Last Call For Congress with Brian Beutler | Crooked Media
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December 10, 2021
What A Day
Last Call For Congress with Brian Beutler

In This Episode

  • Today is the last day that Congress is scheduled to be in session for 2021. Just yesterday, the Senate voted and paved the way for Democrats to raise the debt limit so the country doesn’t default on its loans. Crooked Media’s Editor in Chief Brian Beutler joins us to catch us up on what our lawmakers have been up to all year.
  • And in headlines: workers at a Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York, have successfully voted to unionize, farmers in India ended their year-long protest, and the FDA approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s booster shot for 16- and 17-year-olds.




Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Friday, December 10th. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.


Priyanka Aribindi: And I’m Priyanka Aribindi, and this is What A Day, the podcast that will not be funded unless we raise the debt ceiling.


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, the government doesn’t realize they actually pay for this whole podcast.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So we can’t let the government default on its loans or realize that we have access to all of their money.


Tre’vell Anderson: We have got bills to pay and we need the government to pay them.


Priyanka Aribindi: On today’s show, Starbucks workers at one store in Buffalo, New York, voted to unionize. Plus farmers in India have ended their yearlong protest to get better prices for their produce.


Tre’vell Anderson: But first, today’s the last day that Congress is scheduled to be in session for 2021. Lawmakers did a lot in the past year. Even yesterday, the Senate voted and paved the way for Democrats to raise the debt limit so the country doesn’t default on its loans.


Priyanka Aribindi: But they also postponed a lot of issues as well. So to catch us up on what our lawmakers had been up to, we have with us again Crooked Media’s Editor in Chief, Brian Beutler. Brian, it is so great to have you back on What A Day.


Brian Beutler: It’s good to be back.


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s been a long time since we chatted.


Brian Beutler: I know!


Priyanka Aribindi: But I am so excited because we have lots of questions for you today. So there is a lot that Congress still needs to do, obviously. But let’s start with the noteworthy things that they have accomplished so far this year. Can you kind of, you know, break it down for us?


Brian Beutler: Yeah, I mean, the biggest ticket items are obviously passed the American Rescue Plan back in March. That has had the effect of sustaining a really robust economic recovery even through new variants of the coronavirus. And then they more recently passed the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which, depending on how you count, it is about 1.2 trillion dollars for hard infrastructure projects that will span the next decade. The companion piece to the bipartisan infrastructure bill is the sort of human infrastructure bill, the Build Back Better Act, which is near passage, but they haven’t quite finished it yet.


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, they passed the infrastructure bill, but the tougher challenge has been the Build Back Better plan. Can you tell us like, why that has been so much of a challenge and where it kind of stands now?


Brian Beutler: Well, part of the issue is that the measures in the bipartisan infrastructure framework were in fact bipartisan and have been actually for a long time. Polarization in Washington has prevented Congress from passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill. Donald Trump’s incompetence prevented Congress from passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill in previous years. But there genuinely is bipartisan support for rebuilding bridges and rural broadband and things like that. And so the political lift to finish that legislation is easier. The Build Back Better Act, because it is partisan, is also a vehicle for Democrats to try to make sure that their pet issues or their concerns are met. When the American Rescue Plan was under debate, there was a real urgency about getting it passed and not getting bogged down in all kinds of squabbling because it was sort of an emergency piece of legislation. They needed it to pass quickly, and they didn’t have a lot of time to fight among themselves about how to reshape it. Once that was done, Congress sort of reverted to its normal horse-trading style of legislating and because there was no immediate deadline to pass it, it’s become bogged down by differing views among Democrats about what should be in it.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. So is there any shot really of this plan getting passed by the end of this year or is that, is that even possible?


Brian Beutler: The nice thing about legislating in December is that there’s a big holiday that senators really like to be home for. There’s a lot to do in the Senate before that bill passes, but I think that that’s enough time for them to finalize the language of the bill, go through the procedural oddities that they have to go through to pass this bill through the budget process—which allows them to avoid the filibuster. And then vote on final passage and go home.


Priyanka Aribindi: That is really helpful information. I actually wouldn’t have had any idea.


Brian Beutler: I don’t want to predict that that’s going to happen because it could not, but it’s feasible.


Priyanka Aribindi: So if they do push it into 2022, what is the challenge in trying to pass it then?


Brian Beutler: Beyond just Christmas being this motivating force to finish their work, there are provisions from the American Rescue Plan, most notably the child tax credit, which were in that bill only funded for one year.


Priyanka Aribindi: Oh wow. OK.


Brian Beutler: And the Build Back Better Act extends them into the future. If they don’t pass the Build Back Better act quickly, those provisions will technically expire, and ramping them back up can become complicated. So that’s another reason to think that they’ll get it done, if not before the calendar hits 2022 then immediately afterwards. I think that the danger that you’re alluding to is that they’re not even really that close, and we get into January and not only do those provisions expire, but the political timidity that tends to set in around election years begins to take hold and they just don’t have the votes to pass it at all anymore.


Tre’vell Anderson: I’d like to ask you a little bit about the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and provide consistent, explicit nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Passing it was one of the things that Biden campaigned on. He promised to have that done within the first 100 days, but that 100 days has come and long gone, OK. But do we have a sense of what’s happening there? I know it’s been languishing for a long period of time right about now.


Brian Beutler: Yeah. So that bill along with several other big ticket pieces of legislation that the Democrats run on year-in year-out are subject to the same basic problem, which is that legislation in the Senate, unless it’s budgetary in nature, right, can be filibustered, and filibustering it just entails a single Republican saying that they object and then suddenly that piece of legislation requires 60 votes and there are not 60 votes for that piece of legislation or many, many others. Conceivable in theory that Democrats could just change the Senate rules and say now legislation passes with 50 votes plus the vice president, and then it would kind of be a whole new ballgame. But the reason it didn’t pass within the first hundred days or in the 200ish days since then is that, is that if they were to bring it up in the Senate, it would fall to a filibuster.


Priyanka Aribindi: We spent a lot of time talking about Congress trying to pass several bills to protect voting rights. But in 2021, they haven’t passed the For the People Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, or the Freedom to Vote Act. And at the same time, there are several states that have passed restrictive voting measures or drawn new district lines that give Republicans a clear advantage. So what position does that kind of put us in as we head into 2022?


Brian Beutler: Right. So the one exception—it’s like a half exception to this idea that the budgetary stuff can pass with 50 votes and everything else can be filibustered—is that Democrats are trying to find a way to make an exception for democracy reforms.


Priyanka Aribindi: Got it.


Brian Beutler: On the theory that in a democracy, the majority should prevail and so minority shouldn’t be allowed to rig the electoral system and then require a supermajority to rebalance the scales. It’s unclear whether they are going to be able to create this single exception and then if they do create it, which pieces of legislation they would advance. The bill in the Senate that you mentioned, the Freedom to Vote Act, is the one that has unanimous support among Senate Democrats. They’ve already voted for it on sort of repeated test votes. Ideally, and I think what Democrats wanted to happen, was to finish up work on Biden’s economic agenda a few months ago, giving them ample time to turn to democracy reform, democracy protection and get protections in place, particularly on gerrymandering and election subversion, before Republicans in states changed their maps to lock in Republican majorities even in states where they don’t have statewide majorities of popular support. What we’re going to be lucky to get if Democrats can figure out how to pass bills like that with just 50 votes is, you know, changing of the rules—they’ll ban gerrymandering, for instance—and then with a new prohibition on partisan gerrymandering in place, they can go to the courts to try to get the partisan maps that Republicans are enacting state by state thrown out. But the moment to preempt a lot of those maps seems to have passed. There’s also urgency because Republicans, both in states and at the federal level, seem to be gaming out ways of redoing the sort of “name the loser of the election, the winner”-thing that Donald Trump wanted them to do in 2020. And so there’s ideas being floated among Democrats about how to change the law to make the sort of chicanery that Republicans are up to there, unlawful.


Tre’vell Anderson: Gotcha.


Priyanka Aribindi: So when Congress comes back in 2022, there is going to be a lot more on their to-do list. What should we be watching out for?


Brian Beutler: I think the real thing is, are they going to pass Build Back Better, as we discussed? And then what is the endgame with democracy protection? You know, Democrats worked really hard to get all 50 senators in line for democracy protection legislation. That got it. They’ve held repeated test votes to see if any Republicans will break with their party to break a filibuster. They’ve gotten zero. Joe Manchin, one of the people who opposes reforming the filibuster, tried to go out and find 10 Republican votes. Got zero. And so is this just an elaborate show to tell voters we really care about protecting the democracy from efforts to suppress the vote and subvert elections but we can’t do anything about it? Or is this the buildup to them reaching a breaking point and actually changing the rules to pass legislation like that?


Tre’vell Anderson: All right. Seems like we’ve got a lot to keep our eyes on for 2022! Lucky us.


Brian Beutler: It’ll be a busy year. It’ll be a busy year, even with the filibuster blocking almost everything.


Tre’vell Anderson: Oy yoy yoy. Well, Brian is Crooked Media’s Editor in Chief. Thanks so much for joining us and I’m sure we will have you back in the new year to talk through all of this foolishness once again.


Brian Beutler: I can’t wait.


Tre’vell Anderson: More on all of this very soon, but that is the latest for now. It’s Friday WAD squad, and for today’s Temp check, we’re talking about unrealistic beauty standards for desert mammals. In Saudi Arabia, authorities have cracked down on attempts to cheat in a camel beauty contest using a variety of cosmetic tricks and procedures. Per the state-run Saudi Press Agency, organizers of the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival have dealt with 147 cases of tampering this year. They’ve observed breeders using hormones to make camels more muscular, Botox to make their heads and lips bigger, and fillers to relax their faces. If you’re wondering why these folks would go to such lengths to yassify their livestock, it’s because the total prize purse is $66 million. OK? Plus, winners of the contest can expect to sell their animals for higher prices. The stakes for cheating are high, too, though, with fines for cosmetic injections reaching $27,000 per animal. The camels are examined with X-ray machines, sonar devices, and more to determine if, as the saying goes, they are working with the humps God gave them or not. So Priyanka. What’s your take on this story?


Tre’vell Anderson: I think it’s kind of funny that they’re examined with these machines and devices. I feel like there was a very similar plot point at one point on Keeping Up With the Kardashians, like in an early season. So it’s just kind of wild. That’s an aside. I think the whole story obviously is horrific, but I would love to attend a camel festival.


Tre’vell Anderson: Would you really?


Priyanka Aribindi: I mean, it might be kind of stinky, but like, seems like this is a huge deal.


Tre’vell Anderson: I think I’m just interested in knowing how we got to this point. Like, who was the person who was like, You know what? One—


Priyanka Aribindi: I got an idea!


Tre’vell Anderson: Camel beauty pageant. And then two, let’s do a little puncture here, a little somethin’ somethin’ here just to like lift the face.


Priyanka Aribindi: Camel beauty pageant I am on board with. The rest of the stuff is a no for me.


Tre’vell Anderson: We’ve got questions, people. And just like that, we’ve checked our temps. We’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Tre’vell Anderson: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Priyanka Aribindi: Workers at a Starbucks store in Buffalo, New York, have successfully voted to unionize.


[sounds of cheers, yelling]


Priyanka Aribindi: That is them celebrating the election result yesterday. Their store will be the first out of the 9,000 locations owned by the company to unionize. Two other Buffalo-area stores also voted on the issue, but one voted it down while another is waiting on final results because of challenges to seven ballots. This caps off a contentious three-month union campaign where Starbucks execs flew in from all over the country to lobby workers at these stores to vote no. As for the store that said yes, employees will now work with the union that will represent them, Workers United Upstate New York, to negotiate a contract that secures them better wages, training and staffing. After the vote, Starbucks’ president of retail for North America, wrote quote, “the vote outcomes will not change our shared purpose or how we will show up for each other.” OK, I don’t, I don’t quite know what to make of that quote. I mean, it’s great to be here with you, Tre’vell always. I’m a little sad that Gideon isn’t here with us today because I really feel like he’s been guiding us along with this story for the past three months.


Priyanka Aribindi: Yes, but he’ll be back. I’m sure he’ll have thoughts next week.


Priyanka Aribindi: Very true.


Tre’vell Anderson: Tens of thousands of farmers in India are rejoicing after ending their year-long protest yesterday. They were demonstrating against laws that rob them of their fair share of profits and gave private corporations control of the country’s agricultural sector. Since September of 2020, agricultural workers and their allies across the country have been camping out in the streets, blocking traffic, and going on hunger strikes to demand that the legislation be repealed. The India Farmer’s Union said yesterday that they received a letter from the government meeting their demands and promising to consider guaranteed prices for all produce. The move comes one month after Prime Minister Narendra Modi called to reverse the controversial laws. The union also made it clear that it is prepared to protest again if the government breaks its promise. But in the meantime, farmers are taking down their campsites and planning to host a well-deserved victory march tomorrow to celebrate their win.


Priyanka Aribindi: We have such a like, so many good vibes this episode.


Tre’vell Anderson: We love to see that.


Priyanka Aribindi: People are winning left and right, and I’m happy for them. You know who else is winning? The teens. They can finally participate in the one trend they were behind on: COVID vaccine boosters. That is right. The FDA greenlit Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots for 16 and 17-year olds yesterday. Now, seven million teens nationwide can get a third shot six months after they receive their second dose. They can also use their powers of nuclear strength judgmental-ness to pressure the rest of us to get ours. Pfizer is the first major vaccine manufacturer in the U.S. to get clearance for adolescents. Vaccines by Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are still only authorized for adults. The FDA’s emergency decision comes after studies demonstrated the Omicron variant’s ability to wear down the power of two Pfizer vaccine doses. Pfizer also said yesterday that a fourth vaccine dose, one that specifically targets the Omicron variant, may be necessary to prevent the virus’s spread as more cases pop up in the US.


Tre’vell Anderson: More jabs for everyone.


Priyanka Aribindi: All around.


Tre’vell Anderson: Shout out to us, all right? Leticia James is attempting to do something most experts consider to be impossible: make Trump say one word in a legal setting. The New York attorney general will reportedly asked the former president to sit for a deposition the first week of January as part of a civil fraud investigation into his company. In a statement, the Trump Organization said quote, “This is another political witch-hunt. The only focus of the New York AG is to investigate Trump, all for her own political ambitions.” That statement was likely referring to James’ run for New York governor, which as if to help preserve Trump’s record of being wrong 100% of the time, she suspended yesterday. James will instead, [laughs] James will instead focus on being reelected to AG. This makes the gubernatorial race a little easier for current Governor Kathy Hochul, who took over the state after Andrew Cuomo resigned in August.


Priyanka Aribindi: I am just still laughing about what he said about her. And it’s like, No, she’s actually not—


Tre’vell Anderson: They don’t be paying attention to the news for real. We know this. It’s fine.


Priyanka Aribindi: It’s never, it’s never correct.


Tre’vell Anderson: It’s fine. They just operate off of vibes over there in the Trump Organization. It’s cool. And those are the headlines. One more thing before we go: if you’re looking for movies, television, and comic books to check out this holiday season, then listen to new episodes of X-Ray Vision with Jason Concepcion.


Priyanka Aribindi: This month, Jason will be discussing the new Marvel series Hawkeye, recapping previous Spider-Man movies, and diving into the new film Spider-Man: No Way Home. You can catch episodes of X-Ray Vision every Friday wherever you get your podcasts.


Tre’vell Anderson: That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, follow us on Instagram @WhatADay, and tell your friends to listen.


Priyanka Aribindi: And if you’re into reading, and not just fines issued to people who yassify their camels like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Priyanka Aribindi.


Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson.


[together] And let camels live their lives!


Tre’vell Anderson: Listen, they didn’t ask for all this.


Priyanka Aribindi: They did not.


Tre’vell Anderson: They don’t want your poking and your prodding.


Priyanka Aribindi: Just do the face app. Yassify them that way. It’s fine, the old fashioned way, you could read about it in The New York Times, just like I did five minutes ago.


Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.