Appropriations bills’ markups, scheduled to begin last week, have taken a hiatus awaiting the outcome of the topic du jour. It’s not clear that House Republicans would have been able to pass those bills individually.
This week: the deal that Pres. Biden and Speaker McCarthy have reached to raise the debt limit scrambled the calendar, which had the House out of session. The bill text went online Sunday at 7:13 PM. A vote, which must be 72 hours later, can be no earlier than Wednesday evening; we doubt it will follow the single subject rule. There’s also a Senate Budget hearing on Wednesday on “rejecting the false choice between default and austerity.”
Some commentators have noted that the substance of the deal could have been far worse. On the other hand, it’s notable for being built around the debt limit, the White House’s forbearance from using its statutory and constitutional powers, the attempt to delink defense and nondefense spending levels and de facto cuts for nondefense, punching down at the poor, and with a bonus Joe Manchin give-away.
The expiration of the debt limit has now been kicked down the road to just before the start of the 119th Congress, which will shape the first few months of that Congress as they try to mollify a small faction now emboldened to use the ceiling as a weapon of mass economic destruction. Sooner or later, someone’s going to trigger a detonation. And, of course, this bill still has to pass, which means possible shenanigans in the Rules Committee. And there’s still all those appropriations bills.
Please indulge us in a look back on the institutional factors that got us to this point.
SEEING IT A MILE AWAY
Regular readers of this newsletter will notice that two of the themes we track to understand how Congress is working are how procedural rules shape congressional action, and the political factions that exist under the larger tents of the two parties. These themes, of course, interact because the spate of chamber, committee, and party rules often are designed to empower in-groups, minimize or isolate out-groups, and empower factions skilled in their use to maximize leverage to get what they want.
Process is Power
The MAGA rump of the Republican Party has spent roughly the last decade learning and mastering rules and procedural advantages, particularly in the House, to elevate themselves within the conference. This process, exemplified in the creation of the Freedom Caucus, started awkwardly by chasing Speaker John Boehner from Congress altogether when then-Rep. Mark Meadows filed a motion to vacate the chair in 2015. The House Freedom Caucus then leveraged the organization of the 118th Congress masterfully to insert itself as the de facto leadership of the new majority through the concessions it pulled from Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s desperate grab at the speakership.
The result today is the nation danced on the knife-edge of defaulting on its debt in an attempt to enact as much of the MAGA agenda as possible, which was the exact goal of the HFC faction after the midterm elections. They said it repeatedly in public. The conditions for minority rule were ripe — that a determined faction were creating the procedural conditions to lead to exactly this crisis.
What is most astonishing to us is that so many Democratic leaders did little to try to stop it, either because they were dismissive of its threat or thought it was a scenario that could be “won.”
“Winning” was almost capitulation. The end result, nevertheless, reflects Republican values of redistributing wealth upward, which some factions within the Democratic Party have no problem with either. The compromise bill makes it harder for vulnerable Americans to feed their families. Defense contractors will not face flat budgets and some will use this as a basis to delink funding between wartime activities and those that benefit all of us. Senator Joe Manchin even gets his West Virginia fossil fuel buddies a pipeline.Continue reading “First Branch Forecast for May 30, 2023: The debt limit agreeement”