‘Good News’

“This agreement is good news for the American people,” Joe Biden said, in a short statement announcing that he and Kevin McCarthy reached a budget deal in principle.

What’s so “good” about the accord? Well, as Biden explained, “it prevents what could have been a catastrophic default [which] would have led to an economic recession, retirement accounts devastated and millions of jobs lost.”

It’s certainly good news that those things aren’t likely to happen now, or at least not as a result of an asinine dispute over an unimaginably ridiculous (not to mention completely imagined) constraint on the US Treasury’s capacity to meet America’s previously-incurred financial obligations.

But it’s good news in the same way that, after a series of tests, doctors have determined you don’t have terminal cancer after all. That’s different from, “Good news, Bill! You’re getting a 25% raise.”

Biden elaborated. “It is an important step forward that reduces spending while protecting critical programs for working people and growing the economy for everyone.” He also said White House negotiators managed to protect Democrats’ “key priorities and legislative accomplishments.”

McCarthy wasn’t gracious. “I just got off the phone with the president a bit ago. After he wasted time and refused to negotiate for months, we’ve come to an agreement in principle that is worthy of the American people,” he said, before holding a short press conference.

There’s nothing “worthy” about this situation unless you, like me, harbor a grim view of the general voting public. If you share my despairing assessment of American society, then McCarthy is absolutely correct. This charade is indeed worthy of America in 2023. You get the government you deserve, and every, single time I venture out into the real world, I’m reminded that the pitiable situation in Washington is at least faithful in one respect: It’s an accurate reflection of a lamentable electorate.

McCarthy described “historic reductions in spending” (an exaggeration, at best), “consequential reforms that’ll lift people out of poverty” (a hopelessly cynical description of the GOP’s position on underserved communities) and efforts to “rein in government overreach” (which just means that when it comes to “lifting people out of poverty,” raising taxes isn’t an avenue down which Republicans are willing to travel).

For what it’s worth (which is nothing, although I suppose preventing a self-made catastrophe is actually not nothing in the same way that avoiding a stock market crash and a depression is “good news”), the compromise freezes discretionary spending for two years in exchange for the suspension of the debt ceiling over the same period. Military and veterans’ programs are exempted.

Some recipients of government aid will be subject to new work requirements which would eventually apply up to age 54 from 49 currently. Unless extended by Congress, the change would sunset in 2030. It won’t apply to veterans or the homeless. As widely reported previously, the government will claw back unspent COVID relief funds, and new funding for the I.R.S. will be reduced. Some permitting reform for energy projects was included, but it looks to have fallen well short of Republicans’ aspirations.

Some members of the House Freedom Caucus will surely object to the deal, and it’s likely to run into at least some GOP opposition in the Senate. On the other side of the aisle, Hakeem Jeffries will hear from Progressives, but the fate of this agreement rests with Republicans.

“I know you have a lot of questions. I’m not going to take them tonight,” McCarthy told the press late Saturday. “Out of respect, I want to brief our members.”

That was apt for McCarthy. When you’re a hollow suit defined first and only by a mostly unremarkable climb up the country’s political ranks, the “respectful” thing to do when it comes to eleventh hour government decisions to avert economic calamity is snub the public, scurry back into the recently besieged Capitol and beg a handful of furious party hardliners not to hold a no confidence vote in your leadership because you weren’t willing to set the world on fire just to say you did.


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12 thoughts on “‘Good News’

  1. Biden did the best he could and better than I expected. For instance the time limit on food stamps for recipients expires in 2030, and if democrats win back the house and keep 50 seats in the senate, that can be legislated away. Given what was on offer, this bill was the best I could have expected. Post pandemic kind of resembles post financial crisis. The public is angry and divided and want someone to blame. There is lots of blame to assign to trump and his followers but it’s time to move on from this bill and work on the assaults on democracy and hold trump and his enablers to account. The only way ultimately defeat these Maga folks is for them to lose badly at an election. Only then will the real reckoning start. Until then the courts can provide some limited relief. Pray the recession starts soon, if it hasn’t already and we are past it by August 2024.

    1. My logic for thinking they wouldn’t reach a negotiated agreement was that the two sides were just too far apart with too little room to maneuver. I mean hell, weeks after the House passed its opening offer, the Freedom Caucus started adding more demands which they insisted were necessary for them to support a debt-ceiling increase. In light of that, I’m astonished that Biden basically got everything he could ask for. This is a big W for team Biden. Plus, blame for any failure to pass the bill now is more squarely on the GOP.

    1. Expect to hear lots of mentions of the “Hastert Rule” in the coming days. As long as half of Republicans are willing to vote in favor, McCarthy can bring the bill to the floor. He may still need 100 votes or more from the Democrat side of the aisle to pass the bill, but if he can’t get at least half of the GOP on board, he’ll have a hard time even bringing it up for a vote.

      The GOP crazies are still going to cut the legs out from under him regardless, they just might not stop the bill from passing in the process.

  2. Well Kev i tried to a be non partisan, but you and yours solved that for me with this latest economic grift terrorism. To hell with republicans and their fellow unelected crooks.

    1. It’s not really possible to be nonpartisan now. You almost have to write the GOP off entirely and weigh the merits of the Democratic agenda on its own. I don’t know how anyone is supposed to separate the GOP from Trump, the worsening SCOTUS credibility issues, gerrymandering, Fox News, wild Republican chicanery in state legislatures and so on. No intelligent, objective person can reasonably be expected to countenance all of that. When taken together, it’s just too much. There’s no way to “look beyond it” to some “core” GOP that supposedly exists independent of the shenanigans, and even if there is, what is it? What is that core? The party of Mitch McConnell and the president who got America into Iraq? Any way you cut it, it’s hard to make the Republican case, particularly when it’s constantly presented as this sort of — you know — overtly confrontational, tacky, truck stop-style nostalgic nationalism. Sorry, but I’d rather be slowly indoctrinated by liberalism via good books, quality journalism and progressive ideas than I would be tailgated by another lifted F-150 with an American flag attached to the bed doing 85 in a 45 zone with the brights on at 2 o’clock in the afternoon on a sunny day, knowing full well that Trump would sooner chop his own thumb off than he would stop to help the person driving that truck if he or she was stranded on the side of the road with a flat in a thunderstorm.

      1. And on the culture wars stuff, I frankly just don’t get it. Maybe I’d feel different if I had kids and was concerned about raising them in a “traditional” way, but I don’t (have kids), so it’s exceedingly difficult for me to understand why anyone would care (let alone spend all day worrying about) some of these “hot-button” issues, most of which seem exceedingly silly to me. Not to oversimplify, but America has bigger things to worry about than whether a man can or can’t go out to karaoke night in Tennessee dressed as a woman. We’ve got the PLA pondering a Taiwan blockade, Russia in Ukraine, all kinds of infrastructure that needs fixing, a higher education crisis, an opioid epidemic and a laundry list of other monumental challenges to tackle and we’re legislating around issues that sound like parody.

        1. Yeah, I agree, but when I go back home to Central PA I see what a job the Fox/Trump propaganda machine has done. Visiting a 96 year old friend of my mother’s, a real dear and sharp as a tack, I got a playback of Tucker’s white replacement theory from this otherwise kind and sensible woman. I suspect my mother thinks the same, but knows better than to say it to me. Folks up there started feeling culturally alienated when the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in public schools was abolished. The underfunding of education and the aforementioned propaganda has only made the receptivity to cultural hot buttons and conspiracy theories worse. Foreign aid should be abolished until all homeless veterans are housed, but government support for housing in general (unless it’s mine) is Marxism. It’s all reduced to easily repeated sound bites and there’s no patience for dealing with complexity. Me, I still can’t figure out whether I should be mad because the Department of Natural Resources suppresses the fact that mountain lions exist in Central PA, or because the DNR consipires to prevent their reintroduction. Bread and circuses.

          1. As someone who spends a lot of time in Central PA in the Williamsport/Eagles Mere/Pine Creek area, I can report there are definitely mountain lions. But what is far more alarming is driving through entire rural neighborhoods filled with very modest mobile housing or small structures, often dilapidated with unfinished Tyvek siding or blue tarped roofs, in front of which any number of working or non-working 20-30 year old cars and trucks are parked or slowly sinking into muck. But this apparent deprivation does not seem to extend to what I will call the anger budget, where it seems there is endless funding for 40 foot tall flags, 25 foot banners, all manners of yard, window and tree signs, both professionally made and distributed, or even hand-painted, complete with apparently “acceptable” second-tier slurs or outright profanity, both promoting Trump and/or demonizing pretty much everything else.

            There is no real description of this behavior besides cult-like and it mystifies me. As a lifelong and often tortured Philadelphia sports fan, I suppose that is the closest I get to the cult line, but still don’t feel the need to plaster my car with bumper stickers, put team paraphernalia in heavy rotation in my apparel choices, or decide that the azaleas need go to to make room for more yard signage proclaiming my fandom. I’d go so far as call some of these outposts Trump ghettos and I honestly don’t think anything will ever turn them around.

      2. And yet so many “fiscally conservative socially liberal” or just plain old conservatives cannot get over the fact that they never were a meaningful fraction of the population.

        Sure, Democrats, liberals, woke assh*les all have their issues and no one can be expected to endorse, approve or otherwise support 100% of “his side”. But, at this point, the debate can only be between various factions of the liberal side of the aisle.

        The GOP just doesn’t have anything interesting to say about anything. That wasn’t always the case, even if I never was a conservative myself.

  3. I liked your comment about “..get the government you deserve” and ” It’s an accurate reflection of a lamentable electorate.”

    I believe a functioning democracy requires an educated and informed electorate. How educated are we? Even those who, like myself, are privileged to have significant formal education? Subscribing to this website is a modest effort on my part to be better educated.

    What of our fellow citizens who have not had the privilege of significant formal education?

    I’m reminded of a comment by a different Walt, Walt Kelly, who penned a comic strip entitled “Pogo” that ran from the fifty’s until the mid 70’s.

    “We have met the enemy, and they are us.”

    1. Martin Wolf of the FT proposed citizens juries and citizens assemblies, to try and spread/force common sense among the electorate. His pov was that, faced with real life consequences, and given expert advice and a chance to make up their minds, most people get reasonable.

      Worth a try, I’d say.

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