Just returned very early this morning from the DLC’s annual meeting in Denver, exhausted but happy at how the event turned out. As I noted in yesterday’s brief post, the National Conversation had a record turnout of state and local elected officials, which should help, among anybody paying attention, rebut the “DC Establishment” stereotype about the DLC. As always, it was refreshing to spend some time among electeds who are actually trying to solve problems; congressional Dems, for all their virtues, have no power to do that. And Monday’s public event, including the rollout of Hillary Clinton’s American Dream Initiative, was quite coherent and upbeat. Lord knows there were plenty of reporters in Denver who would have loved to ignore what was actually going on at the DLC meeting and instead written about intra-party fights, and plenty of bloggers and other DLC-detractors who would have loved to pile on. But they weren’t given a hook for it, and I’m relieved and grateful for that.Tom Vilsack’s and Hillary Clinton’s speeches in Denver are already available on the DLC web site, and they are well worth reading. Vilsack offered a good quick summary of what the DLC is about these days. And Clinton combined an effective critique of Bush domestic policies with a very focused and specific set of counter-policies that would get the country back to what it was accomplishing when her husband was in office: expanding the middle class and dealing with supposedly intractable social and economic problems. Vilsack mentioned, as he always does, his efforts to build bridges between the DLC and the labor movement, which will begin to bear fruit in a visible way in a few weeks (stay tuned). And Clinton’s economic/social agenda managed to attract praise from none other than Bob Borosage of Campaign for America’s Future, who pioneered DLC-bashing long before it was cool.Last time I checked, the DLC event had not attracted much attention in the progressive blogosphere. Sure, Markos of DKos dismissed the whole deal as irrelevant in a throwaway line in a broader post on Bill Clinton’s Lieberman appearance in Connecticut yesterday; but he would have done so even if we had revealed the cure for the common cold. That’s his story and he’s going to stick to it.Chris Bowers of MyDD, with whom I sometimes have a friendly sparring-partner relationship, did a long post cherry-picking press reports on the Denver event in order to argue that the DLC was focused on poll-driven political arguments for doing this or that.I would agree with Chris if that was what had really happened. But here’s the thing: this was the most wonkified DLC gathering I can remember. The whole event was organized around a collection of 22 essays on national security; a book on state and local policies to deal with globalization; and a big and specific agenda (the aforementioned American Dream Initiative) on middle-class opportunity. I was there the whole time, and didn’t hear any polling data. Yes, there was one session focused on a DLC paper about electoral and demographic trends. But that’s the kind of stuff Chris normally loves; it’s pure data and political analysis. He singles out for particular opprobrium the discussion of faith and politics he read about; presumably this refers to the workshop on this subject I moderated in Denver. But having been there and all, I can assure him that the main thrust of the discussion was “authenticity” in connecting progressive principles with faith traditions. And my own remarks focused on the misreading of public opinion research that leads some Democrats to say damaging things about religion and politics.I can understand the lefty impulse to describe any DLC event as revolving around poll-driven injunctions to Democrats to abandon their principles and drift to the center and right. But it’s still a little odd to get bashed within the poll-and-elections-obsessed blogosphere for simply acknowledging a political dimension to the question of how progressives should pursue their values and policy goals. You can’t take the politics out of politics, no matter how you want to prettify it. But anybody who was actually in Denver will agree that the big message was that Democrats need principled big ideas to take full advantage of the ongoing disaster of Republican misgovernment.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
It’s one of the more comical aspects of the deadly serious game of chicken that House Republicans are playing on the debt limit, but it’s worth pointing out, as I did at New York:
As the United States lurches toward a possible debt default thanks to House Republican hostage-taking on legislation needed to extend or suspend the debt limit, it’s increasingly evident that (as my colleague Jonathan Chait observed) the hostage-taker is strangely reluctant to name a ransom. Indeed, the initial Democratic strategy in this complicated chess game was simply to force House Republicans to say exactly what kind of spending cuts they propose to make in exchange for allowing a debt-limit measure to wobble its way to Joe Biden’s desk.
It’s easy to mock GOP lawmakers for the brainlessness, or maybe cowardice, of their effort to make Democrats identify the spending cuts their opponents want. The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell tans the elephant’s hide with considerable panache:
“Republicans have Very Serious budget demands. Unfortunately, they can’t identify what any of those demands are.
“They say they want to reduce deficits — but meanwhile have ruled out virtually every path for doing so (cuts to defense, cuts to entitlements, wiping out nondefense discretionary spending, or raising taxes). …
“Republicans say they want lower deficits — in fact, they have pledged to balance the budget (that is, no deficit at all) within seven or 10 years. But they have not laid out any plausible mathematical path for arriving at that destination. They promise to cut ‘wasteful spending’ … but can’t agree on what counts as ‘waste.’”
In so quickly reaching this predictable dead end in answering the world’s easiest math problem, Republicans have one plausible line of defense: It’s how much of the public feels about fiscal matters as well. They really don’t like deficits and (especially) debt. But they really don’t like the kind of spending cuts that Republicans are talking about either (tax increases, of course, are categorically off the table for the GOP and have been since the George H.W. Bush “Read my lips: No new taxes” debacle).
A September 2022 poll from the deficit scolds of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation found that Americans are up in arms about all the borrowing:
“A 31-month high of 83% of voters are urging the president and Congress to spend more time addressing the national debt, with the biggest jump among those under age 35 (8 points to 85%).
“More than eight-in-ten voters (81%) also said that their concern about the national debt has increased. Nearly three-in-four voters (74%) feel the national debt should be a top-three priority for the president and Congress, including 65% of Democrats, 74% of independents, and 86% of Republicans.”
From 40,000 feet, all that red ink looks pretty alarming, it seems. More recently, this very week, the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal found a majority of Americans stamping their feet about it:
“Most Americans oppose raising the federal debt ceiling without accompanying cuts to federal spending, a new RMG Research poll finds.
“Sixty-one percent of 1,000 registered voters in the survey said Congress should either raise the debt ceiling with spending cuts (45%) or refuse to raise the ceiling at all (16%). Only about a quarter (24%) said Congress should raise the ceiling without accompanying spending cuts.”
To House Republicans, the great symbol of runaway spending is the “monstrous” $1.7 trillion omnibus spending bill passed by Congress in December. Many of them claimed during the fight over Kevin McCarthy’s Speakership bid that “the American people” were outraged by the measure despite the fact that it cleared the Senate, House, and White House. Perhaps they were thinking of a Twitter poll conducted by Elon Musk that showed that 75 percent of respondents opposed the omnibus bill.
The sad truth is, however, that the more specific you are in identifying items in one of those “monstrous” bills, the more support they command from the public. In 2021, Gallup published a summary of public-opinion research on what was then a $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Democratic budget-reconciliation proposal (soon whittled way down to $2.2 trillion and then to a net-negative figure in the ultimately enacted Inflation Reduction Act) and found that its provisions were very popular despite the debt they required:
“[S]everal recent polls … ask about the bill in a broad, umbrella fashion, and all find majority support. A Quinnipiac poll conducted July 27-Aug. 2 asked, ‘Do you support or oppose a $3.5 trillion spending bill on social programs such as child care, education, family tax breaks and expanding Medicare for seniors?’ and found 62% support, 32% opposition. A Monmouth University poll conducted July 21-26 asked about both the initial infrastructure bill and the new $3.5 trillion bill, describing the latter this way: ‘A plan to expand access to healthcare and child care, and provide paid leave and college tuition support.’ The results were similar to the Quinnipiac poll, with 63% in favor and 35% opposed …
“A progressive think tank, Data for Progress, conducted an online poll among likely voters July 30-Aug. 2, with a much more detailed 130-word description of the bill, including in the question wording a bulleted list of six specific proposals in the plan, the $3.5 trillion price tag and even a description of the ‘reconciliation’ procedure necessary to pass it. All of this (and the online mode, and the sample of likely voters as opposed to national adults) also didn’t seem to make much difference; 66% of likely voters in their sample supported the plan as described, while 26% opposed it — similar to the Quinnipiac and Monmouth results.”
So the minute you get into the particulars of Democratic-proposed spending bills, public concerns about debts and deficits tend to fade. And oh — there’s another problem for Republicans on the fiscal front: voters like the idea of higher taxes on the wealthy and on corporations to pay for popular spending measures.
The lesson for Republicans is clear: Their crusade for fiscal discipline is popular, so long as it is very general and you exclude higher taxes on the rich as a possible solution. No wonder politicians like McCarthy want Democrats to be the ones who name the GOP’s price for letting the U.S. economy get through the year without calamity.