Happy Wednesday! Here’s what’s happening — or, in the case of the debt limit, not happening.
McConnell Fends Off a Revolt, Now Set to Make History
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) was reelected by his caucus as Senate Republican leader, fending off a challenge from Sen. Rick Scott of Florida — the first such challenge McConnell has faced in 15 years.
After a failed effort by some senators to postpone the vote, the 37-10 result in favor of McConnell, conducted via secret ballots, puts the Kentuckian on track to become the longest serving party leader in U.S. history. McConnell has led Senate Republicans since 2007 and is poised to break the record held by former Sen. Mike Mansfield (D-MT), who served as Senate Majority Leader from 1961 to 1977. Asked Wednesday whether he might step aside once he tops Mansfield’s record in 2023, McConnell said, “I'm not going anywhere.”
Other Senate Republicans securing leadership posts include John Thune of South Dakota, who will continue as minority whip; John Barrasso of Wyoming, who will remain conference chair; Montana’s Steve Daines, who will replace Scott as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee; Iowa’s Joni Ernst, who will become policy chair; and West Virginia’s Shelley Moore Capito, who will serve as the GOP conference’s vice chairwoman.
Scott Doubles Down on Call to Change Social Security and Medicare
Unbowed by his failed challenge to McConnell, Scott issued a statement reiterating his calls for Congress to cut federal spending and make some dramatic changes to Social Security and Medicare.
Scott had issued a proposed agenda for Republicans that initially said that all Americans should have to pay some federal income “to have skin in the game” and called for all federal programs, including Social Security and Medicare, to sunset or be renewed by Congress every five years. Scott backtracked on the tax increase, insisting he never wanted any tax hikes at all. But he is not shying away from his calls to change Social Security and Medicare — calls that some Republicans say hurt their party in the election by giving President Joe Biden and Democrats ammunition for attacks.
In his statement, Scott said:
To be clear: Scott’s plan, rejected by McConnell and some other Republicans, would have sunset Social Security and Medicare every five years, requiring lawmakers to re-up the programs. The plan also proposed to “Force Congress to issue a report every year telling the public what they plan to do when Social Security and Medicare go bankrupt.” It’s not clear which part of the plan would “protect” or “preserve” the programs.
A call and email to Scott’s office requesting clarification were not returned by the time we published on Wednesday, but we’ll be sure to share any response we might get.
Dems Giving Up on Plan to Raise Debt Ceiling Before Next Year
A Democratic effort to preemptively raise the debt limit during the lame-duck session of Congress is fading fast, according to reports Wednesday.
Hoping to deny Republicans in the House the opportunity to use the debt ceiling as a hostage in future spending negotiations, some Democratic lawmakers want to increase the debt limit during the next six weeks, before they lose control of the House in January.
A handful of Republicans have indicated that they would refuse to raise the limit in the next Congress unless lawmakers agree to make substantial spending cuts — a move that many analysts say would needlessly risk a global economic catastrophe in the event that the U.S. failed to meet its debt obligations on time.
Republicans have used that approach before. In 2011, a group of conservative lawmakers, many affiliated with the Tea Party Caucus, forced a showdown over raising the debt ceiling that pushed the U.S. to within two days of default, a move that resulted in a downgrade of the country’s sovereign rating by Standard & Poor’s. The showdown ended when then-President Barack Obama agreed to spending cuts as defined by the Budget Control Act of 2011.
Wait ‘til next year: Budget experts say the debt ceiling will likely need to be raised in the third quarter of 2023, giving lawmakers time to work out an agreement. But some Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), were hoping to eliminate the potential threat for at least two years by raising the limit now.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) signaled this week that he is not interested in cooperating in any such effort now, saying the issue can wait “until sometime next year.” That effectively eliminates the possibility that the debt ceiling could be raised on a bipartisan basis during the lame-duck session.
Democrats do have the option of raising the debt limit unilaterally through the reconciliation process, which allows the Senate to pass a spending-related bill with just a simple majority. But Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL) said this week that, with lawmakers facing a December 16 deadline to pass a government funding bill, there isn’t enough time left for a reconciliation bill. “It takes too much time,” Durbin said. “We have three weeks and there is too much else on the agenda.”
Democrats may not have the votes for reconciliation, either, with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) telling reporters that he wants any increases in the debt ceiling to be done on a bipartisan basis.
Headline of the Day
“FLORIDA MAN MAKES ANNOUNCEMENT”
– As Republicans reckon with their weaker-than-expected election results, the right-leaning New York Post tabloid, owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., trolled former President Donald Trump Wednesday by running that line at the bottom of its front cover and referring readers to the story on page 26. Inside, the paper’s coverage of Trump’s Tuesday night announcement of a third presidential run ran under the headline “Been there, Don that.” The short, cheeky article that followed dismissively referred to Trump as a Florida retiree and avid golfer. “His cholesterol levels are unknown, but his favorite food is a charred steak with ketchup,” it said in one of several digs. “He has stated that his qualifications for office include being a ‘stable genius.' Trump also served as the 45th president.”
Number of the Day: $11 Billion
The state of New York probably made more than $11 billion in improper unemployment benefit payments during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report from New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli. The state’s unemployment system was flooded with claims during the pandemic, and outdated systems and procedures led to “weakened oversight and ultimately contributed to an estimated billions of dollars in improper payments,” the report says.
“The state Department of Labor’s antiquated [unemployment insurance] system was ill-equipped to handle the challenges posed by the extraordinary demand caused by the pandemic for unemployment benefits and more lenient federal eligibility requirements,” DiNapoli said. “The agency resorted to stop-gap measures to paper over problems, and this proved to be costly to the state, businesses, and New Yorkers.”
DiNapoli also said that a lack of good data makes it hard to know just how much money was spent improperly, and that the total is likely even larger.
- ‘Nothing to Negotiate’: McConnell Crushes Scott’s Right-Flank Rebellion – Politico
- McCarthy's Next Step on the GOP Tightrope: Navigating Concessions to Conservatives – Politico
- A Bid by Democrats to Raise the US Debt Ceiling This Year Is Failing – Bloomberg
- White House's Hopes for a Lame-Duck Debt Ceiling Deal Are Fading Fast – Politico
- Pediatricians Beg for More Federal Help to Fight Wave of RSV – Roll Call
- ‘You Are Damaging the United States Military’: Smith Rips McCarthy Call to Delay Defense Bill – Politico
- Manchin Decides to Torpedo Permitting Reform – American Prospect
- Some Republicans Show Appetite for a Manchin Deal on Permitting Reform – The Hill
- U.S. Judge Rules COVID-Era Border Expulsion Order Unlawful – Reuters
- Democrats Call Protections for ‘Dreamers’ a Lame Duck Priority – Roll Call
- Business Incomes, Partnerships Rife With Unpaid Taxes, Experts Say – The Hill
- Senate Bill Aims to Lower Monthly Premiums – The Hill
- Senate Takes Crucial Step Toward Protecting Same-Sex Marriage Rights – New York Times
- Two Anonymous $425 Million Donations Give Dark Money Conservative Group a Massive Haul – Politico
- Covid-19 Rebound May Be More Common in People Who Take Paxlovid, Early Study Suggests – CNN
Views and Analysis
- Rick Scott’s Paul Ryanist Fantasies Are a Big Loser for the GOP – Paul Waldman, Washington Post
- Democrats Have to Head off Another Debt Ceiling Standoff While They Still Can – Dylan Matthews, Vox
- Republicans Are in for Two Years of Hell – Ryan Cooper, American Prospect
- Call a Truce: How Congress Can Actually Address Americans’ Concerns – William S. Becker, The Hill
- It Was All About the Independents, Again – David Winston, Roll Call
- An Unexpected Winner in the Midterms: Public Health – Michelle A. Williams, The Hill
- The 51 Most Outlandish Lines From Donald Trump’s Announcement Speech – Chris Cillizza, CNN