You folks will likely have read accounts of the unfolding weather disaster here in British Columbia. It's pretty bad and I suspect it may rank as the worst natural disaster in Canadian history. All rail and road links between Vancouver and the rest of the nation are severed and many communities have been isolated, others have been seriously damaged by flooding. Evacuation mandates and alerts have been broad. Property and infrastructure losses will be huge and it will be a long while before things return to normal. Gas stations are already shutting down due to lack of re-supply. Food stores are limiting purchase of items such as hamburger. The cause of all this was an unprecedented amount of rainfall. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we get a lot of rain and November is one of our wettest months. But in this event, a full November's amount of rainfall came down in 36 hours.
I'll post a photo below which shows a portion of the Fraser River valley at Abbotsford, about 40 miles west of Vancouver. 20 miles further west is Chilliwack, where I grew up and where I still have family and many friends. You can perhaps make out a very small mountain just left of center. That locates my home town and it's a mountain we climbed all over as kids. The flooded highway directly under the chopper is the Trans Canada Highway. The US border is about 2 or 3 miles off to the right.
Joe Biden came to the White House at a pivotal moment in American history. We had become a country dividing into two nations, one highly educated and affluent and the other left behind. The economic gaps further inflamed cultural and social gaps, creating an atmosphere of intense polarization, cultural hostility, alienation, bitterness and resentment.
As president, Biden had mostly economic levers to try to bridge this cold civil war. He championed three gigantic pieces of legislation to create a more equal, more just and more united society: the Covid stimulus bill, the infrastructure bill and what became Build Back Better, to invest in human infrastructure.
All of these bills were written to funnel money to the parts of the country that were less educated, less affluent, left behind. Adam Hersh, a visiting economist at the Economic Policy Institute, projects that more than 80 percent of the new jobs created by the infrastructure plan will not require a college degree.
These gigantic proposals were bold endeavors. Some thought them too bold. Economist Larry Summers thought the stimulus package, for example, was too big. It could overstimulate the economy and lead to inflation.
Larry is one of the most intelligent people I’ve ever known and someone I really admire. If I were an economist, I might have agreed with him. But I’m a journalist with a sociological bent. For over a decade I have been covering a country that was economically, socially and morally coming apart. I figured one way to reverse that was to turbocharge the economy and create white-hot labor markets that would lift wages at the bottom. If inflation was a byproduct, so be it. The trade-off is worth it to prevent a national rupture.
The Biden $1.9 trillion stimulus package passed and has been tremendously successful. It heated the overall economy. The Conference Board projects that real G.D.P. growth will be about 5 percent this quarter. The unemployment rate is falling. Retail sales are surging. About two-thirds of Americans feel their household’s financial situation is good.
But the best part is that the benefits are flowing to those down the educational and income ladder. In just the first month of payments, the expanded Child Tax Credit piece of the stimulus bill kept three million American children out of poverty. Pay for hourly workers in the leisure and hospitality sector jumped 13 percent in August compared with the previous year. By June, there were more nonfarm job openings than there had been at any time in American history. Workers have tremendous power these days.
The infrastructure bill Biden just signed will boost American productivity for years to come. As Ellen Zentner of Morgan Stanley told The Economist recently, it’s a rule of thumb that an extra $100 billion in annual infrastructure spending could increase growth by roughly a tenth of a percentage point — which is significant in an economy the size of ours. Federal infrastructure spending will be almost as large a share of annual GDP as the average level during Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.
But Summers was right. The stimulus — along with all the supply chain and labor shortage disruptions that are inevitable when coming out of a pandemic — has boosted inflation. In addition, Americans are exhausted by a pandemic that seems to never end.
And they are taking it out on Democrats. A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll revealed that voters now prefer Republican congressional candidates in their own districts by 51 percent to 41 percent. That’s the largest G.O.P. lead since this poll started asking the question, 40 years ago.
If presidencies were judged by short-term popularity, the Biden effort would look pretty bad. But that’s a terrible measure. First-term presidents almost always see their party get hammered in the midterm after their inauguration. That’s especially true if the president achieved big things. Michigan State political scientist Matt Grossmann looked at House popular vote trends since 1953. Often when presidents succeeded in passing major legislation — Republicans as well as Democrats — voters swung against the president’s party. Look, just to take a recent example, at how Obamacare preceded a Democratic shellacking in 2010. People distrust change. Success mobilizes opposition. It’s often only in retrospect that these policies become popular and even sacred.
Presidents are judged by history, not the distraction and exhaustion of the moment. Did the person in the Oval Office address the core problem of the moment? The Biden administration passes that test. Sure, there have been failures — the shameful Afghanistan withdrawal, failing to renounce the excesses of the cultural left. But this administration will be judged by whether it reduced inequality, spread opportunity, created the material basis for greater national unity.
It is doing that.
My fear is not that Democrats lose the midterms — it will have totally been worth it. My fear is that Democrats in Congress will make fantastic policies like the expanded Child Tax Credit temporary to make budget numbers look good. If they do that the coming Republican majorities will simply let these policies expire.
If that happens then all this will have been in vain. The Democrats will have squandered what has truly been a set of historic accomplishments. Voters may judge Democrats harshly next November, but if they act with strength history will judge them well.
Just by luck, the brunt of that rainfall skipped us here. We've had no such problems on our portion of Vancouver Island (though the south island was hit harder). But a lot of folks I know are in much worse shape. The positive in this disaster has been the low level of fatalities.
Today began with Republican leadership doubling down on its support for Representative Paul Gosar (R-AZ), whom the House censured yesterday for tweeting a cartoon video of himself killing a Democratic colleague, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and attacking the president, Joe Biden. Only two Republicans voted with the Democrats in favor of the censure.
Former president Donald Trump issued a statement praising Gosar and saying the congressman “has my Complete and Total Endorsement!” In addition to the censure, the House stripped Gosar of his committee assignments, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) said today that if the Republicans take the majority and he is elected Speaker, he will likely throw Democrats off committees and give Gosar and Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), who was stripped of her committee assignments in February after violent threats against Democratic colleagues, better committee assignments.
This morning, on the podcast of Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows went after McCarthy, suggesting that Trump should replace him. Then, on Trump loyalist Steve Bannon’s podcast, Meadows suggested that if the Republicans win control of the House of Representatives in next year’s elections, Trump should become Speaker of the House, which would drive Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “crazy.” Bannon suggested he could hold the position for 100 days and “sort things out” before running for president in 2024.
While the Trump loyalists were putting the screws to McCarthy, the economic news continued to be good. A report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on Thursday showed that the United States is the only G7 country to surpass its pre-pandemic economic growth. That growth has been so strong it has buoyed other countries.
Meanwhile, the administration's work with ports and supply chains to handle the increase in demand for goods appears to be having an effect. Imports through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are up 16% from 2018, and in the first two weeks of November, those two ports cleared about a third of the containers sitting on their docks.
Then the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released its score for the Democrats’ $1.85 trillion Build Back Better Act. The CBO is a nonpartisan agency within the legislative branch that provides budget and economic information to Congress. The CBO’s estimate of the costs of the Build Back Better Act will affect who will vote for it.
The CBO’s projection was good news for the Democrats; it was in line with what the Democrats had said the bill would cost. The CBO estimates that the bill will increase the deficit by $367 billion over ten years. But the CBO also estimates that the government will raise about $207 billion over those same ten years by enforcing tax rules on those currently cheating on them. These numbers were good in themselves—in comparison, the CBO said the 2017 Republican tax cuts would cost $1.4 trillion over ten years—but they might get even better. Many economists, including Larry Summers, who has been critical of the Biden administration, think that the CBO estimates badly underplay the benefits of the bill.
The CBO score also predicted that the savings from prescription drug reforms in the bill would come in $50 billion higher than the House had predicted.
As soon as the score was released, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House would vote on the bill tonight, suggesting that she had the votes to pass the bill.
And then something interesting happened. Kevin McCarthy took to the House floor to slow down the passage of the Build Back Better Act, throwing the vote into the middle of the night. The minority leader put on a Trump-esque show of non-sequiturs, previewing the kind of speech he would make to rally Republicans behind him if the Republicans retake the House in 2022. The speech was angry, full of shouting, and made for right-wing media: it was full of all the buzz-words that play there. McCarthy spoke for more than three hours—as I write this, he is still speaking.
But the blows he was trying to deliver didn’t land. The Democrats made fun of him, catcalled, and eventually just walked out, while the Republicans lined up behind McCarthy looked increasingly bored, checked their phones, and appeared to doze off. When Axios reporter Andrew Solender asked a Republican aide for some analysis of the speech, the aide answered: “I’m watching the Great British Baking Show.”
As he spoke, Pelosi’s office fact-checked him, noting that while he is attacking the elements of the bill, saying no one wants them, the opposite is true. According to CBS News, Pelosi’s staff wrote, “88 percent of Americans support Build Back Better’s measures to cut prescription drug prices,” “73 percent of Americans support Build Back Better’s funding for paid family leave,” and “67 percent of Americans support Build Back Better’s funding for universal pre-K.” In addition, according to Navigator Research, “84 percent of Americans support Build Back Better’s provisions to lower health insurance premiums,” and “72 percent of Americans support Build Back Better’s creation of clean energy jobs to combat climate change.”
Grace Segers, a politics reporter for The New Republic, described the mood in the House as “hostile.” She noted that Democrats are furious that McCarthy has made no effort to rein in the most extreme Republicans and, after yesterday’s defense of Gosar, have had enough. In his speech, McCarthy was indeed courting that extreme right, posturing not for voters, but rather for his conference, trying to reassure them that he is a strong enough pro-Trump leader to be House Speaker if the Republicans retake the House.
But it felt tonight as if the dynamic in the House has changed. The Republicans are now openly embracing Trump and his one-man rule. But their support for Gosar yesterday appears to have created a breach. Democrats are no longer trying to reason with the Republicans and are instead treating them with derision. That is, psychologically at least, a much more dominant position than they held recently.
Rather than vote in the middle of the night, the Democrats have delayed the vote on the bill until tomorrow, when the American people can watch. In the past, Republicans have criticized Democrats for passing legislation “in the dead of night.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said of this important bill that dramatically expands the nation’s social safety net: “We are going to do it in the day.”
Reporters Roast McCarthy for Losing the Plot During Meandering Rant