January 19, 2023
As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned would happen today, the U.S. hit the debt ceiling, although it can avoid default for a few months with what Yellen calls “extraordinary measures.” These consist primarily of suspending government pension investments, which will have to be made whole again when the ceiling has been increased or suspended.
Most of the media discussions of the crisis this morning focused on whether the Democrats would agree to negotiate with the hard-right Republicans, who want cuts to domestic spending before they will agree to raise the debt ceiling to access money that Congress has already appropriated.
It jumped out at me that virtually no one was talking about the fact that there are two ways to deal with unwanted deficits: cutting expenditures, yes, but also…raising revenue. Indeed, raising revenue to pay for appropriations has historically been the first option. And yet, since 1981, the Republicans have made cutting taxes the centerpiece of their economic policy, arguing that putting more money in the hands of the “makers,” rather than the “takers,” will enable those makers to invest in production and hire more workers, thus expanding the economy.
But forty years of so-called supply-side economics have demonstrated that this system does not, in fact, create extraordinary economic growth. Instead, it moves wealth upward, really quite dramatically, and creates deficits. Indeed, one of the reasons we need an increase in the debt ceiling is that the 2017 Trump tax cuts, especially the cut in the corporate tax rate from 35% to 21%, dramatically increased the deficit without promoting growth. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated in 2018 that the tax cuts would increase the deficit by about $1.9 trillion over 11 years.
It seems like repealing those 2017 tax cuts, at least, would be factoring into discussions of addressing the deficit.
Today the Supreme Court released a statement about the investigation it was conducting into the leak of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision last May. That decision overturned Roe v. Wade, which recognized the constitutional right to abortion, and provoked a firestorm when it was published in Politico on May 2. The court vowed to find the leaker.
At the time, right-wing activists blamed their opponents for the leak, but pro-choice observers noted that the leak was more likely to have come from the right as part of an attempt to make sure the justices felt locked in to what was a more extreme position than some of them had indicated they wanted to take. Indeed, the final decision did not significantly change the leaked draft.
In November, news broke that the Reverend Rob Schenck, once an antiabortion activist, had told Chief Justice John Roberts that he learned in advance of another decision important to evangelicals, the 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision denying that employee health plans had to include contraception. In that case, the information came to him after a colleague had dinner with Justice Samuel Alito and his wife. Alito wrote the Hobby Lobby decision. He also wrote the Dobbs decision.
That information suggests that any investigators eager to get to the bottom of the leak should have talked to the justices themselves, but it is unclear if anyone did. According to the statement, this investigation focused on “Court personnel—temporary (law clerks) and permanent employees—who had or may have had access to the draft opinion….” The report implies that the leak came from an employee, although employees voluntarily turned over their phones, which showed nothing relevant. An examination of their computer searches also turned up nothing “suspicious or relevant.” Each employee signed a sworn affidavit, under threat of perjury, that they did not leak the decision, although some admitted they had told their spouse what it said.
After 126 interviews with 97 employees, the report says, the investigation turned up no leads on who the leaker was, although it did establish that the leak did not come from an external hack of the court’s electronic systems.
Although the source of the leak remains unknown, right-wing figures continue to imply it came from an opponent of the decision. Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO) tweeted, “Someone ought to resign for this,” and former president Trump called for throwing the reporter who published the story in jail until they identified the leaker. “Arrest the reporter, publisher, editor—you’ll get your answer fast.”
White House spokesperson Andrew Bates responded: “The freedom of the press is part of the bedrock of American democracy…. Calling for egregious abuses of power in order to suppress the Constitutional rights of reporters is an insult to the rule of law and undermines fundamental American values and traditions.”
Also today, Judge Donald Middlebrooks of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida hammered Trump, his lawyer Alina Habba, and her law firm Habba Madaio & Associates with a bill of $937,989.39 for attorneys’ fees and costs after they filed a lawsuit the court found to be “completely frivolous” and a bad-faith use of the court system.
The lawsuit, filed last March over the “Russia Hoax,” alleged that Hillary Clinton and a number of the other people Trump generally attacked in his rallies had “orchestrated a malicious conspiracy to disseminate patently false and injurious information about Donald J. Trump and his campaign, all in the hope of destroying his life, his political career, and rigging the 2016 Presidential Election in favor of Hillary Clinton.”
The lawsuit was dismissed and the defendants filed for sanctions. “This case should never have been brought,” the judge wrote. “Its inadequacy as a legal claim was evident from the start. No reasonable lawyer would have filed it. Intended for a political purpose, none of the counts of the amended complaint stated a cognizable legal claim.” The judge laid out the “telltale signs” of Trump’s “playbook”: “Provocative and boastful rhetoric; a political narrative carried over from rallies; attacks on political opponents and the news media; disregard for legal principles and precedent; and fundraising and payments to lawyers from political action committees.”
Judge Middlebrooks wrote: “Thirty-one individuals and entities were needlessly harmed in order to dishonestly advance a political narrative. A continuing pattern of misuse of the courts by Mr. Trump and his lawyers undermines the rule of law, portrays judges as partisans, and diverts resources from those who have suffered actual legal harm.” The sanctions against Trump and Habba were intended to discourage similar behavior in the future.
Also today, in the ongoing saga of Representative George Santos (R-NY), a drag queen in Brazil has recently identified Santos as drag queen Kitara Ravache, who performed in Brazil about ten years ago. Although Brazilian drag queen Eula Rochard has provided pictures, Santos calls the allegations “categorically false…. The media continues to make outrageous claims about my life while I am working to deliver results,” he said.
Finally, today, Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) introduced a constitutional amendment to the House to overturn the 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court decision that opened the floodgates for dark money to swamp our elections. The proposed amendment protects freedom of the press but permits Congress and the states to impose nonpartisan regulations on political fundraising, support public campaign financing, and “distinguish between natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law, including by prohibiting such entities from spending money to influence elections.”
I am struck today by how language—its silences, obfuscations, truths, lies, and hopes—shapes our world.