Discover more from God's Spies by Thomas Neuburger
About That Bipartisanship...
What kind of bipartisanship do we want? The smooth-as-silk kind that grows our Pentagon and Praetorian Guard? Or the disruptive kind that fights against all that?
“This is good headaches.”
Most people’s idea of bipartisanship in Washington is Democrats and Republicans coming together to name a Post Office (though that course is not always smooth), beef up our beefy wars, or reauthorize our endless tax cuts for the rich. There’s also negative bipartisanship, when both parties reject something most people want, like Medicare For All.
This is the kind of bipartisanship we see when those who rule, the donors who finance both parties, garner both parties’ support for what they want.
This kind of bipartisanship also assumes that the big fight is between the “right” and the “left,” whatever that means in America, not between those who serve wealth — and maintain the status quo where wealth always wins — and those who’d rather to disrupt that gravy train.
The Other Bipartisanship Saved Social Security
Yet every now and then a coalition forms in Congress that threatens the plans of the wealthy, and that coalition is, for want of a word, bipartisan.
This happened spectacularly during Barack Obama’s presidency when he tried for years to cut Social Security benefits — he styled it as a “Grand Bargain” between reasonable Democrats and Republicans, as if it were a good bipartisan thing.
Guess who ultimately killed it?
House progressives and Tea Party representatives, acting separately but together:
“One of the ironies is that the tea party was more useful than Democratic leadership when it came to killing a grand bargain that would have cut Social Security benefits,” said Adam Green, co-chair of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee…. “They were so crazy and unwilling to take ‘yes’ for an answer. That allowed us to live to fight another day.”
“Thank you, tea party!” Green added.
That’s the other kind of bipartisanship.
Ryan Grim and Emily Jashinsky spotted a different bipartisanship in their April 7 Breaking Points broadcast (segment available only to paid subscribers; start at the 49 minute mark if you have access).
After discussing the first kind of bipartisanship, where party leaders get together to support other leaders — in this case, Nancy Pelosi supporting Speaker McCarthy’s meeting with the Taiwanese president — they point to a Politico article that spots the other kind, the kind party leaders don’t like:
Freedom Caucus and progressives lock arms — and that could be bad news for McCarthy
The speaker’s immediate headache is a growing right-left alliance on Iraq war powers. But House liberals and conservatives are linking up on other issues, too.
The House’s most conservative Republicans and its most liberal Democrats can barely stand each other most days. But lately they’re building an unlikely alliance that could cause real problems for Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
The Donald Trump-aligned Freedom Caucus and the Progressive Caucus are openly uniting in favor of repealing two decades-old war authorizations in Iraq. That’s on top of growing agreement between the two groups’ members in favor of revamping government surveillance powers and curbing defense spending. [emphasis added]
Using Speaker McCarthy’s weakness against him — he has a roughly four-vote margin on any proposal — the Freedom Caucus, heirs of the Tea Party, are allying with progressives not just to pass repeal of the 1991 and 2002 AUMFs (authorizations for use of force in Iraq), but other good measures as well.
The AUMF repeals matter because they’re still being used to justify war in other countries, especially the one AUMF not (yet) up for repeal, enacted in 2001 after 9/11:
Wolf Blitzer: The US military has not been using this authorization [unspecified] to justify military action since 2009. But the US military has been very active in Iraq, just with a different authorization or with the agreement of the Iraqi government.
In fact, every year, the White House tells Congress where the military has been active using military force in the preceding year. In 2021, the unclassified version of the report lists actions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia. And they were all justified by the 2001 AUMF relating to terrorism.
Sen. Tim Kaine: The 2001 authorization to take action against terrorist groups that have some tie to those who perpetrated the 9/11 attack is still a live authorization, and that needs to be rewritten. [emphasis added]
It’s not just the war powers effort that’s bringing together the House’s opposing factions. They’ve also united to push for pumping the brakes on a potential ban of TikTok, airing fears of government overreach while more establishment colleagues share national security worries.
In addition, Progressive Caucus chief Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Freedom Caucus member Rep. Warren Davidson (R-Ohio) are jointly raising concerns about government surveillance laws ahead of a reauthorization deadline at the end of the year.
The left and right frequently align “on issues of war, civil liberties and privacy,” Jayapal said. “We do have things that we see eye to eye on, and I think we’re always going to look for those opportunities.”
RESTRICT Expands the Power of the Security State
Among the issues are repeal of the infamous Section 702 of the FISA Act (more here) and the upcoming RESTRICT Act, a bipartisan op by Sens. Mark Warner and John Thune, supposedly aimed at TikTok, but with much broader reach than its supporters want to see advertised. For example, by the language of the act, RESTRICT could be used to criminalize individuals for using a VPN to access TikTok if U.S. access is banned.
Critics are calling RESTRICT “a Patriot Act 2.0 which opens the door to unprecedented digital surveillance of Americans, and gives an appointed executive panel unchecked power to censor the internet in the U.S.”
Worth fighting against? If you give the national security state even more power, what do you think it will do?
Back to bipartisanship, Emily Jashinsky says at the close of the Breaking Points piece: “These [bipartisanship] headaches would be good for the American people. This is good headaches.”
What kind of bipartisanship do we want? The smooth-as-silk kind that keeps the Pentagon flush and grows the power of our own Praetorian Guard?
Or the disruptive kind that preserves Social Security and fights against state surveillance, at least till the next bipartisan attack appears?