Discover more from The Bulwark
New Speaker, Same Old Stupid Games
Plus: Joe Biden’s primary challenger bets on the wrong horse.
Good afternoon and welcome to Press Pass. Before we dive in, I wanted to let you know that for a few more days, you can still get a 20 percent discount on a year of Bulwark+. If you want a year of unlimited access to everything The Bulwark offers, including paywalled Thursday editions of this newsletter, sign up at the link below.
Today’s edition examines the House Republican counterproposal to the White House’s request for Israel aid. It includes some typical Republican maneuvering, and Democrats are already deeming it a nonstarter. For the new speaker, Mike Johnson, it’s not an ideal first step in the role, but if you’ve paid any attention to the chamber during this legislative session, you can’t say it’s surprising.
House Republicans unveiled their proposal for emergency aid to Israel Monday evening. It’s an immediate infusion of $14.3 billion in exchange for $14.3 billion in cuts from the Internal Revenue Service.
Republicans touted this as an “offset” to save the deficit from spiking, as did some in the press who are often quick to parrot the talking points they’re given. But here’s the reality: The Republican proposal would not offset spending at all. Rather, it would likely add to the federal deficit because cuts to the IRS almost always result in dried-up tax collection, thus adding to the debt.
What the proposal does succeed in doing is create a political trap for Democrats. Vote against it and you’re “not standing with Israel”; plus, you’re refusing to protect Joe Sixpack from the mean IRS. Never mind that the proposed IRS cuts would be in areas of the Inflation Reduction Act that supported tax enforcement, courts, and operations support—tools that the agency uses to go after the wealthiest tax evaders. The cuts would also nix a new program to create a free online tax filing system à la TurboTax.1
Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) called bullshit on the Republican plan. To disarm the political trap, he hinted he could end up voting for it knowing full well that it is unlikely to become law.
Most Democrats in the Senate are not playing 3-D chess on the issue, and they are instead either immediately opposed or highly skeptical of the proposal.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told me, “It’s a foolish proposal and there is no risk” for Democrats to hold firm in opposition.
It’s fiscally unwise because if you did that then you would also—the math doesn’t work because those IRS cuts would both inconvenience taxpayers and reduce tax collection. They think that that’s an offset but they would be compounding our budgetary challenges.
“If you’re not going to do any harm to the IRS, yes, it’s legitimate,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.). “If it’d harm the technology that’s been planned out for the next five to 10 years, it would be very, very hard for me to support.”
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has pleaded with his fellow Republicans to keep aid to Israel linked to aid to Ukraine, making the case that both advance American interests.
In response, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told reporters it would be wise to defer to the House for the time being:
We’ve got to realize that the speaker of [the] Republican-controlled House is the leader of the party. He’s making some calls, and we in the minority of the Senate ought to follow his lead and not to undermine him.
Yair Rosenberg, a staff writer at the Atlantic, summed it up best he could:
“This is not what you do if you care about the safety of Jews,” he wrote on X (Twitter). “This is what you do when you care about other things and are willing to hold the safety of Jews hostage until you get them.”
In case you haven’t already seen the news, President Joe Biden has another primary challenger: Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.).
While it may seem like a great betrayal that a former head of an ice cream company is running against the most ice-cream-obsessed president, Dean hasn’t been Biden’s most outspoken supporter, despite voting in lockstep with the White House’s policy priorities.
Earlier this month, Phillips quit his role as co-chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, a small but important role in House Democrats’ leadership structure. He said in a statement at the time that he is out of step with most Democrats on the state of the 2024 race:
My convictions relative to the 2024 presidential race are incongruent with the majority of my caucus, and I felt it appropriate to step aside from elected leadership to avoid unnecessary distractions during a critical time for our country.
Phillips is also employing Steve Schmidt as a campaign adviser. Schmidt is a longtime Republican operative who recently swapped his party allegiance to the Democrats. My Bulwark colleague Tim Miller has a good primer on Schmidt’s confusing logic, which you can watch on YouTube.
Phillips has hardly any name recognition and is entering the race rather late, but things could get interesting for his nascent candidacy when we reach New Hampshire. Biden will not appear on the ballot in the state’s Democratic primary at all, which could set him up to microdose some political embarrassment on what is otherwise expected to be a clean route to the nomination.
The Democratic National Committee decided that South Carolina would be their first official primary in 2024, disregarding New Hampshire’s long tradition of being “first in the nation.” But the Granite State is not happy about that, and they’ve decided to go ahead with making their primary first anyway. This is what complicates the situation for the president: To comply with DNC rules, the Biden campaign skipped the filing deadline for New Hampshire, and the president won’t appear on the ballot there.
Now some Democrats are mounting a write-in campaign for Biden. This could be successful, or it could result in some bad headlines in January. Either way, Phillips is making New Hampshire a central component of his campaign effort, launching his (very) longshot White House bid in Concord.
Lobbyists for TurboTax, H&R Block, and other tax preparation companies have lobbied against a free tax filing system for years because they view it as a threat to their bottom line. Tax prep companies often charge customers for services that should otherwise be free, buy your data from big tech companies, and more. If you want to learn more, check out ProPublica’s in-depth look at the tax prep industry’s decades-long lobbying efforts.