'Quite low' cash flows: Bipartisan group issues dire projection — saying U.S. could default in June

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government could default as soon as next month if Congress and the Biden administration can’t reach a debt limit agreement before then, according to a new analysis from the Bipartisan Policy Center.

The updated guidance, which puts the default window between early June and early August, adds pressure to President Joe Biden and the four congressional leaders for an agreement ahead of a meeting later Tuesday. The not-for-profit center works to help leaders arrive at bipartisan solutions.

“I still don’t think now is the time for panic. But it’s certainly time to start getting concerned because we’re possibly only several weeks away from the x-date,” said Shai Akabas, the center’s director of economic policy, referring to the default date.

“And again, I think we’re really at the early stage of these negotiations between the two parties,” he added.

The Bipartisan Policy Center projections, Akabas said, are consistent with the Treasury Department’s projections, which put the default date as soon as June 1.

“We also see reason for concern in early June, based on the fact that cash flows will be running quite low,” Akabas said.

Potential delays in Social Security payments and more

If the United States were to default for the first time in its history, it would likely mean delays in federal payments for hundreds of programs, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, veterans’ benefits and federal employee salaries.

Depending on how long a default lasted, a global recession could be triggered as well.

Tuesday’s meeting between congressional leaders and Biden will be the first time all five men have sat down together to negotiate on the nation’s borrowing limit, which pays for deficit spending Congress has already approved.

The group doesn’t have much time to work out a deal with both chambers of Congress scheduled to be in Washington, D.C. a total of seven days during May, though leaders can add days to the calendar if needed.

Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy met at the White House in February, but have made no progress since then, opting instead to trade barbs in public as the country inches closer to a default that would roil financial markets.

At the center of the dispute is whether changes in federal spending should be tied to legislation addressing the debt limit, or if talks about how much money Congress spends should be kept on a separate track.

Republicans have insisted that future spending cuts move along with any debt limit bill. Biden and Democrats have rejected their calls, saying that negotiations over spending should be independent of the debt limit.

U.S. House Republicans narrowly passed legislation in late April that would raise the nation’s debt limit by $1.5 trillion or suspend it through March 31, whichever comes first. But they included dozens of conservative policies and spending cuts that cannot pass the Democratically controlled U.S. Senate.

That has left congressional leaders and the Biden administration in a stalemate over how to address the country’s debt limit, which has accrued over decades.

GOP Senate letter

A group of 43 Senate Republicans released a letter over the weekend saying they’ll stand with their House GOP colleagues and oppose a stand-alone debt limit bill.

“The Senate Republican conference is united behind the House Republican conference in support of spending cuts and structural budget reform as a starting point for negotiations on the debt ceiling,” Republican senators wrote in the letter.

“Our economy is in free fall due to unsustainable fiscal policies,” Senate Republicans added. “This trajectory must be addressed with fiscal reforms. Moreover, recent Treasury projections have reinforced the urgency of addressing the debt ceiling. The House has taken a responsible first step in coming to the table with their proposals. It is imperative that the president now do the same.”

“As such, we will not be voting for cloture on any bill that raises the debt ceiling without substantive spending and budget reforms,” they wrote.

The letter, however, doesn’t detail specific spending cuts that Senate Republicans want to see, a move that’s likely designed to give Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell flexibility in closed-door talks with Democrats.

The letter was signed by Sens. Mike Lee of Utah, John Barrasso of Wyoming, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, John Boozman of Arkansas, Mike Braun of Indiana, Ted Budd of North Carolina, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Katie Britt of Alabama, John Cornyn of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Ted Cruz of Texas, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Steve Daines of Montana, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, James Lankford of Oklahoma, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall of Kansas, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Jerry Moran of Kansas, Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma, Pete Ricketts of Nebraska, James Risch of Idaho, Marco Rubio of Florida, Mike Rounds of South Dakota, Tim Scott of South Carolina, Rick Scott of Florida, Eric Schmitt of Missouri, Dan Sullivan of Alaska, John Thune of South Dakota, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Tommy Tuberville of Alabama, J.D. Vance of Ohio, Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Todd Young of Indiana.

No certainty on x-date

The estimate from the Bipartisan Policy Center is similar to the timeline Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen detailed for Congress last week, warning of default as soon as June 1 and urging lawmakers to broker a deal.

“We have learned from past debt limit impasses that waiting until the last minute to suspend or increase the debt limit can cause serious harm to business and consumer confidence, raise short-term borrowing costs for taxpayers, and negatively impact the credit rating of the United States,” Yellen wrote.

“If Congress fails to increase the debt limit, it would cause severe hardship to American families, harm our global leadership position, and raise questions about our ability to defend our national security interests.”

Akabas said during a briefing call with reporters on the Bipartisan Policy Center’s projections that specifying a more narrow window or exact day for when the federal government would default is especially difficult.

“We’re talking about hundreds of billions of dollars of payments that are going in and out,” he said. “And so neither we, nor Treasury, can know with any certainty when the x-date will arrive. Maybe not even a couple days in advance.”

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

U.S. Supreme Court holds off on abortion pill ruling until midnight Friday

WASHINGTON — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito postponed a ruling on access to the abortion pill until Friday as the high court continues considering arguments from anti-abortion organizations and the federal government.

Alito’s two-day-long pause, issued Wednesday, keeps a ruling from U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk on hold. The Supreme Court is considering whether to allow mifepristone to stay on the market amid the appeals process, or implement changes.

This is the second short-term stay from Alito. The first, issued on Friday, April 14, was set to expire Wednesday at midnight.

Kacsmaryk’s ruling in early April suspended the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 2000 approval of mifepristone, the first of two prescriptions used in medication abortions.

The federal government had requested the 5th Circuit place that ruling on pause during the appeal, but that three-judge panel declined.

Instead, the 5th Circuit ruled that while the case advances, doctors would need to prescribe mifepristone under the guidelines that were in place before the FDA made changes during 2016 and 2021.

That ruling would have meant that mifepristone would no longer have been approved for up to 10 weeks gestation, but seven weeks.

Patients would have to attend three in-person doctor visits instead of one, all adverse events would have to be reported to the FDA and prescribing and administration of the medication would have reverted to pre-2016 instructions.

It would have prevented doctors from prescribing mifepristone via telehealth or the medication being sent through the mail.

The generic version of mifepristone would no longer have been approved.

Alito’s second, short-term stay of both lower court rulings ensures that access to mifepristone stays exactly as it is now through Friday at 11:59 p.m.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

U.S. Senate moves toward repealing authority for military force against Iraq

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate took a broadly bipartisan vote Thursday to advance legislation that would end the 32-year-old and the 20-year-old Authorizations for Use of Military Force against Iraq.

The 68-27 vote moves the measure past the chamber’s 60-vote legislative filibuster and towards a final passage vote as soon as next week. House Republican leaders, some of whom have opposed repeal in the past, would then need to decide whether to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

“Iraq is no longer a force for chaos. Iraq is now a force for regional stability and the U.S. is their partner of choice,” said Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who sponsored the legislation. “Why would we want two war authorizations against a nation that has become a partner of choice?”

The United States maintains about 2,500 troops in Iraq to help the country’s government “counter ISIS and other non-state terrorist threats that threaten not only Iraq, but other nations in the region,” Kaine said.

Indiana Republican Sen. Todd Young, a primary co-sponsor of the bill, said during floor debate it’s been more than 10 years since any president cited the 2002 AUMF to justify U.S. military action. But he noted keeping the two authorizations in place could create issues.

“Leaving these authorities on the books creates an opportunity for abuse by the executive branch and bypasses Congress on the most important issue we consider as a body, which is how and when to send our men and women in uniform into harm’s way,” Young said.

Young sought to address objections to the repeal from some of his Republican colleagues, saying the AUMFs are not the appropriate way to try to address Iran.

“I share the views of so many of my colleagues on the need to counter Iran. I really do,” Young said. “But reimagining a more than 20-year-old authorization that was passed to combat a totally different enemy is not the way to do it.”

The United States and Iran haven’t had formal diplomatic relations since 1980, partly in response to the Iranian revolution and the hostage-taking of American diplomats in the country. Tensions have continued in the decades since over numerous issues, including Iran’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons, its human rights abuses and treatment of women.

Sens. Mike Braun of Indiana, Ted Budd of North Carolina, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Steve Daines of Montana, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Josh Hawley of Missouri, John Hoeven of North Dakota, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mike Lee of Utah, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming, Roger Marshall and Jerry Moran of Kansas, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Eric Schmitt of Missouri, J.D. Vance of Ohio and Young of Indiana were among the Republicans voting to advance the measure.

Does not include AUMF from 2001

The four-page bill would repeal the Authorizations for Use of Military Force or AUMFs that Congress approved in 1991 and 2002 for military action in Iraq.

The legislation doesn’t repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force that Congress approved following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That AUMF was originally used for the war in Afghanistan, though it’s since been used for military and counterterrorism operations in several other countries.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said Thursday the chamber would vote on amendments to the Iraq AUMF repeal bill. Those votes will likely take place next week, before the Senate votes to send the measure to the U.S. House.

U.S. House lawmakers voted 268-161 last Congress to approve a similar bill that would have repealed the 2002 AUMF against Iraq, but the U.S. Senate never took it up and efforts to get the language in the annual defense authorization package were unsuccessful.

The current slate of House GOP leaders — Speaker Kevin McCarthy of California, Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana, Whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota and Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York — all voted against approving that bill.

A bipartisan group of U.S. House lawmakers has re-introduced a bill in their chamber this Congress that matches the U.S. Senate legislation advanced Thursday.

It so far has 23 co-sponsors including, Florida Republican Byron Donalds, Oregon Democrat Val Hoyle, Michigan Democrat Daniel Kildee, Tennessee Republican Andrew Ogles, Montana Republican Matthew Rosendale and Virginia Democrat Abigail Spanberger.

“Voting on decisions of war and peace is a fundamental and constitutional responsibility for Members of Congress,” Spanberger said in a written statement announcing the bill’s release this Congress. “We must be accountable to the American people and cannot abdicate this responsibility to open-ended AUMFs that give too much power to a President and don’t require Congress to take consequential votes.”

Scalise and Emmer’s offices did not return requests for comment about whether they’d put the legislation on the House floor

Difference from declaration of war

An Authorization for Use of Military Force is different from when Congress formally declares war, which it has done 11 times for five wars, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The House voted 250-183 in January 1991 to approve that AUMF with the Senate approving it by unanimous consent. The 2002 AUMF passed the House following a 296-133 vote in October and the Senate approved the measure on a 77-23 vote.

The White House indicated Thursday that if Congress approves the repeal of both AUMFs, President Joe Biden will sign the measure.

Repealing the Iraq AUMFs “would have no impact on current U.S. military operations and would support this Administration’s commitment to a strong and comprehensive relationship with our Iraqi partners,” the administration wrote in a Statement of Administration Policy.

“Furthermore, President Biden remains committed to working with the Congress to ensure that outdated authorizations for the use of military force are replaced with a narrow and specific framework more appropriate to protecting Americans from modern terrorist threats.”

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

Bipartisan group predicts U.S. debt default as soon as summer, depending on tax receipts

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan think tank expects that the United States will default on its debt in the summer or early fall, if Congress doesn’t take action to address the debt limit before then.

The timeline is similar to one the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released last week, saying lawmakers have until sometime between July and September to either raise or suspend the debt limit before the United States would reach the so-called X-date.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said the country has until at least early June.

“Today’s X Date range reflects, in part, the considerable uncertainty in our nation’s current economic outlook,” said Shai Akabas, the Bipartisan Policy Center’s director of economic policy. “Policymakers have an opportunity now to inject certainty into the U.S. and global economy by beginning, in earnest, bipartisan negotiations around our nation’s fiscal health and taking action to uphold the full faith and credit of the United States well before the X Date.”

President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, have begun preliminary talks around the debt limit and government spending, but Biden remains adamant that negotiations on if and how to reduce federal spending need to happen on a separate track from debt limit talks.

McCarthy has said the two should be tied together and that it doesn’t make sense to raise the nation’s borrowing capacity, which pays for laws Congress already approved, without addressing future spending.

The BPC projection noted the default date, when the country would no longer have the ability to pay all of its bills in full and on time, “will depend heavily on 2022 tax collections in a fragile post-pandemic economy with low unemployment, persistent inflation, and recession fears.”

“Indeed, if tax season revenues fall far short of expectations, there could even be a ‘too close for comfort’ situation prior to quarterly tax receipts due on June 15,” the projection says.

Congress took three bipartisan votes during the Trump administration to suspend the debt limit and has taken one mostly party-line vote to raise the debt limit during the Biden presidency.

That $2.5 trillion raise ran out in January, after which the Treasury Department began using accounting maneuvers called extraordinary measures to keep the country below the $31.4 trillion borrowing limit.

The United States has never pushed past the default date, or X-date, so there’s uncertainty about what exactly would happen, but the federal government would be barred from deficit spending.

That would mean steep cuts to government programs, though it’s unclear if the Treasury secretary would be able to determine which programs get funding and which don’t.

Even if default spending cuts could be prioritized, it’s likely that there would be broad impacts to the global economy as well as health care programs, defense and the federal workforce.

The Bipartisan Policy Center said in its projection it plans to narrow the default date window as federal revenues and spending become clearer.

Akabas said he was “optimistic that today’s projection provides Congress and President Biden with a window of opportunity to come together and work out a deal.”

“They owe it to every hardworking American and small business owner to avoid the costs and risks associated with dragging this out to the 11th hour.”

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

U.S. likely to default on debt between July and September unless Congress acts, CBO says

WASHINGTON — Congress has until at least July to broker a bipartisan debt agreement if lawmakers want to avoid a first-ever default, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The nonpartisan scorekeeper, which typically details how much legislation would cost, released a report Wednesday saying that U.S. lawmakers and the Biden administration have until sometime between July and September to raise or suspend the debt limit.

CBO, however, cautioned in its report the window is uncertain, since the amount of money flowing into the federal government from taxes and other revenue sources fluctuates, as does the amount of money distributed for programs ranging from Social Security and Medicare to military paychecks to public lands programs.

“In particular, income tax receipts in April could be more or less than CBO estimates,” the report states. “If those receipts fell short of estimated amounts … the extraordinary measures could be exhausted sooner, and the Treasury could run out of funds before July.”

Debt limit struggles

Congress voted three times during the Trump administration to suspend the debt limit, with all the votes garnering bipartisan support.

Congress has voted once during the Biden administration to raise the debt limit, though the House and Senate passed that legislation without the backing of the vast majority of Republican lawmakers.

That $2.5 trillion raise to the nation’s borrowing capacity that Democrats approved last year ran out last month, when the nation’s debt limit reached the $31.4 trillion limit.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has since used accounting maneuvers called extraordinary measures to ensure the federal government can keep paying all of its bills in full and on time, but those measures are expected to expire between July and September, according to CBO’s analysis.

If that happens without a new debt limit law, the Treasury Department would no longer be allowed to borrow money to pay for all of the programs that Congress has approved.

Since the nation has never reached that point, it’s somewhat unclear what exactly would happen.

But the federal government would be limited to spending what money it has on hand, leading to sweeping cuts to government programs that officials may or may not be able to direct.

Yellen has repeatedly warned Congress against moving too close to the default date, sometimes called the x-date.

“Failure to meet the government’s obligations would cause irreparable harm to the U.S. economy, the livelihoods of all Americans, and global financial stability,” Yellen wrote in an early January letter warning of the debt limit.

“Indeed, in the past, even threats that the U.S. government might fail to meet its obligations have caused real harms, including the only credit rating downgrade in the history of our nation in 2011.”

Biden budget request coming

President Joe Biden, speaking from Lanham, Maryland, on Wednesday afternoon, said the budget request he plans to release on March 9 will reduce the deficit by $2 trillion over the next decade, though he rejected GOP calls to tie together negotiations on the debt limit and federal spending.

“Some of our Republican friends in the House are talking about taking the economy hostage over the full faith and credit of the United States,” Biden said. “They say unless I accept their economic plans, which are totally irresponsible, they’re not going to pay the national debt, which took 200 years to accumulate.”

Biden called on House Republicans to release a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. He said that after that, they can sit down and talk about what issues Democrats and Republicans agree on and negotiate areas where they differ on how the federal government spends money or brings in revenue.

But Biden said he made it clear to Speaker Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, and other GOP lawmakers in his State of the Union address that he “will not negotiate whether or not we pay our debt.”

Wisconsin Examiner is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Wisconsin Examiner maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Ruth Conniff for questions: info@wisconsinexaminer.com. Follow Wisconsin Examiner on Facebook and Twitter.

Attorneys general from 23 GOP-led states back suit seeking to block abortion pill

WASHINGTON — Attorneys general representing nearly two dozen Republican states are backing a lawsuit that would remove the abortion pill from throughout the United States after more than two decades, eliminating the option even in states where abortion access remains legal.

The state of Missouri filed its own brief in the case Friday while Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch filed a brief on behalf of her state as well as Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Wyoming.

“The serious nature of the FDA’s unlawful actions, and the agency’s decision to invite lawbreaking by private parties and government actors across the country, favors broad relief,” the 22 Republican attorneys general wrote in the multi-state brief.

“The FDA and the Administration as a whole have no intention to respect the Constitution, the Supreme Court, or the democratic process when it comes to abortion. This Court’s decisive action is warranted,” they added.



The case, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, was originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the North District of Texas in mid-November by Alliance Defending Freedom, a Scottsdale-based anti-abortion legal organization.

The lawsuit argues, on behalf of four anti-abortion medical organizations and four anti-abortion physicians, that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration exceeded its authority when it approved mifepristone to end pregnancies in 2000.

The prescription medication was originally approved for up to seven weeks into a pregnancy but is now approved for up to 10. It is used as part of a two-drug regimen that includes misoprostol as the second pharmaceutical.

The abortion pill, mifepristone, is legal at the federal level, though several GOP states have laws in place that restrict abortion to less than 10 weeks, setting up a dispute between state law and the federal government’s jurisdiction to approve pharmaceuticals.

If the judge doesn’t pull the abortion pill entirely, the anti-abortion organizations’ lawsuit argues to move the dosage and prescribing process back to how it worked before 2016, when the FDA made changes to its approval.

DOJ says suit ‘unprecedented’

The U.S. Justice Department argued in its court filing the anti-abortion groups’ lawsuit “is extraordinary and unprecedented.”

“Plaintiffs have pointed to no case, and the government has been unable to locate any example, where a court has second-guessed FDA’s safety and efficacy determination and ordered a widely available FDA-approved drug to be removed from the market — much less an example that includes a two-decade delay,” wrote attorneys for the U.S. Justice Department.

The Republican attorneys general said in their Friday briefs that “while the FDA is authorized to evaluate new drugs for safety and effectiveness, States are primarily responsible for protecting the health and welfare of their citizens.”

“Many States, including several amici here, have thus enacted laws to regulate abortion-inducing drugs and account for their dangers,” they wrote.

“Such laws can include in-person examination and dispensing requirements, qualification requirements for prescribers, mandates for informed consent, bans on distribution by mailing, or some combination of these and other safety limitations.”

The 22 attorneys general argued in their brief that the FDA’s approval of the abortion bill has two legal flaws.

The first is that it “defies the agency’s own regulations” since the section the FDA first approved the drug under, Subpart H, “does not permit the agency to greenlight elective abortions on a wide scale.”

The second, they wrote, is that allowing abortion medication to be sent via the mail is in direct contrast to a federal law that prohibits “using the mail to send or receive abortion-inducing drugs such as mifepristone.”

Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, in a separate brief, wrote that he agreed with the arguments made in the original lawsuit and by his fellow Republican attorneys general, but that he wanted to highlight facts “recently uncovered in litigation.”

Missouri’s brief alleges that medication abortions, which have been used for more than two decades, “are much riskier than surgical abortions” and that “there is a lack of substantial information that the drugs will have the effect they purport.”

Accessing abortions

Dr. Jamila Perritt, president & CEO for Physicians for Reproductive Health, said during a press briefing this week on the court case that abortion medication is safe and effective, and that “when abortion is more difficult to access, we know that this means abortion gets pushed later and later into pregnancy as folks try to navigate these barriers.”

If the judge in the case were to pull mifepristone, Perritt said, people in states where abortion is still legal would be able to access abortion using misoprostol alone since “there are approved regimens of managing medication abortion using only misoprostol.”

Perritt added that “while it is equally safe … dosage and timing to completion of the abortion varies if mifepristone is not added to the equation.”

Patients in legal states would also still have access to procedural abortion, Perritt noted.

Reproductive health experts have said the suit is based on flawed evidence, selected studies and anecdotes.

Dr. Iffath Abbasi Hoskins, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said in a written statement in January that “restricting access to mifepristone interferes with the ability of obstetrician–gynecologists and other clinicians to deliver the highest-quality evidence-based care for their patients.”

“Since 2020, continued usage of mifepristone for abortion care without the in-person dispensing requirement has been shown to be safe and effective,” she wrote when the FDA announced it would allow commercial pharmacies to fill prescriptions for mifepristone.

The judge in the lawsuit, Trump appointee Matthew Joseph Kacsmaryk, could rule on whether to pull mifepristone from the market as soon as this month.

Any ruling is likely to be appealed to the conservative-leaning 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and could eventually find itself in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Jim Jordan's new House weaponization panel to probe FBI, IRS, ATF

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Democrats on Thursday urged the GOP lawmakers running the new Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government to work with them on genuine oversight investigations that weren’t political or focused on leveling grievances.

Maryland Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin said during the panel’s first hearing that the subcommittee “could conceivably become part of a proud history of serious bipartisan oversight stretching from the Teapot Dome investigation to the Boeing investigation to the Watergate hearings to the tobacco hearings to the select committee on the Jan. 6 attack.”

“Or it could take oversight down a very dark alley filled with conspiracy theories and disinformation — a place where facts are the enemy and partisan destruction is the overriding goal,” Raskin added.

Chairman Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, shared few details about exactly where the panel will focus its efforts during the 118th Congress.

But he did mention the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the Internal Revenue Services as federal agencies likely to get put under the panel’s microscope.

He also said the committee would ultimately release a bill to address its concerns.

“Over the course of our work in this committee, we expect to hear from government officials and experts, like we have here today,” Jordan said.

“We expect to hear from Americans who have been targeted by their government, we expect to hear from people in the media and we expect to hear from the FBI agents who came forward as whistleblowers,” Jordan added. “We think many of them will sit for transcribed interviews as one did on Tuesday, and we believe several of them will testify in open hearings.”

Grassley and Johnson testify

The first panel to testify in front of the subcommittee included Iowa GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley, Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, Raskin and former Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

Grassley and Johnson both spoke about the investigations they’ve led into the finances and business dealings of Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son, as well as how the Justice Department handled the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

“It’s clear to me that the Justice Department and the FBI are suffering from a political infection that, if it’s not defeated, will cause the American people no longer to trust these storied institutions,” Grassley said. “It will also threaten the American way of life.”

Grassley rebuked Democratic lawmakers for openly questioning his prior investigations and federal investigators for their actions during the past few years, listing former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, among others.

He then committed to working with the U.S. House panel to help them investigate further.

“Your committee here has an opportunity to help us write the last chapter in this real life drama,” Grassley said. “You must relentlessly pursue the facts and the evidence.”

Johnson mentioned the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 1 million Americans, questioning the motivations behind the economic shutdown and federal research that led to a vaccine, both of which occurred during the Trump administration.

He alleged that the World Health Organization has been “captured” by the Chinese government, that global institutions have been “captured” by the left and that some charitable organizations are exerting more power over public policy than they should be allowed.

“I have barely scratched the surface in describing the complexity, power and destructive nature of the forces that we face,” Johnson said.

Johnson called on whistleblowers from throughout the federal government to come forward to share information with the panel.

“Our founders fully understood that government was necessary to avoid anarchy. But they also knew that government power was something to fear,” he said. “That’s why they devised a set of checks and balances to limit government power and influence over our lives.”

Following his Republican colleagues’ assertions of Democratic “weaponization” of the federal government, Maryland’s Raskin read off a list of actions undertaken by the Trump administration, which he argued were prime examples of the “weaponization” of the Justice Department.

Raskin pressed the panel to work in a bipartisan manner, arguing that “oversight must be organized around a comprehensive search for the truth … not around revenge.”

“It’s one thing to engage in systematic oversight driven by a commitment to facts and the truth,” Raskin added. “And something radically different to set up a platform for a series of hit-and-run partisan attacks that are just vindictive and debt-driven and meant to frame up a presidential campaign in 2024.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Of more than 7,500 threats against members of Congress in 2022, just 22 prosecuted

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress receive thousands of threats a year, though just a fraction of the people who call, mail or email will ever be prosecuted — a situation that’s of great concern to the police who guard members.

Just 22 of the 7,501 threats lobbed at members during 2022 led to prosecution, the U.S. Capitol Police confirmed to States Newsroom on Tuesday. It’s a statistic the chief of police has said needs to change.

“Recognizing that threat cases are difficult to prosecute, it is disheartening to me that our prosecution rate remains low,” USCP Chief Thomas Manger said during a recent congressional hearing while talking about the 2021 numbers.

In 2022, the USCP presented 313 cases to U.S. attorney offices after determining that they represented criminal threats against members of Congress, according to a USCP spokesperson.

Twenty-two of those cases were prosecuted, though it wasn’t immediately clear how many resulted in plea deals or convictions.

The goal in many cases is to get mental health treatment, according to the USCP. Sending people who threaten members of Congress to prison “is not always the best route,” the spokesperson said.

‘Huge caseload’

The USCP referred 458 threat cases for prosecution during 2021, with 40 of those leading to a court case, according to Minnesota Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar, chair of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, which held the hearing at which Manger testified.

“The FBI and the U.S. attorney’s office are very helpful, but they have a huge caseload and for us, a threat against a member of Congress is our highest priority. It’s not always their highest priority,” Manger said.

“So if we have our own folks to make sure these things get prosecuted, I think it’s a big step in the right direction for us.”

Manger said USCP has made “significant inroads” on prosecutions by getting three U.S. attorneys dedicated to prosecuting threat cases against members of Congress.

He argued that prosecutions have a “deterrent effect” and said he’s working with the U.S. Department of Justice to allow the U.S. attorneys to work across state lines as needed.

“It would be nice to be able to send them where we need to send them so we can get more of those cases prosecuted,” Manger said.

The number of threats made against members has fluctuated in recent years, reaching a peak of 9,625 threats in 2021 — an average of slightly more than 26 per day.

That number was up from the 8,613 threats made in 2020, the 6,955 threats in 2019, a total of 5,206 in 2018 and 3,939 in 2017, according to USCP.

Paul Pelosi attack

Threats against members of Congress have become an unsettling reality of the everyday lives of lawmakers and staff, as has deciphering which people are likely to follow through on those threats.

The security of members and their families came to the forefront, once again, in October when a man broke into the home that former U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi shares with her husband, Paul. The man then allegedly attacked Paul Pelosi with a hammer while searching for the longtime Democratic lawmaker.

The man, who was quickly arrested by police inside the San Francisco home, told investigators during an interview that after he found Speaker Pelosi, if she told the “truth,” he planned to let her go, but that if she “lied,” he was planning to break “her kneecaps.”

The incident took place about three months after a man attacked New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin during a campaign event near Rochester while he was running in a bid for governor.

The man later told law enforcement he had been drinking, didn’t know who Zeldin was or that he was a politician, and said he “must have checked out” after watching a video of the incident, according to The Associated Press.

Kansas Republican Rep. Jake LaTurner testified earlier this month against a man who was later convicted of calling in a threat to one of the congressman’s offices.

Prosecutors played a voicemail during the trial, showing the man threatened to kill LaTurner and all other members of Congress after he had declared he was the “son of God” and “Messiah,” according to The Kansas City Star.

In April 2022, a Florida man pleaded guilty to one count of threatening a federal official for sending an email to Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar in July 2019 threatening to kill her.

The 67-year-old man sent an email with the subject line, “(You’re) dead, you radical Muslim,” after watching a press conference on television that Omar attended along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

In the email, the man referred to Omar and the other lawmakers as “radical rats,” and claimed he was going to shoot them in the head, according to a press release from the U.S. Justice Department.

“Threatening to kill our elected officials, especially because of their race, ethnicity or religious beliefs, is offensive to our nation’s fundamental values,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a written statement at the time.

“The Justice Department will not hesitate to prosecute individuals who violate federal laws that prohibit violent, hate-motivated threats. All elected officials, regardless of their background, should be able to represent their communities and serve the public free from hate-motivated threats and violence.”

The man was later sentenced to three years probation and fined $7,000, according to The Tampa Bay Times.

Enhancing security

Manger said during the hearing that the USCP hopes to enhance security for lawmakers’ homes and district offices as well as for members of leadership.

“As a result of the number of threats that are coming in and the number of credible threats that we have some concern about, I believe that we need to strongly expand the number of protection agents that we have,” he said.

Manger noted that at the moment, the USCP doesn’t “provide the level of protection to some of the leadership that perhaps we should.”

“It’s certainly not on par with what is done in the executive branch,” Manger added.

He also told the panel he’s asked the USCP board “to do for the entire Congress what the House has begun to do for their members.”

“Every member of Congress would have a security system in their home, in their district offices; so that it would add a layer of protection for not only the member but their family and their staff as well,” Manger said.

Part of that process, he said, would include setting up a protection operations center where civilian employees working for the USCP would monitor the security systems as well as employees for the security system company.

“To have that redundancy and to have that instant recognition if there’s a problem and the instant response if there’s a problem, I think, provides exactly what we need in terms of enhancing the protection,” Manger said.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: info@iowacapitaldispatch.com. Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Dems ready to OK new 2024 primary voting calendar — despite uncertainty in two states

WASHINGTON — The full Democratic National Committee is set to vote in just days about a decision to ratify a new lineup of five states that would lead the nation in primary voting for Democratic presidential candidates in 2024.
But approval of the new calendar at a meeting scheduled for Feb. 4 in Philadelphia won’t be the last step in what’s become a contentious process.

Democrats in New Hampshire will still need to get their Republican-controlled state government to change a law that says the state must schedule its primary ahead of similar contests and to expand access to early voting — both of which GOP lawmakers have said they won’t do.

Georgia Democrats also will need to get their GOP secretary of state to change the state’s presidential primary date to match the DNC’s requirements — a similarly unlikely feat.

If the two states’ Democrats don’t, in fact, get Republicans to follow along with the DNC’s plan, waivers will become void, moving New Hampshire and Georgia back into the so-called regular window that begins in March.

The waivers allow the five states to vote before the regular window if those states implement the dates and policies the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee detailed during its December meeting.

New Hampshire Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan said Thursday that the “state law is very clear that we will go first.”

“There is a way for us to make sure that we are honoring all the values of the Democratic Party with New Hampshire going first,” Hassan said. “And it’s really important that the DNC develop a proposal that is actually one that all of the participants can meet.”

Time extended

The DNC’s Rules and Bylaws Committee, which originally approved the new slate of early voting states in December, voted this week to give New Hampshire and Georgia through June 3 to show the national party that the states were moving to match the DNC’s vision.

Similar extensions weren’t necessary for South Carolina, Nevada, or Michigan, which have met the requirements to get the waiver, allowing the three states to vote early without incurring the wrath of the national party.

The Rules and Bylaws Committee, which is spearheading the process, is expected to meet again shortly after the new June 3 deadline, according to an individual familiar with the process who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly.

During that meeting, panel members are likely to discuss whether New Hampshire and Georgia have met the requirements needed to vote early, or if the waivers the full DNC will vote to approve next week have become void.

New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said Thursday the extension until June 3 is unlikely to change much.

“Well, I appreciate that they provided the extension. Sadly, I don’t think it’s going to make much difference because the Republican governor and the Republican legislative leadership have been very clear they don’t intend to make the changes that the DNC has requested,” Shaheen said.

“And I think it’s unfortunate for the DNC to put at risk Democratic elected officials in the state, because of those rules,” Shaheen added.

Waivers would become void

If New Hampshire Republicans don’t take steps during the next four months to match the proposed Feb. 13 primary election day and expand access to early voting, then the waiver the DNC is set to approve Feb. 4 would become void automatically.

That would mean New Hampshire no longer has the DNC’s approval to vote ahead of the regular window, which begins the first Tuesday in March.

If the state were to hold its Democratic presidential primary ahead of that benchmark, the DNC would bar Democratic presidential candidates from campaigning in the state, including placing their name on the ballot. The DNC would also strip New Hampshire Democrats of half of their delegates.

The same would be true for Georgia’s Feb. 20 waiver, though Peach State voters aren’t as tied to the “first-in-the-nation” primary distinction that New Hampshire has clung to for years.

Georgia voters tend to head to the primary polls a bit later in the process, casting their ballots on June 9 for the 2020 presidential primary, March 1 during the 2016 primaries and March 6 for the 2012 primary.

So if Georgia doesn’t complete the steps outlined in the waiver a DNC panel approved in December and extended this week, the state would likely just vote during the so-called regular window that begins the first Tuesday in March.

Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff said Thursday that his home state moving up in the presidential primary voting process would be beneficial, though he deferred to the secretary of state when asked if the additional time would move the needle.

“It would be great for Georgia and Georgia would benefit from being earlier in the process,” Ossoff said. “So we will see how the process plays out.”

Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

Federal judge could decide as soon as February to yank abortion pill nationwide

WASHINGTON — A Texas judge could decide as soon as next month whether to force the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to pull its two-decade-old approval of the abortion pill, which accounts for more than half of pregnancy terminations in the United States.

A nationwide injunction in the case, as requested by anti-abortion groups, would deny abortion medication even in states where abortion is legal and effect millions of individuals’ reproductive rights decisions. The legal fight is viewed as likely to eventually make its way to the Supreme Court, which in 2022 overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion rights.

The FDA is urging the federal judge — an appointee of former President Donald Trump — not to issue a preliminary ruling in the case that centers on whether the agency exceeded its authority to approve mifepristone in 2000, whether it erred in making changes to when and how the medication can be used in 2016 and if sending the medication through the mail is legal.

The federal government, in a court filing on Jan. 13, said the anti-abortion groups’ lawsuit to force the FDA to pull the pharmaceutical from the market “is extraordinary and unprecedented.”

“Plaintiffs have pointed to no case, and the government has been unable to locate any example, where a court has second-guessed FDA’s safety and efficacy determination and ordered a widely available FDA-approved drug to be removed from the market — much less an example that includes a two-decade delay,” wrote attorneys for the U.S. Justice Department.

The 52-page opposition to a preliminary ruling says such a decision “would cause significant harm, depriving patients of a safe and effective drug that has been on the market for more than two decades.”

Suit filed in mid-November

The Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine along with the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American College of Pediatricians and Christian Medical & Dental Associations filed the lawsuit in mid-November along with four doctors from California, Indiana, Michigan and Texas.

They argue in the 113-page lawsuit the FDA “exceeded its regulatory authority” to approve mifepristone and misoprostol to end a pregnancy within the United States. The two-drug regimen is currently approved up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy, though it was originally approved for up to seven weeks gestation.

“This case challenges the FDA’s failure to abide by its legal obligations to protect the health, safety, and welfare of women and girls when the agency authorized the chemical abortion drugs mifepristone and misoprostol for use in the United States and subsequently eliminated necessary safeguards for pregnant women and girls who undergo this dangerous drug regimen,” wrote attorneys from the Alliance Defending Freedom, the anti-abortion legal organization leading the case.

The lawsuit then calls on the court to “issue a preliminary and permanent injunction ordering Defendants to withdraw mifepristone and misoprostol as FDA-approved chemical abortion drugs.”

If the judge declines to do that, he could rule in support of one, or several, of the anti-abortion groups’ other claims in the case.

That could mean a court order to eliminate the mail-order option, reinstate the in-person dispensing requirement, re-apply in-person dispensing solely to doctors instead of prescribing healthcare providers like physician’s assistants or nurse practitioners, or wipe out the 2016 FDA changes to when and how the medication could be used.

Among those were increasing the number of weeks into a pregnancy mifepristone can be used from seven to 10 and making changes to the dosage.

The lawsuit doesn’t address the FDA’s decision in early January to allow commercial pharmacies to dispense the abortion medication after receiving a prescription from a healthcare provider; though if the judge were to require in-person dispensing by a doctor again, pharmacy pick-up of a prescription wouldn’t be possible.

Abortion rights advocates said during a briefing in January that while the case would be a joke in any other court, they are taking the filing in the North District of Texas seriously, in part because of the judge who will handle the case.

Kirsten Moore, director of the Expanding Medication Abortion Access Project, said “the idea that a drug approval infrastructure could be up to a single judge or that states would be able to recreate their own drug approval process is rash and downright dangerous.”

Jennifer Dalven, director of the Reproductive Freedom Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the case “would be laughed out of court if it were filed somewhere else” due to several procedural defects.

But because of the federal district court and the judge, Dalven said, she is taking the case “quite seriously.”

“Mifepristone was approved over 20 years ago. It’s been used safely and effectively by millions of people for early abortion care and to treat miscarriages,” Dalven said. “But unfortunately, in the world we are living in today, we have to take this case seriously.”

A decision from the judge could happen any time after Feb. 10, when the last filings are due in the case, Dalven said.

Abortion rights advocates, she said, weren’t yet sure if the judge would hear oral arguments or issue a ruling without taking that step.

Trump appointees

The lawsuit is working its way through the U.S. District Court for the North District of Texas, the same district that issued a preliminary ruling in favor of the Texas attorney general and anti-abortion organizations regarding emergency medical treatment for pregnant patients.

That Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act case, State of Texas v. Becerra, was filed in the Lubbock Division and overseen by Judge James Wesley Hendrix, while the medication abortion case was filed in the Amarillo Division and is being presided over by Matthew Joseph Kacsmaryk.

Kacsmaryk was appointed by Trump in 2019, as was Hendrix.

The U.S. Senate voted 52-46 to confirm Kacsmaryk in June 2019 with Maine’s Susan Collins as the sole Republican to vote against him.

Collins told The Washington Post ahead of the vote that Kacsmaryk had an “alarming bias against LGBTQ Americans and disregard for Supreme Court precedents.”

“Mr. Kacsmaryk has dismissed proponents of reproductive choice as ‘sexual revolutionaries,’ and disdainfully criticized the legal foundations of Roe v. Wade,” Collins said in her statement to the Post. “Such extreme statements reflect poorly on Mr. Kacsmaryk’s temperament and suggest an inability to respect precedent and to apply the law fairly and impartially.”

One of the reasons abortion rights organizations are concerned about this particular case, Dalven said, is because the anti-abortion organizations filing the case went “to extraordinary lengths to get their case before” Kacsmaryk.

She also criticized them for filing the suit, Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine v. U.S. Food and Drug Administration, just after the November 2022 midterm elections.

The Alliance for Defending Freedom, the anti-abortion legal organization that filed the case on behalf of the anti-abortion medical associations and doctors, said in a written statement released in mid-November the FDA “illegally” approved the prescription abortion medication.

“On behalf of the national health care organizations and physicians we represent, we ask the court to hold the FDA accountable for its reckless, unlawful behavior,” said ADF Senior Counsel Erik Baptist.

Suing ‘over virtually any FDA action’

The U.S. Justice Department argued in its Jan. 13 filing the anti-abortion organizations didn’t have standing “to sue over virtually any FDA action” and criticized the logic they used to argue the doctors could be harmed by the use of abortion medication.

“As Plaintiffs’ argument runs, if FDA approved a new heart medication, emergency physicians would have standing to challenge the approval on the theory that some patients would experience adverse events under the new treatment; in contrast, cardiologists would have standing to challenge the approval on the theory that some patients would no longer require their services,” they wrote.

The federal government also sought to defend the approval of mifepristone in 2000, saying the FDA’s decision followed a comprehensive review of scientific data, which “demonstrated that the drug was safe and effective for abortions under the specified conditions.”

The FDA, the Justice Department lawyers wrote, “reviewed three separate clinical trials involving more than 2,500 pregnant patients, and those trials provided substantial evidence of effectiveness and showed a low rate of serious adverse events.”

“Rather than confront the significant evidence confirming mifepristone’s safety,” the Justice Department lawyers wrote, the anti-abortion organizations filing the lawsuit asked the judge “to second-guess the agency based on five selected publications.”

The FDA, in fact, considered the studies, they wrote.

“None purports to conclude that mifepristone is unsafe. Indeed, three of them expressly endorse mifepristone as a safe treatment,” the Justice Department lawyers wrote. “Moreover, Plaintiffs misconstrue these studies and their relevant findings.”

Biden memo

The White House, on what would have been the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, sought to address the ongoing disputes over abortion medication.

President Joe Biden issued a memo calling on Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra to consult with the attorney general and the Homeland Security secretary to bolster access to medication abortion.

Biden calls on the three men to consider issuing guidance for people seeking access to mifepristone along with guidance for doctors and pharmacies that plan to continue prescribing or dispensing it.

Biden noted in the memo there “have been reports of efforts to suppress access to medication abortion.”

“State officials have announced that they will impose restrictions to limit access to this evidence-based, safe, and effective medication,” Biden wrote.

He mentioned a letter that 22 state attorneys general sent to his administration that “threatened to enforce State laws that purport to interfere with access to mifepristone.” The states represented included Arkansas, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, South Dakota and Tennessee.

“In Florida, the Governor recently said that major pharmacy chains in the State will not offer mifepristone,” Biden wrote.

“Florida health officials issued guidance discouraging pharmacies from dispensing mifepristone, claiming that State law limits where abortion medication can be provided to hospitals, clinics, or physician offices,” Biden added. “These actions have stoked confusion, sowed fear, and may prevent patients from accessing safe and effective FDA-approved medication.”

Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Greg LaRose for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

House GOP backs rules plan without disclosing deals made with hard-right members

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House adopted rules for the 118th Congress on Monday, though several of the concessions Speaker Kevin McCarthy made with more conservative members of the Republican Party to secure the gavel weren’t included in the document, or publicly circulated ahead of the vote.

The 55-page rules package the House voted nearly party-line 220-213 to adopt sets the parameters for how bills should be written, how committees will operate and how the floor will run during the next two years. The majority in every Congress writes its own such rules.

But it doesn’t include promises McCarthy reportedly made to cut spending by more than $100 billion, place hard-right lawmakers on key committees and to put together some sort of debt limit plan ahead of a default deadline later this year.

Republican Rep. Tony Gonzales of Texas was the sole member of his party to vote against adopting the rules.

Gonzales didn’t speak during floor debate Monday, but said on “Fox & Friends” on Sunday that he opposed the rules package because of an agreement to cut spending to the last fiscal year’s levels and a provision that allows any one member to call for a no-confidence vote on the speaker.

“I’m against the rules for a couple of different reasons. One is the defense spending, the cut in defense. I think that’s an absolutely terrible idea,” Gonzales said.

“But the other is the vacate the chair. I don’t want to see us every two months be in lockdown. This isn’t the parliament. The American public are counting on House Republicans to be the one savior in this all. If we can’t get this right, it’s going to be nightmare after nightmare.”

‘Empowering the extremists’

Massachusetts Rep. Jim McGovern, the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, urged opposition to the package during floor debate Monday afternoon, arguing that it would empower the extreme right of the House Republican Conference.

“What’s clear from all of this is that the Republican Party no longer cares about governing and this rules package is exhibit No.1,” McGovern said. “This rules package puts politics first, empowering the extremists who are only interested in their own power.”

Maryland Democrat Steny Hoyer spoke against the changes, saying they would “impede” the work of the House.

House Majority Leader Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican, lamented that legislation brought to the floor during previous sessions of Congress was written “behind closed doors, by a small number of people not concerned about the consequences.”

“For a long time, we’ve been saying this needs to change. In fact, we ran on an agenda to change the way Washington works, to fix this broken system, to get our country back on track, and we were awarded the majority by the people across this country,” Scalise said. “So, today starts that process of fixing what’s broken in Washington.”

Scalise didn’t express frustration with the undisclosed agreements McCarthy made with conservative Republicans behind closed doors last week, which are unlikely to become public in written form.

Texas Rep. Chip Roy, one of the holdout GOP lawmakers who negotiated concessions from McCarthy last week in exchange for votes to become speaker, said on the floor that Republicans and McCarthy agreed to a floor vote on a Texas border security plan, a vote on legislation to set term limits for members and a process that would bring appropriations bills to the floor under open rules, which allow any member to offer amendments.

“Yes, we have had conversations and agreements, as individuals are supposed to do,” Roy said. “Looking each other in the eye and saying, ‘We’re going to bring balanced budgets to the floor of the House.’ You bet that we’ve got agreements, we’re going to do that.”

New select panel on coronavirus

Among the rule changes are new budgetary constraints and reporting, a requirement that bills adhere to a single subject and allowing any member to introduce a resolution that could lead to a no confidence vote on the speaker.

Other proposed changes include the renaming of committees — for example, the Education and Labor Committee will be redubbed Education and the Workforce. The package calls for the empaneling of a select subcommittee to investigate the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Republicans are moving from the pay-as-you-go rule that Democrats used to offset the cost of new mandatory spending to a cut-as-you-go rule.

The change “prohibits consideration of a bill, joint resolution, conference report, or amendment that has the net effect of increasing mandatory spending within a five-year or ten-year budget window,” according to a GOP summary of the rules changes.

Republicans are reinstating a rule that legislation must be released at least 72 hours before floor votes can take place, an effort to address Republican criticism that there’s often not enough time to read and understand legislation before members are expected to vote.

Rep. Michelle Fischbach, a Minnesota Republican, said during floor debate the provision would “allow more thoughtful and deliberate consideration that will improve what we pass out of this House.”

New reporting requirements for major legislation mandate that the Congressional Budget Office, the nonpartisan scorekeeper, include a long-term economic outlook when giving a budget score to the bill, including effects on economic output, employment and capital stocks.

Handshake deals

Not included in the official rules package, or public documents, are reported handshake deals that McCarthy made with certain members of his party in order to secure the votes needed to become speaker last week, following four days of voting and 15 ballots.

The California Republican reportedly promised members he’ll reduce discretionary spending to fiscal 2022 levels, cutting more than $115 billion compared to current levels.

White House spokesperson Andrew Bates said in a written statement Monday the impact of reducing defense spending, which some Republicans swear they won’t agree to, would make the United States “less capable of keeping the American people safe and advancing our national security interests.”

“This push to defund our military in the name of politics is senseless and out of line with our national security needs,” Bates said.

Democrats voiced concerns about proposed reductions in government spending, including possible defense cuts and threats to programs like Social Security and Medicare.

“This is an extreme proposal that’s in front of us,” Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Richard Neal said during floor debate.

“If they follow the logic to its manifestation, this will pit Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid against defense spending,” Neal added. “Our seniors will be sold out, our military will be sold out, and the full faith and credit of the United States will be under threat. All in a quest to organize the House.”

IRS staffing bill

Both parties accused the other side of so-called “weaponization” of government agencies and congressional investigations.

The GOP plans to pass a bill late Monday to pull funding for additional staffing and enforcement at the Internal Revenue Service, accusing Democrats of targeting everyday Americans with tax audits. The bill is likely to hit a road block in the Democrat-majority Senate.

The GOP legislation would increase the deficit by $114 billion over 10 years, according to an analysis released Monday by the CBO.

In addition to the panel to investigate COVID-19 origins and policies, the GOP also included in its rules the establishment of a panel that will be “committed to investigating the radical left position of the federal government,” said Tom Cole, of Oklahoma, who now chairs the Rules Committee.

The Republican majority is expected in the coming days to bring two abortion-related bills to the House floor — legislation that was outlined in the rules package.

“After a week of chaos, we now have a rules package for MAGA extremists attacking our freedoms and every major responsibility of this body,” said Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. “This package criminalizes abortion by advancing bills that attack access and health care without a single hearing or markup.”

The House will reconvene Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: info@iowacapitaldispatch.com. Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

Senate control too close to call as multiple states grapple with tight vote counts

WASHINGTON — Control of the U.S. Senate remained unclear early Wednesday as races in a handful of swing states in the midterm elections were still too close to call, and it appeared it might be days — or even weeks — before a final result was known.

But Democrats flipped the open Pennsylvania Senate seat, which Republicans have held for years, signaling the party may hold onto that chamber for another two years, though likely with a narrow majority. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, defeated celebrity TV doctor Mehmet Oz, a Republican, with 50% of the vote compared to Oz’s 48%. The seat opened up after Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey announced he’d retire at the end of this Congress, increasing its competitiveness and leading Democrats to hope they could pick it up.

Among the tightest contests still underway:

Georgia Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock and former professional football player and GOP nominee Herschel Walker remained locked in a dead heat in the Peach State, sending that race to a runoff contest next month if neither can get past 50% of the vote. Wisconsin Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson held a narrow lead over Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes in a state Democrats vehemently hope to pick up.In Arizona, Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly was up with 57% over Republican Blake Masters’ 40% with about half of the state’s votes counted. Nevada election officials had just started releasing results of the race between Democratic U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a Republican, as of 1:00 a.m. Eastern. The race is one of the closest in the country and could end up determining control of the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, won re-election for his fifth term in the Senate.

Early U.S. Senate victors

While those four races may not be called yet, both parties cheered their victories in other U.S. Senate races following calls by The Associated Press that their candidates had won. The Senate is now evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting deciding votes.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Maggie Hassan held onto her seat in her first reelection bid, defeating Republican nominee Don Bolduc. And in Colorado, Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet staved off a challenge from Republican nominee Joe O’Dea to keep that seat blue.

Republicans held onto Florida, where U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio defeated a challenge from Democratic nominee Rep. Val Demings. The GOP kept control of one Ohio seat, with Republican candidate J.D. Vance beating out Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan for the seat currently held by retiring Sen. Rob Portman.

In Iowa, Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, who was first elected to Congress in 1974 before becoming a senator in 1980, defeated Michael Franken, securing an eighth term in the Senate.

U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, won his eighth term in the Senate during the midterm election on Tuesday, defeating Democratic challenger Mike Franken. (Jared Strong/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Budd defeated state Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley, a Democrat, to keep North Carolina’s open seat safely red for another six years.

Since just one-third of U.S. Senate seats were up for reelection this year, 36 Democrats and 29 Republicans didn’t face voters Tuesday. And many of the senators up for reelection were in safe states, leaving voters in just a handful of races to determine control of the chamber.

Georgians could be the deciders in midterm election

Depending on how the undetermined races shake out, control of the U.S. Senate may not be decided until December, if Georgia goes to a runoff election.

Two years ago, control of the U.S. Senate came down to Georgia, when its races went into runoffs before voters elected Sen. Jon Ossoff, the state’s first Jewish senator, and Sen. Raphael Warnock, its first Black senator.

Ossoff was elected to a full six-year term, but Warnock is facing voters again since 2018 was a special election triggered by former Georgia U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson’s resignation.

Runoff elections take place four weeks after Election Day, so Georgia voters would head to the polls again Dec. 6.

Georgia and the other uncalled races were among the most competitive in the country.

The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter pegged the closest Senate races as Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania, leaving all four of those contests in its “toss-up” category ahead of the elections.

In its final update Friday, Jessica Taylor, the Senate and governors editor, wrote that Republicans were entering “the final days of the midterms with the political winds at their backs and the slight momentum in the battle for Senate control.”



Taylor noted that Democrats’ best chance of holding onto their majority in that chamber was to keep the equally divided 50-50 Senate. The other option was that “Republicans could get to 52 seats, or 53 in a huge wave.”

“While Democrats saw momentum swing in their favor this summer on abortion following the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, the economy, inflation and crime are now driving a dour environment across the board,” Taylor wrote. “While Republicans are still beset by many weak nominees that have been bailed out on air by superPACs, it appears that the climate may end up winning out over candidate quality.”

45 million Americans participated in early voting

Voting rights advocates said Tuesday midday that voting had gone smoothly so far without major incidents or cases of voter intimidation.

The U.S. Justice Department announced Monday that it would monitor 64 jurisdictions across 24 states to make sure those polling locations complied with federal elections, as required by the Voting Rights Act.

But not all voting took place on Tuesday, with more than 45 million Americans voting early and 25 million of those voters opting to use mail-in ballots, according to the United States Election Project.

That means swing states have a significant number of mail ballots to count, a process that could take days before it’s complete. And in states where the results are especially close, it’s likely election workers will need to recount all the ballots to be sure of the winner.

Arizona has 1.5 million mail-in ballots to count, a significant number given how close the race between Kelly and Masters remained.

Georgia voters sent in 234,000 mail ballots that could end up playing a role in that extremely tight U.S. Senate contest.

In Nevada, election officials have 411,000 mail-in ballots to add to the totals.

Pennsylvania voters cast 1.2 million mail ballots with nearly 70% of those coming from Democrats, a factor that could help boost Fetterman against Oz.

President Joe Biden ‘optimistic’ about election results

President Joe Biden has been hopeful about Democrats’ chances of holding onto the U.S. Senate in the days leading up to the election, saying Monday night that he was “optimistic.”

“I think we’ll win the Senate, and I think the House is tougher,” Biden said on the South Lawn of the White House.

Biden spent much of his election night calling Democrats to congratulate them on winning their election. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who easily won his reelection in blue New York state, Vermont Sen.-elect Peter Welch, Colorado’s Bennet and New Hampshire’s Hassan were among his calls.

If Republicans do regain control of the U.S. Senate, their relationship with the Biden administration is likely to change, though it’s not clear by how much.

Biden cautioned Friday that he’s prepared to reject any party-line bills a Republican-controlled Congress could send to his desk, should the GOP regain control.

“If we lose the House and Senate, it’s going to be a horrible two years,” Biden said at a Democratic finance reception at the Loews Chicago O’Hare Hotel. “The good news is I’ll have a veto pen.”

GOP policies after midterms

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has shared very little about what a Republican U.S. Senate would do with the next two years.

McConnell opted not to release a campaign platform ahead of the elections, the way House Republicans did with their Commitment to America, a one-page document that briefly outlined the types of bills the House GOP planned to bring to the floor if they regained control of that chamber.

McConnell largely rebuffed the campaign platform that National Republican Senatorial Committee Chair Rick Scott, a Florida Republican, released earlier this year, saying if “we’re fortunate enough to have the majority next year, I’ll be the majority leader. I’ll decide in consultation with my members what to put on the floor.”

McConnell and several other Senate Republicans also largely rejected the idea the party would bring up nationwide abortion legislation in September when South Carolina GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham released a 15-week national ban with exceptions after that gestational age for rape, incest, or the life of the pregnant patient.

“I think most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level,” McConnell said on Sept. 13.

Need to get in touch?

Have a news tip?

One of the first significant tests for Republicans, if they officially take over in January, will be to determine how they can work with the Biden administration to fund the government and raise the nation’s debt limit to avoid a default sometime next year.

The government funding deadline will likely hit on Sept. 30, 2023, when the federal fiscal year ends, though the debt limit might need congressional action before then if the Treasury Department reaches its $31.4 trillion borrowing limit.

Senate Republicans opted not to lend any votes to the first debt limit bill needed during the Biden administration, helping Democrats to get past the legislative filibuster, but not to actually pass the measure.

And key House Republicans, including Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican and likely the next speaker, have indicated they’ll use the debt limit as leverage to get spending cuts.

Executive, judicial Nominations potentially in jeopardy for Democrats

Aside from legislative debates, a Republican U.S. Senate would have a significant impact on the Biden administration’s executive and judicial nominations, which have largely sailed through that chamber under Democratic control.

Iowa’s Grassley, who is expected to resume his place as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that “under a Republican majority, nominees will receive more thorough scrutiny than they have for the last two years.”

“We’ll certainly stop being complacent rubber stamps for President Biden’s picks like Democrats have been, especially when the nominees are overtly political,” Grassley added.

McConnell became somewhat notorious in 2016 for holding up former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland — who is now attorney general — to the U.S. Supreme Court ahead of the presidential election.

The move led to then-President Donald Trump nominating three justices to the court, giving the one-term president’s nominees control of one-third of the bench.

With two years left in Biden’s first term, any future Supreme Court nominees would now be subject to approval, or blockade, if voters elect a Republican U.S. Senate.



Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christina Lords for questions: info@idahocapitalsun.com. Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

Mitch McConnell-aligned super PAC pours record advertising cash into U.S. Senate races

WASHINGTON — The super PAC aligned with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, has spent a record amount advertising for GOP Senate candidates this cycle, according to AdImpact.

The Senate Leadership Fund has “become the highest-spending advertiser” AdImpact, started in 2014, has ever reported on, according to data it released Thursday. The numbers show the GOP group has spent about $178 million on advertising in five key U.S. Senate races—Georgia, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania—that will likely determine control of the chamber following next week’s midterm elections.

“Senate Leadership Fund tops issue group spending in Senate races, with a total of $205M pooled across nine Senate races,” AdImpact wrote.

“The next highest spending issue group in Senate races is the Democratic counterpart to SLF, Senate Majority PAC with $139M across seven different Senate races,” the organization wrote, noting that “Senate Majority PAC was consistently outspending Senate Leadership Fund until September, but SLF has since placed over $202M between September and November.”

The GOP super PAC has spent $42 million in Georgia, where GOP candidate Herschel Walker is seeking to flip one of the state’s U.S. Senate seats back to red by defeating incumbent Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock. A super PAC is a political action committee that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money, to campaign independently for candidates.

In Pennsylvania, where Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a Democrat, and celebrity TV doctor Mehmet Oz, a Republican, are vying for the state’s open U.S. Senate seat, the Senate Leadership Fund has spent $41 million on advertising this year.

The group has doled out $36 million on ads in North Carolina in an attempt to bolster Republican U.S. Rep. Ted Budd against state Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley, a Democrat, for that state’s open U.S. Senate seat.

Ohio Republican Senate candidate J.D. Vance’s campaign was the target of $31 million in advertising support from the Senate Leadership Fund in his bid to win out over Democratic U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan for an open seat in the Buckeye State.

And in Nevada, where U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is attempting to hold the seat for Democrats against former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a Republican, the McConnell-aligned super PAC has spent $28 million on advertisements.

The Senate Majority PAC, aligned with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, has become the third-highest spending advertiser AdImpact has ever tracked, spending $152 million in its top five races.

The biggest ad buy by Democrats went to Pennsylvania’s Senate race with $50 million, followed by a $32 million investment in Nevada.

Another $31 million went to reelection ads for Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly, who is attempting to fend off a challenge from Republican Blake Masters.

In Wisconsin, where Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes hopes to unseat Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, the super PAC has spent $26 million.

Senate Majority PAC, the Schumer-aligned PAC, has spent considerably less on advertising in the North Carolina Senate race than the McConnell-aligned super PAC, with $13 million on advertisements.

AdImpact wrote in its post that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has spent $41 million on advertising overall while the National Republican Senatorial Committee has spent $25 million.

“Notably, Senate Majority PAC didn’t spend at all in Georgia Senate, but DSCC put almost $9M supporting Warnock,” AdImpact wrote. “This is on track with our projections to be some of the highest midterm Senate spending in an election cycle, and we will see how spending impacts outcomes in less than one week.”

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

A GOP showdown over the debt limit could grip Congress and the nation next year

WASHINGTON — Republicans are eyeing the debt limit and government funding deadlines as a way to force Democrats to the negotiating table for spending cuts, should the GOP regain control of Congress following the midterm elections.

Republicans unhappy about government spending could move to shut down the government, a tactic unsuccessful for the GOP in past battles over Obamacare and the Trump border wall. Their potential refusal to adjust the debt limit could bring the nation to the verge of a damaging default, economic experts say.

The debt limit, currently set at $31.4 trillion, allows the Treasury Department to borrow money in order to pay all of the nation’s bills in full and on time. When the federal government nears that limit, likely in the second half of 2023, it can either raise it to a new spending level or suspend it through a certain date.

Taking no action—and thus defaulting on the debt— would mean the U.S. government has no more borrowing authority and can only spend what it brings in through taxes and other revenue streams.

That would lead to unprecedented cuts and would likely affect payments for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid as well as hundreds of other federal programs, along with a tide of economic repercussions.

U.S. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, who hopes to become speaker if the GOP regains control of the House, told Punchbowl News last week that he’s likely to leverage the debt limit for reductions in federal spending.

“You can’t just continue down the path to keep spending and adding to the debt,” the California Republican said. “And if people want to make a debt ceiling [for a longer period of time], just like anything else, there comes a point in time where, okay, we’ll provide you more money, but you got to change your current behavior. We’re not just going to keep lifting your credit card limit, right? And we should seriously sit together and [figure out] where can we eliminate some waste? Where can we make the economy grow stronger?”

When asked if spending cuts would need to include changes to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare, McCarthy said he didn’t want to “predetermine” negotiations.

Republicans are projected to regain control of the U.S. House following the midterm elections, though whether they’ll become the majority in the Senate is less clear.

The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter changed its prediction for House control this week from Republicans gaining 10 to 20 seats to the GOP picking up 12 to 25 seats.

The future of the 50-50 Senate is less clear, with the Cook Political Report rating three seats held by Democrats and two held by Republicans as “toss up.”

Past standoffs

One result of a stalemate over government spending could be a government shutdown at some point in 2023, a move the GOP has used in the past to try to get its way.

Republicans, however, have never pushed the country past the debt limit and into default, a move that would likely send the stock market and the world economy into a tailspin. But they pushed up close to the line in a debt limit crisis in 2011, during the Obama presidency, leading S&P to downgrade the nation’s credit rating to AA+.

During the Trump administration, lawmakers from both political parties voted three times to suspend the debt limit. Congress voted on the debt limit once during the Biden presidency, raising it by $2.5 trillion on a mostly party-line vote in December 2021. Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger was the sole Republican in Congress to vote to raise the limit.

The renewed debate about government spending and the debt limit follows record, trillion-dollar spending during both the Trump administration and under President Joe Biden, pushing the nation’s debt upward.

No specifics yet

Republicans have not been clear about what government spending should be reduced.

They so far have not released a detailed plan for exactly what federal departments would see funding cuts, or how they might attempt to alter the fastest drivers of federal spending—Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

With days to go ahead of the Nov. 8 midterm elections, Democrats are calling the GOP’s proposed strategy irresponsible.

“The Republicans have made it clear that if they win control of the Congress, they will shut down the government, refuse to pay our bills, and it’ll be the first time in our history America will default unless I yield and cut Social Security and Medicare. Flat-out saying that,” Biden said this week at a Democratic National Committee event.

“In order to cut Social Security and Medicare, they’re threatening to default on the federal debt,” Biden added. “There’s nothing—nothing that will create more chaos, more inflation, and more damage to the American economy than this.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said in a written statement, “The debt limit is a phony issue, and it is appalling and dangerous that Congressional Republicans continue to threaten holding the U.S. economy hostage to slash Social Security and Medicare.”

“The United States’ full faith and credit must not be used as a political pawn.”

But not all Republicans, including some crucial leaders like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, have weighed in supporting the idea. A spokesman for McConnell declined to say if the Kentucky Republican supports a showdown over the debt limit.

What happens in a shutdown

Government shutdowns, so far kept separate from debt limit battles, are hugely problematic for the federal government, which sends non-exempt employees home without pay and requires exempt employees to work without getting a paycheck.

A shutdown cannot begin at any time, but must line up with a funding deadline.

The federal government runs on a fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30, making that the most predictable deadline for negotiations. Congress, though, typically passes a short-term spending package through mid-December to work out a bipartisan agreement on spending levels and the dozen spending bills.

This year that deadline is Dec. 16, during the lame duck session of Congress, a typical maneuver that both political parties have used in the past.

If Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on a full-year spending package to fund the government through Sept. 30, 2023, they’ll have to pass another stopgap spending bill, setting up a new fiscal cliff, and the opportunity for a shutdown, sometime next year.

Obamacare, border wall episodes

Aside from hitting federal operations and employees, government shutdowns have a negative impact on the economy as well.

A 16-day shutdown over Obamacare in 2013 reduced fourth-quarter real GDP growth throughout the country between 0.2 and 0.6 percentage points, or between $2 and $6 billion, according to a report from the Office of Management and Budget.

Republicans also didn’t repeal the 2010 health care law they were frustrated with.

During the Trump administration there was a relatively uneventful two-day shutdown that began on Jan. 20, 2018. A more significant 34-day partial government shutdown began on Dec. 22, 2018, over Trump’s hope Congress would provide more funding to build his proposed wall at the Mexico border.

The Trump administration’s budget request for that fiscal year asked Congress for $1.6 billion for 65 miles of “border wall system,” which the Senate Appropriations Committee later approved on a bipartisan 26-5 vote.

Trump then upped his request to $5 billion, leading to the longest partial government shutdown in the nation’s history.

The spending package Congress approved afterward included $1.375 billion for 55 miles of barriers along the U.S. Mexico border.

That shutdown affected 800,000 federal employees, many of whom live in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs outside of Washington, D.C, according to an analysis from the Congressional Budget Office. While federal workers were paid later, private businesses lost money, the analysis said.

The episode also reduced GDP in the fourth quarter of 2018 by $3 billion and by $8 billion during the first quarter of 2019, according to CBO.

Defaulting on the debt

The impact of walking up to a default on the nation’s debt, or by actually defaulting for the first time in the country’s history, would be much more significant than a government shutdown.

Shai Akabas, director of economic policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center, said the way Congress has approached raising or suspending the debt limit during the past decade or so is “unconstructive, risky, and dangerous.”

He also noted that fights over the debt limit haven’t had the impact that many policymakers have claimed they would.

“We’ve gotten no net deficit reduction from debt limit deals over the past decade,” Akabas said. “In fact, more often than not, they’re being used to increase deficits: ‘You get a little more of your spending, we get a little more of our spending, and we call it a day.’”

“And that’s of course not the purpose that they have in mind for it,” he added.

Following the 2011 debt limit debacle, Congress passed and then-President Barack Obama signed the so-called Budget Control Act, intended to hold down increases to defense and domestic discretionary spending for a full decade.

But lawmakers regularly passed spending caps deals to raise those “austere” spending limits, bolstered by votes from both Republicans and Democrats.

Political fights over the debt limit in the past have led to dire warnings about the severe consequences for the world economy.

“Global financial markets and the economy would be upended, and even if resolved quickly, Americans would pay for this default for generations, as global investors would rightly believe that the federal government’s finances have been politicized and that a time may come when they would not be paid what they are owed when owed it,” Moody’s Analytics Chief Economist Mark Zandi and Assistant Director Bernard Yaros wrote in a September 2021 report released amid the last round of brinkmanship on the debt limit.

“To compensate for this risk, they will demand higher interest rates on the Treasury bonds they purchase,” they added. “That will exacerbate our daunting long-term fiscal challenges and be a lasting corrosive on the economy, significantly diminishing it.”

Effect of default on states

State governments would be significantly affected by a default on the debt as well, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a center-left think tank.

Deputy Director of Research Whitney Tucker wrote in the report from September 2021 that the federal government would need to cut spending by $1.2 trillion during that fiscal year if Congress failed to suspend or raise the debt limit.

The magnitude of the cuts, she wrote, “would be stunning” and would likely force reductions in programs that “help states provide health care, education, and other services.”

Jason Furman, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers for the Obama administration, wrote this week that the “odds of something worse than the 2011 brinksmanship are higher than ever before and the consequences would be even worse than before.”

He then called on Democrats in Congress to use the budget reconciliation process, which gets around the Senate’s 60-vote legislative filibuster, to raise the nation’s borrowing limit to $100 quintillion before this session of Congress ends—a figure so high it would essentially eliminate the debt limit.

If Congress waits until next year to address the debt limit, when Republicans are expected to control at least one chamber, Furman warned that debt limit fights could lead to a “more serious, much worse” situation than what took place in the United States in 2011 when the nation’s credit was downgraded.

“The situation could be riskier than 2011 because although the GOP leaders today, like then, understand that default would be terrible, their caucuses are even less governable,” Furman wrote. “Add in the possibility of candidate Trump telling them not to compromise and it could (be) very difficult.”

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

The battle for control of Congress: Abortion, inflation, crime and Biden

WASHINGTON — Members of Congress are fanning out to every district in the country, leaving the wonky floor debates on Capitol Hill behind for the campaign trail in advance of the crucial Nov. 8 midterm elections.

Democrats are fighting to hold their razor-thin majorities in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate, citing two years of victories on infrastructure, climate and prescription drug coverage. Republicans—whose early expectations they’d sweep the House were tempered after a Supreme Court abortion ruling—are trying to convince voters they need to balance the scales by putting them in charge of one, or both chambers.

GOP candidates are attempting to tie Democrats to inflation, crime, fears about immigration and an unpopular president. But they’re shying away from talking about a national abortion ban in the wake of the court’s decision to overturn two previous cases declaring abortion a constitutional right—while Democrats are seeking something of a nationwide referendum on abortion access.

Adding to the tension in an unusual midterm election, Republican election deniers are on the ballot in many states. Election officials have described threats and a spread of misinformation. Polls in the tightest races aren’t giving a clear indication of who voters want in office, often switching from one week to the next or putting both candidates within the margin of error.

The polling uncertainty has left party leaders to funnel as much cash and attention to key races as possible, with Senate battles in Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Wisconsin drawing the most media and cash. Spending overall is expected to top a record $9.3 billion by the time the election is over, according to Open Secrets.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican not up for reelection this year, pegs the chances the GOP regains that chamber as dead even.

Coverage to help you prepare for the general election | Five for the Weekend

“We’re in a bunch of close races. I think we have a 50-50 shot of getting the Senate back,” McConnell said the last week of September.

McConnell sidestepped a question during the same press conference about whether he was being “overly dismissive” about the role abortion might play with suburban women, who tend to swing between voting for Democrats and Republicans.

“I think that issue is playing out in different ways in different states,” McConnell said, countering that the three biggest national issues Republicans will pound away at during the campaign will be “inflation, crime and open borders.”

Voting on abortion? Or inflation?

In Kansas—a state dominated by Republicans—residents overwhelmingly voted this summer to reject a constitutional amendment that would have allowed state lawmakers to enact abortion restrictions.

That’s been the only ballot question about abortion since the Supreme Court’s ruling in June, though California, Kentucky, Michigan and Vermont residents will vote on abortion ballot questions on election day.

A September poll by NPR, PBS NewsHour and Marist National, a survey research center, found inflation was the No. 1 voting issue for Americans, with 30 percent saying it was “top of mind” when they thought about how they’d vote in November’s election. That figure was down from 37 percent in a July poll.

Abortion came in second, with 22 percent of people surveyed citing it as a top issue, up from 18 percent in July.

“The Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs this summer has had a major impact on electoral politics heading toward the midterm elections,” Lee M. Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, said in a statement accompanying the poll.

Abortion has likely been the most significant factor in improving Democrats’ chances in the past few months, Erin Covey, an analyst with the forecasting group Inside Elections, said in an interview.

Yet the inflation issue is powerful.

The consumer price index, which is the average market of consumer goods and services bought by a household, has found a continued increase in the cost of shelter, food, medical costs and education. The CPI determined that food has increased 11.4 percent over the last year—the largest 12-month increase since May 1979.

But despite economic concerns, the poll still found that Democrats have a 4-point advantage over Republicans in this upcoming election, primarily due to the Supreme Court’s decision.

Tight races

Democrats have seized upon abortion as an issue to motivate their base and get new voters to the polls, but it’s unclear if those new voter registrants, particularly women, are due to the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling and if that will help Democrats win tight races.

In every election since 1980, women have always outnumbered men in regard to voter registrations, according to data compiled by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.

The Democratic data firm TargetSmart, which tracks voter registrations, found that there was a spike in registrations of women voters following the early leak of the Dobbs decision, but voter registrations in 2018 and 2020 were still higher than voter registrations when Roe v. Wade was overturned on June 24.

Republican leaders in the U.S. House despite their struggles dealing with the abortion issue still expect they’ll regain control. But key Democrats have become more outspoken in recent weeks saying voters will keep them in the majority.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Leader Steny Hoyer and Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal have all said they expect to hold onto the House.

Pelosi, a California Democrat, said last week on CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” that overturning Roe v. Wade had a significant impact on how Democrats are approaching the midterm campaigns, leading to “a whole different attitude on the part of some about whether we could win.”

Voters Guide 2022: What to know about Pa.’s races for governor and U.S. Senate

“I feel just watching each of the races—forgive me for saying this, in a very cold-blooded way, as to which races we can win, to ensure that we not only hold the House, but we increase our number,” Pelosi said.

Jayapal, of Washington state, said on a call with reporters she plans to campaign for at-risk progressive Democrats in the coming weeks, noting that many of the CPC’s members are also in the so-called Frontline program, which directs resources to Democrats in swing districts.

“We think progressives can win in tough districts and have shown it over and over again,” Jayapal said.

Democrats’ pitch

Democratic candidates are running on what they call a raft of accomplishments over the last two years of unified government, touting infrastructure, climate change and prescription drug prices, among others, Tommy Garcia, a spokesman for House Democrats’ campaign arm, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said. They are also focused on what they call Republican candidates’ extremism.

“A Democratic majority will build on this historic progress, continue fighting to lower the cost of living for working families, and restore Roe’s abortion protections that Republican judges ripped away,” Garcia said in a written statement. “Voters will reject the GOP’s plan to ban abortion nationwide, throw out votes if they don’t like the results of an election, gut Social Security and Medicare, and stir up fear for their own benefit.”

President Joe Biden’s approval has ticked up since Democrats notched a few victories this summer, passing bills on gun violence and climate, health and taxes, as well as granting student loan debt relief. Moderate drops in gas prices from record highs earlier this year have also helped, Covey said.

Crime, community safety become focal points in Pa. U.S. Senate race

Still, polling in individual races has not shown a massive shift toward Democratic candidates, she said.

“Biden’s approval has gone up a bit, the generic ballot a little bit better. And obviously, we have seen Democratic over-performance in special elections,” she said. “In terms of the polling on an individual level, there hasn’t been a significant shift towards that.”

Analysts still rate a Republican takeover of the House as the most likely outcome, though the prospect of a landslide election is less probable, she added.

Who’s at risk?

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has 39 members in its Frontline program, naming them as at risk of losing reelection. The House’s current party breakdown is 220 Democrats, 212 Republicans and three vacancies.

The National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm, placed 75 Democrats on its “target list” after all states completed their redistricting processes in June. The cohort includes all of the Frontline Democrats, except Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey and Pat Ryan of New York.

The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, however, has 30 House races in the “toss-up” category, with 20 of those held by Democrats, nine controlled by GOP members and one new district in Colorado.

Cook places 194 House seats as leaning toward Democratic control while 211 seats are favored for Republicans. That means the GOP needs to win fewer of the 30 toss-up races to reach the 218 seats needed to control the chamber.

While every House seat is up for reelection for another two-year term, just one-third of the Senate will face voters on Nov. 8, since members are elected to six-year terms.

In the Senate races, Cook rates the Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin races as toss-ups. The Arizona, Colorado and New Hampshire races lean towards a Democrat winning. And the Florida, North Carolina and Ohio races lean toward a Republican victory.

Trump allies interviewed nearly 200 election officials in Pa., elsewhere to probe for weaknesses

Nine Senate seats held by Democrats are expected to stay blue, while 15 seats up this cycle that are held by Republicans are in the solidly GOP category. The Utah Senate race is classified as likely going to a Republican, according to Cook’s ratings.

Pennsylvania, where Democrat John Fetterman faces Republican Mehmet Oz for an open seat, was rated as likely Democrat, but was moved to a toss-up this week, with Cook’s Senate and Governors Editor Jessica Taylor writing that it has become a “margin-of-error” race.

“Republicans and Democrats alike admit the race has tightened and that Pennsylvania could be the tipping point state for the Senate majority,” she wrote.

Biden ratings

Philip Chen, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Denver, said that in the Senate, Democrats have a better chance of picking up more seats because “Republicans are defending a lot of seats, and Democrats are fairly solid in the ones that they’re holding.”

He added that the popularity of the president does come into play. A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll this month found that Biden’s approval was only 40 percent, which was actually up from his May low of 36 percent approval in the same survey.

“We really will have to see how much the national mood dissatisfaction with President Biden and (how) things like that really do influence things, (and) how much of it is just the Senate is a tougher battle for Republicans this time around?” Chen said.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee has spent millions of dollars against Democrats in key states. In Arizona, this election cycle the NRSC has spent more than $9 million against Sen. Mark Kelly, and more than $4 million against Sen. Raphael Warnock in Georgia.

F&M poll shows Oz gaining GOP favorability, while Shapiro maintains lead

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has spent $10.5 million against Kelly’s Republican opponent, Blake Masters, and $3 million against Warnock’s Republican opponent, Herschel Walker.

Biden, speaking at a Democratic National Committee reception in New Jersey on Thursday, cited the tendency for the president’s party to lose some power in the first midterms.

“Based on statistics, the Democrats are running uphill because of the fact that, with only a couple exceptions, the first term of an incumbent president on the off-year election has been not a good deal most times,” Biden said.

He then predicted that Democrats would hold the Senate, possibly picking up “a couple seats,” though he didn’t seem as optimistic about the party’s chances of keeping the House—blaming trends at the state level. Biden pointed out there’s been “a lot of gerrymandering in the House across the country, because a lot of governors aren’t Democratic governors.”

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.