“There were once plenty of senators who represented states that voted for the other party for president. Between 1960 and 1990, roughly half of all sitting senators fit into this group. But over the last three decades, that number has plummeted”
” Likewise, in an earlier political era, many senators shared their state with a senator from the opposite party. Not only did this serve to reinforce the electoral reality that either party could win a state, but it also gave such senators an obvious bipartisan partner in the Senate, particularly on issues of concern to their home state. Today, though, only 12 senators..have a colleague who’s from the other party.”
“because Senate elections were more about local issues, both parties were able to compete nationally. Voters didn’t care as much whether they sent a Democrat or a Republican to Washington. What mattered was whether they sent somebody who could represent their state well. And senators could prove their worth by bringing home federal funding for roads and bridges — just the kind of issue that used to facilitate bipartisan dealmaking.
But today’s political campaigns and voters care far less about roads and bridges. They care far more about national culture-war issues — and which party controls the majority in Congress. As a result, Democrats can’t win in much of the Southeast and the Mountain West, and Republicans are now perpetual losers in the West and the Northeast. Only the Southwest and the Midwest remain competitive, and that’s only because state populations are currently balanced between liberal cities and conservative exurbs.
It’s also why bipartisanship in the Senate is waning. Republican senators in solidly Republican states do not have to worry about winning over some Democrats; the senators’ general election win is all but assured. Rather, the most likely way they could lose is if they face a primary challenge to their right. And the most likely way they could draw such a challenger is if they were to publicly work with Democrats.”
“even for senators who want to publicly prove their bipartisan bona fides, the problem is that party leaders like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell prefer votes that draw sharp contrasts between the two parties. Divisive partisan politics help with campaign fundraising in an era of increasingly ideological donors (both big and small). And high-stakes elections mobilize and excite voters. Bipartisanship, in contrast, muddles the stakes and blurs the lines.”
“Biden worked harder than Trump to foster a bipartisan deal. But arguably, it was the Democrats’ threat of eliminating the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation that pushed McConnell into supporting a bipartisan agreement in a way that bolstered Sinema and Manchin’s faith in bipartisanship. This is hardly a sustainable formula for bipartisan dealmaking on major issues.
To be sure, Congress can still accomplish some lower-profile bipartisan lawmaking (like a recent major upgrade of our drinking-water and wastewater systems) through what Matthew Yglesias and Simon Bazelon have dubbed “Secret Congress.” It turns out that members of Congress can still work across party lines when issues are relatively noncontroversial and there is not much media attention.
Indeed, if you look beyond the partisan media’s name-calling, you can find surprising amounts of bipartisan activity”
“But “Secret Congress” works only because it’s secret, and it’s secret only because the issues are not high-profile enough to draw the public spotlight. But if the only bipartisanship that happens in Congress happens on uncontroversial one-off issues, this leaves the most important issues of the day to wither on the shoals of a 60-vote threshold in the Senate or, more commonly, in the gridlock of a divided government.”
“partisans are the most hostile to compromise — especially those individuals whose racial, religious and cultural identities line up most strongly with one party. But the partisan sorting that has aligned these identities so closely with one party over the last several decades is precisely the reason why voters have come down so hard on politicians who compromise. The more that national political conflict is centered on abstract moral issues and the identity of the nation, the more any compromise feels like a surrender.
To recreate the conditions that allowed bipartisanship to flourish in the Senate once upon a time seems unlikely anytime soon. Instead, the most bipartisan-oriented senators are the most endangered. Manchin is a dying breed. His eventual replacement in West Virginia will almost certainly be a Republican.”
“The idea of a “limit” or “ceiling” on the public debt sounds like an important constraint on borrowing, the kind of thing the Constitution demands to keep a runaway White House in check. In reality, it’s a 20th century innovation, originally intended to give more, not less, authority to the president. A measure born of necessity during World War I and World War II to allow the Wilson and Roosevelt administrations greater leeway in financing government operations has evolved into a partisan noose.
Understanding the origins of the debt limit places into sharp focus how radical its current weaponization really is.
The U.S. government has always borrowed money to finance its operations. The total amount of outstanding debt hovered below $100 million in the years prior to 1860 but rose to over $2.7 billion during the Civil War. By the end of the 19th century, it stood at roughly $2 billion, a figure that more or less remained steady until World War I, when military mobilization necessitated a wave of borrowing, causing the national debt to balloon to $27 billion.
Less important than how much the government owed was the mechanism by which it raised debt. Prior to World War I, Congress authorized specific debt issuances. During the Civil War the legislative branch passed several bills permitting the Treasury Department to sell bonds at specific maturities and coupons. One popular issuance were 5-and-20s, which paid 6 percent annual interest over a 20-year maturity date, with an option allowing the government to redeem the face value after five years. Hundreds of thousands of Northern citizens purchased the government paper in a show of patriotic fervor. Generally speaking, new debt authorizations were earmarked for specific purposes — for instance, Panama Canal bonds, which could be used only to finance construction of the historic commercial passageway between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Until World War I, the Treasury Department enjoyed little leeway in rolling over or consolidating existing issuances, devising the terms of new debt offerings or moving funds between one committed stream and another. Congress largely dictated the terms; the Treasury Department’s principal role was to market and administer public debt instruments. This disparate system worked well enough when government borrowing remained at modest levels, but during World War I, the sharp spike in borrowing and spending made the old system impractical. The Wilson administration needed flexibility to raise and commit money for war production. In response to this reality, Congress for the first time set aggregate levels of debt financing and granted the Treasury Department more freedom to move money where it was needed. It was the origin of what we know today as the debt ceiling, though specific issuances — for instance, Liberty Loans — still retained their own statutory limits.
Beginning in 1941 the system evolved further, when Congress passed the first of a series of Public Debt Acts that both raised (on several occasions) the overall debt ceiling and consolidated all borrowing authority under the Treasury Department. Going forward, different departments and agencies borrowed what they needed from Treasury, which in turn issued, managed and marketed debt within the statutory limit. It’s effectively how things work today. “
“support for the Republican presidential candidate has steadily grown by 12-to-15 percentage points since 2012 among white Americans who think there’s at least a moderate amount of anti-white discrimination in the U.S.”
“Meanwhile, the reverse is true among white Americans who don’t think there’s much anti-white discrimination: Support for the Republican presidential candidate has steadily dropped. The same pattern holds even after accounting for several factors that are also strongly correlated with presidential vote choice, such as partisanship, ideology and racial resentment.”
“In fact, white grievance politics now explains more than just vote choice. Sides, Vavreck and I found in a 2021 working paper that perceived anti-white discrimination increasingly predicts public opinion of people and policies connected to the former president, like Pence or repealing the Affordable Care Act. We also find that perceived anti-white discrimination is increasingly associated with Americans’ partisan attachments”
“These findings dovetail with the important research of Duke University political scientist Ashley Jardina. Her book, “White Identity Politics,” argues that white racial grievances more strongly influence political beliefs when white people perceive themselves as under threat, which is one reason why Trump was so effective in his many appeals to the cultural, economic and physical threats that they were supposedly facing. And Republican attacks on critical race theory follow the same playbook, framing its teachings as an anti-white “existential threat to the United States.””
“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.”
“voters like bipartisanship more in theory than in practice. But that doesn’t mean bipartisan support isn’t still important politically. Voters may prefer more partisan policy results, but their stated desire for bipartisanship means that politicians can still benefit by at least trying to work together.”
“For four decades now, that historic upheaval and the quest for the support of Reagan Democrats has defined American politics, from the rise of Bill Clinton’s “New Democrats”—which Greenberg, as Clinton’s pollster, had a central role in crafting—to George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism,” to Barack Obama’s poll-tested evisceration of Mitt Romney’s venture capital experience, to Donald Trump’s white-grievance mongering and tirades against NAFTA. After Obama won Macomb in 2008 and 2012, Trump captured it in 2016 and 2020.
Then something important happened: In leaning too hard into white identity politics—and perhaps being too focused on what he thought Reagan Democrats wanted—Trump accelerated the rise of a new voting bloc that is, in many ways, the mirror image of the Reagan Democrats.
Call them the Biden Republicans.
Like the Reagan Democrats, they’re heavily white and live in suburbs. But where the Reagan Dems are blue-collar and culturally conservative, Greenberg sees the Biden Republicans as more affluent, highly educated and supportive of diversity. Historically, they identified with the Republican Party as their political home. But the leaders who were supposed to fight for them seem to care more about white grievance and keeping out immigrants; seem to care more about social issues and “owning the libs” than about child-care payments and college tuition. They don’t consider themselves Democrats—at least not yet—but they are voting for them, delivering them majorities in the House and Senate, and making Joe Biden just the fourth candidate in the past century to defeat an incumbent president.”
“So if white college-educated suburbanites really are turning to the left, why might this be?
The simplest and best explanation appears to be partisanship.
In their book Open Versus Closed: Personality, Identity, and the Politics of Redistribution, scholars Christopher Johnston, Christopher Federico, and Howard Lavine take a close look at the psychological underpinnings of people’s views on economic policy. What they find is surprising, and more than a little counterintuitive: Economic policy has become, to an extent, an annex of the partisan culture war.
Increasingly, Americans pick their party on the basis of cultural affinity: whether people like them, who share their cultural values on topics like race and immigration, are in one party or the other. This is why college graduates, who tend to be culturally progressive, are an increasingly Democratic bloc, and non-college whites, who have conservative cultural views, are increasingly voting Republican.
In contemporary America, identification with one of the two major parties is an exceptionally powerful psychological force. People who care about being a Democrat or a Republican tend to feel strong psychological pressures to adopt the entire policy slate of their party.
For this reason, Johnston and his co-authors argue that economic policy preferences flow downstream from partisan identity. Democratic partisans who are highly engaged in politics will tend to adjust their economic views leftward to fit more comfortably in the Democratic coalition, perfectly explaining the counterintuitive rise of the progressive white suburbanite.
“Individuals identify with the cultural liberalism of the Democratic party and adopt its approach to economic matters as a package deal,” they write. “Economic preferences [are] an expression of a more basic cultural division in the electorate.”
Open Versus Closed’s thesis fits in with a significant body of political science literature documenting that most ordinary citizens are only weakly attached to their policy preferences, and frequently adjust them based on cues from political elites.
And the core argument that educated voters will hold more down-the-line partisan views as polarization increases is supported by other studies.
A 2008 paper by NYU’s Delia Baldassarri and Columbia’s Andrew Gelman found that between 1972 and 2004, highly educated and politically engaged voters were much more likely than others to have consistently liberal or conservative views on all sorts of issues (social, economic, and foreign policy). A 2020 reanalysis using more recent data has found that voters have only become more ideologically aligned with their parties in the hyperpartisan 21st century — including on economic issues.
Hence “post-material materialism”: Material divides in the classic self-interested sense no longer define the contours of national American politics; people don’t vote their class. They still care about economic policy but come to their opinions for different reasons: They see them as an extension of their partisan identity and moral worldview.
This isn’t to say that white college-educated suburbanites are perfect progressive voters. At the local level, where issues feel more personal and less ideological, these voters often stand in the way of egalitarian policies. Think of the NIMBYs who oppose housing construction in their neighborhoods.
But politics is about working with the kind of supporters you have. And at the national level, the white educated suburbanites who have come over to the Democratic side in recent years are looking like solid supporters of a redistributionist party.”
“Here’s the Democratic nightmare: Biden and congressional Democrats pass a few major bills over the next two years but leave the filibuster in place, preventing the passage of major reforms to America’s electoral system. A federal judiciary stacked with Trump appointees strikes down all or parts of many of the laws the Democrats do pass as well as many of Biden’s executive actions, leaving Democrats few permanent policy victories and driving down the president’s approval ratings.
Meanwhile, Republicans use their control of most state legislatures to draw state legislative and U.S. House district lines in ways that are even more favorable to the GOP than the current ones and enact laws that make it harder for liberal-leaning voting blocs to cast ballots. Combine gerrymandering, voting limitations, lackluster poll numbers for Biden and the historic trend of voters rejecting the party of the incumbent president in a midterm election, and it results in the Republicans winning control of the House and the Senate and making even more gains at the state legislative level in November 2022.
Post-2022, Republicans in Congress block everything Biden tries to do, further driving down his approval ratings. Meanwhile, Republicans use their enhanced power at the state level to continue to adopt laws that make it harder for people in liberal-leaning constituencies to vote and harder for Democrats to win in swing states. Then, these laws are upheld by lower courts and a U.S. Supreme Court still packed with Trump appointees. In 2024, Biden (or whomever the Democrats nominate) wins the popular vote but still loses the Electoral College — in part because Republicans have limited Democratic votes in some swing states. A GOP with control of the White House, Senate, House and most state governments in 2025 then effectively creates a system of “minority rule” in which Republicans can keep control of America’s government for decades even if the majority of voters favor Democrats as well as liberal and left-of-center policies.
In this scenario, the Democratic Party is in peril, but in some ways so is American democracy more broadly. So to this camp, Democrats must act aggressively and quickly over the next two years to forestall this outcome, by getting rid of the filibuster as it currently operates (most legislation requires 60 votes to pass in the Senate) and enacting an aggressive “democracy agenda.” This is a pro-democratic (small “d”) agenda in many ways, particularly in giving residents of Washington, D.C., representation in Congress and enhancing protections of the right to vote for Black Americans who live in GOP-dominated states. But it’s also clearly a pro-Democratic agenda (big “D”) in that it would, for example, add the two senators from D.C., who would almost certainly be Democrats.
Pfeiffer describes whether the Democrats get rid of the filibuster in the next two years as “the decision that will decide the next decade.” He argues that keeping the filibuster may be effectively “a decision to return to the minority and stay there for at least a decade.”
“The door is closing quickly in terms of us staying a functioning democracy. We have no time to waste,” said Meagan Hatcher-Mays, director of democracy policy at Indivisible. “Democrats have been handed this power to save it. We don’t have two years. We have a year. The window to actually get things done is really closer to 10 months.””
“Democrats would need every Democratic senator on board to get rid of the filibuster, so these members are super-important. And over the last few months, Manchin and Sinema have said they are strongly opposed to getting rid of the filibuster. Longtime senators like Feinstein have hinted in the past that they are wary of such a move too.
Part of this opposition to getting rid of the filibuster reflects ideological differences — Manchin in particular is more conservative than most (if not all) congressional Democrats. So he probably isn’t dying to get rid of the filibuster to vote for a $15 federal minimum wage, for example, because it’s not clear he favors that idea anyway.
But this bloc also disagrees with the this-is-an-emergency camp about the state of American politics right now. Feinstein is fairly liberal on policy issues. But she, like Manchin and Sinema, has suggested she wants to work in a Senate that is not hyperpartisan and seems to believe that is possible. In the view of people in this camp, the Republican Party is not completely dominated by an anti-democratic wing that won’t work with Democrats. So members in this camp view getting rid of the filibuster and other more aggressive moves as not only unnecessary but potentially really bad — making the Senate and Washington overall even more gridlocked and polarized than they already are.”