If you're a politics junkie—and why would you be reading this site if you aren't?—then this is the kind of news that should give you your fix for at least a week. On Thursday, seemingly out of nowhere, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced that they had hammered out a deal on a sizable reconciliation bill. It's not for the $2 trillion (or more) that was originally bandied about, but it is for $700 billion-plus, and that is far more than the $0 that seemed likely just... 16 hours ago.
The bill is called the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. That title looks to us like an exercise in marketing; we don't see any reason to believe the bill will have a meaningful deflationary impact (though we are happy to hear from readers who have more macroeconomic expertise than we do). Here's what the bill does do:
• Energy Security and Climate Change: $369 billion
• Affordable Care Act Extension: $64 billion
Total: $433 billion
• 15% Corporate Minimum Tax: $313 billion
• Medicare prescription drug negotiation: $288 billion
• Increased tax enforcement by the IRS: $124 billion
• Closing carried interest loophole: $14 billion
Total: $739 billion
Looking at the outlays, the big deal is the money for climate change, of course. That's the largest sum the country has spent, to date, on this issue. Most of the funding is going to be directed toward incentives that will encourage people to make their homes more green and to buy electric vehicles, and that will encourage entrepreneurs to invest in solar farms, wind turbines and other greener-than-petroleum energy technologies. Note that the bill also allows money to be used in trying to make existing fuel sources more green. In other words, if a firm thinks they can make burning coal more eco-friendly, they can get a subsidy. We wonder whether it was Schumer or Manchin who insisted on that part. Hmmmm....
There are also some other interesting provisions that may or may not survive the sausage-making process, like one that would impose a fee for oil and gas companies' methane emissions and would direct the money to low-income areas and communities of color that are disproportionately affected by pollution. In any event, because the model here involves the government just kicking some cash in, as opposed to footing the whole bill for these various investments, the actual eco-spending that will result from the bill is expected to be into the trillions of dollars. Oh, and the bill's provisions are projected to reduce carbon emissions in the U.S. by 40% by the year 2030.
As to the new income, the corporate minimum tax is a love letter from Manchin to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), as the former was very angry with the latter when it came to the Trump-era tax cuts. It would require American businesses with income of at least $1 billion to pay at least 15% in income tax. The Medicare provision, meanwhile, is low-hanging fruit that Big Pharma has spent many years (and many billions) to keep Congress from picking. The idea is presumably familiar to readers, but just in case: The government would now be allowed to directly negotiate with pharmaceutical companies for bulk prices on prescription drugs. As to the carried interest loophole, the short version is that investment managers are currently allowed to treat much of their compensation as capital gains (20% tax rate) rather than as income (37%). This would put a stop to that. There went Sen. Mitt Romney's (R-UT) vote.
And you may have noticed that the amount of income the bill would generate is about $300 billion more than the new spending it would prompt. That $300 billion will go to reducing the deficit, which was a requirement for Manchin to sign on to the bill.
And that brings us to the question that is undoubtedly on everyone's minds: What is going on with Manchin? He's flipped and flopped on the reconciliation bill, and said just a couple of weeks ago that because of inflation, climate spending was off the table. The careful reader will note that $369 billion in climate spending is a wee bit more than $0. Further, the Senator strongly implied that he would only back a bipartisan bill. The careful reader will note that this bill, if and when it comes to the floor, will get roughly as many Republican votes as would a bill to change the name of the capital to Pelosi, District of Nancy.
It is entirely possible that the answer here is that Manchin is a mercurial fellow, and that he just changed his mind for whatever reason. Or maybe he concluded that it's the Fed (see below) that is responsible for managing inflation, and not Congress. Or, maybe this was theater for the benefit of the folks back home. He can now claim to have torpedoed the mega-BBB bill, and to have focused money exclusively on healthcare and the energy sector, with rich people and corporations footing the bill. West Virginia has relatively little use for some of the things that were in the original BBB bill (like free JuCo tuition), but they have a great deal of use for healthcare and energy investment. Also, they have very few rich people or billion-dollar-grossing corporations.
All of this said, the most popular theory floating around right now is that this was theater... for the benefit of Mitch McConnell. The Minority Leader made clear that he would whip votes against the CHIPS bill that passed the Senate yesterday (see below) if the Democrats insisted on moving forward with the reconciliation bill. And so, thanks to Manchin, the sequence of events was: (1) reconciliation bill is dead in the water, (2) CHIPS passes, (3) about an hour later, the reconciliation bill is alive, enormous, and full of things McConnell hates. Maybe this is all a coincidence, but you can see why people think it's not. In other words, we may have a situation where the grandmaster from Kentucky was checkmated by the grand(er)master from West Virginia. If true, even Magnus Carlsen would have to be impressed.
Naturally, just because the draft bill has the support of Schumer and Manchin does not mean it's home free. Here are the four most obvious obstacles ahead:
We've actually ranked these in order, from biggest roadblock to smallest. If the bill goes down in flames, Sinema is more likely to be the cause than the other three combined. She is, after all, in the thrall of the lobbyists, by all indications. And the pressure on her from Big Pharma, who will correctly see her as their last, best hope, is going to be enough to create more diamonds than were stolen from Bishop Lamor Whitehead while he was preaching this weekend.
As to the other potential problem areas, we've already noted that the parliamentarian is unlikely to decide that $300+ billion in spending and $700+ billion in new revenues are not budgetary in nature. As to the Northeastern Democrats, those SALT caps aren't going to matter much if NYC and Newark go the way of Atlantis, so our guess is that the eco-spending will carry the day with them and their voters. As to the progressives, they're pretty savvy, and are unlikely to let perfect be the enemy of the good. Spending more money (by a lot) on green energy than the government has ever spent before is considerably better than spending zero money. This will help to move the Overton Window and so will lay the groundwork for additional outlays in the future. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA), who is a leading member of the House Progressive Caucus, has already made clear he's very happy with the proposed legislation.
Finally, let's talk about the political impact of the bill (assuming it does pass). Undoubtedly, the Tucker Carlsons and Sean Hannitys of the world are looking for angles they can use in order to attack the bill. And they'll find them, of course, but it won't be easy. Truth be told, it's remarkable that a bill can involve this much money and yet have so few chinks in the armor. Healthcare for Americans? Better deals on prescription drugs? Significant progress on combating climate change? Subsidies that encourage investment and job creation? Deficit reduction? Higher taxes on wealthy people and corporations? These things are all very popular.
And then, assuming that Joe Biden and the Democrats are able to secure this feather for their caps, there's also the CHIPS bill (again, see below) and, very possibly, a bill that protects same-sex marriage. That's a real and legitimate record to run on, and one that could (and should) appeal broadly. Late Wednesday night, we got this message from reader J.D.M. in Cottonwood Shores, TX:
I have been writing this comment in my head ever since the comments were posted (right after the Dobbs decision was announced) that blamed the Green Party voters in 2016 and 2000 for the current state of the Supreme Court.
My politics, and my lifestyle, have centered on two things since I cast my first vote 48 years ago: reducing economic inequality in the richest nation in the world and adopting renewable energy sources and a reduce/reuse/recycle design philosophy in hopes of undoing the human health and environmental damage wrought by the petroleum/petrochemical industry.
For years, the Democratic Party offered good lip service and (very occasionally) good legislation towards these goals. I had high hopes that Bill Clinton v1.0 would reverse the devastation of Ronald Reagan's policies. But Bill Clinton v2.0 dashed those dreams and opened my eyes to the painful reality of the corporatist influence in both major parties. To quote your words, I came "to accept that... [my] Party has a real problem, and that... [I] simply must withhold... [my] support until that problem is fixed."
So, in 2000, I became an Independent. As such, I do not have to vote for the lesser of two evils. And, apparently, since the number of voters like myself is swelling, at least a nod in the direction of the policy goals that drive my voting decisions might just generate as much electoral success as whatever it is that one is supposed to do to get the vote of suburban housewives who aren't really paying attention.
Interestingly, I think that Joe Biden managed to do both.
That is only one data point, of course, but one that comports with our insta-assessment of the new bill.
We've previously suggested that legislation coming out of Congress won't be nearly as important to the midterms as inflation and abortion. But with today's news, we are going to have to revise that. Assuming the draft bill passes in something like its current form, the Democrats will be able to run on a powerful one-two punch of "look what we do when we are in charge" (eco-friendly legislation, making corporations pay more taxes, etc.) and "look what they other guys do when they are in charge" (insurrections, outlawing abortion, tax cuts for rich people). If the Fed is able to tame inflation a bit (see below), it is very plausible that the Democrats' pitch could be enough to overcome the midterm curse.
One last sidebar. At the time we were writing this item, this is what CNN's website looked like:
Seriously, CNN? The news out of the Senate yesterday gets a couple of mentions at the bottom of the page, while the main news of the day is... Hunter Biden? What are you, Fox? It's getting harder and harder to take that outlet seriously. (Z)
The reconciliation was the bill heard 'round the world yesterday, but it's still vaporware. As we've already alluded to, right before that announcement was made, the Senate actually passed a bill and sent it over to the House. And the measure doesn't just name a post office. Nope, the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, as it is formally known, authorizes the spending of federal money—and lots of it. Specifically, it spends $280 billion to make the U.S. less dependent on China for semiconductor chips. Both Democrats and Republicans agree that, since chips are used in so many products (including virtually all military weapons systems), being dependent on China is not acceptable any more. For example, the javelin anti-tank missile has hundreds of chips in it, nearly all made in China. So the goal is to greatly pep up the U.S. chip sector.
A large chunk of the $280 billion, $81 billion, goes to the National Science Foundation to allocate to universities and innovative companies for advanced research relating to chips. Another $52 billion goes to subsidize the construction of horrendously expensive chip fabrication plants—or "fabs"—in America. It also provides funding for start-up hubs in parts of the country that don't have much tech.
The bill passed the Senate by a large margin, 64-33. In this political climate, the Senate passing a substantial bill so overwhelmingly is right up there on the miracle scale with Moses parting the Red Sea. All members of the Democratic caucus except Bernie Sanders (I-VT) voted for it. Sanders' beef was that pumping $76 billion into the highly profitable chip industry while not having a penny for child care or pre-K was a bad choice. The bill is expected to pass the House easily. Joe Biden has said he will sign it.
It is a bit surprising that any Republicans signed on. After all, this is the government picking winners and losers and funding the winners. Republicans hate that. But some of them also realize that when massive countries like China are putting huge resources into key industries, the invisible hand of the market isn't going to solve the problem.
The politics of this bill favor the Democrats. When Democrats around the country get the question: "What have you done for the country?" they can now say they took the first steps to end dependence on China for a part critical in so many industries, ended supply chain issues on it, and created a huge number of good jobs in the process. They might also have more than that to brag about, of course, if the Inflation Reduction Act (see above) becomes law.
Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) was deeply involved in the CHIPS bill and, not surprisingly, it will help Arizona. Intel will build two large chip-testing factories in the state and the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the world leader in chip innovation, will build an $12 billion plant in Arizona. These will create tens of thousands of jobs in Arizona, and Kelly will be able to campaign on "look what I did in just 2 years. Just imagine what I could do in 6 more years." This allows him to have a very positive campaign based on bringing home the bacon. His Republican opponent, who will be chosen in next week's primary, is going to have a hard time labeling him a Commie Marxist Socialist with this track record.
Another Senate candidate who is going to talk about this bill until the cows come home—and continue until they leave and come back again—is Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH). Intel is planning to use some of the money from the bill to construct two fabs in Ohio at an initial cost of $20 billion. These will employ about 7,000 people during construction and 3,000 people once they are up and running. The fabs will be just east of Columbus and close to the massive Ohio State University (61,000 students), which will no doubt be able to ramp up its computer engineering program to produce more hardware and software engineers to work for Intel. Ryan is running against author J.D. Vance, whose main campaign pitch seems to be that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. Although Ohio is a reddish state, a campaign in which Ryan says he is looking at a future where Ohio is a high-tech state producing million of chips and his opponent is only looking backwards might be enough to do the trick. (V)
Like most consumers, the Fed has noticed that inflation is running rampant. Unlike most consumers, though, the Fed can do something about it. Yesterday, it raised interest rates by 0.75%, the fourth rate increase this year. The Fed's target interest rate is now 2.25% to 2.50%. Generally, raising interest rates slows the economy by making it more expensive for companies to borrow money to expand and for consumers to buy houses, cars, and other things with borrowed money. The trick is for the Fed to raise rates enough to slow the economy but not cause a recession. That's not easy to do.
The Fed has two mandates: control inflation and keep unemployment low. Actions that help achieve the first goal tend to work against the second one. Raising interest rates means fewer new houses will be built and that means fewer refrigerators and sofas will be sold, etc. And companies that build houses and make refrigerators or sofas will see demand drop, so they will lay off workers, thus increasing unemployment. The problem is that it is hard to predict how high interest rates have to go to choke off inflation without sending unemployment through the roof.
The political impact of another rate increase is impossible to predict. We know: It's the economy, stupid, but that is not enough. Suppose inflation drops to 5% and unemployment goes up tp 5%? Is that good or bad for Joe Biden? For someone who lost his job, it is bad, but for someone who didn't it might be good. In the short run, if inflation is substantially lowered by November, Biden can crow that he did it (even though he didn't, but Americans don't realize how little power the president really has over the economy). Our best guess is that if inflation starts to come down substantially, it will help the Democrats, even if another 2-3% of workers get laid off. Of course, if there is a full-blown recession next year, it will have a huge impact on 2024, especially if the Republicans compare a weak economy in 2023 with the excellent economy Donald Trump inherited from Barack Obama. Right now, all the Democrats can do on this front is cross their fingers and hope that Fed Chairman Jerome Powell gets it right. (V)
A lot of people, especially Democrats, are worried silly that the Dept. of Justice is only going after the little fish in its investigation of the Jan. 6 riot and leaving the big fish in peace. A new bit of news that came out yesterday may make them calm down a bit. CNN and other news outlets are reporting that the belle of the Select Committee's ball, Cassidy Hutchinson, is now cooperating with the DoJ. Neither Hutchinson nor the DoJ are confirming this, however, which would be par for the course.
Many reports say that the DoJ was shocked by Hutchinson's testimony before the Committee. Apparently they had no idea how deeply involved Trump was with the coup attempt. But now that she shook them up, they talking to her to get more information.
What Hutchinson told the Committee and what she is telling the DoJ might not be the same thing. The Committee was interested in getting a story from her that would alert the American people to what Trump had done and its affect on democracy. The DoJ wants to know if Trump violated any specific laws. That could lead to very different questions and, thus, very different answers.
Also related to the DoJ investigation, Alyssa Farah Griffin, Trump's former communications director, told CNN's John Berman yesterday that although she had not personally talked to the DoJ (yet), she knew of other former White House officials who had. This strengthens the view that the DoJ is not looking only at the small fish, but potentially looking at the medium fish and possibly the Big Fish as well.
Normally the DoJ works at a leisurely pace and leaves no stone unturned. It is a huge embarrassment for them to put someone on trial and then have the jury acquit the person. In the case of Trump, an acquittal would be the mother of all nightmares, so it is being very careful. On the other hand, if Trump formally announces his 2024 candidacy and there has been no indictment yet, announcing one while he is running for president would look extremely partisan and be exponentially more difficult. So the DoJ has to move slowly, to make sure it wins the case if it goes to trial, but it has to go fast to head Trump off at the pass. This is not an easy situation for AG Merrick Garland, but it is the one he has to deal with. (V)
On Tuesday, we noted that The Wall Street Journal and The New York Post ran editorials asserting that Donald Trump was unfit to hold public office. Both papers are owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and neither one would have run such an editorial without Murdoch's approval. But we wondered how far Murdoch was willing to go vis-a-vis the former president, since Fox News seemed to be onboard the S.S. Trump.
But maybe that is changing as well. On Tuesday, Trump gave a speech in D.C. to a friendly crowd—and Fox News didn't broadcast it live. In fact, it barely mentioned it. But it did broadcast a speech from Mike Pence the same day. So Pence is worth covering live but Trump is not? As they say in second grade: What's wrong with this picture? Maybe it was a simple oversight, but we doubt it. We also doubt that Fox is about to jump on the S.S. Pence, but maybe it is trying to wean its viewers from Trump and show them that there are alternatives out there, including Pence and, of course, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL).
Remember that Fox's interests are not the same as Trump's. Fox wants to make money and if it thinks Trump may be past his prime and on the way out, it might start to cozy up to possible replacements, including Pence and DeSantis. It might even start doing this before most viewers realize this, just to groom them. Trump's interest is staying in the limelight and out of prison.
The real test will come if Trump formally declares his candidacy. Then Fox will have to decide how much time it wants to devote to his rallies. If he has a 2-hour rally three or four times a week, that is a lot of air time he could suck up. If Fox has lost interest in Trump, it might decide he's not worth it. If Fox decides Trump is yesterday's news, that would be a huge development. We'll keep an eye out for more hints. (V)
It is only one poll, but a University of New Hampshire poll among likely Granite State Democratic voters found that 17% would vote for Pete Buttigieg in a potential presidential primary in 2024, 16% would vote for Joe Biden, 10% would vote for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and 10% would vote for Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA).
It's pretty early for horse race polls and it remains to be seen if (1) Biden will actually run and (2) any Democrat would dare challenge him. But the poll does show that not all Democrats are wild about Biden running again. A showing of 16% is not terribly good for a sitting president.
Unless the Democrats change the rules (which is a real possibility), a loss by Biden in any early primary would be devastating for him. The message would be "even Democrats don't want him." He might not be able to recover from that. In 2020, he lost New Hampshire but came back in South Carolina. But he wasn't the sitting president then. That makes all the difference in the world. Also, he will be 4 years older in 2024 than he was in 2020, and at his age, 4 years matters a lot. Of course, it also matters at Buttigieg's age, but for a different reason (lack of experience vs. chance of dying in office).
Of course, in politics, a week is a lifetime. And yesterday alone might have been two or three lifetimes. So, one cannot put all that much stock in the notion that people's current feelings will tell us what they might do at the ballot box 2 years, 3 months, and 9 days (a.k.a. 118.8 weeks) from now. (V)
They are dropping like flies in Wisconsin. Earlier this week, Tom Nelson, county executive of Outagamie County, left the race for the Democratic nomination for the Senate. Yesterday, basketball executive Alex Lasry did the same thing. He said he saw no path to victory. On the way out the door, he endorsed Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes (D-WI), who is also running for the nomination. Lasry also said he would campaign for Barnes in an attempt to unify the party.
This means that there are now only two high-profile candidates left for the Democratic nomination, Barnes and State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski. Barnes is a progressive Black man; Godlewski is a moderate white woman. Whoever wins the primary will face Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) in the general election.
Polling has shown Barnes to be far ahead of Godlewski. He is in favor of Medicare for all, the Green New Deal, and other progressive priorities. Not surprisingly, he has been endorsed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). If elected to the Senate, Barnes, at 35, would be one of the youngest senators and the first Black senator from Wisconsin. The primary is Aug. 9. (V)
Under North Carolina law, people serving time for a felony could not vote until the sentence was completely served, including any period of post-release probation. They also had to pay any legal financial obligations. However, in 2019, a group of nonprofits challenged this law as unconstitutional. There were decisions and appeals and more decisions and more appeals. The North Carolina Court of Appeals ultimately ruled that felons out on probation could not vote in the primaries but, starting today, could vote in future elections, including the midterms in November. However, there could be more lawsuits and more appeals.
It is estimated that more than 56,000 felons will be reenfranchised by this decision. They are disproportionately Black and thus probably disproportionately Democratic. But, of course, not all 56,000 are now going to go out and register to vote. In fact, many of them probably don't even know they have that right even though the State Board of Elections has put a notice to that effect on its website. Sometimes, people who just got out of prison often have other things to do (like find housing and get a job) than check out the Board of Elections website.
In 2020, Donald Trump beat Joe Biden in the Tar Heel State by 75,000 votes (out of 5.4 million), so even if all 56,000 felons register and vote Democratic, that won't be enough. Of course, other factors could play a role and the 2022 Senate election might be even closer than the 2020 election. Possibly relevant here is that the Democratic Senate nominee is a Black woman, Cheri Beasley, and the Republican nominee is the very Trumpy Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC). That could possibly motivate many of the Black felons to register and vote. We would imagine that relatively few felons are big fans of Trump and Trumpism, but that is just a guess. (V)
Red states are moving almost in synchrony to define themselves in opposition to blue states on a huge number of issues. It is almost like a separate nation within the nation according to Ronald Brownstein. Something like this was unimaginable only 10 years ago.
The issues include abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, civil rights, trans girls in sports, classroom censorship, immigration, policing, gun ownership, separation of church and state, taxes, and many more. The collective action is due in part to aggressive work from a few groups, especially the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which writes draft laws, and Heritage Action, which lobbies state legislators to pass them.
When red state legislatures are increasingly determined to go their own way while working to preempt challenges from above (the federal government) and below (their own big cities), they are de facto working to undermine the nation's cohesion. When people start identifying more as a resident of their state than as an American, the problem will only get bigger.
While red states aren't all identical, they have many aspects in common other than politics. For example, consider the 25 states that voted for Donald Trump twice. Nineteen of them rank in the bottom half in terms of share of the population who are immigrants. Twenty of them rank in the bottom half in terms of people with college degrees. And the vast majority rank in the top half when ranked by percentage of white Christian gun owners.
Also, of these Trump states, 23 rank in the top 26 as the biggest carbon emitters per dollar of economic output. And 18 of the Trump states rank in the bottom half in terms of jobs in the tech sector. This indicates that these states are firmly locked into 19th and 20th century industries, not 21st century (knowledge-based) industries. The Trump states also have lower taxes than the non-Trump states, but this translates into fewer government services. Using a slightly different definition of red and blue states, and moving the purple states into a different category, the GDP and median household income is 25% higher in the blue section than the red one.
Another sign of this split is that in the 25 states that voted for Trump twice, the Republicans control both chambers of the state legislature (including Nebraska's nominally nonpartisan but not really nonpartisan unicameral legislature). Seen from 10,000 feet, the drive by the red states to: (1) set their own rules and then (2) force them on the whole country (and their own blue cities) is only increasing. The path for the first part is to create a test case and then get it before a friendly Texas judge. Then, after losing, the other side has to appeal to the conservative Fifth Circuit and then to the highly partisan Supreme Court. The path for the second part is to authorize state officials to interfere in local affairs when local officials are resisting state directives (e.g., letting the state AG prosecute people who enable abortions when local D.A.s refuse to do so).
This strategy is the best the red states can do with the Democrats in control of the federal trifecta. But If Republicans control the White House and both chambers of Congress in Jan. 2025, that will instantly change, with a much more direct attempt to pass national laws that mirror the red state laws in all the areas listed above and then some. The only reason another civil war is unlikely is that the red states are not in a compact contiguous bloc, as they were in 1860. Having Idaho and Alabama be in the same country and not part of the United States wouldn't be practical, especially if there were tariff, customs, and visa barriers between the two blocs. (V)