Clowns are the pegs on which the circus is hung.
— P.T. Barnum
As expected, the 118th Session of Congress got underway with a real spectacle after fifteen ballots to finally elect Kevin McCarthy (RMAGA – CA) as the Speaker of the House. In his vision quest to finally achieve his lifelong dream to be Speaker, he gave enormous power to the clowns that constitute his main supporters in the Republican caucus. Some observers argue that he gave away too much power, and thus will have little ability to actually govern or to accomplish much of anything. Assuming that the Republicans in the House of Representatives really intend or desire to accomplish anything of substance, those observers may be right. The bottom line, however, is the same. Not much of value will come out of the House in the next two years. Anything that does is likely to be ridiculous — such as their current effort to do away with the Internal Revenue Service and eliminate federal income taxes — and is almost certainly assured to fail in the Senate and absolutely will be vetoed by President Joe Biden.
There are, however, some elements of Mr. McCarthy’s concessions to the most extreme elements of his caucus that can cause real harm to our country. (I say most extreme in the context of believing that all elements of the House Republican Party are extreme. I don’t think that there are any “moderates” left. There are only hard right wing and dangerously hard right wingers in the Party now. The evidence is based not on public pronouncements, but rather on actual votes. So far, no matter how extreme the issue, the Republicans have voted unanimously. We will see if some long time Republican members realize that the country is being taken hostage and form their own bloc to counter the crazies.)
Many analysts have focused on the moves inside the House and how damaging they may prove to be. Some of it is arcane to the casual observer, but has real consequences to how things are accomplished. Or not accomplished. I do not intend to go into each and every corner of Mr. McCarthy’s concessions to the extreme right. However, there are two that we should pay attention to as the consequences could impact us all. One is the impending battle over raising the debt limit in the United States. The other is the formation of a new committee called The Select Subcommittee On The Weaponization of the Federal Government. The Chair of the Judiciary Committee Representative Jim Jordan (RMAGA – OH) will chair the subcommittee. Some critics grimly call it “The Tin Foil Hat Committee” or “The Committee to Obstruct Justice” because its primary goal is to investigate the Department of Justice, the FBI, our intelligence agencies and according to Mr. Jordan, to investigate why conservatives are being targeted by the federal government and therefore he needs to protect the First Amendment, including such violations of the amendment as is embodied in the investigations into the events on and before 6 January 2021.
It has become a twenty first century game for Republicans to try and hold the debt ceiling hostage when a Democrat is in the White House. When a Republican is president, the necessary legislation passes without remark or notice. Separating the hyperbole from the facts is important. Without going into all of the history, one should note that the Fourteenth Amendment (one amazing Amendment, by the way) says in part, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” In other words, pay the bills lawfully incurred by the U.S. government. Simple, right? All it means is that we as a country, just like most consumers, buy things on credit and pay them off over time. And it’s in the Constitution. There should be no problem but somehow in this century Republicans try to use it as a way to cut spending by the federal government (and thereby shrink the size of the government and eliminate or shrink programs they don’t like). Their concerns are over future spending. That’s legitimate and should be debated in every Congress. But they present it to the American public as some kind of current fiscal responsibility, not future. Again, let’s look at the facts. The debt ceiling was originally an accounting step that Congress took during World War I to allow more flexibility to the Treasury Department to spend during the war without continually coming to Congress for approval. It was not meant to be the same as a budget, appropriation or authorization. It is only in recent decades that it has become a weapon that the Republicans use against the Democrats, depending on which party is in power. According to the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s official web site, the debt ceiling has been raised 78 times since 1960. Forty-nine times under Republican presidents and twenty-nine times under Democratic presidents. That is not exactly a Democrat spending problem. Math can be a tricky subject and one can manipulate the numbers a lot of ways whether discussing absolute dollars, percentages, relative dollars or other measures. That said, most experts conclude that the three presidents to have the national debt grow the most were, in order, Abraham Lincoln, George W. Bush and Donald J. Trump.
Here is the bottom line. The U.S. has never defaulted on its debt. We have already passed the debt ceiling but the Secretary of the Treasury is using “extraordinary measures” to keep paying the bills until there is a new limit (which allows more borrowing). Those measures run out around June. The U.S. has never defaulted on its debt in our entire history. No one knows exactly what will happen because it has never happened before. However, there is near unanimous agreement by serious financial experts and economists that it will trigger a world wide recession, including sky rocketing interest rates in the U.S., millions of jobs lost, the government shut down, social safety nets dry up and an economic nightmare for the average citizen. No one wants that to happen. And that’s the rub. Republicans know that Democrats can never allow that to happen and so, voila, the perfect hostage situation. Speaker McCarthy wants to “negotiate” with President Biden over spending cuts in order to raise the debt. The president says that there can be no negotiation because raising the debt limit is the normal business of the Congress under the Constitution and has nothing to do with future spending. Here’s the problem for the president. Mr. McCarthy is coming to the table with a wide ranging and drastic reduction in government programs, including in Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. If the president gives in to even a little bit of that agenda in exchange for raising the limit, the Republicans have scored a tremendous political victory without having given up anything in return, merely doing their Constitutional duty. That is not a “negotiation.” Further complicating the issue is that members of Mr. McCarthy’s caucus probably would not mind seeing the U.S. default on its debts. Their goal is create as much chaos, anarchy and division as possible in order to fill the vacuum with their own autocratic policies and leaders. In other words, there is no guarantee Mr. McCarthy can pass anything without the Democrats help.
Some of those same extremists that would not mind destroying the American and world economy are on the Weaponization Committee. Chairman Jordan is under investigation for his actions leading up to the attempted coup on 6 January 2021. Other prominent members of the committee include MAGA supporters that are also under investigation. The panel will have thirteen members and Mr. McCarthy has already put eleven Republicans on it. Representative Jerry Nadler (D-NY) automatically gets a seat as the senior minority member on the Judiciary Committee. That leaves space for two other Democrats. Democracy in action.
It is a dangerous situation. While little of substance will come out of that committee, it will be used to try to investigate the investigators and as a cudgel against any other member of the government or a particular agency that irks them. Mr. Jordan has already demanded that the Department of Justice turn over all of their investigatory information on the 6 January coup. This would be unprecedented in American history. The Congress cannot interfere in ongoing criminal investigations. It would completely undermine the rule of law in our country. DOJ rebuffed the request but I am sure that the committee will haul the Attorney General, Director of the FBI and others before their panel to brow beat them, bully them and otherwise yell and put forth misinformation. In other words, their goal is to create more chaos, more attempts to undermine American’s faith in the government and our institutions and to foment more efforts to bring down our democracy. Also in their aim is the Department of Education and “Big Tech.” They are chartered with the ability to access the same information shared with the Intelligence Committee, another unprecedented move. They will investigate the “unfair” search warrant at Mar-a-Lago and the discovery of classified papers found in President Biden’s home (but not those recovered from Mar-a-Lago because, as one Representative put it, “he’s been investigated enough.”) They most certainly will project the insurrection on 6 January as a group of patriots exercising their First Amendment rights (see above) and of course try to cover up their own involvement in the coup attempt. Recall that 147 Republicans voted on 6 January 2021 to overturn the election. All eight of the Senators and 118 of the Representatives are part of the current Congress.
In simple terms, the Weaponization Committee can try, and will try, to investigate anything that they want to anywhere in the country and anywhere throughout the government. Witch Hunts, indeed. More dangerously they will attempt to gain access to the most sensitive information available to our justice and intelligence systems. No one knows what they may do with that information or how destructive they may be. Every Republican in the House voted to authorize this committee. That is why I despair that there are no moderates left on the Republican side of the aisle.
The clowns are in charge in the House. The circus is underway. It will be quite the show. One hopes that it results only in fury and showboating and lots of air time on Fox News rather than causing real harm to our democracy.
The Democrats are the party that says government will make you smarter, taller, richer and remove the crabgrass on your lawn. The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then get elected and prove it.
P.J. O’Rourke — American Satirist
As I write this, the House of Representatives failed for the twelfth time to elect a Speaker of the House, a position that is second in line to the presidency. Until a Speaker is selected, no other business may be conducted in the House, including swearing in the Members. Technically, right now, we do not have a House of Representatives and you have no representation in that body. This is the first time since 1856 that it has taken so many votes to elect a Speaker, and the first time since 1923 that more than one vote was required. In 1856 it took 133 votes over two months. In that case, the main issue was the debate over whether slavery should be allowed in the new states joining the Union or not. It was a substantive issue with real consequences. Today’s votes have nothing to do with any substantive issue. It is purely and plainly a power struggle within the Republican Party. Whether a political party has a huge majority or a slim one, as in this case, that party is expected to put together the votes to select a Speaker and to institute the rules for the incoming Congress. The current crop of Republicans are failing in every respect and the humiliation of the would be Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) continues.
I have written in this space before that Mr. McCarthy is a textbook example of a poor leader, and now we can observe just how bad he is. Apparently, he wants the title of Speaker of the House but he doesn’t really want the job. In his attempts to get himself elected, he has abdicated most of his responsibilities and given those that are holding him politically hostage everything that they have asked for, and yet he still does not have enough votes. It is likely that later today, or tomorrow, or next week he will end up as Speaker, but he will be the weakest one to serve in that position in a very long time. The intra-party fight is mostly over power. To outsiders it seems like an arcane collection of rules and patronages and who can chair what committee. It is a fight for power. It has nothing to do directly with policy or governing. However, those arcane rules and committee assignments will set the tone for what, if any, legislation comes to the floor for a vote. Primarily, those Republican Members gumming up the work of the House now are the very same ones who want to spend their time in office impeaching President Biden (allegedly Mr. McCarthy has promised that they can start hearings to do so in order to get their votes) investigating the J-6 Committee, and generally seeking revenge on any Democrat, Republican or citizen that they perceive to be their “enemy.”
This week’s boondoggle is only a preview of things to come. I do not expect any serious work to be accomplished over the next two years. Should there be a Speaker McCarthy, and should he accidentally want to do some serious work, such as, oh say raise the government debt limit on expenditures already made, and thus keep from ruining our economy and plunge the world into a previously unknown crisis, he can be challenged by one disgruntled Republican who can force a vote on his continued Speakership. In other words, Mr. McCarthy is mostly powerless, held hostage by the people within his party that have no interest in actually governing. They are only interested in power, Fox News exposure and raising money. Chaos and anarchy are their goals. They are a mix of insurrectionists, grifters, election-deniers and idiots. And Mr. McCarthy is ready to turn the People’s House over to them so that he can get his portrait mounted in the Capitol.
Actually, this should come as no suprise.
Today is the second anniversary of the insurrectionist attack on our government in an attempt to keep the former president in power. For the first time in our history, there was no peaceful transition of power from one president to the next. Similarly, in the House, there is no peaceful transition of power from one leader to another. In this case it is not because one party or opponents of those newly in power fought to keep the transition from happening. This is an intra-party Civil War for the heart and soul of one of the two major parties in the United States. The situation is entirely the creation of the Republican Party.
There is a straight line connecting the events from two years ago to those of today. In 2021 it was an outside attack on our government. Today it is an inside attack. The enemy is within. Never forget that Mr. McCarthy headed up not only the Republican Caucus in 2021, but also the Sedition Caucus. Even after the attack on 6 January he voted against certifying the free and fair election of Mr. Biden and he led 139 of his fellow Republican Representatives to do the same. (There were also eight Republican Senators in the Sedition Caucus.) For two years, those now obstructing the smooth functioning of the government have tried to disrupt the entire electoral process. Many of these same people are open admirers of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungarian Prime Minister and budding oligarch Victor Orban. Their goal is to create enough chaos and disruption to allow a “strongman” to rise to power and take control of the government. They cloak themselves in patriotism but have no idea what the Constitution means or what it stands for. In a way, we should be thankful for their dysfunction. If they were organized and united they could be an even greater threat to our democracy.
Thomas Jefferson famously said that “the government you elect is the government you deserve.” I think we deserve better than the circus we are witnessing in the House of Representatives. As the dysfunction continues over the next two years, I believe that the American people will come to realize that they deserve better and will throw the bums out (well, many of them). It remains to be seen how much damage the insurrectionists can do in the meantime. Thank goodness the Senate remains as a buffer to the insanity.