Americans were subjected to a series of highly unfortunate soundbites on Sunday, as US lawmakers sought to capitalize on one another’s ineptitude ahead of what promises to be a truly absurd week in Washington.
In remarks to ABC, Nancy Pelosi chafed almost immediately at the suggestion that the situation is somehow anomalous even by the standards of DC brinksmanship.
George Stephanopoulos set the stage, calling the next several days “make or break.”
“More than a trillion dollars for infrastructure investments, another $3 trillion-plus to address climate change, child care, education and more, all this as a government shutdown looms on Friday, plus the prospect of America defaulting for the first time in history if Congress does not soon authorize government borrowing to pay past debts,” he said, underscoring the extent to which America’s elected representatives are once again playing a perilous game of chicken with artificial deadlines amid a series engineered, overlapping crises.
Read more: Dysfunction Junction
Stephanopoulos described the agenda as “pretty daunting.” Despite having herself characterized the forthcoming legislative sprint as “a time of intensity,” Pelosi told Stephanopoulos that “every time we face a challenge, you say it’s a historic challenge.”
Pressed on Democratic infighting, Pelosi said 95% of her caucus is on board with “building back better.” “I have never seen, actually, over 95% of a caucus just about for anything,” she added.
That may well be, but, as Stephanopoulos reminded the Speaker, “you need 98 or 99%.”
In essence, Democrats are trying to pacify Joe Manchin and Pramila Jayapal at the same time. Jayapal threatened to torpedo the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the House if the rest of Biden’s agenda (the $3.5 trillion social spending plan) isn’t assured, and Manchin seems to find a new excuse to threaten the broader agenda’s chances in the Senate every other day.
Pressed on Jayapal’s warning that the votes for the infrastructure bill simply aren’t there (a warning she reiterated on Sunday), Pelosi told ABC “let me just say we’re going to pass the bill this week.”
The back and forth between Pelosi and Stephanopoulos was maddening, frankly. The following excerpt is a testament to… well, to gridlock.
Stephanopoulos: In order to get the votes to pass [the infrastructure bill], it sounds like you’re going to need agreement on the broader social investment bill.
Pelosi: Absolutely. You’re right.
Stephanopoulos: And so that is going to happen this week as well?
Pelosi: Well, that’s — we — we’re — let me just say we’re prepared.
That doesn’t inspire much confidence. As CNN dryly put it, no Democrats have “offered much clarity on the broader negotiations over the larger social safety net plan.”
And this is just the gridlock within one party. The broader gridlock is even more intractable, and don’t forget, Republicans are just as internally divided as Democrats, only their divisions primarily center around whether to exorcise the demons of Donald Trump or persist in various fantasies about strongman rule.
Eventually, Pelosi acknowledged that the social spending plan won’t sum to $3.5 trillion. “Yeah. I mean, that seems self-evident,” she went on to say, in the same ABC interview, during which she also castigated Republicans for refusing to support a bipartisan effort to raise the debt ceiling. “Let’s hope the Republicans will find some level of responsibility,” she said. “They know full well what the consequences are. They preached it when the former president was in office, and we always cooperated.”
Pat Toomey isn’t in the mood to cooperate, though. “I will certainly be voting no if the Democrats insist on combining the debt ceiling increase or suspension with the continuing operations of the government,” he remarked, in his own interview with CNN.
In still another CNN interview, Cory Booker reminded Toomey that “this debt ceiling raise is all about money Donald Trump spent to give the biggest tax cuts that I’ve seen in my lifetime to the wealthiest of wealthy.” That was in response to Toomey’s contention that Democrats were asking the GOP to “come along and authorize the borrowing to help pay for an absolutely unprecedented, very damaging spending spree on a scale that we have never seen.”
I suggested early Sunday that I wouldn’t dignify this situation with additional editorializing until there’s actual, tangible progress on something (anything). But ultimately, I think the above is worth keeping for posterity.
Writing for Bloomberg, Mike Dorning summed it up well. “The US is heading to the precipice… as much for the sake of campaign ads and political branding as fiscal philosophy.”