Several friends and relatives have contacted me, asking whether I am all right, seeing as how I have not blogged for several days. I am fine. I have just been so angry and depressed by Trump’s attack on the 800,000 or so young people protected by the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrival, or DACA, program that I could not gin up the animal spirits to write something. That, together with the horrific news about these two hurricanes, Harvey and Irma, has left me hiding out a bit. But the news has unaccountably taken a turn, and I wish at least to say a few words about the weird events of the past twenty-four hours.
First, however, I must take note of the reports of Hillary Clinton’s attack on Bernie Sanders in her forthcoming book about the election. Apparently, if the leaked portions are accurate, she claims that Sanders’ criticisms of her during the primary season did “lasting damage” to her and “paved the way” for Trump’s victory. I understand that one must be forgiving and charitable toward someone who has suffered a great loss, but this is a load of hogwash [what is hogwash anyway?]. It is transparently an effort by the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party to reassert its accommodationist politics and prepare the way, God help us, for a 2020 Clinton run for the nomination. There is nothing especially surprising about this attack. Despicable, to be sure, but not surprising. Nobody said it was going to be easy.
Or so I thought. But then came Trump’s bizarre, unanticipated, incomprehensible surrender to Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi yesterday. I have no idea at all why this happened, so I shan’t speculate, but I do think, as Willy Loman’s wife says in Death of a Salesman, that attention must be paid.
My American readers will all be aware of what took place [not what transpired – that means literally breathed about, or more colloquially, what came to light.] But this is all a bit of inside baseball, and my overseas readers may be somewhat mystified, so a brief summary is in order. The Congress has been unable actually to prepare, debate, and pass a budget for the Federal Government for longer than my younger readers have been alive, so periodically, to keep the government functioning [or pretending to function], they pass what is called a Continuing Resolution, or CR, which for a specified time authorizes the government to keep doing what it has been doing at the same level of expenditures. The time has arrived for another CR. Also, since the Federal Government regularly runs a deficit, periodically it approaches the limit placed on the national debt by previous legislation. So long as the debt falls under that limit, the Treasury is authorized to borrow money by issuing Treasury Bills and other instruments of debt, thus allowing the government to pay its bills. Once that debt limit is reached, as a consequence of the Congress failing to raise revenues sufficient to cover the expenditures it has already authorized, either the debt limit must be increased by the Congress or the United States government will be forced to stop paying the bills. In short, the USA will default. That time has also arrived.
This ought to be a no-brainer, and when the Democrats control Congress, it is. But there is a sizeable minority of House Republicans who are desperate to cut government spending, and who use the advent of a debt limit increase to threaten to vote against the increase unless they get their way. This is transparently self-destructive behavior, but they are convinced that they can work their will by threatening to hold their collective breath until they expire, as it were. Because of this behavior, the leaders of the House Republican caucus are compelled to seek Democratic votes to pass a debt ceiling rise and a CR. This gives the otherwise powerless Democrats a brief moment of leverage which they could theoretically use to win some sort of legislative concessions from the Republicans, such as, perhaps, a regularization of the DACA program.
Meanwhile, the devastation caused by Harvey [and about to be caused by Irma] creates a politically unstoppable demand for federal relief funding.
The Republicans, understanding all of this, proposed to combine the CR and the debt limit increase with hurricane relief funding in one grand package, to be passed this week. They proposed an eighteen month CR and debt increase, figuring, quite rationally, that the Democrats would have to agree so as not to be seen as voting against hurricane help. The 18 month extensions would take them past the midterm elections, leaving them free to work on such tasty items as tax cuts for the rich without there being any time soon when the Democrats would again gain leverage during a debt limit/CR crisis. The Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, and the House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, publicly proposed a three month CR/Debt increase, obviously designed to give them leverage again, after the hurricane season is over, to get some concessions otherwise impossible to obtain.
O.K. Got that?
So, yesterday Donald Trump, still nominally President, called all the Congressional leaders to the Oval Office to arrive at some sort of deal. Schumer and Pelosi offered their three month proposal, which House Speaker Ryan had scornfully rejected in a public appearance before the meeting … and without blinking an eye, Trump agreed to it. As the Republicans sat there, stunned, blindsided, betrayed, aghast, Trump invited his daughter, Ivanka, into the room, presumably as light entertainment and to signal the end of the “negotiations.” It is not reported whether she performed a belly dance.
What is going on? Nobody knows. It is reported that as the Congressional Republicans left the White House, staffers who were caught as off guard as the Republicans quietly apologized. Will the agreement stand, or is Trump, as I write, tweeting that he never said it? Who knows? Can the Dreamers be saved? No one knows that either.
Should the Democrats accept a package of concessions in return for a vote to fund the wall? I shall leave that debate for another day.