Maybe I’ll get around to essaying a full rebuttal of Markos Moulitsas’ gratuitous bashing of Tom Vilsack over the DLC’s alleged “warmongering” during the Iowa Governor’s chairmanship of the organization. But maybe not. I’ve learned over time that netroots folk tend to either share Kos’ belief that the DLC exists to divide the Democratic Party, despite all its endless and interminable and redundant attacks on Bush and the Republican Party, or they don’t, as a matter of political theology rather than empirical evidence.But if you’ve bothered to read Kos’ jeremiad, you ought to read the comment thread it produced, wherein a few brave souls compare the DLC’s occasional statements on how and when to get out of Iraq with those of other non-Satanic Democrats, most notably Wes Clark, who continues to oppose a fixed deadline, much less an immediate fixed deadline, for withdrawal from Iraq. And this doesn’t even get into the inconvenient fact that some of the “out now” proposals (most notably Edwards’ and Obama’s) would probably leave as many troops in Iraq as anything the DLC has suggested.I do want to address one small issue that seems to be big for Kos: that the DLC was being “divisive” last year by disagreeing with John Murtha’s proposal for a short deadline for withdrawal. Those of you who remember this particular debate probably remember that lots of Democrats, far beyond the ambit of the DLC, thought Murtha was being “divisive” in insisting on his position as opposed to one that would embrace nearly all Democrats this side of Lieberman, and even some Republicans. And indeed, the Senate version of the Murtha position, offered by Feingold and Kerry, got a total of seven votes. Retroactively calling this “the Democratic position” and singling out the DLC for dissenting from it is disingenuous.It is obviously true that since last year, the opinions of Democrats and the public as a whole have shifted in the direction of fixed and faster withdrawal timetables (though again, with loopholes for residual troop levels that nobody but me seems to want to talk about). There’s a simple reason for this: Bush has responded to a national and even bipartisan consensus for a fundamental change of course in Iraq by proposing to escalate U.S. military engagement, leading lots of us to conclude that this administration is literally hopeless on this issue. It’s moved everyone, the DLC included, towards a more “antiwar” position, not just because they are following polls or achieving satori on the past errors of their ways, but because the administration and the GOP seem determined to eradicate any middle ground. And it’s obviously pushed Tom Vilsack all the way over to Kos’ position, for which he gets nothing but abuse.Look, I don’t personally mind antiwar Democrats pointing out again and again they were right and others, including the DLC, were wrong on the original decision to go into Iraq. But ever since the war started, Democrats have been in an agonized state over what to do next, mainly because we don’t control the Pentagon, the National Security Council, the State Department, or any of the other levers of executive power. If we are going to go back and examine everyone’s position at every stage of the nightmare in Iraq, it’s not unfair to point out that Howard Dean, during his presidential campaign, said repeatedly that America had a responsibility to stay in Iraq, perhaps for a long time, given our unfortunate decision to go to war.All this endless recrimination over who said what when after the war started, and who moved as fast or faster than Murtha or Kos in the maximum antiwar direction, is IMHO a big waste of time, and far more divisive than anything emanating from the DLC, much less Tom Vilsack.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
May 31: Debt Default Crisis May Soon Give Way to a Government Shutdown Crisis
In reviewing the Biden-McCarthy debt limit deal, it became apparent to me that a lot of disputes were delayed more than resolved, as I pointed out at New York. Don’t get too comfortable just yet.
Since the federal government will be unable to meet its debt-servicing obligations as early as June 5, per Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, the political world is understandably focused on Congress ratifying the debt-limit deal reached between negotiators representing President Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy. Despite the deep desire of many members of Congress in both parties to vote against this deal, it will likely be enacted after some significant yelling and screaming. But it’s important to understand that the deal is by no means self-implementing. Its crucial agreements on federal spending have to be enacted via the entirely separate congressional appropriations process. To a considerable extent the dealmakers have simply kicked the can down the road until autumn when actual funding decisions are made.
Moreover, the provisions of the deal that constrain the appropriations process reflect a House Republican obsession that didn’t get a lot of attention during the debt-limit negotiations: demands for a return to so-called “regular order,” in which the federal government is funded by 14 distinct appropriations bills. The last time Congress actually completed all of these appropriations bills was in 1996; more typically, big chunks of federal spending are appropriated through catchall “continuing resolutions” or “omnibus appropriations bills” that (according to conservatives) protect liberal spending priorities and associated policies. But it’s supposed to happen prior to the September 30 end of the current fiscal year when FY 2023 appropriations expire.
There will probably be plenty of partisan fighting over the contents of these appropriations bills. The debt-limit deal specifies some of them (e.g., funding levels for defense and veterans’ benefits backed by both parties). But others will be worked out in the House and Senate Appropriations Committees, on the House and Senate floor, and ultimately through House-Senate conferences and potential veto battles with the White House. If any of these appropriations aren’t settled by October 1 and aren’t addressed in stopgap spending deals (which, again, House Republicans tend to oppose as a matter of principle), the portions of the federal government affected will be shut down. And in the details of the debt-limit-deal legislation is a final, powerful inducement to regular appropriations: At the end of the calendar year, any appropriations contained in a stopgap spending bill will automatically be cut by one percent (via the “sequestration” process employed to enforce the spending caps enacted during the previous big debt-default agreements in 2011 and 2013) above and beyond any cuts already enacted.
This means it will be impossible under the debt-limit deal to paper over partisan and House-Senate differences on spending levels for individual federal programs by just tossing them into a stopgap spending bill that ultimately gets extended until the end of the fiscal year, after which the whole process begins again. So the odds of at least partial government shutdowns beginning in October and extending to the end of December are very high. Moreover, if Congress cannot somehow regain the ability to enact 14 appropriations bills for the first time this century, the cuts in appropriated programs will go deeper than previously expected via the mindless across-the-board cuts inflicted by sequestration.
We have learned during the prior 21 federal-government shutdowns that these interruptions in the normal functioning of agencies are deeply annoying but tolerable, especially compared with a debt default that could throw the national and global economies into recession. And the cuts we will ultimately see in nondefense programs that aren’t specifically protected in the debt-limit deal will be preferable to a debt default triggering a recession that forces even deeper funding cuts by increasing future debt-service requirements and reducing revenues. All in all, the debt-limit deal could have been worse, and the alternatives could have been disastrous.
But let’s not pretend the deal has resolved anything other than avoiding a default; the one big fight over the debt limit will give way to a thousand battles over appropriations. And don’t forget: The even bigger act of kicking the can down the road reflected in the debt-limit deal is the understanding that spending levels beyond FY 2025 will be determined by the results of the 2024 elections. If either party wins a trifecta, it could be in a position (subject to the Senate filibuster) to impose its spending priorities on the minority party. If, as is more likely, divided government continues beyond the next election, the sort of interminable battles over the size and shape of the federal government that produced the current debt crisis and the imminent government-shutdown crisis will continue for the foreseeable future. American voters really do owe it to their country to give somebody effective control of Washington next year. Otherwise, the shadow show of agreements now to disagree later could become the annual game in Washington.