Towards a Mid-Term Agenda
The announcement that Senators Joe Manchin and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer had come to an agreement on what they decided to call the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 may alter the calculus of the November mid-terms. The trend lines had already been steadily moving back towards the Democrats due to the overturning of Roe and season one of the January 6th Committee. Suddenly Democrats can say they are, after all, getting important things done. And what if inflation softens over the next three months? So, let’s call this our horse race column. Fair enough with what’s riding on the next pair of elections. The future of America as a democratic nation of free and fair elections, personal freedoms, laws not of men, open discourse, civil conduct, and genuine diversity is what is really on the line; certainly not gas prices.
The economy, without real justification, is and will remain the major sticking point due to the rate of inflation and the portfolio losses taken by the investor class over the first half of the year. I say “without real justification” for two reasons. First, the two primary driving forces of inflation have been the aftereffects of the Covid-19 pandemic and Putin’s illegal and immoral invasion of Ukraine. That Democrats seem unable or unwilling to point this out has been and remains beyond my ability to comprehend.
Lisa Anne Auerbach, “Rights,” 2022, video still.
Photo courtesy of the artist and Gavlak Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Second, unemployment has evaporated as an issue, and if pay raises have not kept up with the inflation rate, they have laid a solid groundwork should inflation come down. Democratic leaders do, at least, tout that development. It is not a sure bet, but it is a reasonable wager, that inflation declines. If the inflation rate declines even 1-2% over the next three months there is a narrative available, and the Manchin announcement provides exactly the right punchline.
Rebecca Warren, “And who would be my mother (of invention)” (detail), 2013/22, hand-painting bronze on painted MDF plinth. Courtesy of Matthew Marks Gallery, West Hollywood, CA
Republicans have been described as “furious” with Manchin. Now there is a late-night laugh line if I’ve ever heard one. Lowlife characters like Mitch McConnell and Tom Cotton apparently came to regard Manchin as virtually one of their own. Cotton stated that “it was obviously a double-cross by Joe Manchin.” Shall we shed tears for the Arkansas MAGA man? Manchin politely hoodwinked them all right. The announcement was made literally one day after he helped to deliver enough Republican votes (64-33) to pass a microchips bill. Mitch McConnell had recently held that bill hostage, promising to block it if Democrats pushed through some element of their agenda using budget reconciliation. Manchin was obviously listening. This was, therefore, Democratic payback.
Think that passage of the microchips bill was some trivial matter? Did you even know there is a shortage of microchips in this country? If you are waiting for delivery of a new car right now, for example, it is probably because the microchips to run the on-board computer system are back-ordered. Auto dealerships have near-empty new car lots; nearly everything is on back order, even though the cars are built and ready for delivery. Except for that one detail. It turns out that detail is about $280 billion.
Of course, Manchin just aw-shucks such accusations: “There was no malice intended whatsoever.” The man is not stupid. Republicans, being who they are, immediately vowed revenge, which tells you all you need to know about the substantive difference between the two parties.
Democrats vote on bills to benefit the public that they theoretically serve. Republicans only ask: how can our votes be used to gain political advantage. Public manipulation, not service, is the name of the game. In that game Republicans are the major leaguers, no doubt. But in the real-life mission of public service, they fail rookie league.
Andrea Dezso, “Ocean Mothers,” 2022, 100% cotton watercolor paper, awagami hakuho paper,
waxed linen thread, watercolor, 18 x 30 x 8”. Courtesy of Traver Galley, Seattle, WA
From the time that Manchin, along with Kristen Sinema, refused to support changing the Senate filibuster rules in order to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights and the Build Back Better Acts last year it was assumed that a new Republican majority, at least in the House, was a settled matter. The actions of those two Senators left too many Democrats demoralized, and the impact of district gerrymandering and voter suppression laws only widened Republicans’ advantage in so-called generic polling. If candidates for Congress evenly split the vote nationally, Republicans win a majority of House seats. Democrats must win 3-4 percentage points more votes to hold even their present narrow majority. But the current generic polling, according to Real Clear Politics, shows a 1.3 percentage point lead for Republicans. That gap, for a brief time in February, stood at 4%, which amounts to a Republican wipeout in electoral terms. Democrats must win that generic ballot by 8-10 points to achieve a similar result.
Even after the overturning of Roe and the damning revelations of the January 6th Committee, the impact of the many state laws restricting voting rights together with inflation hitting a 40-year high would be too much for Democratic candidates to overcome in too many Congressional districts.
Until the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
Sherry Owens, “Grandfather’s Land,” 2021, bronze, patina, crepe myrtle,
paint, wax. 30 x 46 x 18”. Courtesy of Cris Worley Fine Arts, Dallas, TX
Keep in mind that this 700-page piece of legislation breaks down into three large components that (1) address climate change, (2) reduce the costs of health care (and expand access to coverage), and (3) yes, implements new tax reforms that would produce revenue in excess of the cost of the first two items. Therefore, a rather small portion of the federal deficit would be trimmed. And that is why it is called the Inflation Reduction Act. The name tells you all you need to know about the political calculation. And the kind of messaging that Democrats will employ to shift the mid-term dynamic. Make no mistake, that good public policy so thoroughly depends on such political gamesmanship is a key indicator of what is wrong with American culture. But this is not a time for Democrats to stand by helplessly while Republicans trash the founders’ vision in favor of an authoritarian dictatorship and a single party’s monopoly on power. Voters still have two election cycles in which to have our say.
So let us be clear that the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 is a distinct exercise in political gamesmanship. But it will have an effect, perhaps a telling effect, and Republicans get that if they understand anything. While shouldering sufficient corrupt intent to weigh down Superman, we already hear Republican squeals: Democrats aren’t playing fair! Vengeance will be ours! The bullies are crying. It’s a very good sign.
In case you doubt Republicans’ lack of interest in public service, consider the vote last week on the exposure of veterans exposed to so-called burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. Having initially won 84 Senate votes (excuse me, how did 16 Republicans justify voting against this in the first place? What exercise of conscience was this?), suddenly Republicans voted in a bloc against the bill (now 55-42, thus blocking cloture) as returned to them with minor adjustments following a House vote in favor by a margin of 342-88.
The reason given for the sudden change? The previously appropriated money, around $40 billion annually affecting about 3.5 million veterans’ health care, would be mandated rather than discretionary … as though veterans’ health problems due to exposure to toxins might suddenly, magically, disappear. No, Senate Republicans changed their vote to express their displeasure that Manchin played them.
Andrew Schoultz, “Blue Vessel and Window,” 2022, acrylic on paper,
26 1/4 x 21 1/4”. Courtesy of Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco, CA
Explain to me how any veteran could vote for such a party. Manchin commented “Republicans now are basically holding the veterans hostage because they are mad.” Or as Jon Stewart poetically opined, “If this is America first then America is fucked.” Add another arrow in Democrats’ November quiver should they have it in them to use it.
We at least know this much: Republicans believe that the Inflation Reduction Act 0f 2022 is actually the Threat to Republicans Act of 2022. And they are correct. For all of the political damage inflicted since last year on his party, Joe Manchin, who is no hero, now offers them a fighting chance to retain both Congressional majorities, and a realistic opportunity to expand their Senate majority. Seabiscuit is gaining on the outside as the race enters its home stretch.
Edgar Degas, “Race Horses,” ca. 1885-88, oil on canvas.
Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY