A Couple of Postscripts

In a post a while back assessing President Joe Biden’s performance during his first 100 days in office, I awarded him an A+ for his Administration’s efforts against the Coronavirus, indicating that it had consistently under promised and over delivered.  The Administration recently announced that it will not meet its goal of getting 70% of adults at least partly vaccinated by July 4.  I stand by my grade, and think any open-minded American will agree.  The Administration’s failure to meet its goal arises from the lethargy and obstinacy of too many Americans.  As my mother used to say:  You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.

In a note last week on Infrastructure, I opined that Republican Senators working on a bipartisan infrastructure bill would be unable to muster support for their effort among 10 members of their caucus – the threshold to avoid a Senate filibuster.  While remaining mindful of another of my mother’s sayings – “There’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip” — and despite my suspicion that the Progressives apparently outraged by the compromise could be as intransigent as the Republican Freedom Caucus has been in the past, there is at the time this is posted at least the prospect of passage of a bipartisan bill allocating sums to refurbish our infrastructure that will exceed all such predecessor laws. If such a measure does become law, it will in our toxic political environment be a notable and heartening achievement by the bipartisan Senate group, Mr. Biden, and his team.  Hopefully, the doubts I expressed in my infrastructure post about the bipartisan group’s ability to get legislation enacted will prove to be woefully wrong-headed. 

On Infrastructure and the Art of the Possible: a Correction

A good friend kindly pointed out to me that I incorrectly indicated in this post that the infrastructure proposal currently being put forth by the bipartisan Senate group including U.S. WV Sen. Joe Manchin and U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney is valued at approximately $IB ($billion), when the package is in fact valued at approximately $1T ($trillion).  I appreciate his calling my attention to the oversight; apparently it is true, as apocryphally attributed to the late U.S. IL Sen. Everett Dirksen (whose gravelly voice I fondly remember from my youth):  “A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking real money.”  😉    

On Infrastructure and the Art of the Possible

At the time this is typed, the Biden Administration and the Senate are wrangling over what constitutes infrastructure, how much to spend, and how to pay for it.  Let’s leave taxes – a weighty subject worthy of its own note – for another post.

As to what constitutes infrastructure:  I am more aligned with the Republicans’ view than with the Democrats’.  The recent Texas power grid failure, the Solar Winds hack, the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack, and the recent internet cloud provider Fastly “glitch” (that affected, among others, the United Kingdom’s main public service portal and The New York Times) demonstrate the current vulnerability of many of the critical aspects of our infrastructure – both those under government and private control – to natural hazards and terrorist threats.  I would submit that we should focus our infrastructure investment – through governmental direct spending and tax concessions (buttressed by regulation and oversight) to those private entities controlling critical aspects of our infrastructure  — on roads, bridges, rail, public transit, national broadband expansion, reinventing our electric power grid, securing the safety of our water supply, and other like priorities.  There are some areas, arguably tangential to these “core” priorities, in which I would like to see us invest, including some climate-related initiatives, support for semiconductor chip industry, and technology to mine and exploit rare earths (a vital arena in which China currently wields almost monopolistic influence).  Although I have sympathy for a number of the priorities that the Administration and Democrats have sought to shoehorn within their definition of infrastructure – childcare assistance, elderly and disabled care, electric vehicle incentives, workforce development programs, and paid family leave — these are not infrastructure.  I would submit that Democrats’ attempt to include funding for these priorities within their infrastructure proposal risks, in an old business phrase, sacrificing the good for what they consider the perfect.

I am certainly not versed enough to know how much total infrastructure spending is appropriate or how whatever is finally enacted should be allocated among different core infrastructure priorities.  That said, based upon reports of their respective positions, I am again closer to the Republicans’ position than I am to the Democrats’.  The Republicans want to fund part of the new infrastructure program out of previously-enacted COVID relief; Democrats do not.  My view:  with the nation approaching herd immunity, vaccine doses going unused, the economy rebounding faster than the economic community expected, jobs going unfilled, and annualized inflation currently running well above 40-year norms, I harbor doubts that all of the still-unspent COVID relief is truly needed (there are undoubtedly areas in which unspent sums will still provide value).  To the extent that the enacted excess can be identified, it should be shifted to other national priorities including infrastructure.  We do not need gratuitous spending.  A notable segment of financial analysts, contrary to the belief of the Fed and the Administration, clearly feels that unhealthy inflation levels and a deepening federal debt are indeed potential respective outcomes of the Fed’s monetary policies and the Administration’s fiscal policies.  As all readers of these pages are aware, I have no economic background, but I share that segment’s uneasy sentiments. On infrastructure, we should spend what we need to spend, not feather ancillary aspirations. 

As all who care are aware, the White House called off infrastructure negotiations with a Republican Senate group led by U.S. WV Sen. Shelley Moore Capito right before the President left for Europe because it considered the Republican proposals unacceptably stingy.  This was seemingly a wise move, inasmuch as a bipartisan group of five Democrat and five Republican Senators including U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney and U.S. WV Sen. Joe Manchin has since agreed upon a heftier infrastructure package, with an expenditure approximating $1B over five years, focusing on core infrastructure and funded in part by repurposing some COVID relief funds.  As he returns from overseas, President Biden will confront conflicting priorities:  to get as much of his agenda through Congress as he can before the 2022 campaign season truly heats up, contrasted with a desire to strike a deal with Republicans that will demonstrate to the centrist Americans who voted for him that he is able to accommodate competing views as he claimed he could during his presidential campaign. 

Otto von Bismarck, German Chancellor in the late 1800s, is generally credited with the observation, “Politics is the art of the possible.” The President is facing the reality that the vast majority of his party will wish him to use the Senate’s reconciliation process to push through their laundry list of priorities, and will threaten not to support a measure that they consider but half a loaf.  On the other hand, I fear progressives’ preferred approach will feed the Republicans’ claim that Mr. Biden has proven to be more “socialist” than he promised during the campaign, in my view thereby endangering Democrats’ electoral prospects in 2022 and 2024.  If advising Mr. Biden, I would suggest that he tell Sen. Romney and his four Republican colleagues in the bipartisan group that if they can get five more Republicans to publicly indicate by June 30 that they will vote for the bipartisan group’s proposal, Mr. Biden will publicly support it – and tacitly dare disgruntled progressive Democrats to oppose it.  At the same time, I would further suggest to the President that he tell Mr. Manchin and the Democrats in the bipartisan group that if the bipartisan Republicans cannot garner the support of five additional members of their caucus by June 30, it will prove that his and these centrist Democrats’ professed faith in bipartisanship and Republican goodwill was a pipedream, and that Democrats should stand together to use the Senate’s budget reconciliation process — including tax increases to be determined — to enact the expansive infrastructure priorities that the Administration originally proposed.

My guess: Mr. Romney and his colleagues will not be able to get another five Republican votes. The Democrats will have to go it alone on this, and, where they can, other measures. The dishearteningly intractable partisan posture maintained by most official Republicans and many Trump voters since Mr. Biden’s inauguration is certainly worthy of a post; but this note is best left to infrastructure.

On Cheney for President

“Expelling Liz Cheney from leadership won’t gain the GOP one additional voter, but it will cost us quite a few.”

  • Tweet by U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney, May 10, 2021

Let’s put aside for the moment what matters:  our continuing existential threat arising from the dumbfounding choice by the majority of organizational Republicans nationwide to deny truth and seek in various ways to undermine democracy in order to run headlong into the embrace of former President Donald Trump and Trumpism – a movement which, as I have previously indicated in these pages, I consider a devolutionary step toward fascism.  Instead, let’s consider the possible political ramifications of U.S. House of Representatives Republicans’ recent expulsion of U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney from their leadership in the context of the 2024 presidential race.

I am now an admirer of Rep. Cheney.  If reports I’ve seen are accurate, she and I probably have significant substantive domestic policy differences.  Furthermore, as far as I know, she has never separated herself from the Bush Administration’s 2003 decision to invade Iraq – a decision driven in major part by her father, former Vice President Richard Cheney – which I consider to be the worst American policy mistake in the last 50 years.  I don’t care.  What matters is where we are today.  She clearly believes that being an American comes before either political party affiliation or attempting to cling to power for power’s sake, so in this most meaningful regard, she has my complete support (as does Sen. Romney and a few other Republicans).

In their haste to solidify the allegiance of the lowest and/or most credulous elements of their base by clinging to the demonstrable myths that Mr. Trump actually won the election and that there was no Trump-inspired insurrection last January 6, Republican party leadership has apparently accepted the notion that it can win (albeit perhaps through chicanery) the presidency and elections in swing areas without the support of the independents and conservatives who value truth and reality.  However, surveys show that over 25% of Republicans and over 60% of Independents opposed Ms. Cheney’s removal from Congressional Republican leadership.  These are seemingly ominous portents for Republicans.  Organizational Republicans are apparently calculating that enough politically center/right Americans will be sufficiently offended by President Joe Biden or some aspect of the Democratic agenda that they will be able to look in the mirror and say, “I am willing to vote for a candidate who I know is espousing a lie about the 2020 presidential election.  I am willing to vote for a candidate who I know rationalizes an insurrection.”  I think – I hope — it’s a bad bet.

Although the Founding Fathers envisioned the legislative branch – the Congress – as the primary protector of our democracy against any potential encroachment by the executive branch – the president — it is clear that at the present time, the vitality of our system of government rests almost entirely upon the character of the president.  I hope that for the good of the country, Ms. Cheney runs for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in 2024.  It’s hard to imagine her winning the nomination (although she might do well in the early primaries if she was the only anti-Trump candidate), but her candidacy would force the Republican field to take stands on uncomfortable general election questions regarding Mr. Trump (assuming he’s not a candidate himself):  Do you believe that Joe Biden legally won the 2020 election?  Do you agree that it was overwhelmingly Trump supporters that invaded the Capitol on January 6, 2021?  Do you believe that Mr. Trump played a significant role in inciting the insurrection?  Do you condemn any action by any state legislature to override a state’s majority vote?  Do you agree that Congress should not accept the Electoral College votes of any state in which its legislature has overridden the state’s majority vote, even if the action benefits you?  Requiring the Republican field to face these types of questions would potentially create a split among the Republican electorate that would be very difficult to mend for the general election.  I would submit that the Republican disarray that Ms. Cheney could cause by mounting a presidential campaign is the most patriotic step she could take.  In the current environment, it would certainly be a courageous step undeniably involving an element of physical danger.

In exiling Rep. Ms. Cheney from Republican Congressional leadership, I would suggest that in addition to turning its back on the truth, Republican leadership may have made a pivotal political mistake.  Ms. Cheney is not U.S. NE Sen. Ben Sasse, or U.S. IL Rep. Adam Kinzinger, or even, at this stage in his career, Mr. Romney.  Whether or not she retains her Congressional seat in the 2022 election, she has the marquee name, the gravitas, and now the record to command as much free media in a presidential run as any candidate could ask for.  If Ms. Cheney was to launch such an effort, it might well ultimately cause Republicans to ruefully recall the political wisdom of former President Lyndon Johnson, who, when asked why he did not replace the then-Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, J. Edgar Hoover, famously replied:  “Better to have your enemies inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent, pissing in.”

Mr. Biden’s First 100 Days: Part II

[If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there].

In addition to President Joe Biden’s demeanor, his staffing selections, his Administration’s response to COVID, and what appears to be at least his early strategic approach to the presidency, what’s left are the nuts and bolts of his early days:

General Domestic Policy:  B

Aside from proposing the massive COVID, Infrastructure, and Family Relief legislative packages listed in Part I, most of the President’s domestic efforts have been understandably directed at undoing what Mr. Trump had done, most prominently in the areas of immigration, “equity” in government, deregulation, and the environment.  (I understand Mr. Biden’s bold pledge to halve U.S. greenhouse gas pollution by 2030, despite the criticisms that it is imprudent and impractical; at the same time, I would not have so quickly cancelled the Keystone XL Pipeline approved by Mr. Trump — a cancellation which disappointed our Canadian ally and cost U.S. and Canadian jobs.)  The Administration’s first crisis has been over the southern border, but although this is an area in which polls show the President doesn’t enjoy the support of the majority of Americans, the situation was so malignly mishandled by the Trump Administration that I, and I’ll venture most Americans, will cut him some slack until at least mid-summer.  All that said:  while all that read these pages are well aware I am not an economist, my main concern about Mr. Biden’s domestic record thus far is that he is simply spending, and seeking to spend, too much money we don’t have.  Intuitively, it seems to me that the Democrats will not be able to sufficiently increase taxes, nor will the programs they are proposing generate enough additional revenues within an acceptable time frame, to avoid a notable increase in an already massive debt.  I do find credible the argument that the ample unemployment benefits provided in last COVID package have created a disincentive for some Americans to return to work.  According to a liberal Obama economist I recently heard, the economy is already “awash” in cash.  The Bond Market is clearly nervous about inflation, and is not as confident as Federal Reserve and Administration officials that any marked acceleration will be temporary and can be controlled.  I tend to agree with the Bond Market.

Foreign Policy:  C

While I most enthusiastically support Mr. Biden’s renewed emphasis on U.S. alliances after the debacle of the Trump “America First” approach, and absolutely applaud a number of steps the President has taken – presenting a strong front to China’s increasingly aggressive measures, imposing sanctions and diplomatic expulsions on Russia for its interference in the 2020 U.S. election, withdrawing our arms support from the Saudis in the Yemen conflict, declaring a “genocide” the mass killing of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire over a century ago (a poke to make Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan aware that we will not coddle him) – what I consider significant missteps raise greater cause for concern.  Strategically, Mr. Biden seems to believe that the world is willing to return to the state that existed the day Mr. Trump took office.  If so, he is laboring under a dangerous misimpression.  Our allies are understandably wary of our diplomatic constancy when Mr. Trump still garnered over 70 million votes.  China and Russia are significantly better positioned internationally than they were four years ago, and have given no indication that they will readily cede their gains.  Despite Biden Administration coaxing, Iran is showing no willingness to go back to the Obama Administration-negotiated nuclear arrangement without U.S. “concessions.”  North Korea’s nuclear capacity is greatly enhanced.  The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is raging – and is now creating discord between Jewish and Arab Israelis.  Mr. Biden precipitously renewed for five years the Obama Era New Start nuclear treaty with Russia, a renewal actively sought by the Russians and a renewal which former Trump Administration National Security Advisor John Bolton – now no friend of Mr. Trump, and acknowledged even by his detractors to be a savvy foreign policy expert – has opined does not further American interests.  The Administration has thus far refrained, apparently for fear of offending Germany, from taking steps to block the impending completion of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline, through which Russia will deliver natural gas directly to Germany, undercutting Ukraine and enhancing Russia’s leverage over Europe.  (In a partial nod to Mr. Trump, he saw the impending Nord Stream 2 danger, but by that time had so boorishly antagonized German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he had no influence with her.)  However, I would submit that Mr. Biden’s most significant foreign policy failing thus far is his decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.  It seems overwhelmingly likely that the Taliban, who oppose the Afghan government we have kept upright, will overrun the country almost as soon as we depart; we leave ourselves more vulnerable to terrorist attacks; we open the door to suppression of Afghan women; and we will appear to have abandoned another set of Middle East allies (remember the Trump Administration’s abandonment of the Kurds in Syria), further reducing our credibility in the region.  I have made no secret in these pages that consider former President Barack Obama to have been a poor foreign policy president, particularly in his second term.  Rather than learning from Mr. Obama’s mistakes, Mr. Biden seems to be emulating them.  Both strategically and tactically, a disappointing foreign policy start.

So:  if we are grading on the 4-point scale, providing a .5 for every “+,” and giving equal weight to every category, Mr. Biden comes in with a cumulative “GPA” of 3.4 — about a B+  — with an Incomplete [looking not unlike my old report cards:  okay in some areas but less stellar in others  ;)].  That said, the President’s first 100 days are merely that.  For me, the most important grade from a prospective standpoint is the “Incomplete.”  The President’s aura of COVID competence won’t last but a couple of more months; I would submit that Mr. Biden needs to make a fiscally-responsible bipartisan infrastructure deal, bring humane coherence to the southern border, and better mind our foreign policy during his second 100 days if he is to continue his Administration’s momentum.  

Mr. Biden’s First 100 Days: Part I

[This was projected to run earlier, but a note relating to Congressional House Republicans’ recent untoward treatment of U.S. WY Rep. Liz Cheney seemed more immediate.]

Virtually every commentator we know has provided an assessment as to how President Joe Biden has conducted the first 100 days of his presidency – which President Franklin Roosevelt made an unofficial milestone of the American presidency during his first term – and I can’t resist doing the same.  This note will include brief references to several topics worthy of their own future posts; but in the meantime, here we go:

Presidential Tone and Demeanor:  A+

Mr. Biden owes his election partially to the promise that he would not be former President Donald Trump, and on that he has delivered handsomely.  Since he is by all accounts a kindly and decent man, he was undoubtedly going to do well here, but has excelled by reducing the national temperature, while making clear that he is sharp and fully engaged in conducting the office.  He has deftly distanced himself from hyper-partisan flashpoints such as Mr. Trump’s second impeachment and the recent FBI raid on Trump Attorney Rudy Giuliani’s home.  His address to Congress was conversational, sincere, and uplifting.  A Wall Street Journal columnist recently noted that one of the President’s strengths is that at least so far, and unlike his four predecessors, no electoral segment hates him.

Administration Personnel:  B

I would not have as affirmatively focused on achieving a diverse Cabinet as Mr. Biden did, but he has for the most part chosen experienced professionals.  The President’s selections are, furthermore, generally low-key in manner – again, conducive to reducing the temperature of the presidency.  (The exception was Neera Tanden, whose nomination for Director of the Office of Management and Budget, perhaps offered up as “red meat” to the Republicans, was ultimately withdrawn.)  If reports I’ve seen of his past positions are accurate, Secretary of State Antony Blinken perhaps whiffed on several Middle East issues over the last 20 years.  Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Attorney General Merrick Garland are superstar choices.  White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has been effective.  Personal Favorite:  Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who should use his time in the Administration to build relationships to key Democratic constituencies as he gets ready to make another bid for the presidency. 

Administration Execution:  A+

Mr. Biden came to the White House declaring his priority was to pass his COVID relief package and effectively disseminate the COVID vaccines.  Given his singular emphasis, the manner in which he addressed the pandemic became an immediate make-or-break test of his competence in Americans’ minds.  He passed with flying colors, consistently under promising and over delivering.

Administration Strategy:  INCOMPLETE

The President – to my surprise, and I believe to others’ – has thus far chosen not be an incrementalist or a bipartisan collaborator, but has instead “Gone Big.”  The $1.9T COVID relief bill seemingly included more than was strictly needed to address the nation’s pandemic (more on that in Part II), and was passed over Republican Congressional objections despite Mr. Biden’s campaign pledge to seek bipartisanship.  He has now proposed a $2.3T infrastructure plan including components arguably well beyond even a generous definition of “infrastructure” and a $1.8T Families Relief Plan.  He has proposed a sweeping Immigration reform.  He has pleased his party’s progressives, although he was elected in part because he was not overly progressive.  One bids high when one has strong cards; it remains to be seen whether his “Go Big” strategy is effective in a closely-divided Congress (and whether his now-proven willingness to “go it alone” on COVID relief makes Republicans more amenable in future negotiations) or instead proves too ambitious an approach that forfeits the opportunity for significant but more modest legislative achievement.

At the turn of this note, Mr. Biden is doing pretty well.  I don’t want to overwhelm these pages with too much Noise; it seems less exhausting to reserve views on Mr. Biden’s General Domestic Policy and Foreign Policy initiatives – where I would suggest that he perhaps hasn’t performed quite as well — for Part II.

Easter Reflections on the Georgia Election Law

As all who care are aware, the Republican-dominated Georgia legislature recently passed the state’s “Election Integrity Act of 2021,” purportedly to address alleged irregularities in the state’s voting processes that, according to Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger and as established by several state presidential vote recounts, were never there.  The law appears a pretty ham-handed attempt by Georgia Republicans to limit the voting opportunities of Democratic-leaning voters in a state that has, judging by the narrow 2020 victories of Democrats President Joe Biden and U.S. GA Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the potential to trend increasingly Democratic.

A provision in the statute that has garnered a fair amount of attention is Section 33, which in the guise of preventing voter inducement, prohibits anyone but a poll officer from “… giving … food and drink, to an elector” in the vicinity of a polling place.

Clearly, anyone determined to wait in line to vote despite a notable thirst has already affirmatively decided how s/he will vote; the rationale that evil doers might be able to persuade a malleable voter to change his/her vote by offering the elector a drink of water – when the voter, if s/he cared so little about the substance of his/her ballot, could simply leave the line and slake his/her thirst — is on its face absurd.  The repressive aspect of the measure has been extensively noted; however, what also struck me were the ironies related to the provision.

First, the prohibition on furnishing food or drink to an elector waiting in the vicinity of a polling place evinces such mean-spirited pettiness that it has made me ponder whether such an obvious display of cancerous partisanship might even cause a conscientious conservative jurist to question the statute’s constitutionality.

That said, what seems to me the sharpest irony arising from this provision — perhaps brought to mind by the Easter Season, combined with a high level of confidence that the majority of the Republican Georgia legislators who voted for the Act consider themselves Christians — is embedded in the Gospel:

“Jesus said, ‘I thirst.’  There was a vessel filled with common wine.  So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.  When Jesus had taken the wine, He said, ‘It is finished.’”

John 19:28-30

Georgia Republican legislators have prohibited the provision of a humane accommodation to fellow Georgians seeking to exercise their constitutional rights that Roman soldiers provided to one they had just crucified as a criminal.

May you have the opportunity to celebrate this time of the year, including as it does holy days sacred to those of multiple Faiths, in the manner you consider most fitting.  Stay safe.

The Process IS the Point

Without checking, I suspect that these pages have been as quiet during the last eight weeks as they have at any time since they were launched in 2017.  Frankly, with President Joe Biden’s assumption of the presidency allaying my fears of our devolution into an autocratic state and my inclination to let the Biden team settle in before making any pronouncements, it has been a pleasure to think about something else [although wrestling with income taxes, one of the last weeks’ preoccupations, can only be considered a “pleasure” in this context  ;)].  I suspect that my reticence will continue for much of the remainder of the President’s first 100 days.  This note is in no way a comprehensive assessment of the steps Mr. Biden has taken in his first weeks, but simply a few reactions:

The President and his team came in with a clearly-expressed, single-minded focus on manufacturing and dispensing COVID vaccines to Americans.  They have effectively set low expectations, and have over-delivered.  I would venture that if we have flare-ups of the Coronavirus in the future, no thinking American will consider such caused by any Administration oversight.  Thus far, an excellent job.

The President’s “luxury” of single-minded focus on COVID has now ended.  The migrant challenge at the border — which I do not think it is unfair to say has been exacerbated by what I believe is the true perception of Mr. Biden’s empathy for the downtrodden — and our two recent mass shootings are reminders that no President is ever truly in control of his/her agenda.  Mr. Biden must address these and other erupting issues without losing focus on his priorities – no small task.

There has been some media comment that Mr. Biden views himself as a “transformational” president, in the mode of Franklin Roosevelt or Lyndon Johnson.  I hope not.  During their presidencies, Presidents Roosevelt and Johnson enjoyed overwhelming Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.  As a veteran of the Senate, I assume that Mr. Biden realizes that his opportunities are more limited in a Congress almost evenly divided between the parties.  I would venture that his greatest chance of success is not, as we have so frequently heard expressed, in “going big,” but rather, in “going small”:  e.g., pushing a limited bill setting a path to citizenship for DACA recipients rather than comprehensive immigration reform; supporting a bill addressing only an expansion of background checks for gun sales rather than aggressive overall gun regulation.  If he “goes big,” he has a significant chance of achieving nothing. 

I understand that there is bipartisan support for an infrastructure bill, which is reported to be the Administration’s next major priority (although predictably, the parties are apparently not aligned on infrastructure priorities).  I am concerned about accounts that in addition to targeted tax hikes, the Administration intends to fund a significant part of its infrastructure proposal – indicated to be in the $3T range – through further deficit spending.  I fear that yet more massive deficit spending on top of the recent 1.9T COVID relief package will ultimately have significant consequences.  To me, the greatest peril is not the potential impact upon inflation (although bond traders – smart people – clearly generally harbor some doubt about U.S. Treasury Department and Federal Reserve Bank claims that any unhealthy inflation arising from these massive spending measures can be readily controlled), but from the seeming current perception that we can limitlessly borrow.  I’m aware that there is an economic school that preaches that deficits don’t matter; I believe that at some point, they will matter.  Our standing as the world’s foremost super power – a standing we do indeed still enjoy – arises from equally important dual pillars:  we have the most weapons and the best financial condition.  Our military is our defense, but our economic strength is our offense.  Chinese President Xi Jinping clearly appreciates this, given the manner in which his regime is attempting to reinforce the underpinnings of China’s economy and extend China’s influence in the world’s economy.  The world lends to us and will continue to lend to us at low rates – despite our profligate spending – as long as we remain the best credit risk in town.  We endanger our standing if we continue to borrow like a rich kid with his parents’ credit card.  To do so does not threaten us now, but — as the fictional Consigliere Tom Hagen advised Don Vito Corleone in a different context in The Godfather – perhaps ten years from now.  There is nothing inevitable or immutable about American primacy.  When my mother-in-law, still with us, was born, Great Britain was the world’s preeminent power.  If we had any really old Romans still with us, I’m confident that they’d observe that world preeminence cannot be taken for granted.  We can’t continue to fritter away our financial strength through irrationally inadequate tax revenue generation and indiscriminate wish list spending.

Finally, although I concede that the early signals regarding the possibility for constructive bipartisanship aren’t encouraging – few Republicans voted to impeach/remove former President Donald Trump, despite his clear culpability for the Capitol insurrection, on the pretext that their brainwashed constituents didn’t support impeachment, but nonetheless voted against Mr. Biden’s COVID package although the majority of their supporters did favor the bill – if advising Mr. Biden I would encourage him to keep on trying – and try harder.  Although I may change my mind, I do not yet favor complete abandonment of the Senate’s Filibuster Rule. (If I change my mind, what will tip me over is Senate Republicans’ blocking of the voting rights act recently passed in the House of Representatives.) While I share many of the Democrats’ priorities, it seems that in their enthusiasm regarding what they can achieve if they need but 51 votes in the Senate, Democrats somehow remain oblivious that what can be achieved with 51 votes can just as readily be undone with 51 votes.  Presidents traditionally lose Congressional support in mid-term elections.  Does anyone have any illusions as to what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will do if the filibuster is ended and the Republicans gain control of Congress?  I would recommend to Mr. Biden that he get together with Mr. McConnell and literally ask him to come part way for the good of the nation – they’re both old men, who have perhaps waged their last campaigns — lest Mr. Biden, in order to retain the loyalty of the Progressive Caucus, is left with no choice but to lend his support to ending the filibuster.  I would also suggest that Mr. Biden, notwithstanding any expressions of displeasure by progressive Democrats, redouble his efforts to maintain rapport and collaborate with open-minded Republican Senators such as Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney – to exploit the feelings they must have of being outcasts in their own party.  I would seek to gently remind the President of what he already knows:  that from Messrs. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton through Messrs. Ronald Reagan and Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, progress through reconciliation of sincerely held competing views is the heart of the American legacy.  It’s too early to give up on bipartisanship.  I would submit that with a few exceptions, in our system the policy is not the point.  The process is the point.

Foxconned

This week, a close friend forwarded me the March 2nd Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) article, linked below, which recounts various initiatives that Foxconn Technology Group has announced over the last several years that it would undertake in the state of Wisconsin.  The title for this post was the title of his email; it was too good not to repeat here.

What came to mind as I read the piece was the picture of the June, 2018, groundbreaking of what was then promised to be a major Foxconn manufacturing facility based in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin, that would provide thousands of jobs, depicting Republicans then-President Donald Trump, then-WI Gov. Scott Walker, and then-Speaker of U.S. House of Representatives Paul Ryan, wielding shovels and grinning broadly.

Mr. Ryan is, of course, gone, now a member of the Board of Directors of Fox Corporation (the owner of Fox News Channel), a guest lecturer at the University of Notre Dame, and otherwise living the life of an undoubtedly well-compensated Republican frat boy.

Mr. Walker, is, of course, gone, now the president of Young America’s Foundation, a conservative youth organization listing Stephen Miller (yes, that Stephen Miller) as an alumnus, which reportedly counts among its donors the Koch Brothers and members of the DeVos family.

Mr. Trump is, of course, gone.  We know where he is.

The homes in Mount Pleasant displaced for the project and their owners, are, of course, also gone.

What remains are vacant buildings and holes in the ground as empty as Foxconn’s promises.

I suggested to a Trump/Walker supporter I know well, at some point before the pandemic hit – probably in the summer of 2019, when the grand designs promised by Foxconn and Republican politicians were already clearly unraveling — that the last we’d see of Foxconn in this state was Election Day, 2020.  He completely disagreed.  We did agree – amicably, now a rarity between citizens of contrary political views – that there was no need to debate; time would bear out which of us was correct.

I could send him a link to this WPR article, but won’t.  He would undoubtedly respond that I have been proven wrong – that Foxconn is still in Wisconsin – but more importantly, since he is a fine man, I don’t want to risk hearing him say how wonderful it will be when our state is the epicenter of the world’s production of electric vehicles.  

https://www.wpr.org/failed-partnerships-and-vacant-buildings-foxconns-wisconsin-commitment-remains-standstill

Discerning Mr. Biden’s Mandate

[The remainder of the “Pushing the Big Truth” post published on January 29 has not been forgotten, merely deferred  ;)]

Yesterday, ten more or less moderate Republican Senators including U.S. UT Sen. Mitt Romney, U.S. ME Sen. Susan Collins, and U.S. AK Sen. Lisa Murkowski journeyed to the White House to present an alternate $600B COVID relief package to the $1.9T COVID relief package offered by the Biden Administration.  Tellingly, neither Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell nor any of his Senate Republican Leadership Team were among the ten.  Equally illuminating is the fact that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has reportedly declared that Senate Democratic Leadership is sticking to the Administration package, and, undoubtedly still smarting from being manhandled by Mr. McConnell and his Senate cohort for the last decade, has criticized the attempt to bypass Senate Democrats in COVID negotiations.

The fact that the Republican Senate group numbers ten is vital; if ten Senate Republicans and all 50 Senate Democrats agree to support a given COVID relief bill, it would be filibuster-proof in the Senate.

The Democratic package seems an opening negotiating “kitchen sink” salvo, even including a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 (which, no matter how one feels about the measure on its own merits, presumably not even the most ardent progressive can claim is directly related to COVID relief).  The Republican proposal is, presumably, an opening “low ball” response, and I understand continues Republicans’ reflexive resistance to assistance to state and local governments (which I find silly, and partisan).

There is no dispute that Congress’ earlier COVID relief bills employed a shotgun approach necessitated by the immediacy of the crisis, and left some Americans without the relief that one would have wanted them to receive — which Democrats now seek to remedy through their package — while providing other Americans inappropriate windfalls — which Republicans now seek to avoid through their response.

One can, of course, find an economist on virtually every side of every issue.  Some very reputable economists, including U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, feel that it is critical for the federal government to provide massive amounts of aid to the economy at this point in order to stave off recession and unnecessary hardship.  Other reputable economists, while acknowledging the necessity of addressing areas of genuine American need, caution that too much indiscriminate aid will overheat the economy, ignite inflation, make our already-huge deficit hole even deeper than it needs to be, thereby endangering our future ability fund other critical programs (see Defense, Social Security, and Medicare/Medicaid).

The Republican initiative creates a pivotal dilemma for Mr. Biden.  Much of the actual COVID relief components of his bill can apparently be passed with simple Congressional majorities via a legislative mechanism called, “budget reconciliation.”  As it stands, the GOP overture is too stingy; but if the Republicans are willing to meaningfully increase their offer, if advising Mr. Biden I would suggest that as he weighs the relative political and substantive merits of a compromise with Republicans against budget reconciliation, he should consider:  What exactly does he think his mandate is?  Why did the American people choose to hire him rather than retain Donald Trump?

Do more of his voters support him – and are, perhaps, non-cult Trump voters more comfortable with him — due to his pledge to more effectively combat the Coronavirus than Mr. Trump did?  Or to get the minimum wage raised to $15?

Do more of his voters support him – and are, perhaps, non-cult Trump voters more comfortable with him – because they want him to seemingly indiscriminately spread money across the economy (virtually everyone has heard of someone who got more from the first COVID packages than they were making before the pandemic)?  Or because they hope that Mr. Biden can restore a sense of decency and decorum to the presidency?

Do more of his voters support him – and are, perhaps, non-cult Trump voters more comfortable with him – because they relish the notion that now Democrats can unilaterally impose their policy ideas on America in the same manner as Republicans did while they controlled Congress?  Or because they hope that Mr. Biden could restore a spirit of compromise to our legislative process?

Mr. Biden has thus far issued a slew of Executive Orders that could have come as no surprise to either Mr. Biden’s friends or foes.  For the most part, these Orders were foreseeable and haven’t impaired his overall standing with the American people (he has issued a couple of more controversial Executive Orders that I would have deferred, but that’s for another day’s note).  But he pledged during the campaign and in his inaugural address to be the President for all the people.  He clung to the notion throughout the Democratic presidential nomination contest — a notion that seemed an albatross in the early days of the campaign when contrasted with the more stridently partisan positions of his adversaries — that Republicans could be worked with, and that he had a record of successfully working with them.  (In this one particular, query whether Mr. Biden’s campaign claim was substantively different from Mr. Trump’s 2016 declaration that he “knew how to make deals.”)

Mr. Biden’s obviously genuine belief that progress can be made through amicable compromise – along with an expectation that he would more competently address the COVID crisis — was, I submit, the most important reason he defeated Mr. Trump.  If he turns his back on compromise now, I fear that the parties will immediately return to gridlock.  Granted, he needs to get a bill that addresses the most glaring areas of need, but I believe that Sens. Romney, Collins, and Murkowski are reasonable people [I don’t know enough about all ten ;)].  If Mr. Biden can get a bipartisan package less than his current proposal that nonetheless addresses the nation’s critical COVID needs, I think he should eschew budget reconciliation and do the deal, as long as he also gets – and can publicly recite – a pledge from his “Republican friends” that they will collaborate upon further relief in the future if, as Democrats believe, such proves necessary.  He has the means to avoid Republican stalling through the “hammer” of budget reconciliation, a process already begun; the GOP group is undoubtedly aware that their window to achieve a compromise is short before the substantive and political pressure on Mr. Biden to proceed unilaterally will become too great.

To Mr. Schumer, perhaps to Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, perhaps to U.S. VT Sen. Bernie Sanders, perhaps to U.S. NY Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, if any are disgruntled with the compromise, Mr. Biden should say:  I got elected.  This is why.  Trump would have beaten any one of you.  My mandate was to treat the nation’s divisiveness as well as its Coronavirus.  Are you going to help me, or not?