The big news today is, once again, the economy. Indeed, it's odd that the sort of numbers we're seeing across the country aren't constant headline news, indicating, as they do, both a rapid economic recovery from the pandemic and the success of President Biden's return to an economic policy that focuses on getting money into the hands of ordinary Americans.
In Washington Monthly, national economic consultant Robert J. Shapiro catalogued what he called the "extraordinary gains" of the past several months. "Over the first three quarters of this year, real GDP increased at a 7.8 percent annual rate—that's adjusted for the current inflation," he wrote. "The Federal Reserve expects real growth of 5.9 percent for all of 2021, followed by another 3.8 percent increase in 2022." In contrast, the real GDP grew by an average rate of 2.2% every year and never actually reached 3% between 2000 and 2019. Reflecting this growth, the stock market is booming, with the S&P Index jumping 21.7% from January 20 to December 7, 2021.
He continues: Americans' disposable income grew 3% (after inflation) from January to October; in the same period in 2019 the rate was 0.5% and in 2018 it was 1.7%. Personal savings rates climbed during the pandemic, enabling households to pay off debt and make new purchases. Since January, unemployment has fallen by a third. Wages, too, have climbed, although inflation, which appears to be tied to supply chain bottlenecks, is hurting poorer Americans. Economists currently think that inflation will ease as the bottlenecks clear.
"It's a Biden boom," the article is titled, "and no one has noticed yet."
That boom will not be undercut by another fight over the debt ceiling, which is a cap on how much the Treasury can borrow. Congress originally adopted the debt ceiling in the early twentieth century to make borrowing easier by giving the Treasury leeway to borrow through whatever instruments it wished up to a certain amount. Now, though, Republicans have been threatening to hold the nation hostage, refusing to allow the Treasury to borrow to pay bills Congress has already run up, in order to prevent the Democrats from passing legislation. Forcing the nation to default on its debt would devastate both the U.S. economy and the world economy.
Today, in the Senate, 14 Republicans joined the Democrats in a complicated maneuver to avoid a filibuster and enable the Democrats to raise the debt ceiling by a simple majority vote. The Republicans were not actually voting to raise the debt ceiling, which they are eager to pin on the Democrats despite having added $7.8 trillion to the debt in the four years of the Trump presidency. They were agreeing not to stop Democrats from protecting the U.S. debt on their own.
Still, it seems significant that the Senate so easily created a carve-out for a measure in which the Republicans were interested, when there appears to be determination not to create carve-outs for the voting rights bills before the Senate.
Meanwhile, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol appears to be picking up momentum.
Today, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit unanimously agreed with the decision of a lower court, denying Trump's request that the court stop the National Archives and Records Administration from releasing documents subpoenaed by the January 6th committee. The court gave Trump 14 days to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Also today, right-wing provocateur Ali Alexander testified before the January 6th committee for eight hours. Alexander had posted videos claiming that he had helped to plan the rallies in Washington, D.C., working with congressional representatives Mo Brooks (R-AL), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), and Andy Biggs (R-AZ); today Alexander claimed that he was completely uninvolved and was being accused because "[a]s a Black and Arab man, an American, it is common for people who look like me to be blamed for things we did not do." He said his videos had been taken out of context.
Kash Patel, a one-time aide to Representative Devin Nunes and a Trump loyalist, also testified for nearly five hours. On November 9, 2020, shortly after he lost the election, Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper by tweet and installed Christopher Miller as acting secretary of defense. Trump named Patel as Miller's chief of staff, but observers told Washington Post reporter David Ignatius that Patel was really the lead civilian at the Pentagon. In December 2020, Trump considered putting Patel at the head of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Today the National Archives and Records Administration said that they are working with the lawyer for Trump's former chief of staff Mark Meadows to obtain presidential records that were not properly put into his official account. This news comes after the January 6th committee pointed out that some of the emails and texts Meadows supplied to it came from a personal account. It asked if those records had been properly forwarded to an official account and stored, as is required by law under the Presidential Records Act.
Representative Liz Cheney today tweeted that the committee has met with nearly 300 witnesses and continues to collect testimony. It has received "exceptionally interesting and important documents"—including those from Meadows—and has now won against Trump in his executive privilege case. She says "[t]he investigation is firing on all cylinders," and that the committee "will not let" Trump "hide what happened on January 6th and…delay and obstruct. The truth will come out."
In his speech today at the Democracy Summit, Biden vowed to protect journalists around the world from persecution and to continue to fight for the passage of voting rights and election protection legislation. He mentioned by name the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would prevent voter suppression, make it easier to vote, and dismantle the 33 new restrictive elections laws that Republican-dominated legislatures in 19 states have passed.
"We should be making it easy for people to vote, not harder," Biden said. "And that's going to remain a priority for my administration until we get it done. Inaction is not an option."
The House is doing its part. Today it passed the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which Adam Schiff (D-CA) introduced on September 21, 2021. This measure makes it faster and easier to enforce congressional subpoenas, stops abuse of the pardoning power, stops presidents from enriching themselves through the office, requires campaigns to disclose foreign contacts, and shores up the Hatch Act that keeps officials from using their offices to campaign. (The official name of the Hatch Act is "An Act to Prevent Pernicious Political Activities.")
The measures in the bill are ones members of both parties have advocated for years, but since they are now perceived as a response to Trump's norm-busting, only Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) got on board with all the Democrats to pass the measure by a vote of 220–208.