Democrats embrace ‘cook-the-books’ tactic they bashed under Republican reign

“It’s an imperfect science, indeed. Under the gambit, budget forecasters estimate how much a policy change might boost the economy and send more cash flowing to the federal government. This time, Democrats are pinning their revenue hopes on the idea that major investments in the social safety net, climate policy and tax reform will yield robust, long-term economic growth.

“I’m very concerned that the pay-fors aren’t real,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a fiscal conservative. “Both parties bear some culpability. But I’m worried about adding so much debt in such a short period of time.”

Both Democrats and Republicans have previously relied on dynamic scoring and both have lampooned its use as a budget trick. Predictions about how much revenue a new government policy will generate are often exaggerated or inaccurate and are difficult to calculate, placing enormous pressure on independent budget analysts to come up with favorable numbers that might turn out to be a bust.”

Dems dig in on debt as painful September looms

“Republicans raised the debt ceiling with minimal drama under Donald Trump. Now Democrats are prepared to make them publicly refuse to do the same for Joe Biden.

Senate Republicans are digging in deeper and deeper in their resistance to raising the nation’s borrowing limit, with 46 of them vowing to oppose an increase this fall that will need at least 10 Republican votes. Yet Democrats still plan to burn their most expedient ticket out of the debt mess, with no intention to shift course and pass an increase along party lines.

Their move to pass a budget resolution without tackling the debt ceiling, completed last week, adds a perilous deadline to Democrats’ season full of lofty promises on infrastructure and social spending. It’s not only the majority party facing a fall challenge, however: Republicans will have to actually block a debt ceiling increase instead of just talking about it.

The borrowing fight is perhaps the most immediately consequential drama during a momentous fall for Biden and the Democratic agenda. In addition to raising the debt ceiling, Democrats must fund the government past Sept. 30, devise a likely multitrillion-dollar spending bill and put Biden’s infrastructure bill over the top in the House. Democrats will also make one last-gasp effort at passing voting rights legislation.”

The Democratic plan to smash poverty for seniors and people with disabilities

“In 2021, the maximum SSI benefit for an individual is $9,530.12 per year. The poverty line for a single person is $12,880 — meaning that SSI, at most, brings recipients up to less than three-quarters of the poverty line.

It gets worse, though. Let’s say you’re an SSI recipient married to another recipient, which makes you an “eligible couple.” You could both be retirees in your 70s, or disabled/blind people earlier in life.

You don’t get to add your benefit amounts together. Instead, you have to share a maximum benefit of $14,293.61, only 50 percent more than the individual benefit. The effect is a really dramatic marriage penalty: Two SSI recipients receive a large income boost if they get divorced, but those who marry take a big cut in benefits.

In late May 2020, Joe Biden announced his campaign’s disability policy platform, which included major expansions of SSI benefits. The plan set the maximum benefit at 100 percent of the poverty line, a 35 percent increase in benefits over the status quo. The proposal would also eliminate both the marriage penalty — letting couples keep their full benefits — and the complex “in-kind assistance” provisions that result in reduced SSI checks for some people who, say, live for free in a family member’s home.

There’s more. SSI is currently limited to people with assets of less than $2,000, or $3,000 for couples. That means many seniors who have even a small amount of retirement savings, as well as disabled people with nest eggs, aren’t eligible.

Biden would more than double the asset limit for individuals and nearly triple it for couples. I’d personally prefer getting rid of the asset test altogether, as it can encourage people to spend every bit of savings they have to qualify for the benefit; that said, raising it is an improvement.

Biden has recently faced a strong push from his allies in Congress to include these changes in the huge $6 trillion spending package Democrats plan to pass later this summer or in the fall.”

The Democrats Need a Reality Check

“But the FDR and LBJ examples show conclusively why visions of a transformational Biden agenda are so hard to turn into reality. In 1933, FDR had won a huge popular and electoral landslide, after which he had a three-to-one Democratic majority in the House and a 59-vote majority in the Senate. Similarly, LBJ in 1964 had won a massive popular and electoral vote landslide, along with a Senate with 69 Democrats and a House with 295. Last November, on the other hand, only 42,000 votes in three key states kept Trump from winning re-election. Democrats’ losses in the House whittled their margin down to mid-single digits. The Senate is 50-50.

Further, both Roosevelt and Johnson had crucial Republican allies. In the 1930’s, GOP Senators Robert LaFollette and Frank Norris were ardent advocates for organized labor. In the ‘60s, Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen gave LBJ crucial help in getting his civil rights agenda passed. When Medicare became law in 1965, it passed with 70 Republican votes in the House and 13 GOP votes in the Senate. In today’s Washington, Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell have been successfully working to keep Republican support for Biden’ policies at precisely zero.”

“The threats to a free and fair election that have emerged since last November are real—and require nothing more than the willingness of state legislators to use and abuse the existing tools of government. Arizona, whose two new voting rules were just validated by the Supreme Court, also took the power to litigate election laws away from the (Democratic) Secretary of State and gave the power to the (Republican) Attorney General. In at least 8 states, Republicans are advancing legislation that would take power away from local or county boards. Many more states are moving to make voting harder. It might be anti-democratic, but it falls well within the rules.

Also within the rules: How McConnell helped build a federal bench almost certain to ratify the power of those legislatures to pass laws far more restrictive than the Arizona rules upheld last week. He creatively eviscerated Senate norms to keep Merrick Garland off the Supreme Court and hand Donald Trump an astonishing three nominations in a single term. And he’s recently suggested that, should a Supreme Court vacancy open, he’d block even consideration of a Biden nominee if the Republicans take the Senate back in 2022. This is abnormal, anti-democratic and a cynical abuse of power—but it’s legal within the existing rules.”

Democrats’ infrastructure gamble actually seems like it could be working

“Biden’s statements on the legislation were crucial to advancing it. When the president met with lawmakers in June, he pledged that he wouldn’t push to include any physical infrastructure funding in Democrats’ reconciliation bill that wasn’t included in the bipartisan one.

As Politico’s Burgess Everett and Marianne LeVine reported, that position helped assuage some of the Republican senators’ concerns that Democrats would agree to whatever cuts were needed to gain GOP support before later passing everything that was cut using the reconciliation process, which requires only a Senate majority. Taking Biden at his word that what was cut from the bill was gone forever allowed many Republicans to give the bipartisan bill their support, according to Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT).”

Senate Republicans and Democrats Agree To Double Amtrak’s Funding

“An influx of additional funding would allow Amtrak to eliminate this backlog and pave the way for faster, more frequent service, passenger rail proponents argue. “There’s so much we can do, and it’s the biggest bang for the buck we can expend,” said Biden about increasing Amtrak funding back in April.

Nevertheless, one of the reasons that Amtrak’s maintenance backlog is so big in dollar terms is that it’s incredibly inefficient at spending the money it does get.

At current costs, Amtrak needs to spend $90 million per mile “merely to keep the same service as exists today,” wrote the Manhattan Institute’s Connor Harris in an April New York Post column. “For comparison, in countries such as France and Spain, less than half that cost per mile would cover a brand-new high-speed rail line good for speeds of more than 200 miles per hour.”

Getting Amtrak’s costs down to European levels would allow it to fix a lot more of its infrastructure for a lot less money. Lawmakers of both parties instead appear set on simply shoveling more taxpayer money at the inefficient agency.”

How Democrats are ‘unilaterally disarming’ in the redistricting wars

“Yet what happened this spring in Oregon is just one example, though perhaps the most extreme one, of a larger trend vexing Democratic strategists and lawmakers focused on maximizing the party’s gains in redistricting. In key states over the past decade, Democrats have gained control of state legislatures and governorships that have long been in charge of drawing new maps — only to cede that authority, often to independent commissions tasked with drawing political boundaries free of partisan interference.

Supporters of these initiatives say it’s good governance to bar politicians from drawing districts for themselves and their party. But exasperated Democrats counter that it has left them hamstrung in the battle to hold the House, by diluting or negating their ability to gerrymander in the way Republicans plan to do in many red states. And with the House so closely divided, Democrats will need every last advantage to cling to their majority in 2022.”

How Nancy Pelosi hopes to back Joe Manchin into a corner

“In the House, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would link the two bills together, to prevent the party’s left from losing heart. “There ain’t going to be an infrastructure bill unless we have the reconciliation bill passed by the United States Senate,” Pelosi said Thursday.

This is an attempt to put the moderate Democrats in a box. It’s a promise from Pelosi to hold their cherished bipartisan deal hostage unless they fall in line with Biden’s reconciliation plan. It’s not clear whether this was necessary, since Manchin had already started speaking positively about the reconciliation effort. It also may be a bluff — if the reconciliation effort does fall apart, would Pelosi and House Democrats really choose doing nothing over settling for whatever got through the Senate? But Democrats hope the moderates will simply fall in line, so they don’t have to find out.”

Why Democrats’ ambitions for health care are shrinking rapidly

“America still has the highest uninsured rate in the developed world and the highest health care costs. So long as the health care industry wields a veto pen over any plan that would cut into its profits to address those problems, little is going to change.”