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Monday, December 09, 2019

White House

President Joe Biden

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President Joe Biden and Barely Speaker Kevin McCarthy are set to meet Wednesday, a meeting that is not going to be a debt ceiling negotiation. Biden made that very clear Monday, telling CNN that his message on that is simple: “show me your budget and I’ll show you mine.”

To reinforce that, White House advisers Brian Deese, director of the National Economic Council, and Shalanda Young, director of the Office of Management and Budget, released a memo Tuesday to “interested parties.” There are two questions Biden will pose at the meeting, Deese and Young write: “Will the Speaker commit to the bedrock principle that the United States will never default on its financial obligation,” and “When will Speaker McCarthy and House Republicans release their Budget?”

“Any serious conversation about economic and fiscal policy needs to start with a clear understanding of the participants’ goals and proposals,” Deese and Young conclude. “Speaker McCarthy and his Caucus need to transparently lay out to the American people their fiscal and economic proposals in the normal budget process.”

They backed Biden’s position up in the memo, saying that the White House will release its budget proposal to Congress on March 9. “The budget will show how the President plans to invest in American, continue to lower costs for families, protect and strengthen Social Security and Medicare, and reduce the deficit—with tables and numbers shown exactly how his economic and fiscal policies add up to achieve these goals.”

Well that’s a fun little escalation since the GOP House has been notorious for releasing plans that simply don’t add up. What they want from McCarthy is their 2024 budget blueprint that has numbers. “So far,” they write ”House Republicans have offered up detailed plans to increase the deficit with tax policies that would benefit the wealthiest Americans. … [I]n seeking their majority this fall and doing the first few weeks of holding it, House Republicans have already voted on, supported, or proposed numerous ideas that would increase the debit by trillions of dollars over the next decade.”

McCarthy replied with all the arrogance and bluster of someone dense enough to believe that he has actual power that it didn’t take 15 votes and capitulation to a bunch of maniacs for him to get the title.

But back to the first question on the White House memo, because right now it’s key: whether McCarthy will commit to avoiding a default on federal debt. In fact, instead of working on a budget, Republicans are still working on a default plan.

Read that again. They are planning for a default.

They don’t see default as a thing that has to be avoided. They are ready to go there to force their will. The House GOP has an ally in Sen. Rick Scott, who is apparently still trying to wrest control over there from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He has a bill requiring the government to continue to make payments on Treasury bonds, Social Security benefits, military salaries, and veterans benefits in a breach. He told Semafor that his bill would “ensure the U.S. ‘takes care of its core obligations’ while giving lawmakers the ‘limited time they may need to solve the problems before us.’”

This is the “debt prioritization” scheme that they floated back in 2011, when a number of Republicans and the Treasury determined that that is a thing that just can’t happen. “After looking at it, we came to the conclusion in the McConnell operation this doesn’t work—and there are essentially some political downsides to it,” Rohit Kumar, who for McConnell during the 2011 and 2013 fights, told Semafor.

Moody’s Analytics is warning that even if some obligations like Social Security were met, so much more would cease to function in the safety net: food assistance, Medicaid, housing support. The resolution “hit to the economy as these government spending cuts cascade through the economy would be overwhelming,” Moody’s said.

Beyond that, there’s basic logistics. The technical capacity for the government to reconfigure software to pick and choose what payments are made and cut those checks simply isn’t there. “They receive millions of invoices every week to produce millions of payments and they’re generally paid sequentially and they can’t be categorized very easily into Social Security gets paid, [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families] doesn’t get paid,” economist Brian Riedl said. “They’re just not programmed to do that.” Reidl worked for Sen. Rob Portman in the previous rounds, and studied the proposal then.

It also will look really bad, Riedl pointed out. “Chinese bondholders get paid before school lunches. Chinese bondholders get paid before border security,” Riedl said. “The attack ads write themselves.”

That’s going to make a lot of House Republicans who aren’t maniacs fretful, and McCarthy can’t afford to lose any of them. Even he should be smart enough to realize he is going into this process with a very weak hand.

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos.

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Donald Trump and Mike Pence

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Several mainstream media outlets are manufacturing a political narrative that the discovery of classified documents at the homes of both President Joe Biden and former Vice President Mike Pence should alleviate pressure on disgraced former President Donald Trump, who not only took a vast trove of federal records but also refused to give them back.

Biden and Pence have both cooperated with federal investigators to recover and return documents that belong to the government, and both situations have rekindled scrutiny at the overall system of federal document classification and retention, which appears to be in serious need of reform. Their two examples stand in stark contrast to Trump’s behavior, and possible misconduct, regarding his own handling of government records.

According to reporting, Trump repeatedly obstructed the government’s efforts to retrieve documents inappropriately removed from the White House to his home in Florida. First, his legal team tried to excuse their mishandling of records by claiming the documents had been hastily packed away after his failed coup, before they later falsely told the government that they had returned all of the documents upon request. Evidence later emerged that Trump or his team were moving documents around his estate to evade discovery, as part of Trump’s ongoing defiance of a federal subpoena to return the materials.

This was the context of events that culminated in an August 2022 search of Trump’s residence by the FBI, which recovered hundreds of classified items among thousands of other government records. Trump then responded to these events by falsely claiming the government records were his personal property and that he had actually declassified the relevant materials, as well as making multiple threats of violence via his supporters if he were ever indicted for his potentially criminal behavior.

No Reason To Be “Evenhanded” In Wildly Different Cases

CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel, who co-authored the network’s original breaking story in the Pence case, pointed out Wednesday night on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer that “the Justice Department, this is Merrick Garland’s Justice Department, they want to appear evenhanded, as if they are treating all of these cases the same.” However, she added: “I think it is important to remember the Donald Trump case and the Joe Biden case and the Mike Pence case are very, very different. Trump had hundreds of documents. The intent, the obstruction, not — you know, holding on to these documents — is vastly different from how the Biden team reacted and cooperated.”

The problem here is that Gangel herself, and many others in mainstream media, spent crucial time this week saying that the Biden and Pence cases may both influence the Justice Department against taking any real action against Trump.

Reporters Suggest Trump Is Now Off The Hook Legally

Gangel had previously asserted multiple times that the Pence and Biden cases together could help Trump’s legal situation, despite the clear and obvious differences. For example, Gangel appeared on the January 24 edition of CNN’s The Lead with Jake Tapper and proclaimed that “even though his situation is completely different” the disgraced ex-president would gain some legal cover from the discovery of documents at Pence’s home.

Gangel later appeared during The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, where both she and CNN chief national affairs analyst Kasie Hunt discussed the key differences of Trump’s obstruction versus Pence’s and Biden’s cooperation. “What we've seen thus far with both Biden and with Pence is vastly different from Donald Trump,” Gangel said, “who at the very least seemed to want to take all of these things as souvenirs or for whatever, and then wouldn’t give them back.”

But later that night, appearing on Anderson Cooper 360, Gangel again said that these developing stories could help Trump, even as she reiterated his pattern of obstruction: “He clearly wanted to keep those things as souvenirs or for whatever and fought giving them back. But it may help him legally. So, you know, the issue of intent, which we've looked at with Trump. It just may be that Merrick Garland decides that there are so many of these cases that the Justice Department may decide not to bring charges.”

Gangel is not alone among CNN commentators promoting this argument. Former Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Tom Dupree said Tuesday that for the special counsels in both the Trump and Biden cases, “I don't see how you can help but factor in what’s going on with Pence as a calculus in your determination” as to whether to recommend criminal charges, adding, “Any distinctions among the situations of the three main players, I think are going to be lost on a large fraction of the American public.” (Dupree's assessment that the public won’t understand the basic differences in these three cases could be read as a stinging indictment of the reporting provided by CNN and other news outlets.)

CNN political analyst Margaret Talev also proclaimed, “I think, Pence revelations aside, the drip, drip of the Biden discoveries does defuse this issue, takes it off the table as a real weapon to use against Trump.” (Talev never actually explained why the Biden situation would act as a buffer for Trump.)

The New York Times also ran an article Tuesday comparing the Biden and Trump cases, effectively disregarding the relevant facts that distinguish them.

Times chief White House correspondent Peter Baker noted that the “cases are markedly different in their particulars, as has been noted repeatedly,” contrasting Biden’s cooperation with Trump’s obstruction. He continued, however: “But they are similar enough that as a practical matter Democrats can no longer use the issue against Mr. Trump politically, and investigators may have a harder time prosecuting him criminally.”

After proclaiming that the Biden case would neutralize any political attacks against Trump, the article briefly mentioned the emerging Pence case, arguing that people following the news would be led to believe misbehavior on the scale we saw from Trump was commonplace: “The public perception that everyone does it will only be fueled by the latest discovery of classified documents at the Indiana home of former Vice President Mike Pence.”

As the Pence story further developed on Tuesday, The Associated Press joined the chorus of false equivalency, misleadingly claiming “While a very different case, the Pence development could bolster the arguments of Trump and Biden, who have sought to downplay the significance of the discoveries at their homes.”

Yet another AP article Wednesday morning sought to present a further false equivalence of scandals between the Trump and Biden camps, even as it included the glaring differences:

Trump, a Republican, took it as an affront that the government came searching his quarters for classified material he wasn’t supposed to have, even though he fought efforts to reclaim them for months, and the government was forced to issue a subpoena to get them. Aides to Biden, a Democrat, say they cooperated quickly and fully when such material was found at a former office in Washington, though they waited for months to make public what had happened.

The obvious fact should be that the Pence and Biden cases are more alike, and in turn both are “very different” from Trump’s situation.

Reprinted with permission from Media Matters.