The House passed Joe Biden’s social spending plan on Friday, clearing the way for Joe Manchin to torpedo the legislation in the Senate.
I’m just kidding. Or maybe not.
The vote followed what, at least if you rank government dysfunction by time wasted, was a singular feat of abject absurdity. “Personally I didn’t think I could go this long,” Kevin McCarthy said, marveling at his own stamina some eight hours into what ultimately ranked as the longest continuous House speech in modern American history.
McCarthy began his harangue against the second pillar of the White House’s economic agenda at 8:38 PM on Thursday evening. He didn’t stop until 5:10 on Friday morning.
Some criticized the speech as “rambling,” but to be fair to McCarthy, it’s hard to speak for nine straight hours without doing some rambling. “I know some of you are mad at me — think I spoke too long,” he mused.
In a testament to the notion that every critical US government institution has a built-in mechanism designed to facilitate the preposterous, McCarthy availed himself of the “magic minute custom” which, as The New York Times helpfully explained, “allows the House speaker, the majority leader and the minority leader to talk for as long as they want.” (Because why not? What could possibly go wrong with such a custom?)
Around halfway through, Jamie Raskin called McCarthy’s diatribe “a feat of epic proportions” to the extent he managed to “speak for four hours straight and not produce a single memorable phrase, original insight or even a joke.”
Bipartisanship is extinct inside the Beltway, except when it comes to demonstrations of sheer lunacy. In all its various manifestations, US government dysfunction has broad bipartisan support, as evidenced by the fact that McCarthy’s speech, as mind-bogglingly asinine as it was, just barely broke Nancy Pelosi’s 2018 record. That year, she spoke for eight hours and seven minutes about Dreamers.
So, when someone tells you the House has no equivalent to the Senate filibuster, explain to them, over eight hours, why that’s not quite right.
Bear in mind that McCarthy’s monologue was pointless. Democrats had the votes. Moderates were waiting on a budget score, which they got. The CBO said Thursday the social spending bill would add $367 billion to government deficits over a decade, and I’d be remiss not to note that deriving that estimate was itself an example of the government wasting time.
Even if you think deficits matter for the issuer of the world’s reserve currency (and if you believe that, you’re harboring an internally inconsistent argument even if you don’t understand why), the whole exercise is convoluted. As Bloomberg wrote, the estimate “cannot be directly compared with the $1.75 trillion top-line number that the Biden administration has used when presenting its framework, or a revised White House estimate that the House bill, when paid family leave and other benefits are added, amounts to a $2 trillion ‘investment’ [because] the CBO doesn’t consider money spent on tax credits in their top-line spending figure, but rather counts them as lost revenue.”
There are all manner of other caveats, none of which are worth mentioning because one way or another, the whole conversation comes back to the patently ridiculous notion that imaginary “red ink” is somehow an impediment when it comes to investing in things like childcare and education, but not when it comes to buying things like drones and the missiles they accidentally fire at children when somebody mistakes an aid worker putting water bottles in his trunk for an ISIS member loading up some explosives.
Coming full circle, Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema still haven’t committed to supporting the spending bill, which means getting it signed into law by Christmas will be an uphill battle.
While everyone continued to argue about whether the plan would bankrupt America at some undefined date decades hence, Democrats and Republicans still hadn’t agreed on a path to raise the debt ceiling and thereby avoid a technical default next month.