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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

For a good lefty take on the debt ceiling deal, check out Harold Meyerson’s well-titled “You Go to War (or Not) With the President You Have” at the American Prospect. Among Meyerson’s observations: “Like the world according to T.S. Eliot, it ended with a whimper. Which is about the best progressives could have hoped for, given Republicans’ control of the House and the president’s limited ability to transcend that unfortunate state of affairs with some powerful messaging….This is not a president who does—who can do—powerful messaging….Joe Biden’s strengths and weaknesses are those of a workhorse senator. He can deal. He can keep lines of communication open to his fellow pols. He can’t use the powers of speech to reframe a debate or lift it to a higher level where his position becomes the obvious solution.Had he been so able, he might have gone on television to tell the nation why the very existence of the debt ceiling was an affront to both the Constitution and the nation’s standing. He would have laid out the reasons why he was inviting the Court to rule on it….But in his 50 years in the public eye, Biden has never delivered a speech with the power to alter the public’s understanding of a major issue. That wasn’t really a problem when he was a senator or even a vice president. It is, however, a genuinely limiting factor on his de facto powers as president….What he can enter into (a lot better than Donald Trump ever could) is the art of the deal. The concessions that Biden made are not only much less damaging than those of the 2011 arrangement—which ensured that the recovery from the 2008 crash would take a full decade—but might provide some political advantages in battles yet to come. Consider, for instance, one of the deal’s most egregious provisions, which my colleague David Dayen has termed the Pipeline Payoff. By ensuring that Joe Manchin’s pet pipeline is completed, now magically empowered to leap all remaining judicial and agency reviews in a single bound, Biden strengthens Manchin’s prospects for re-election next year, which the Democrats need if they’re to retain control of the Senate. He also lessens the prospect that Manchin will wage an independent presidential candidacy on the No Labels line, which would almost surely boost Republicans’ chances to win that election. For that matter, he makes it harder for No Labels to pretend that he’s a dangerous leftist who must be replaced. And, of course, he avoids the biggest obstacle to his own re-election, which was the economic implosion that would have followed a default, remote though the chance of an actual default actually was….This is not to say that Biden’s deal making didn’t come with a cost. From my perspective, its greatest cost was the omission of any permitting deal that would have sped the construction of electric transmission lines, absent which it could be a very long time before wind and solar power can light up distant cities and farms. That task now falls to a better Congress than the one we have now….He can’t speak but he can deal. As presidents go, we’ve done better, and we’ve done lots, LOTS worse.” You want more eloquence, find another Obama. You want a shrewd poker-player, Biden can deal.

Plenty has been said about the Biden-McCarthy debt ceiling deal, which just passed the House of Reps, and should sail through the senate. We’ll just add a snippet from “The good, the bad, and the ugly of the debt ceiling deal” by MSNBC Opinion Writer/Editor Hayes Brown: “…The final vote — 314 — 117, with Democrats providing the majority of the votes in favor — highlighted just how much the final agreement changed versus when the GOP passed its “Limit, Save, Grow Act” in April….Tellingly, the vote reflects the fact that the deal is bipartisan in the sense that it’s gotten votes from both parties, not that it is a win for both parties equally. Likewise, it is a compromise in that only some Americans will have their lives impacted for the worse. The alternative was either a massive hole Republicans tried to cut into the social safety net with their original bill, or widespread economic chaos a default would have caused….the bill could have been much worse. The Republican priorities it contains have been significantly pared back and there are a few Democratic priorities that were unexpectedly worked into the deal….Its budget provisions also get us through the next two fiscal years, which means the odds for a potential government shutdown have shrunk significantly. And, importantly, no matter what happens in 2024, the debt limit revision expires when Democrats will still control the Senate and White House….The bill is proof that Biden successfully defended the vast majority of his agenda passed by the last Congress. For example, there were only minor tweaks to the Inflation Reduction Act; the climate and health care provisions it contained were left intact. And a set of spending caps in the bill are pegged to the current year’s budget, not to fiscal year 2022’s budget as the GOP sought.”  Well-played, Mr. President.

One more mini-screed from Emily Brooks and Mike Willis at The Hill, who have one of those ‘Five takeaways’ posts. An excerpt from their subsection, “Jeffries, Dem leaders keep a tight ship“: “McCarthy was not the only untested congressional leader heading into the debt ceiling fight….Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the newly tapped Democratic leader, was also under heavy pressure to deliver for the party in his first major battle with a tight deadline and the economy in the balance…. That gave Jeffries and his leadership team the delicate task of protecting Biden, an unpopular president who’s running for reelection, from charges that he gave away too much, while also giving rank-and-file members of his caucus free rein to air their protests with the deal — and even vote against it when it hit the floor. There was no whip operation on final passage….“Members will make the decision that is best for them,” Rep. Pete Aguilar (Calif.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus, said Wednesday morning….Jeffries also orchestrated several deft maneuvers throughout the debate….In January, Democratic leaders very quietly launched the process, known as a discharge petition, to force a vote on a clean debt ceiling bill as an emergency hatch if the talks went sideways. Behind Jeffries and Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), the Democratic whip, party leaders then secured unanimous support for that petition, which heightened the pressure on Republicans to cut a deal with Biden….And Wednesday, when McCarthy failed to secure the necessary Republican votes to pass the rule governing the bill, Jeffries mobilized Democrats to buck tradition and fill the void to ensure the measure could pass — but only after it was clear that Democrats would be needed to rescue the vote….Even McCarthy was impressed with that strategy….“I probably would have done the same [thing],” McCarthy said. “Good play.” And great teamwork, Dems.

Another good post at The American Prospect, Robert Kuttner’s “Biden, Student Debt, and the 2024 Election: Today on TAP: The president could make generational justice a big winner for basic decency—and for his re-election” provides some worthy insights, including: “Buried in the text of the debt deal is a provision codifying in law Biden’s plan to end serial student debt pauses as of September, pending a Supreme Court ruling on his partial debt cancellation. If the Court rules against him, the result will be a massive jolt to younger Americans (and not-so-young Americans) saddled with debt, as well as a big macroeconomic contraction to the economy….Thanks to the debt payment pause, which began in the bipartisan CARES Act of March 2020 and was extended indefinitely by executive order on Biden’s first day in office, some 48 million former students have had a three-year respite from this financial burden, which now totals over $1.7 trillion. By September, all could be paying the full tab….When Biden announced his plan for debt cancellation in August 2022, the decision was carefully poll-tested. Strategists weighed the benefit to those saddled with debt against the annoyance of those who either never attended college or who had already repaid their debts in full….Biden needs to embrace a broad agenda of generational justice for the young. A young adult today pursuing upward mobility is not only saddled with student debt. Many are unable to buy a house, or afford rent without multiple roommates. The young have difficulty finding a stable payroll job with benefits and career prospects that are more than a gig. The calculus is even worse for African Americans and for those who did not complete college and are still stuck with debt….My generation—and Biden’s—faced nothing like this. Student debt hadn’t even been invented; college and housing were affordable; and there were plenty of career-track jobs….Young people are precisely the segment of the electorate who are somewhat skeptical of Biden’s geezer-hood and who need to be motivated to vote, big-time. The youth vote turned out big and broke heavily for Democrats in 2018, allowing a takeback of the House….We need that in 2024, and more. The old guy needs to be a radical champion of the young….Go big again, Joe.”

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