Trump doesn't care if McConnell reclaims the Senate — as long as the GOP remains 'his party': columnist
Former president Donald Trump is out for revenge at all costs against Republicans who haven't marched in lockstep with him — including Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell, according to Daily Beast columnist Margaret Carlson.
"Trump doesn't care so much if the party wins back the House and Senate so long as he gets his revenge on those who didn't worship ardently enough at his altar," Carlson writes. "That is, he cares more about the GOP remaining 'his party' than he does about the GOP actually doing well enough to reclaim Congress."
Carlson points to Trump's efforts to "depose" McConnell, even as the Senate GOP leader threatens to do the former president's bidding — and wreak havoc on the global economy — by refusing to raise the debt ceiling.
"While there was a brief spot of sunlight after McConnell was shocked by the Jan. 6 violence, holding Trump 'morally responsible,' he quickly returned to the fold to stand behind a loser who remains the uncontested leader of the Republican party despite costing it the White House and both Houses of Congress," Carlson writes. "Although McConnell hasn't gone all-in on Mar-a-Lago's Big Lie by saying that Joe Biden stole the election, he comes close by swearing to be '100 percent' focused on 'stopping' the current occupant of the Oval Office."
But even if McConnell follows through with his threat to "go nuclear' on the debt ceiling — and insiders say he isn't bluffing — it won't be good enough for Trump.
McConnell "knows that raising the debt limit is something real patriots are obligated to do, kind of like the vice president certifying the election," Carlson writes. But he "also knows that if the debt ceiling is raised, nothing much happens and his audience of one will be bored."
"If it isn't lifted, all financial hell breaks loose and that same audience will be riveted. If the U.S. were a person, its credit rating would be cut to zero and Biden's economy will crater. What boffo television!" Carlson writes. "Still, does Mitch really want to be remembered for the McConnell Default and as Trump's lap dog when, no matter how low he goes, Trump will still try to deprive him of the best view in Washington?"
There are many inane rituals that take place in the U.S. Capitol, but none that rival the tiresome conventions around the annual funding of the government known as "raising of the debt ceiling."
It's like Groundhog Gay, with Republicans balking at participating and everyone else running around in circles trying to cajole them into getting onboard so the United States doesn't crash the world economy. It is no way to run a country. This year the issues are more acute than usual because the Democratic majority is concurrently trying to pass two very large programs — the bipartisan physical infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill that contains the vital human infrastructure program that Joe Biden and the party ran on in 2020. It's all coming to a head at the same time.
The progressives in both chambers of Congress are standing firm in their demand that Congress pass the agenda that they and Joe Biden both ran on. But sadly, there is a small handful of so-called moderate Democratic House members who have decided to be divas and are threatening to blow up Biden's program unless it is stripped of much of the funding that makes the rest of it possible, while certain so-called moderate Democratic senators are strutting around insisting the price tag is too high without bothering to name any specific cuts. D.C. is full of demands to meet meaningless and arbitrary deadlines, constantly moving targets and endless tedious posturing these days.
This dynamic is anything but unprecedented (there are always a few who just have to gum up the works) but with margins as narrow as they are in this polarized body, and with the presidency on the line, you would think these moderates could stay unified with the majority just this once. If they succeed in destroying the president's signature initiative, they are effectively Republicans. I hope they look good in red MAGA hats.
It's nice that a handful of Republicans in the Senate managed to vote for the physical infrastructure bill (although the GOP House leadership is now whipping against it) but no one expected that the Republicans would vote for the big infrastructure bill that directly benefits actual humans and addresses climate change. They have no interest in such things. The Democrats are happy to put that bill through the reconciliation process which only requires 50 votes, although corralling all 50 is predictably difficult for the reasons outlined above. But funding the government and raising the debt ceiling should basically be pro-forma votes and the fact that it is pulling teeth every single time is one of the most pathetic annual displays of dysfunction in our government.
It didn't use to be that way.
Government shutdowns were never even thought of until the Congressional Budget Act of 1974. It's happened 21 times since then.
Haggling through the budget process didn't necessitate actually furloughing workers — until the Reagan Justice Department issued a set of opinions saying that if there is a period when Congress doesn't allocate funds for some reason, the government must partially or fully shutdown until it comes to an agreement. The longest shutdown came in 2019 when President Trump had a tantrum over his border wall which the Democratic majority refused to fund.
It might happen again this year and it would be particularly destructive. We are still in the middle of a major crisis, a deadly pandemic that is being exacerbated by so many Republicans refusing to get themselves vaccinated. Meanwhile, the need to lift the debt ceiling looms.
The law states that the Treasury Department must come to Congress and get permission to raise the debt ceiling and, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, that time is upon us. If Congress fails to lift it by mid-October, the United States will default on its debt and all hell will break loose.
So it's important to look at how this came to pass. After all, the idea that the U.S. should pay its bills is a no-brainer. And throughout most of our history, that's exactly how it was treated. In fact, until 1917 it was just done automatically when Congress instituted the rule because federal agencies were spending willy nilly without congressional approval. And mostly it continued to be done automatically without much fanfare. At one point the House instituted what they called the Gephardt Rule (after former Missouri congressman Dick Gephardt), which simply "deems" the debt ceiling lifted when a budget resolution is passed and it is an excellent idea.
However, the modern GOP's original bad seed, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, saw the opportunity to turn the debt ceiling into another Republican weapon and it's now pulled out whenever they want to yank the Democrats' chains. In 1995, in a speech before the Public Securities Association, Ginrich raised the specter of default as if it was a serious option in order to force a budget on radical GOP terms. The demands were not met, but the brinkmanship became an annual GOP custom that's still playing out today.
This time there's a new twist, however. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell isn't even negotiating. He says that Republicans will not vote to raise the debt ceiling because it isn't their responsibility. And that's that. Sure, several Democrats just voted to raise it during Trump's term but that's their thing. Republicans are now all simply refusing to participate. Except, of course, they are. They are filibustering the budget resolution and the debt ceiling hike making it necessary to get 60 votes, which don't appear to exist.
McConnell and company insist that Democrats can just raise the debt ceiling in reconciliation which only requires 50 votes. Of course, that also means opening up another round of "vote-o-rama" and that takes time. They also seem to think that somehow voting for the debt ceiling in a party-line reconciliation bill will really hurt the Democrats in 2022. Seems a bit far-fetched to me. Republicans are already going to attack Democrats mercilessly as tax-and-spend liberals no matter what, so it's hard to see why this would make much difference.
Obviously, McConnell also believes that this gumming up of the works may prevent them from passing their two big infrastructure bills although it looks like Democrats may do that dirty work for him. But you have to wonder why Republicans keep going down these roads. Every government shutdown since Gingrich's time has blown back on the GOP because everyone knows that they are the ones who are obstructing the normal process. It's their brand!
Ultimately, they are just obstructing for the sake of obstructing. Will Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia ever wake up and realize that their "principled" stand protecting the filibuster has simply made them pawns in Mitch McConnell's obnoxious trolling strategy? I don't know, but if they ever plan to do it, now would be an excellent time.
Let's set aside the distant possibility of the United States government defaulting on its debt. Despite what you are reading and hearing, there is no real chance of that happening. The United States Congress is going to raise the debt ceiling. Whether this game of chicken has any real-world effect — whether it lowers the US rating among crediting agencies, as transpired the last time around — is a different matter.
Make no mistake, though. It's a game of chicken and the Republicans in the United States Senate are winning. I would say, if we're going to be honest with ourselves, that the Republicans are humiliating the Democrats. Democratic allies are laboring mightily to obscure that.
They are pointing the finger at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, accusing him of hypocrisy. When he was in charge, the Senate GOP raised the cap, no questions asked, with the help of the Democrats. Now that he's not, he and all of the Senate Republicans are voting against raising the cap, despite knowing full well that if it isn't lifted, it would mean economic calamity for the country and the world.
Don't be conned by the Democratic partisans, though. McConnell is not a hypocrite. To be a hypocrite, you have to say one thing but mean something else. McConnell means exactly what he says, to wit: There are two standards. One for his party. One for the other. If today one thing works for him, so be it. If tomorrow the same thing doesn't, so be it. Being a hypocrite requires having some degree of dedication to moral consistency. McConnell has no such dedication. Never did.
This is not to praise him, mind you. Elizabeth Warren was entirely correct in asking Wednesday, "Are we hostage to Republicans who are threatening to blow up a part of the economic system because they want to do that for politics?" We should be asking that question. We should be denouncing the GOP for playing chicken with something as important as the full faith and credit of the United States government. But to answer the question: Yes, "we" are hostage to the Republicans.
The Republicans want the cap lifted. They know what the stakes are. They know the Democrats know, too. Failing to lift it is unthinkable. The Republicans also know they aren't going to win in the end. The Democrats can't get 60 voters on account of the GOP filibuster, but they can raise the cap using a process called reconciliation. (That requires a simple majority. Kamala Harris would be the tie-breaker.) There are only so many times they can use reconciliation, though. McConnell may be forcing the Democrats to use them all up before they get their act together to pass the president's big spending bills.
But the Republicans' short-term accomplishment is raking the Democrats over the hot coals of public humiliation. Why do I say that? Warren and the Democrats are not powerless. They could neutralize McConnell's advantage any time they wanted to. They are choosing not to use the power they have. They are instead complaining about the fact that Mitch McConnell is a terrible human being. Blaming him only serves to distract us from the real issue of the debt-ceiling story.
Of course I'm talking about the filibuster. The Senate rule requiring bills to reach 60 votes is why the Republicans are able to jam the Democrats. The Democrats could reform the filibuster any time. It takes 51 votes to change a rule. But a few of the Democrats, namely Joe Manchin, don't want to touch it. They have their reasons, but the outcome of holding on to the rule is standing by while your party is raked over the hot coals of public humiliation. Are "we" hostage to the Republicans? Kinda. Mostly the Democrats are hostage to themselves.
Manchin isn't the only Senate Democrat to stand by the filibuster. He is the most vocal, though, about the need for bipartisanship and about the filibuster forcing it to happen. This has always been nonsense, but the Republicans jamming the Democrats on the debt ceiling using the filibuster proves it. And it proves something else. Why would anyone want bipartisanship with people who not only play chicken with something as important as the full faith and credit of the United States government, but also rake you over the hot coals of public humiliation?
Manchin and the other Democrats who stand by the filibuster as-is seem indifferent to most arguments for reform, but perhaps they'd be more receptive to appeals to their pride: Do we really want to keep surrendering to the hostage takers for the sake of a rule? The answer might be yes, but we won't know until someone asks.
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