Guest: Congressional historian, political scientist Norm Ornstein; Also: Leahy's Iraq War spy story...
We've spent quite a bit of time of late on The BradCast discussing what could happen if Democrats are able to hold their majority in the U.S. House this year and pick up two more seats in the Senate. Codifying privacy rights and reproductive freedoms into federal law; passage of the much-needed Freedom to Vote Act; expansion of the corrupted U.S. Supreme Court to un-corrupt it. That all become possible in such an event, just to cite a few of the most pressing issues. But what happens if they don't? [Audio link to today's full show follows this summary.]
We've noted that it remains an uphill battle for Democrats to hold their majorities in either chamber of Congress this year, much less expand one of them. So, what happens if Republicans win a majority in one or both?
In short, it would be very very bad for a host of reasons, including for democracy itself. But TPM's Kate Riga detailed just some of the political nightmares that are likely to occur, as Republicans have revealed in their own words. From endless Congressional investigations of nonsense (think "Benghazi on steroids") to pointless culture war legislation that would be vetoed by President Biden even if it somehow overcame a Senate filibuster, to impotent efforts to impeach the President and various members of his Cabinet...for something or other.
But, even without majorities in both chambers, Republicans can wreak extraordinary damage to both the U.S. and global economies simply by re-upping their 2011 "Tea Party" scheme to hold the nation (and world) hostage to any number of demands in exchange for raising the dumb debt ceiling next year. ("Dumb", because it's absurd that the U.S. even has such a statute requiring Congressional permission to borrow money to pay for stuff that has already been purchased with Congressional and Presidential authority. Also "dumb" because Republicans only use it as a dangerous bargaining chip when a Democrat is in the White House. Despite blowing up the deficit by trillions during the Trump Administration, the debt limit was raised three times by Congress with nary a peep.)
As Riga and others have reported this week, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, the GOP's presumptive House Speaker if they take back a majority, has signaled that his party intends to hold cuts to Medicare and Social Security among hostages in exchange for agreeing to lift the debt ceiling. That, in the words of our guest today, would be "catastrophic" on several levels.
We're joined today by Congressional historian, political scientist and author NORM ORNSTEIN, who has been covering Congress for nearly 50 years via the conservative American Enterprise Institute, where he is a Senior Fellow Emeritus and now as contributing editor and columnist for The Atlantic.
Last week at The Atlantic, Ornstein warned that it's not just "democracy at stake this fall", as he asked "how far would a Republican majority go?" in undermining the U.S. economy in advance of the 2024 Presidential election. He recounts the first real use of the debt ceiling as a blunt political instrument to wreak havoc on U.S. policy and the economy along with it by the "Tea Party" back in 2011. While a last minute compromise at the time avoided a first-ever default of the U.S. government and the inability to pay its debts, the brinkmanship and hostage-taking cost the economy billions. Our credit rating was downgraded for the first time ever and the Dow plunged some 2,000 points.
But Ornstein is now more worried about what may happen next year if the GOP wins a House majority. As he explains today, "back in 2011, there were grownups in the room who kept it from getting out of control." Today, however "we're in a different world."
"In the past," he tells me, citing Donald Trump as an "accelerant" for GOP "dysfunction," "we still had what we could think of as a political party, even as it began to go downhill. But now it's a full-blown cult. The willingness of new members coming in, joining with a lot of radical members who will be returning to blow the whole thing up, the lack of interest in fundamental institutions or in the need to be responsible at governance is astonishing."
"I have never, in fifty-plus years of being immersed in the institution, seen a weaker or more pathetic leader than Kevin McCarthy," he says. "The idea that he would stop them from mayhem is, at this point, not believable."
"Other than that the fact that these are radicals dominating the party, they can't pass legislation on their own. They can't impeach and convict and remove from office the officials they would want to, including the President and the Attorney General and Sec. of Homeland Security, among many others."
But, as Ornstein adds, they will have "the power for the purse" with which they can cause extraordinary damage both here and around the world. He details both the chaos and what Democrats can do to try and preempt it during the Lame Duck period after the November midterms in the event that Republicans win back a majority in one or both chambers.
"The best thing to do is to do as every other country does and eliminate this ridiculous device [the debt ceiling]," but, since Dems can't do that on their own via reconciliation, they could invoke "the ironically named McConnell Rule" through reconciliation to stave off the threat of GOP debt ceiling brinkmanship that could result in a first-ever financial default by the nation. Tune in for an explanation of that ironically named rule and much more on all of this today.
Or, of course, Americans could simply reelect Democrats to majorities in both chambers and avoid the guaranteed nightmares that lie ahead with GOP control of either, now that they have wasted away into little more than a radical, extremist, "full-blown cult."
Finally, we close today with a fascinating spy story, of sorts, regarding retiring, eight-term Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and the U.S. intel agencies during the lead-up to the Iraq War (which he voted against), based on false evidence of WMDs hyped by the Bush/Cheney Administration...
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