Hello and welcome back to the D.C. Memo. Happy new fiscal year to all who celebrate. What do a baseball game and debates over the debt ceiling have in common? This week, Congress participated in both. There must have been some tension behind those swings when the government was less than 48 hours from shutting down. Anyway, other than that, here’s what’s going on this week: Congress is still arguing over infrastructure and the federal budget, the government is funded (for now) and Tina Smith wants to reshape the Supreme Court.
We’re still talking about infrastructure and the budget
At this point, I feel like I have been writing about the infrastructure bill and the budget bill for my entire tenure at MinnPost. Of course that isn’t accurate, but these two bills are tied together and have been creating a lot of drama in the Democratic party for months now. The self-imposed deadline to vote on the infrastructure package by September 27 came and went, with no vote happening because progressives said they would vote against the infrastructure bill if there was not also a vote on the budget bill.
A vote on infrastructure is expected Friday. Meanwhile, on the budget bill, some Democrats like Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema and West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin are not happy with the $3.5 trillion price tag, as Manchin expressed in a statement on Wednesday.
“Respectfully, as I have said for months, I can’t support $3.5 trillion more in spending when we have already spent $5.4 trillion since last March. At some point, all of us, regardless of party must ask the simple question — how much is enough?” Manchin wrote.
“Now it’s time I would say for both senators: make your mark and close the deal,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) told CNN, speaking about Sinema and Manchin. “What is it that you want? What is your final goal? It’s time to stop talking around it and speak directly to it.”
Meanwhile, progressives have said they are willing to tank the infrastructure vote if they don’t get a vote on the budget bill at the same time.
Fifth District Rep. Ilhan Omar told the Washington Post that, “The strategy has always been to pass these two pieces of legislation together — nothing will happen until we’re able to do that.”
Will there be a vote on infrastructure? Will progressives block its passage? Will moderates keep pushing back on the budget bill? These are the questions still running through Congress this week. We’ll just have to see how things play out.
Continuing resolution resolved, debt ceiling irresolution continued
With just hours to spare, Congress voted to fund the government until early December, avoiding the shutdown that would have occurred tomorrow. The funding sustains federal agencies’ existing spending until December 3, when Congress will either have to create another short-term fix or pass a dozen appropriations bills that fund federal agencies through fiscal 2022.
This could have been a pretty devastating shutdown during the COVID-19 pandemic — the Department of Health and Human Services, which plays a large role in vaccine distribution, would have had to furlough 43 percent of its staff.
As if an almost-shutdown weren’t enough, this week Congress is also arguing about America’s national debt. In few words: Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen wants lawmakers to abolish the debt ceiling, or the legal limit on how much the Treasury can borrow to meet the government’s payment obligations.
From the Washington Post: “Speaking to the House Financial Services Committee, Yellen said the current debt ceiling law can prove ‘very destructive’ by creating a legal debt limit that has to be raised separate from what Congress has already ordered the federal government to spend. Treasury is currently running out of ‘emergency measures’ to pay its obligations after the most recent suspension of the debt ceiling lapsed in August.”
Democrats want to raise or suspend the borrowing limit, but Republicans have refused to do so even though they supported lifting the borrowing cap during the Trump administration.
Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar is on Yellen’s side. On the Senate floor, Klobuchar said that suspending the debt ceiling isn’t about generating new spending.
“It’s about making sure the government can pay for our spending. Since 1960, Congress has done this — has raised the debt ceiling approximately 80 times. It’s not unusual, it’s not uncommon, it’s not unacceptable. What is unacceptable is that our colleagues won’t even allow us to do it — the 50 of us are united in this, and I say: ‘where are our Republican colleagues?’ They know the fact — a default will impact everyone. The government will need to decide between sending out social security checks, ensuring we keep our promises to our vets, keeping paychecks to active military,” Klobuchar said.
Third District Rep. Dean Phillips was also one of 60 lawmakers to send a letter to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell urging him to support getting rid of the debt ceiling.
“Holding the debt limit hostage, as you and forty-five of your Republican Senate colleagues have said you will do, is a dangerous, illogical, and irresponsible way to express that concern,” Phillips and his colleagues wrote.
A big win for Republicans
I’m not talking about legislation: Democrats and Republicans faced off in their traditional bipartisan baseball game at the Nationals stadium last night, with Republicans taking home the trophy with a 13-12 win. The Congressional Baseball Game has been held since the early 1900s, and it’s a chance for members to (in theory) put aside their political differences and spend time together playing the great American pastime.
The game paused after the first inning when President Joe Biden appeared behind home plate to cheers from Dems and boos from the Republican fans. While hanging out in the Democrats’ dugout, fans could see Biden having intense talks with someone on the phone. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was also caught multitasking, watching the game while talking animatedly on the phone. This clip is pretty great, as well as the commentator’s narration.
Third District Rep. Dean Phillips was sporting a Gophers-themed jersey. Though his team didn’t win, here’s a fun photo of him sliding into home base in the seventh inning.
Capitol Hill is such a funny place to me on days like this. A city full of people obsessed with politics will often have presidential debates playing at sports bars, complete with drinking games and t-shirts. After growing up going to Twins games at the Metrodome on lots of summer evenings and never talking about politics, it’s hilarious to see how D.C. finds a way to inject politics into everything joyful in life.
Packing the Court
Minnesota Sen. Tina Smith announced Tuesday that she has officially joined Sen. Ed Markey’s (D-Mass.) legislation to expand the U.S. Supreme Court from 9 justices to 13, becoming the first Senate cosponsor.
“Republicans have been working to politicize the U.S. Supreme Court for forty years, with the help of dark money and the Federalist Society. With Donald Trump’s help, they stole two seats, ensuring an ultra-conservative Court that is drastically out of step with the American people,” Smith said in her announcement.
Smith and Markey say that Republicans in the Senate and in the previous Administration “stole two Supreme Court seats,” and say that there’s precedent for this move: The number of Supreme Court Justices has changed several times over the years. Smith, who worked at a Planned Parenthood in her pre-Senate life and is a proponent of abortion rights, also pointed to the Supreme Court’s refusal to knock down Texas’ “extreme abortion ban that is drastically out of step with the American people.”
Smith is the first senator to cosponsor the bill, so it’s got a ways to go and may end up becoming one of those bills that never makes it to committee. Still, Smith and Markey say that “doing nothing is not an option.”
Republicans want to open the border
Only the northern border, though.
This week, Minnesota’s Republican Reps. Tom Emmer, Pete Stauber and Michelle Fischbach sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas requesting an immediate report from the Department of Homeland Security to Congress with a plan of action for when the border fully reopens.
“The closure of our northern border impacts Americans and Canadians alike, and the impact is especially felt by Minnesotans like those who live in the Northwest Angle,” Emmer said. “Between the halt to trade, the disruption to the tourism industry, and the separation of our citizens, this closure has been devastating.”
If you’ve been following along with MinnPost, you’ll remember we did some reporting on how the closure of the Minnesota-Canada border impacted people living in the Northwest Angle, which is Minnesotan land that’s only accessible by boat over Lake of the Woods or by car through Canada.
Emmer, Stauber and Fischbach say that Customs and Border Protection doesn’t have a plan in place to execute a reopening “without causing tremendous delays at land ports of entry.” They say this will be a major problem for members of the commercial trade sector.
What I’m reading
- “An elections supervisor embraced conspiracy theories. Officials say she has become an insider threat,” Washington Post. An elections official and her deputy in Mesa County, Colorado are under investigation for sneaking someone into the county elections offices to copy the hard drives of Dominion Voting Systems machines. Before working in elections, the official ran a family construction company and took part in selling alternative wellness products through a multilevel marketing firm. My favorite part of this story? Minnesota’s own MyPillow guy Mike Lindell sent his private plane to pick her up in Colorado and take her to his symposium in South Dakota.
- “Book banning isn’t a thing of the past. We spoke to authors who have experienced it,” The Lily. When I think of banning books, I generally think about the Nazis’ ban on thousands of books in Germany leading up to and during WWII. But with the recent craze over Critical Race Theory in schools, a lot of books about anti-Black racism and racial justice have been banned in some places. The Lily’s Hannah Good talked to some of the authors who have been censored.
- “Why this Minnesota startup CEO moved to Dallas,” Twin Cities Business. Upsie founder Clarence Bethea got pulled over in his car by his neighborhood one day. The officer came up to the window, looked past him, and asked his wife, who is white, “Ma’am, are you OK?” in front of their kids. That was one of the last straws for Bethea. This article tells the story of one man’s experience being a Black man in Minnesota, and why he and his family decided it was best for them to move away.
That’s all from me this week. Thanks for reading. As always, please feel free to send any questions, comments or stories of when you were forced to play sports with your colleagues to firstname.lastname@example.org, or find me on Twitter at @byashleyhackett.