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The Morning Dispatch: Biden Goes Big In Budget
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The Morning Dispatch: Biden Goes Big In Budget

Plus: Republican senators reject the House's January 6 commission bill.

Happy Tuesday! We missed you yesterday! But we hope you were able to spend some time reflecting on the sacrifices so many have made to protect our freedom. Chris Stirewalt’s Memorial Day tribute and James Garfield’s 1868 ‘Decoration Day’ speech are great places to start.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year reign may soon be coming to an end as an ideologically diverse anti-Netanyahu coalition appears to be barreling toward a power-sharing agreement that would result in Naftali Bennett—former defense minister and Netanyahu ally—securing the top job for two years, before turning it over to the more centrist Yair Lapid, a former news anchor. Negotiations are not yet final, but must be completed before a Wednesday deadline.

  • Weeks after China’s census revealed the country’s slowest population growth in decades, the Chinese Communist Party announced Monday it was replacing its two-child policy for married couples with a three-child policy.

  • Three gunmen opened fire at a concert in Miami over the weekend, killing two and injuring nearly two dozen more. The perpetrators remain at large.

  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) relaxed its masking guidance for vaccinated children attending summer camps, saying it is safe for camps where everyone is fully vaccinated to “return to full capacity, without masking, and without physical distancing.” The CDC encourages campers who are not fully vaccinated—including those between ages 2 and 12, who are not yet eligible for a vaccine—to continue to mask indoors and in “crowded outdoor settings.”

  • The federal government’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said Friday that employers can require employees entering a physical workplace to receive a COVID-19 vaccine (with accommodations for objectors) without violating nondiscrimination laws. Employers can also offer employees incentives to be vaccinated as long as the incentive is “not so substantial as to be coercive.”

  • The United States confirmed 4,384 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 1.7 percent of the 261,869 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 128 deaths were attributed to the virus on Monday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 594,565. According to the CDC, 20,064 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Meanwhile, 1,223,800 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered Sunday (the CDC did not update its data yesterday), with 167,733,972 Americans having now received at least one dose. (The numbers the past few days were likely affected by the holiday weekend, so expect some reporting lags.)

Biden’s Budget Bonanza

When speaking off the cuff, President Joe Biden can sometimes appear like the fiscal hawk he used to be, sounding off on the perils of spending in the red. Last month, amid negotiations about his mammoth infrastructure plan, Biden insisted a sizable corporate tax hike needed to be part of the package: “I’m willing to compromise but I’m not willing to not pay for what we’re talking about. I’m not willing to deficit spend.”

On Friday afternoon, however, Biden tipped his fiscal hand with the release of the White House budget plan for fiscal year 2022 and the decade beyond—a budget showing a comfort with massive, routine deficit spending that far exceeds anything laid out even by former Democratic administrations.

Presidential budgets are often more symbolic than anything else; the details ultimately need to be ironed out in Congress. But the framework congressional Democrats will be working from calls for huge increases in federal spending from pre-pandemic levels across vast swaths of the economy and American society. The core of the budget is Biden’s American Families Plan—which focuses on education, child care, and paid family leave—and his infrastructure package, the American Jobs Plan. But it is also packed with multibillion-dollar new priorities across the federal government, from fighting climate change, to increasing funding to high-poverty schools, to beefing up the Centers for Disease Control, to combating gun violence and opioid abuse.

The total sticker price: $6 trillion next year, growing to $8 trillion per year by the end of the decade. Biden hopes to pay for that in part with a bevy of new taxes—raising the corporate tax rate and income tax rate for wealthy earners and hiking taxes on capital gains and multinational corporations. Even with those new taxes baked in, however, the White House still plans to run huge deficits—$1.8 trillion next year, $1.3 trillion each year after that.

In his budget message to Congress, Biden said the proposal “reflects the fact that trickle-down economics has never worked, and that the best way to grow our economy is not from the top down, but from the bottom up and the middle out.”

But that hoary rhetoric, which could just as easily have come from any other prominent Democrat about any Democratic budget in the past two decades, belies just how significant a break this is from the party’s positioning in the past. Democrats—and, increasingly, Republicans—haven’t hesitated to run deficits more or less nonstop this millennium. But they’ve always paid at least lip service to the notion that runaway federal spending carried some risk—even as they argued that this or that specific priority made the risk worthwhile.

Now, the Biden White House is making a very different economic argument. The Washington Post sums it up well: “At heart, Biden’s budget is a clear statement that many Democrats no longer worry about deficits.”

“This is dramatically further to the left of anything Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, or other Democratic presidential nominees have proposed in half a century,” says Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and frequent contributor to The Dispatch.

According to Riedl, what Biden is proposing is a system that squeezes every possible cent of tax revenue out of the American public in order to partially—but not entirely—fund a huge new series of federal programs, ignoring the fact that the nation faces monster deficits even at current levels of spending.

“The framework that I see a lot of people report on this is that, well, if it was fully paid for, it would be fiscally responsible,” he said. “And the problem with that argument is that we already have a baseline deficit of a hundred trillion dollars over the next 30 years. That’s just the baseline before President Biden’s budget even takes into account. If you increase spending by trillions and pay for it in taxes, you’re actually taking away all the taxes and pay-fors that would probably be needed to address the underlying trillion-dollar deficit.”

“Basically we’re using up all the tax hikes on the rich to pay for the new stuff, and that means the middle class is going to be the ones to pay for the underlying deficit when the bill comes due for that,” Riedl said.

Senate GOP Opts for Partisan Investigations Into January 6

Given how much top Democrats have advocated for abolishing or reforming the Senate’s legislative filibuster in recent months, you might be surprised to learn that, 128 days into Joe Biden’s presidency, Senate Republicans had not actually filibustered a single thing in the 117th Congress. That changed Friday.

When we were last in your inbox, late-night Senate shenanigans had delayed a procedural vote on whether to debate establishing a bipartisan commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol and the events leading up to it. Although the House passed H.R. 3233 252-175 on May 19 with 35 Republicans signing on, Senate Republicans proved far less amenable. Only six voted on Friday morning to invoke cloture and proceed to the bill: Sens. Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Rob Portman, Ben Sasse, Lisa Murkowski, and Mitt Romney.

Sen. Pat Toomey was absent Friday due to a family commitment, but a spokesman told NorthcentralPA that the Pennsylvanian would have also voted in favor of the commission had he been in Washington. 

Despite calling the events of January 6 a “disgrace” in which American citizens “used terrorism” and “attacked their own government” just a few months ago, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had in recent weeks aggressively urged his fellow Republicans—both publicly and behind-the-scenes—to oppose the commission.

“There is no new fact about that day that we need the Democrats’ extraneous ‘commission’ to uncover,” McConnell said Thursday, noting the Department of Justice is already investigating hundreds for their involvement in the attempted insurrection. “Obviously, the role of the former president has already been litigated exhaustively in the high-profile impeachment trial several months ago.” McConnell opted against convicting Donald Trump in that brief trial—in which no witnesses were called—arguing that doing so after Trump left office would be unconstitutional.

Republicans have been decrying the would-be commission as partisan since it was first conceived back in February. In fairness to them, early iterations proposed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi were lopsided. Her initial configuration for the commission would have featured seven Democrats to just four Republicans, and its subpoena powers rested solely with the former group.

But that was not the legislation senators were considering Friday. In the intervening months, Reps. Bennie Thompson (a Democrat) and John Katko (a Republican) had hammered out a truly bipartisan commission that would feature 10 members: Five appointed by Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and five appointed by McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. The commission would have subpoena powers to compel witness testimony, but those powers could only be exerted when the commission’s Democratic chair and Republican vice chair agreed, or if a majority of the panel (again requiring at least one Republican to side with Democrats, or vice versa) voted for it. To avoid investigations dragging into election season, the commission would be required by law to submit its final report to Congress and President Biden by the end of this year.

Senator Collins worked hard to assuage her fellow Republicans’ remaining concerns, putting forth an amendment that would ensure the commission was bipartisan on the staff level as well. But it wasn’t enough. 

“It is unfortunate that we fell a few votes short of what was needed to begin debate on this vital legislation needed to help us better understand that terrible day,” Collins said after Republicans blocked the bill. “The American people, and particularly the men and women of the Capitol and District of Columbia police forces who fought so valiantly that day, deserve answers and recommendations that an independent, bipartisan commission would be able to provide.”

D.C. police officer Michael Fanone, U.S. Capitol police officer Harry Dunn, and the mother and girlfriend of the late-U.S. Capitol police officer Brian Sicknick sought meetings with Republican senators last week, urging them to support the commission.

“Not having a January 6 Commission to look into exactly what occurred is a slap in the faces of all the officers who did their jobs that day,” Gladys Sicknick told Politico last week. “I suggest that all Congressmen and Senators who are against this bill visit my son’s grave in Arlington National Cemetery and, while there, think about what their hurtful decisions will do to those officers who will be there for them going forward.”

“Clearly, they’re not backing the blue,” added Sandra Garza, Brian Sicknick’s longtime girlfriend.

From most Republicans’ perspective, a commission tasked with looking into the events of January 6 could never truly be bipartisan—even if its makeup is—because its mere existence would only serve to highlight the gross misconduct of many top Republican officials in the post-election period, including its standard bearer.

In a lengthy back-and-forth with Capitol reporters on Thursday, Senator Murkowski acknowledged the commission would have political ramifications—“Heck there’s politics in everything that goes on around here,” she said—but she argued it shouldn’t matter. “To be making a decision for the short-term political gain at the expense of understanding and acknowledging what was in front of us on January 6, I think we need to look at that critically,” she said. “Is that really what this is about, is everything … just one election cycle after another?”

Cassidy, the Louisiana Republican who voted for the measure, argued a commission with GOP input would be preferable to a purely Democratic select committee investigation, which Pelosi is now likely to pursue. “If you ask [Louisianans], who do you more trust: An independent commission or one made up of members of Congress hand-picked by the speaker? They don’t trust the speaker,” he said.

But for Republicans, that may very well have been a point in favor of blocking the bipartisan commission: It’s much easier to dismiss something drudged up by Democratic investigators as a partisan witch hunt than it is the findings of an evenly divided commission.

Many progressives hoped Friday’s developments would finally sway West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin from his pro-filibuster position. After all, he had told CNN earlier in the week that there was “no excuse for any Republican to vote against this commission since Democrats have agreed to everything they asked for.”

But when asked—for seemingly the millionth time—if this would be the final straw that pushed him toward filibuster reform, Manchin remained consistent: “I’m not willing to destroy our government, no.”

Worth Your Time

  • This Atlantic piece from S.L.A Marshall recounting the D-Day invasion of Normandy—first published in 1960—was one of the best (and most harrowing) things we read on Memorial Day. The piece is a vivid reminder of who and what the holiday is meant to honor. “Already the sea runs red. Even among some of the lightly wounded who jumped into shallow water the hits prove fatal. Knocked down by a bullet in the arm or weakened by fear and shock, they are unable to rise again and are drowned by the onrushing tide. Other wounded men drag themselves ashore and, on finding the sands, lie quiet from total exhaustion, only to be overtaken and killed by the water.”

  • Ross Douthat’s latest New York Times column argues it’s important to learn whether COVID-19 escaped from a Chinese laboratory rather than a wet market. “There’s a pretty big difference between a world where the Chinese regime can say, We weren’t responsible for Covid but we crushed the virus and the West did not, because we’re strong and they’re decadent, and a world where this was basically their Chernobyl except their incompetence and cover-up sickened not just one of their own cities but also the entire globe.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Thomas Joscelyn’s latest Vital Interests(🔒) takes a look at the geopolitics of the COVID-19 origin debate. “The only entity that really knows is the CCP,” he writes. “But Beijing hasn’t been forthcoming. In fact, Chinese officials are quick to feign outrage at any suggestion that they’ve been less than truthful. … Even if America’s spy agencies can’t draw any definitive conclusions, the Biden administration should always remember why we are in the dark in the first place.”

  • Sarah and Steve were joined on the Friday Dispatch Podcast by Stephen Gutowski—firearms expert and founder of The Reload—to talk all things gun policy. Gun ownership is at record levels in America due in large part to the pandemic and riots of last summer. How is this changing the politics of firearms? Stick around to hear a breakdown of the latest NRA scandal, what bothers Stephen the most about gun usage in movies, and much more.

  • In Friday’s G-File, Jonah writes about democracy—and whether it is truly “under attack” as so many Democrats and progressive media institutions are saying. “Outside of some post-liberal integralists, alt-righters, and maybe a couple nationalists, the ‘war on democracy Republicans’ aren’t making anti-democratic arguments,” he writes. “They’re making arguments for democracy. They’re just working off of lies and falsehoods peddled by a populist narcissist and the coterie of enablers he’s empowered.”

  • David’s Sunday French Press focused on the Tulsa Race Massacre, and how Christians should reflect on past atrocities. “One of the best things our nation does is remember and honor the men who fought, bled, and died to preserve American liberty. That’s the purpose of this very weekend. The memorials to their sacrifice deservedly and rightfully cover this country,” he writes. “It’s that deep emotional tie to the present that renders battles over our past so bitter and brutal. We’re more than willing to feel pride over the virtues of our ancestors. But when the past is grim, we separate ourselves. We forget. We grow defiant.”

  • We tried to stop them, but our efforts were futile. Alec and Ryan ate cicadas—on a charcuterie board and in fettuccine alfredo—and Alec wrote about the experience in a piece for the site over the weekend. “Cicadas certainly don’t taste bad, but they don’t taste great either,” he concludes. “It takes far more effort to collect them, kill them, and prepare them than it’s actually worth.” (Don’t miss the video linked in the piece.)

Let Us Know

If your annual budget was $6 trillion, what’s the dumbest thing you would buy? 

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).