Dancing On The Debt Ceiling | Crooked Media
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September 29, 2021
What A Day
Dancing On The Debt Ceiling

In This Episode

  • After Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would have funded the government and raised the debt ceiling, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Congress it would be catastrophic if lawmakers didn’t raise that ceiling. Additionally, the House is supposed to vote on the infrastructure package tomorrow. Crooked Media’s Editor-in-Chief Brian Beutler joins us to break down all of the Congressional news.
  • And in headlines: U.S. defense officials testified before the Senate, Alabama state lawmakers plan to use the state’s COVID relief funds to build new prisons, and South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem is under scrutiny for her nepotism.





Gideon Resnick: It’s Wednesday, September 29th. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, the podcast that will briefly be installed as president in the case of a government shutdown.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, we apparently would form the interim government. Don’t ask us why. Were the founding fathers wrong about this particular thing? No, I don’t think so.


Josie Duffy Rice: This is, this may be one of the very few things they got right.


Gideon Resnick: On today’s show, Pentagon officials were in the congressional hot seat after the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. Plus, we are going to share some details from a Trump tell-all book by his former press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, so that you don’t have to buy it.


Josie Duffy Rice: But first, we want to update you on Congress, where this week, lawmakers are contending with—big breath—a potential government shutdown, a fight over raising the debt ceiling, and trying to pass both the infrastructure bill and the much broader social policy bill all at the same time.


Gideon Resnick: They love procrastination, just like me. And so this is what we know as of our reporting yesterday night. On Monday, Senate Republicans blocked a bill that would have funded the government and raised the debt limit—two in one go. That’s basically the artificial ceiling on how much the government can borrow to pay its bills.


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. And yesterday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen told Congress it would be catastrophic if lawmakers didn’t raise the debt ceiling.


[clip of Sec. Janet Yellen] America would default for the first time in history. The full faith and credit of the United States would be impaired, and our country would likely face a financial crisis and economic recession as a result.


Josie Duffy Rice: And she added that if the U.S. doesn’t act by October 18th, then the default could happen.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah. Additionally, the House is supposed to vote on the long-gestating infrastructure package tomorrow in a number of progressive Democrats have held firm in saying that they’re only going to vote for that bill if Democrats in the Senate also pass the broader multitrillion dollar social policy bill, which fulfills parts of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan. Here’s Senator Bernie Sanders talking about that with CNN yesterday:


[clip of Sen. Bernie Sanders] What I do know is if the infrastructure bill is passed alone in the House, we lose whatever leverage we now have, and that would be a big mistake.


Josie Duffy Rice: So if your head is spinning on this a bit, you are not alone. So to get a more in-depth rundown of what is going on and what to expect the rest of this week, we spoke yesterday to Crooked Media’s Editor-in-Chief, Brian Beutler, about all of this. And we started with the impact of the government not raising the debt ceiling.


Brian Beutler: So the government has to be funded, funding for the government has to pass by Thursday night, September 30th, or there will be a temporary lapse in a lot of government operations—closures of offices that deal with Social Security and national parks and so on. So a lot of things that we as citizens just kind of expect to be functioning, close down. But a lot of other government operations continue to operate almost kind of automatically. It’s disruptive, it’s economically harmful, but it’s not an acute crisis the way the debt limit would be. What the debt limit does is it basically says that the federal government, the executive branch, can’t issue new debt to finance incoming obligations. And we have to pay old and new bills. And if if the government can’t issue new debt, it can’t pay all those bills. Legislatively, the two things we’re going to be linked, or Democrats tried to link them by saying, let’s extend funding for the government past September 30th, and in that same legislation, suspend the debt limit so that we don’t run into this problem in mid-October. And Republicans are saying, no, we are not going to help you raise the debt limit at all, you have to do it on your own, and specifically, we insist that you do it in your budget reconciliation bill, which you’re going to use to pass Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. And there’s still uncertainty as to how Democrats are going to deal with this threat to default from Republicans.


Josie Duffy Rice: The fact that Republicans are willing to do this, is this a misunderstanding of reality or is this a willingness to let the entire economy burn to make Joe Biden look bad functionally?


Brian Beutler: Yeah, they they know how bad it would be. I mean, they’re even saying, Mitch, Mitch McConnell has even said America must never default on its debt. He knows that if it’s not raised, it’s calamitous. But he wants two things, I think. He wants to make Democrats take a vote to say the country can go up to $30 trillion in debt and then run against this big number and say this is how much debt the Democrats want to put us in. And then the second thing that he wants is to blow up Democrats’ efforts to pass President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. But the implication there is that if Democrats just give up their objectives, just stop trying to enact Biden’s agenda, then we’ll help you stave off a default on the debt, but only under those circumstances. So there’s a sort of hostage-taking element to what, to what McConnell is doing. But they know how bad it would be. And they have you know, they threaten this successfully once in 2011. They got all kinds of concessions from Democrats. In the years since, they kind of tried a couple more times and Democrats found that just calling their bluff and not offering to give them any concessions was enough to get them to just agree to lift the debt limit. So I think that there’s some feeling on the part of Democrats that the thing to do is just not cave.


Josie Duffy Rice: Another piece of this ongoing puzzle, obviously, is the infrastructure bill. Where do things stand there right now?


Brian Beutler: So there’s the Senate infrastructure bill, that’s bipartisan roads and bridges bill that passed a few months ago—it is scheduled for a vote in the House on Thursday, same day the government is scheduled to shut down. Nancy Pelosi promised a group of centrists that she would hold a vote on the Senate infrastructure bill by late September. But separately, she and other leaders promised that the Senate infrastructure bill and the rest of President Biden’s agenda, this Build Back Better bill that we’ve kind of talked about, that they would move together, because that’s really where the meat and potatoes of the stuff Joe Biden promised is: that’s climate change, that’s child care, that’s health care. Part of the reason the small group of centrists wanted to vote on the Senate infrastructure bill now, at this arbitrary date, was to de-link these two bills so they would kind of travel on separate tracks. And then once they got the piece of it that they really cared about, they could drive a hard bargain to make the Build Back Better bill smaller or just walk away from it all together. There’s a real question as to whether that Senate infrastructure bill will pass. There’s a lot of Democrats who are saying we are not going to vote for it until both bills are ready to go, and then we’ll vote for both at the same time. And so it’s sort of a big question, what happens Thursday? Does Nancy Pelosi have to pull the bill? Does the bill fail on the floor? Does she managed to wrangle the votes for it? And then once we’re past that, there’s a question of what do the negotiations to finish off the Biden agenda with that Build Back Better bill look like? How do they proceed? How big will the bill be? What measures will it contain? But they need to get everyone on board with something and it’s still unclear what will get 50 votes in the Senate and 218 in the House. And then how they’re going to pay for it.


Gideon Resnick: And to that end, as we’re talking, it appears as though progressives are still holding firm on the idea of coupling, or at least trying to put that forward as their public statement. So what do you sort of forsee happening here over the next couple of days?


Brian Beutler: Yeah, so I don’t see how, as we talk here, how the Senate infrastructure bill passes in the House, whether it fails on the floor, or whether Pelosi pulls it. There just don’t seem to be the votes for it there. One thing I could imagine may be changing the vote count is if the two main centrist Democrats in the Senate that are kind of tying things up and making it impossible to move ahead, that’s Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin, if they release sort of a joint statement or make a statement with President Biden wherein they commit to voting for a Build Back Better bill that spends no more than X dollars, paid for in this specific set of ways, and that contains these provisions—even though that bill is not written yet, just a verbal commitment that they will vote for something along those lines, I could imagine then 218 House Democrats saying, OK, that’s good enough for now and we’ll hash out the details going forward. But earlier today, as we record this Tuesday, President Biden met with Kyrsten Sinema and there is no indication that any kind of specificity like that is forthcoming. And without the specificity, this will look like a bait and switch to the overwhelming majority of House Democrats, who I think then will not provide the votes for the Senate infrastructure bill. And then after that, either that will serve to galvanize the party to negotiate together on both bills, or you could also imagine these same centrists saying, fine, if you voted down our Senate infrastructure bill, then we’re not going to vote for anything. And that would be basically lights out for Joe Biden’s economic agenda.


Gideon Resnick: So it’s not quite like do or die yet, but it’s very much quickly approaching do or die.


Brian Beutler: It’s not do or die yet. But for the most important parts of Biden’s agenda to survive, Democrats need to resolve as a party to continue negotiating on it after this week despite the sort of artificial deadline for a vote on Thursday. And they need to resolve to either get it done by mid-October and use it to raise the debt limit, or they need to resolve to raise the debt limit by abolishing the filibuster and taking that threat off the table, which will give them the running room to continue hashing out the details on the Biden agenda at their own pace.


Josie Duffy Rice: That’s Crooked Media is Editor-in-Chief Brian Beutler in a conversation we had with him yesterday.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, and we’re going to keep you updated as things progress here and hopefully they’re not drastically changing as we speak, but perhaps. That is the latest for now, though. It’s Wednesday, WAD squad, and for today’s temp check, we are talking about the latest release from our favorite/least favorite genre of book: the Trump tell-all. “I’ll Take Your Questions Now” from former Trump press secretary Stephanie Grisham comes out next week. And yesterday, a few tidbits from it were shared with the press. One crucially important detail described a, quote, “Music Man” position held by a member of Trump’s staff. It was apparently this person’s job to play the former president his favorite show tunes when he was mad so that he would calm down. We don’t know the full track list that the music man used, but one song that Grisham mentioned was Memory from Cats. Now, we’re generally skeptical of these books, which let Trump’s old friends make a quick three million before retiring to a ranch in a state that’s at least 87% white, but this detail struck us as to fun to ignore. So, Josie, what was your reaction to this?


Josie Duffy Rice: Honestly, I’m just trying to figure out where I can hire my own music man who will play me songs for my favorite musicals when I’m stressed out. That’s an amazing, amazing idea. Really. What an entrepreneur that Trump guy is.


Gideon Resnick: Well, you have to become the president of the United States to be afforded these particular luxuries. So if you’re willing to take on that burden, you know, then the Music Man is yours.


Josie Duffy Rice: Well, as of next week, once the government shuts down, that’s our job. So . . .


Gideon Resnick: Exactly, exactly.


Josie Duffy Rice: That’s one job that will still be taxpayer funded, even when the government shuts down, the Music Man.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, this is, this is the long game. Yeah. I’m so curious about so many details of this. Like, is this just, is there any reference or context here for, like the most recent rendition of Cats, i.e. the James Corden film? It’s his film. I don’t know how big of a role he’s having there, but I’m referring to it as his because he’s one of the more offensive parts of it, I think. Or like is this just, you know, like throughout history, Trump has just asked somebody to play songs from Cats when he’s upset. Like, what does he know about the most recent Cats, I guess I’m wondering? Just like that we have checked our temps. If you’re the Music Man and you have more answers to our burning questions, please let us know. But we’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung[ Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: Top U.S. defense officials testified before the Senate yesterday to answer some questions about the Afghanistan withdrawal, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin were asked pointed questions about pulling troops out so quickly, as well as a drone strike in Kabul that inadvertently killed 10 innocent people, including children. During the hearing, senators also pressed the officials on why they failed to predict such a rapid collapse of the Afghan government and military. The Pentagon officials acknowledged publicly for the first time that they had advised President Biden not to withdraw all American troops from Afghanistan. And during the contentious hearing, Milley also defended his call to China towards the end of Trump’s presidency. After it was recently brought to light in a book about the former president’s final days in office, Milley insisted that his call to his Chinese counterpart was to assure their government that Trump would not launch a nuclear attack. Just a regular call, normal call.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, just a casual, casual Monday. Alabama’s Republican-ruled government knows exactly what is the most important thing to spend money on in the midst of a pandemic: more prisons. State lawmakers began a special session on Monday that will include plans to use $400 million, the state’s share of American Rescue Plan COVID funds to help pay for the construction of at least three new prisons—what is public health, if not more prisons? Alabama’s prison system, which is currently facing a Justice Department lawsuit for the state’s pattern of excessive force against inmates, is considered to be one of the most overcrowded and violent in the country. The $1.3 billion proposal includes renovation of existing prisons, as well as two policy changes that would allow an estimated 700 inmates to apply for reduced sentences. But Alabama Democrats are hoping to push for broader reforms on the floor. 700 inmates is not even beginning to be enough decarceration for that state. While the DOJ noted in their 2019 report that dilapidated prisons were a contributing factor in their assessment of the unconstitutional conditions, new facilities and renovations failed to address major issues affecting the inmates and staff, like the culture of violence, poor management, sex and drug abuse, no accountability for staff members that cross the line—all of these are far bigger priorities than building yet another prison in the state. As far as what the COVID funds COULD go toward instead of more prisons:, Alabama recently ranked number one for deaths in the United States after low vaccination rates allowed Delta to surge through the southern state.


Gideon Resnick: Yesterday, New York state officials announced that 92% of the state’s health care workers had received at least one COVID vaccine dose. They had set a deadline of last Monday for that entire workforce to start getting inoculated. Although this is a positive sign for President Biden’s planned federal vaccination mandate, which he announced earlier this month, New York is currently facing at least eight lawsuits and some angry protests opposing health care worker mandates. Congrats to all of those folks and the dozens of them. In preparation of hospital and nursing home workers potentially resigning due to the mandate, New York’s governor Kathy Hochul has discussed changing the state’s licensing requirements to allow out-of-state workers to step in. Hochul also declared a state of emergency to allow her to deploy medically trained members of the National Guard if need be. Their bedside manner is yet to be determined. However, as of now, sub-ins are not needed. In more news, two unions representing American Airlines pilots and Southwest Airlines pilots warned that a vaccine requirement could create labor shortages. The APA, which represents 14,000 pilots, told Politico that mandates would disrupt holiday travel and would force airlines to, quote, “implement mass terminations of unvaccinated pilots.”


Josie Duffy Rice: Oh, boy. Now it’s time to take a break from the Hunter Bidens and Ivanka Trumps of the world to look at some state-level nepotism. South Dakota Governor and proud motorcycle mom Kristi Noem is under scrutiny for allegedly using her power to get her daughter a real estate license. Early last year, Noem’s daughter applied for and was denied state certification to become a real estate appraiser. Days after that, the head of the agency that denied the application, Sherry Bren, was summoned to meet with Governor Noem, Noem’s daughter and the state labor secretary. Four months after that, Noem’s daughter got certification and soon after, public enemy Noem-ber one—get it, get it? It’s a good one, it’s a good one—Sherry Bran was allegedly pressured by the labor secretary to retire. She filed an age discrimination complaint, which she was later paid $200,000 dollars to withdraw. Wow. A lot of levels here. If you think this whole thing smells fishy, you’re not alone. South Dakota’s Attorney General said Tuesday that he will be reviewing concerns from state lawmakers over the meeting, but ethics experts agree that Noem should never have been involved with the process in the first place. Governor Noem has framed reporting on the story as an attempt to destroy her children. They can hide from criticism by crawling under their real estate appraisers’ certificates like they’re big blankets. Pretty excited that the Attorney General of South Dakota is the one reviewing this claim because he recently hit a pedestrian and killed them.


Gideon Resnick: I was going to say, I was going to say, if you didn’t have enough of this particular story and everything else happening in South Dakota, Google the State’s Attorney General for more information.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Somehow I feel like he’s not the guy I want deciding what should be ethical and not ethical.


Gideon Resnick: Whoooo. OK, well, those are the headlines. One more thing before we go, check out 544 Days. It is the newest podcast from Gimlet, Crooked Media and A24. It follows the true story of Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, who was held hostage in Iran for 544 days and wrongfully accused of being an American spy. Not to mention this was all happening while nuclear negotiations between Iran and the US threatened his chances of ever getting out. To hear the first three episodes follow 544 Days for free only on Spotify. That is all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, find your personal Music Man, and tell your friends to listen.


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you are under reading, and not just rightfully-earned real estate appraiser certificates like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at Crooked.com/subscribe. I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And stream Cats on Hulu.


Gideon Resnick: Yes. If you haven’t already, I don’t know what you’ve been up to because we’ve been talking about this movie for, ever since it came out, really.


Josie Duffy Rice: Since the beginning of time.


Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes. Jazzi Marine is our associate producer, with production help from Jocey Coffman. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.