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New York Times columnist David Brooks and Washington Post associate editor Jonathan Capehart join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week in politics, including how an apparent Senate deal to address health care costs and climate change revives some of President Biden's legislative agenda, and why the economy is baffling experts as it lurches further into uncharted territory.
The apparent Senate deal to address health care costs and climate change is not everything President Biden wanted, but it does revive a sizable chunk of his legislative agenda. Meanwhile, the economy is baffling experts, as it lurches further into uncharted territory.
To consider all this, we turn to the analysis of Brooks and Capehart. That's New York Times columnist David Brooks and Jonathan Capehart, associate editor for The Washington Post.
Hello to both of you. Welcome on this Friday night. It's been a full week.
And let's start, Jonathan, with the Democrats' deal. When we were last together last Friday, we all thought that the president's budget was dead, the package with climate and health care in it. Little did we know that Joe Manchin was having these secret talks with Chuck Schumer. But they have cooked something up? What does it look like to you? And what do you think the prospects are?
Well, one, I relearned the lesson in Washington, which is, never say die.
When it seems like a deal is done, it's over, there's no movement, sometimes, something happens, like we saw this week. And, suddenly, you realize these folks have been meeting behind closed doors and they have hammered out a deal.
And the fact that Senator Manchin, who killed the — who killed what was being called Build Back Manchin and said, I'm done, we're not doing it, the president was going to go his own way, when we were talking a week ago, Senator Manchin was the one to announce what has been renamed the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022.
And he declared that Build Back Better is dead. But there are climate provisions. There is a prescription drug plan that's in there. There's the 15 percent corporate minimum tax that is in there. There are all sorts of incentives and rebates and things aimed at clean energy. So it's not Build Back Better. It's not the big transformative bill that the president wanted at the beginning of his term.
But in the grand scheme of things, it is most definitely better than nothing.
Now, you asked me, what are its prospects? The prospects are iffy right now. We have also been so focused on Senator Manchin that we forgot that, in the Senate, there's another senator who we haven't heard from, and that's Senator Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. And she is still keeping her cards very close to the vest. We have no idea whether she supports this.
And that is imperative and important, because Democrats will need all 50 votes, plus the vice president, in order to pass it out of the Senate to get it over to the House. And that's a whole other problem.
So, it's a shrunken version. We have just been hearing about shrinkflation.
This is not that. It's a smaller version of what Biden wanted.
But what do you make of this? I mean, it's a U-turn on the part of Joe Manchin. Does it look like something that could be meaningful if they can pass it?
Yes, I mean, it shrunk from $2.2 trillion, but it's still a pretty massive bill. It's the biggest climate change bill in American history.
Joe Biden was elected to give us sort of pragmatic center-left government. And over the last couple of weeks, we have had the CHIPS Act for — CHIPS Act, which is about microchip production, keeping — making more in the States. We have had bipartisan gun control legislation, and we possibly are seeing the passage of this very significant piece of domestic legislation.
That's what Joe Biden ran on. And so his presidency to me is looking a lot more successful than it did a week ago. And it's a pretty strong legacy going forward for him to say, yes, I have achieved some things, infrastructure bill and all that kind of stuff.
And he started delivering on what he said. What strikes me about Bidenomics is that it started out as, there was a big childcare piece.
There was a big helping people, senior citizens and the care economy. And then there was a big, let's invest in America.
The former two have not passed, but the last third appears to be on the verge of passage, and that, again, significant achievement.
And we don't know what's going to happen. We're waiting for Kyrsten Sinema. We're waiting to see what happens.
And, meantime, Jonathan, a number of Republicans are really unhappy with Mitch McConnell. They think he didn't handle this whole thing very well. What do you think the political fallout from this is going to be?
Well, Senator McConnell is the master of the dark arts, dark parliamentarian arts there in the Senate.
And if he feels played, as The Wall Street Journal editorial page declared that he was, he and the Republicans had been played, he will exact some kind of revenge against the Democrats. It's just a matter of, how is he going to do it? Will he be able to do it? Could he exact revenge maybe not on this bill, but in the — codifying Obergefell and the Respect for All Marriages Act, which Senator Collins, Susan Collins, expressed concern that that bill and passage of that bill in the Senate could be victim to that.
When we were talking about that bill last week, there were five Senate Republicans who said that they would vote for it, meaning that all Democrats that were five more Republicans to vote — to say that they would vote for it, and they would clear the 60-vote threshold and they would actually be able to get it passed.
Haven't heard anything about it since last week, and most definitely haven't heard anything about it since the since the Inflation Reduction Act was revealed and since the CHIPS Act has been passed. So, the political fallout, at least in terms of the Senate and what Senator McConnell will do, remains to be seen.
But we have to remember something, that just because there's a deal with Manchin doesn't mean — and let's say Kyrsten Sinema, Senator Sinema, goes along with it. Once it gets over to the House, there's a whole new ball game that gets played. You have got moderate Democrats in the House who are upset that SALT provisions aren't in there. State and local taxes are not part of this Inflation Reduction Act.
How do they — how do Democrats handle that issue once the bill gets over to the House? That remains to be seen.
Remains to be seen.
And, David, just again, on this Republican disagreement over it, I mean, the message seems to be, if you work with Democrats, you're going to be punished.
Yes, well, that's been the message for a little while.
McConnell, he doesn't control the Senate. I mean, it's a Democratic-held Senate. If Democrats can hold all their people, then they get the pass stuff.
What strikes me is how Joe Manchin looks pretty skillful. Joe Manchin really took a lot of heat, more than most human beings would be willing to take for — over the past year. But when — if we come to this deal, at the end of the day, he gets the investments he wants, he gets expanded energy drilling and things like that, he gets genuine deficit reduction, and he gets no inflation.
And I think one of the things that turned his mind was the realization that his idea that this was an inflationary bill was just economically wrong, that, if you raise taxes to pay for spending, it's not going to increase inflation. And so I think he had a bit of an intellectual awakening.
But it shows all the members of the Senate — and we pay too much attention on leadership — that if — in a 50/50 body, one person, any one person who is willing to take the heat has enormous power. And Manchin is willing to take the heat, and at least so far has exercised enormous power.
Well, one of the measures that has hit a bump in the road after this deal emerged was a piece of — it's called the PACT Act. It's all about providing government aid to American military veterans who were exposed to toxic substances, toxic chemicals in the war in Iraq and wounded, and eventually — I mean, these are — these were veterans who came home with serious medical problems.
This looked like it was on the way to passage. It's now Republicans in the Senate in particular saying, wait a minute. And it's caused a lot of reaction. Jon Stewart, the former late-night talk show host — he's now an activist — this is what he had to say just outside the Capitol yesterday,
Jon Stewart, Comedian/Activist:
These people thought they could finally breathe. You think their struggles end because the PACT Act passes?
All it means is, they don't have to decide between their cancer drugs and their house. Their struggle continues. These people will not give up, they will not give in and they will not relent.
This is an embarrassment to the Senate, to the country, to the founders, and all that they profess to hold dear.
He — and he used much stronger language than that in going after the Republicans, Pat Toomey and others, who are — who he says are holding this up.
What about this argument he's making, that, essentially, they said yes, and now they're saying no, and it's just…
Yes. Well, it's — let's say, at best, it's a mystery. At worst, it's mind-boggling.
The mystery is, just a month ago, the vast majority of Republican senators voted for this thing. And then I think 25 or some large, significant numbers shift and now, suddenly, they're against it.
Is it payback for what Manchin — for what Manchin and Schumer did? It — that would be mind-boggling. You have got men and women who served this country suffering from cancer and other ailments, and we're going to take away benefits because of a legislative pique? Who does that?
And so I hope that's not the reason. There — Pat Toomey, I think, has some principal reasons having to do with budget policy and what we can afford. That's one thing. But if the votes were changed because Mitch McConnell said, we need to screw somebody, that would just be appalling.
Jonathan, what do you make of what Republicans are doing on this — on this so-called burn pits legislation?
Well, I mean, just — in a word, it's appalling.
But let's talk about what's happened. To what David was talking about, just in June, this bill passed out of the Senate with 84 votes, Judy, 84. It went to the House. The House made a minor change. And that's why it was back in the Senate for a vote.
And 25 Republicans who had voted for it back in June, after Senator Toomey worked on them, opted to vote against the bill. And Senator Toomey's arcane problem was that funding was being moved from discretionary within the bill to mandatory. And he was calling it a budget gimmick.
But you know who doesn't care whether it's a budget gimmick? It's those families that Jon Stewart was talking about. It's the — it's the veterans who worked in those burn pits and are suffering with the ailments. It's the families of those veterans who are sick and/or have died.
It's their families who are dealing with the financial burdens that Jon Stewart was talking about. They couldn't care less about whether it's discretionary or mandatory, the budget gimmickry that's going on. They just want to know that their government that they went overseas to protect and defend is going to protect and defend them now that they are back home.
And the fact that a bill passed in that chamber with 84 votes and then couldn't get out of there because 25 Republicans changed their votes, it is on those Republicans to explain to those families, not Jon Stewart, those families, why it was more important to vote against the bill that would help them right now than it was to do what they did and over, as David called it, legislative pique, because of some budget nonsense.
Well, we're — they say it's going to come up for a vote. It's going to be on the floor on Monday. We will see what happens.
I'm saving the last minute-and-a-half to ask the two of you to clarify what's going on with the economy.
So, David, inflation is rising. The Federal Reserve is focused on that.
Meantime, dark signals about a recession. We just saw corporate earnings, though, are way up. The stock market's up. What's going on?
Well, it's complicated. We need more than 90 seconds.
But inflation is terrible, truly terrible. And I think the White House is being too gentle about talking about it, too upbeat in talking about it.
On the other hand, labor markets are quite good, productivity, corporate profits. The stock market is beginning to kick up. Gas prices are coming down. And a post-COVID recession or slowdown looks very different.
The problem is, it's very hard for the Fed to bring down inflation in a way that's a soft landing. It's — the historical record is not good here. So, we may see something bumpier and much more unpleasant for the American people.
All right, Jonathan, it's on you.
What's your forecast? What do you think?
I don't know.
Everything is so contradictory, Judy. I mean, that the PCE number that came out, the highest in 40 years, it's the inflation marker that the feds use as their marker at 6.8 percent. But, in that same report, it showed that wages are up, not as much as inflation, but wages are up. So explain that to me. Inflation's up. Wages are up. Stock market is up. Gas prices are coming down, but we're going into a recession?
It's clear as mud.
All right, we figured it out.
Jonathan Capehart, David Brooks, thank you both.
Thank you, Judy.
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