘every man’ has included the President of the United States.” Trump does not enjoy absolute immunity from a state prosecutor’s criminal investigation.”

“The upshot of Trump v. Mazars is that House investigators almost certainly will not see potentially damning records concerning Trump’s finances until after the November election. Mazars was also written by Roberts.
Though Mazars does not preclude the House from seeing those records eventually, by the time those records become available Trump will almost certainly either be an ex-president, or he will be firmly entrenched in his second term.

On the surface, it is easy to see Mazars as a defeat for Trump. The decision was 7-2, with all four of the Court’s liberals joining the majority. Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito both wrote dissents, where they complain that the majority didn’t do enough to protect Trump from investigation.

But make no mistake, Mazars is a victory for Trump because it holds that the president enjoys special immunity from congressional investigation enjoyed by no other citizen — and because it likely shields Trump’s records from the public eye until after the election.”

“Eastland held that Congress is entitled to gather information — and to use compulsory subpoenas to gather such information — whenever that subpoena is “intended to gather information about a subject on which legislation may be had.” So long as the congressional subpoenas sought information on a topic that could plausibly be subject to an act of Congress, those subpoenas were lawful.
The new rule announced in Mazars, however, can be boiled down into four words: “the president is special.”

According to Roberts, “congressional subpoenas for the President’s information unavoidably pit the political branches against one another.” He adds that “without limits on its subpoena powers, Congress could ‘exert an imperious controul’ [sic] over the Executive Branch and aggrandize itself at the President’s expense, just as the Framers feared.”

So Mazars invents new limits on congressional subpoenas targeting the president, and sends the case back down to a lower court to apply this new rule.”

Dems sink GOP police bill, leaving Senate deadlocked as country reckons with racism

“The GOP bill requires additional disclosures about the use of force, codifies reporting requirements on the use of “no knock warrants,” provides incentives for chokehold bans and makes lynching a federal crime.

The Democratic proposal, led in the Senate by Booker and Harris, would ban chokeholds and no knock warrants in federal drug cases. It would also limit qualified immunity for police officers to make it easier to sue police — something Democrats argue is key to holding police officers accountable for misconduct, but which most Republicans won’t consider.”