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 Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill Will Add More Than $250 Billion to the Deficit. Does Anyone Care?

“The Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the legislature’s nonpartisan number-crunching agency, says the bipartisan infrastructure bill would add about $256 billion to the deficit over 10 years. The real figure is likely to be higher, because the package contains a few gimmicky elements that are designed to trick the CBO’s forecasting metrics.

The biggest of those gimmicks is the promise that Congress will reallocate more than $200 billion of COVID relief funds to cover infrastructure costs. It remains unclear exactly what unused COVID funds will be redirected, and the bill only rescinds $50 billion in actual budget authority from previously passed COVID relief bills, according to an analysis by the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget (CRFB).

Other proposals to save and redirect federal dollars to pay for the infrastructure bill are also unlikely to materialize. Take the $49 billion lawmakers plan to “save” by further delaying an already-delayed Trump administration regulation altering how prescription drug discounts are applied by health insurers. “Because the Congressional Budget Office projected that the so-called rebate rule would increase federal spending in Medicare and Medicaid by about $177 billion over a decade, due to a rise in Medicare premiums (and therefore, taxpayer-funded subsidies for Medicare premiums), lawmakers get to count a further delay in the rule (beyond the Biden administration’s one-year delay) as ‘savings’ for the federal government,” explains the National Taxpayers Union.”

“When you filter out the gimmicks designed to game the CBO score of the infrastructure bill, the CRFB says the package will probably add $340 billion to the deficit over 10 years.”

“But as the CBO’s report makes clear, actually paying for the infrastructure makes those benefits bigger than they otherwise would be. A fully offset infrastructure package would boost GDP by an estimated 0.11 percent over the next 30 years while a deficit-financed package would barely break even. That’s because, as the CRFB notes, running higher deficits to pay for infrastructure spending will reduce private investment over the long term and, thus, lower future economic growth as well.”

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.”

Joe Manchin’s sweeping new voting rights proposal, explained

“Manchin did something unexpected: He released a long list of voting reforms that he does support, potentially scrambling the congressional debate over voting rights as the Senate prepares to vote on Democratic leaders’ proposal.

Manchin’s list includes many reforms drawn from the For the People Act as well as from a companion voting rights bill known as the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Significantly, Manchin endorsed banning partisan gerrymandering — a high priority for both small-d democrats and large-D Democrats, who want to prevent the GOP from seizing control of the House of Representatives with rigged congressional maps.

Not everything on Manchin’s list will delight his fellow Democrats. He proposes a nationwide voter ID law, for example, although not an especially strict one. And he wants states to be able to engage in “maintenance of voter rolls”— purging names from the state’s list of registered voters — using state and federal documents to identify which voters should be purged.

Manchin would also water down the John Lewis Act, a bill that seeks to restore voting rights protections that the Supreme Court gutted in 2013 — though Manchin’s weaker version of the John Lewis Act would still be much more protective of voting rights than current law.

The West Virginia senator’s proposal, in other words, falls short of the dreams of Democratic leaders and voting rights advocates who rallied behind the For the People Act, which passed the House in March. And it is still almost certainly doomed unless Manchin agrees to eliminate the GOP minority’s ability to filibuster voting rights bills — a move Manchin has thus far rejected — or somehow miraculously musters support from 10 Republicans (in addition to all 50 Democrats).”

The Senate’s infrastructure gamble, explained

“Senate Democrats are navigating a tricky balancing act: attempting to simultaneously advance both a $600 billion bipartisan infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion budget resolution full of Democratic priorities that’s only expected to garner partisan support.

This plan, which has colloquially been referred to as the “two-track strategy,” is intended to demonstrate that lawmakers can actually work across party lines to get something done on “hard” infrastructure, like roads and airports, and that Democrats can also deliver on “human” infrastructure that’s a party priority but that Republicans won’t support, like funding for long-term caregiving and paid leave.

It is a somewhat circuitous approach to approving infrastructure legislation, driven by the focus that moderate Democrats, and President Joe Biden, have put on bipartisanship — as well as their refusal to alter the filibuster.”

There are two kinds of GOP attacks on democracy — and one is much worse

“Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of voter suppression laws. Many provisions currently being pushed by Republican state lawmakers make it harder to cast a ballot in a certain way — such as by mailing in the ballot or placing it in a drop box. Or they place unnecessary procedural obstacles in the way of voters. These provisions often serve no purpose other than to make it more difficult to vote, but they also are not insurmountable obstacles.

Other provisions are more virulent. They might disqualify voters for no valid reason. Or allow partisan officials to refuse to certify an election, even if there are no legitimate questions about who won. Or make it so difficult for some voters, who are likely to vote for the party that is out of power, to cast their ballot that it’s nigh impossible for the incumbent party to lose.”

“the most common kind of law that seeks to make the results of an election impervious to the will of the voters: gerrymandering. The Census Bureau expects to provide states with the data they need to draw new congressional and state legislative districts this fall. Once that data is available, states like Georgia and Texas are likely to draw maps that seek to entrench Republican rule as much as possible. (Democrats also engage in gerrymandering, but blue states are more likely to use independent commissions to draw district lines, or to have other safeguards that limit partisan redistricting.)

Gerrymanders can potentially make the fight to control a legislative body all but impervious to the will of the voters. In 2018, for example, Democratic candidates for the Wisconsin state assembly received 54 percent of the popular vote, but Republicans won nearly two-thirds of the seats.”

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.”