Discover more from Letters from an American
October 21, 2022
This morning, in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Democratic president Joe Biden contrasted his record in office against that of his Republican predecessor, and the visions of the Democrats and Republicans going forward.
Biden began with his usual line: that he set out to rebuild the middle class by building “an economy from the bottom up and the middle out.” He noted that since he took office, the nation has added 10 million jobs and has seen unemployment drop to 3.5%, a 50-year low. In 11 states, unemployment is at all-time lows, and 17 states have unemployment rates under 3%.
He also highlighted that the country has added almost 700,000 manufacturing jobs and that companies are continuing to invest in new industries, at the same time that we are rebuilding our roads, airports, bridges, and ports.
But his main point today was to demonstrate how the Democrats’ program does not, in fact, blow up the nation’s finances the way Republicans have insisted for forty years. Biden focused on the deficit, which is the gap between what the government takes in through taxes and other revenue sources and what it pays out. Republicans insist that social welfare spending racks up government debt; Biden emphasized today that the Democrats’ investment in the nation has not increased the federal deficit. Indeed, the opposite is true: today the administration announced that the deficit this year fell by $1.4 trillion. This was the largest-ever decline in the federal deficit. Last year’s drop was $350 billion.
The deficit climbed every year of the Trump presidency, including in the years before the pandemic. Trump and the Republicans added $400 billion to the deficit, primarily because of their $2 trillion tax cut for the wealthy and for corporations.
Biden was not simply talking about today’s numbers; he was making a case that government investment in ordinary Americans is better for the nation’s finances than handing more money to the wealthy, which Republicans claim will goose the economy to produce higher tax revenues and thus balance the budget. Biden was pointing out that unlike the Republicans’ supply-side economics, the Democrats’ version of the economy actually works.
The numbers prove his point. According to Politifact, Republican presidents since Ronald Reagan have exploded deficits, while Democrats have brought deficits down. Reagan sent the deficit from $70 billion to $175 billion. George H.W. Bush took it to $300 billion. Bill Clinton—with help from Bush’s willingness to raise taxes—got the deficit to zero. George W. Bush took it back up to $1.2 trillion with unfunded wars. Barack Obama cut that back to $600 billion. And Trump’s tax cuts sent it skyrocketing again, even before pandemic spending sent it higher still.
Biden’s reduction of the deficit is due in part to the end of some of those pandemic programs, in part to the booming economy which is producing high tax revenues, and in part to higher taxes on the wealthy. He highlighted it today because, as he pointed out, the Republicans are promising further tax cuts that will send the deficit soaring upward again. The pattern is for them to cut taxes for the wealthy and then, when the deficit increases, complain that there is no money for social welfare programs and that Democrats advocating them are in favor of wasteful spending.
Biden emphasized that Republicans have told us what they will do if put back into power. They will pass massive tax cuts for the wealthy, after which they plan to repeal the administration’s actions—like the ability of Medicare to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies, made possible by the Inflation Reduction Act—that are bringing down the deficit. After their plan explodes the deficit again, they have said they would cut Medicare and Social Security.
“The election is not a referendum,” Biden said, “it’s a choice.”
But it’s a choice people might not see because of the headline-grabbing drama coming from the MAGA Republicans.
This morning, Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee, sentenced Trump ally Stephen Bannon to four months in prison and a fine of $6,500 for contempt of Congress after Bannon ignored a subpoena from the the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol. Nichols’s sentence was at the upper end of the sentencing guidelines for his offense. Nichols permitted Bannon to stay out of prison while he appeals his sentence.
And yet, Bannon’s sentencing was not the day’s big news. The January 6th committee today subpoenaed former president Trump to produce documents and to testify before it under oath. “[W]e have assembled overwhelming evidence, including from dozens of your former appointees and staff, that you personally orchestrated and oversaw a multi-part effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election and to obstruct the peaceful transition of power.”
The committee wants testimony, under oath, “regarding your dealings with multiple individuals who have now themselves invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination regarding their communications with you.” The professional staff of the January 6th committee, “including multiple former federal prosecutors,” as well as congressional members, will conduct the deposition. “If, like other witnesses identified above,” the committee wrote, “you intend to invoke your Fifth Amendment rights…, please so inform the Select Committee promptly.”
The committee also ordered Trump to produce documents, including—among other things—any records sent through the encrypted channel Signal, including not only messages he placed or received, but also those placed “at your direction.” It also asked specifically for all documents that referred “in any way” to the Oath Keepers or the Proud Boys, or any other similar gang. It also called out specifically communications with a number of those already associated with the attempt to overturn the election—Roger Stone, Stephen Bannon, Michael Flynn, Jeffrey Clark, and so on—as well as Trump’s former deputy chief of staff Anthony Ornato, who was also a Secret Service agent, and “any employee of the Secret Service with whom you interacted on January 6, 2021.”
The committee noted that their subpoena of a former president was “a significant and historic action” that they did not take lightly. But they pointed out that former presidents John Quincy Adams, John Tyler, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Herbert Hoover, Harry Truman, and Gerald Ford had all testified before Congress after they left office, with Roosevelt saying: “an ex-President is merely a citizen of the United States, like any other citizen, and it is his plain duty to try to help this committee or respond to its invitation.”
The committee wants the documents by November 4. It plans to start Trump’s testimony on or about November 14.
But Trump’s no good, very bad day was not over. Devlin Barrett of the Washington Post broke the story that, according to sources “familiar with the matter,” the federal documents Trump took when he left the White House, recovered during the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago, contained highly sensitive material about Iran and China, including information about Iran’s missile program. The exposure of the Iran and China information would reveal U.S. intelligence methods, inviting retaliation and weakening our national security.
After the story broke, Trump took to his social media network to suggest that the National Archives and Records Administration and the FBI “plant into documents, or subtract from documents,” suggesting that there is still much to learn about what those documents are, and where they might have gone.
Today, after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that he must testify before the Fulton County grand jury investigating the attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham appealed directly to the Supreme Court. Graham argues that his phone calls about the election were protected by the Constitution’s speech and debate clause, under which legislative speech is protected, because as the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, he needed to review “election-related issues.”
The lower courts disagreed, saying that the Constitution does not protect “communications and coordination with the Trump campaign regarding its post-election efforts in Georgia, public statements regarding the 2020 election, and efforts to ‘cajole’ or ‘exhort’ Georgia election officials.”
Finally, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin today called his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu for the first time since May 13. The Pentagon says it wants to keep the lines of communication open.