Good Friday Morning, especially to the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans, where the Indianapolis Colts and the Jacksonville Jaguars are a combined 0-7. It’s a beautiful start to the NFL season. Unless you’re one of those teams or the New York Jets.
This week, I’m going to jump into something I’ve wanted to write about for a while because the politics are fun: the negotiations over infrastructure and Biden’s big reconciliation spending plan. That topic came to a head late Thursday, as I was writing, so I’ll jump into the politics of it and where things stand now. Links to follow.
Where you can find me this week
Please subscribe, rate, and review my podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or Google Play — the reviews help listeners, and readers like you find me in the algorithms. Make sure to sign up for the Conservative Institute’s daily newsletter and become a subscriber at The Dispatch, where I’m a contributor.
The White House ghosts America – The Conservative Institute.
Joe Biden undermines Operation Warp Speed. Again. – The Conservative Institute.
Democrats in Disarray.
Politics is an art form, not a science. I realize there’s some irony here when I say that because I have a college degree in Political Science. But I’ve always found the concept of there being science to politics to be tenuous at best, made up at worst. There are many “studies” and academic papers on politics, for sure. But those are in other fields. I focused more on political philosophy, which tended to get at things better than the “science.”
My main reason for calling it an art form, though, is because politicians who are very good at politics are much closer to artists than scientists. Big political showdowns show you real quick who has mastered political talents and who is a toddler covering themselves in finger paint.
The other reason the art analogy works is that your perspective of what is happening in a given situation can vary depending on the angle you view it. The debate on the infrastructure bill, Biden’s spending boondoggle, and the Build Back Better (BBB) legislation are prime examples.
The House has delayed a vote on either the infrastructure bill or the more extensive BBB legislation as I’m writing this. No Thursday vote, as was scheduled earlier in the week. The Senate has left town and won’t be back in session until late Monday. Nancy Pelosi released a “Dear Colleague” letter, which says essentially nothing.
No one knows what will happen next. Democrats will put on a happy face, but Thursday was full for other reasons. We learned who the real political artists are and who the pretenders are. There’s perception versus reality, and few people are dealing with reality.
To understand all the various machinations of Congress, you have to understand political reality. The Senate is 50-50, and Democrats have the majority because they have the tie-breaker with Kamala Harris. Nancy Pelosi started after the 2020 election with a five-seat majority. A House leader needs 218 seats to grant a majority; Pelosi has 220 Democrats in the House at the moment. According to some political watchers, she won’t regain those lost seats (replacement elections) until January 2022. If true, that will delay all these negotiations even more.
And on top of all that, the White House is held by Joe Biden, who has been mostly absent during these negotiations for what his administration believes is his chief potential accomplishment.
The reason the House numbers matters is this: Pelosi can’t ram through anything via pure majority. She has to appease the factions in her caucus. There are effectively three factions at the moment: the moderates, leadership followers, and the far-left progressives. The moderates and the progressives mostly hate each other at the moment and believe the worst.
The Thursday vote was all about the infrastructure bill. If we’re honest, if this were only the infrastructure bill, it’d probably pass with flying colors, complete with GOP votes. But Pelosi can’t get enough votes for it. That’s because House Progressives are holding the infrastructure bill hostage because they want to push through both infrastructure and their big-spending plan at the same time.
Moderates want to pass infrastructure and then “think about” the big spending plan. In the Senate, the big moderate names are Joe Manchin and Kirsten Sinema. They’re the loudest and most vocal ones. However, vulnerable Democratic Senators up for re-election in 2022 are drafting right behind Manchin and Sinema, most notably, NH Democratic Senator Maggie Hassan. She faces a real threat from NH’s popular Republican governors in 2022.
What’s happened over the last several months is that House Progressives have fought a non-stop messaging battle, trying to get as much spending as possible and attacking moderates. Most notably, they’ve launched their ire at Manchin and Sinema. Pelosi scheduled an infrastructure vote this week — which the hard-left whipped against, they wanted it to fail. In the far-left’s mind, if the infrastructure bill is gone, so is any chance their big-spending plan goes away.
House Progressives finally had enough this week and demanded that Manchin lay out his numbers for what he’d find acceptable for the big-spending plan. They’ve wanted $3.5 – $6 trillion in spending. $3.5 trillion is what they’ve settled on as the floor for any program. This week, Manchin dropped a bomb on them when he released a signed agreement he had with Chuck Schumer saying that Manchin would agree to no more than $1.5 trillion in spending.
That signed agreement was dated July 28, 2021. Sinema quickly released a statement saying she had similar numbers with the Senate and White House. Cue the wailing and gnashing of teeth from the progressives, who saw their dreams of a massive spending plan get ripped out from under them.
Republicans are just sitting back quietly, watching this disaster take place.
But here’s where the point on art and perspective comes back into play. $1.5 trillion is still a ton of money. Venture back in time and think about what Democrats and your liberal friends would say if you told them in November: You’ll win control of all three branches of government, you’ll get the debt limit kicked down the road, a massive infrastructure spending plan passed, and $1.5 trillion in new spending going towards all your favorite causes.
Who says no? No one, that’s who. What’s happened? Democrats talked themselves into the impossible. Specifically, House Progressives looked at things like the COVID-19 relief plans and said, “we can spend a lot more and everyone is ok with it.” That part of the party talking themselves into $3.5 trillion or bust, and if it was anything less, then it wasn’t worth doing. When Biden was elected, they spoke of FDR New Deal or LBJ Great Society style measures.
But does that even make sense? How can you have those kinds of ideas floating around in a 50-50 Senate and, at best, a five-vote majority in the House? If you want FDR measures, you need an FDR majority in Congress. Joe Biden won the Presidency, and everything else was a tie. That’s not a mandate or a majority to get great things done. It’s a stalemate.
In turn, that does mean Progressives have real power to wreck their leadership’s plans. That’s exactly what they’ve done. But they’ve done so on the pretenses that say perfect is the enemy of the good.
If this all seems a little familiar, it should. House Progressives are doing the same thing the Tea Party movement did to the House from 2010 — 2016. The House Freedom Caucus fought everything leadership wanted, but they could never actually agree on legislating once Trump took power. Everything they wanted had to be perfect and pure, and so nothing happened.
I tend to believe Democrats will get to a solution here; they’ll pass infrastructure at least (because everyone wants to pass infrastructure). But everything else is an open question. Why negotiate with people who engender no trust? It’s a hard thing to do. Further, why deal with people who have, at best, a questionable grasp of political reality?
Progressives have political power within the caucus, no doubt. They don’t have the political mandate to run roughshod over everyone to get their way. That’s essentially the point Manchin made in his press conference: if they want these things, pack it up in a messaging platform and run on it in 2022.
Manchin knows just as well as I do that progressives can’t and won’t do that. If they pin their messaging hopes on 2022, they’ll fall flat on their face. Republicans are likely going to retake the House in 2022, and the Senate is easily in play. Progressives are acting as if none of this political reality is a thing. They open with threats of primarying Manchin or Sinema.
That’s a hilarious threat. Republicans openly hope it happens because then those become Republican seats. Moderates could lose in a primary, but a far-left person would lose in a Republican midterm year. These are threats of people who have immediate power due to a smaller Democratic Party coalition in the House, but no real political power outside that.
Manchin has played this perfectly so far. We’ll see where he goes from here. I suspect he’s offered an artificially low number in $1.5 trillion to allow himself to be talked up to around the $1.8-2.0 trillion line, but not much further. Sinema will follow. Are House Progressives capable of seeing that as a win? I don’t know.
I certainly don’t believe it’s a good thing as a conservative. On inflationary grounds, I’ve stated my opposition to these spending plans — both infrastructure and whatever else Democrats want. Juicing demand at a moment like this, with supply shocks gripping every part of the economy, is the height of stupidity. $1.5 trillion is gasoline on a fire. But ignoring that, as most Democrats are doing, should let you see $1.5 trillion as a win.
I’m not sure progressives can do that, though. They are high off their own supply. And when you’re that high off your supply, you tend to paint like a toddler smashing a finger painting kit all over the living room wall. We’re about to find out just how much of a master strategist Pelosi is in the House because she’s never faced tight margins like this; she’s a pure “ram a majority down their throats” politician who isn’t great at maneuvering coalitions. But we’ll get to learn now.
Republicans, meanwhile, from conservative to moderate, can kick back and relax. If Democrats don’t know what they’re doing, why help? That’s not a science; it’s from literature: don’t interrupt an enemy when he’s destroying himself.
One final note: notice how little of a role the White House is playing in all of these negotiations. You get snippets of the White House saying they negotiated and talked with various people, but Biden has had nothing to offer publically. That is making the jobs of Pelosi and Schumer more difficult. And Biden is also the only person capable of uniting the factions behind a singular plan. If he fails at this, it’s going to get ugly in the Democratic Party fast.
Links of the week
The Left Loses Another Messaging War – Noah Rothman, Commentary Magazine
Dems’ shameless attempt to redefine reality about the cost of their spending plans – Rich Lowry, NYPost
Say, Where Is That Biden Regulation on Vaccine Mandates? – Jim Geraghty, National Review
A U.S. general warned the Taliban to stay out of Kabul or be bombed. The Taliban rolled into Kabul anyway: Senators are expected to grill Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, the chairman of the Joint chiefs and the head of Central Command about the Afghanistan pullout. – NBC News
Distrust Is Rising Among the College-Educated – David Lapp, IFS
Twitter Thread(s) of the week
Satire of the week
Thanks for reading!