The Reconciliation Bill Debate: Financial Literacy Dies in Darkness

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, D.C., September 9, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Dear Weekend Jolter,

What a time to be alive. Private companies are sending ordinary folks into space. Most of us carry in our pockets a single device that does the job of 50. Any meal can be purchased, any movie accessed, with a few keystrokes. And in the year 2021, we as a society have arrived at a remarkable discovery — the cost of our government’s doing business is, actually, nothing.

Here’s Jen Psaki with the good news:

There is agreement that we need to address the climate crisis; that we need to cut costs for childcare, for college; that we need to make it easier for women to rejoin the workforce; we need to rebuild and modernize our infrastructure. . . . But I will also note — and we’ve done this a little bit over the past couple days — but that this package, the reconciliation package, would cost zero dollars.

We here at NR are very much chuffed that zero-cost government spending has obviated the need to collect federal income tax.

Ah, but reality intrudes. Of course, Psaki’s claim about Congress’s $3.5 trillion “reconciliation” package — and identical claims being made by the many Democrats who definitely got the memo — is weapons-grade malarkey, as NR’s editorial notes.

Now, with Congress having averted a shutdown but the majority party still locked in a bitter internal battle over whether we should spend the equivalent of Mexico’s GDP or of Germany’s GDP first — or whether we might have to settle for spending the equivalent of Russia’s instead of Germany’s — expect the fantastical rhetoric to branch out into new and exciting spaces in the coming weeks. As Philip Klein explains, this ain’t over.

But let’s pause, shall we, to appreciate how off-the-level this zero-cost talking point is. As the editorial plainly states, “The cost of a $3.5 trillion outlay is $3.5 trillion, ‘paid for’ or not.” Put another way, by Rich Lowry, if this were a new car, “that it was paid for doesn’t make it less costly.” Put another way, the statement is bunkum.

Whilst recalling all the other falsehoods that brought us to this juncture, Charles C. W. Cooke writes:

A spending bill that costs $3.5 trillion costs $3.5 trillion irrespective of how you pay for it. . . .

If, as seems to be the case, the Democrats do not want to be seen spending $3.5 trillion, then they have just one option: to decline to spend $3.5 trillion. They cannot get around this with word games.

But boy are they going to try.

Yet some in the media were happy to go along with the idea that this costs “nothing.” And when Joe Manchin publicly pushed back on the cost of that reconciliation bill, MSNBC’s Chris Hayes simply denied the existence of a debt problem (in the course of mixing it up with Phil).

Set aside for a moment that whether Democrats have found the money to pay for their spending spree is far from clear. Even if we accept the White House talking point at face value, it’s not convincing. Sure, maybe that big purchase is “zero dollars” if, as Dan McLaughlin notes, you’ve already cut spending elsewhere. Maybe, not really. Or what if you already had the money saved up? That is, you went to the dealership, cash in hand, to buy the Jetta with no financing. That, too, would be a stretch, but at least you weren’t spending your next paycheck on it.

That’s not this. We don’t have the money saved up, and we haven’t made offsetting cuts. The administration and Congress are relying on a collage of kickback payments years into the future and, if that doesn’t cover it, intend to keep borrowing as needed. “Zero dollars.” The pitch reminds this writer of a truly formative experience of having been suckered into a room at an Appalachian resort where Virginia’s most hardened sales associates rattled off numbers to rubes to convince them that, really, buying a time-share here would be a self-evident savings. “Gee, really? Where can I sign?

May we present to you the time-share salesmen now in control of two branches of government.



As discussed, the administration’s talking point on the reconciliation bill is balderdash: Malarkey, in Trillions

The stakes in the Virginia gubernatorial race just got higher: Terry McAuliffe’s War on Parents

Just a reminder, helped along by the Maricopa County audit, that the 2020 election is over. It is time to move forward: Another Defeat for Election Truthers


Charles C. W. Cooke: Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema Are a Feature, Not a Bug

Michael Brendan Dougherty: Governor Kathy Hochul Is One Weird Duck

Ryan Mills: Minneapolis to Vote on Defunding the Police as Crime Soars

Caroline Downey: Murders Soared 30 Percent in 2020 in Largest Annual Increase on Record

Rich Lowry: The Age of Progressive Misinformation

David Harsanyi: The Left’s Absurd Insistence That America Is Dirt-Poor

Tom Cotton: The COVID-Clemency Disaster

Joel Kotkin: Joe Biden, Nowhere Man

Dan McLaughlin: If You Care about Democracy, You Should Want Glenn Youngkin to Win

Jack Butler: Saving Democracy Doesn’t Mean Doing Everything Democrats Want

Dominic Pino: The Eviction Moratorium Has Been Over for a Month — with No Eviction Wave

Kevin D. Williamson: How Government Is Supposed to Work


Daniel J. Pilla sounds the alarm on a sweeping and intrusive Treasury Department proposal: Biden’s Tax Plan Calls for Indiscriminate Spying

Joseph Sullivan charts the dramatic rise in Americans’ reliance on government aid: The Rising Tide of Government-Transfer Payments

Kevin Hassett has an idea for how to achieve a quasi-balanced-budget amendment. Hear him out: The Debt Limit Can Save Us


Brian Allen makes a timely appeal to Charm City’s art custodians: The Baltimore Museum of Art Aims a Wrecking Ball — at Itself

Armond White pauses to praise Francis Coppola’s debut film, newly restored: Francis Coppola’s American Nightmare Returns

Kyle Smith reviews the new Bond film — which is long, dark, and a bit too real: No Time to Die: James Bond vs. the Pandemic

Kyle’s not too thrilled over the Sopranos prequel either: The Sopranos Fizzles on the Big Screen


Kevin D. Williamson: What Is Texas?

David Harsanyi: How Jen Psaki Plays the Press

Caroline Downey: The Guilford Five

James Copland: How to Rein in Critical Race Theory

Jack Fowler: God and Student at Thomas Aquinas


Senator Tom Cotton, who has penned several pieces on crime in these digital pages, exposes some tragic examples of COVID clemency gone too far:

At the outset of the pandemic, many Americans justifiably worried about the safety of our nation’s prison population. State and federal governments are responsible for the health and safety of inmates, and precautions were essential. Almost everyone agreed that accommodations should be made for non-violent offenders with severe preexisting conditions or major comorbidities. Emergency actions, including short-term house arrest for low-risk offenders, were necessary. But state and federal officials went far beyond these necessities and unleashed a flood of crime into our streets. . . .

The heartbreaking consequences of the coronavirus clemency aren’t isolated to big cities. In my home state of Arkansas, authorities released a young but experienced criminal named Shawna Cash as a result of coronavirus concerns. Not long after her release, Ms. Cash ran over a police officer with her truck and dragged him 149 feet to his death. Officer Kevin Apple, a 23-year veteran of the Pea Ridge Police Department, would be alive today if authorities weren’t so preoccupied with ensuring that a 22-year-old criminal was only exposed to COVID on the outside of a jail cell.

In Alexandria, Va., authorities released a 33-year-old accused rapist, burglar, and abductor named Ibrahim E. Bouaichi after his defense attorney raised concerns about the spread of coronavirus. A few months later, Bouaichi repeatedly shot his accuser outside of her home. He then fled from police and took his own life.

In Hillsborough County, Fla., officials released 164 inmates including a 26-year-old felon named Joseph Edward Williams, who had a criminal history that included drug use, burglary, and illegal possession of a firearm. Once released, an overjoyed Williams reportedly celebrated and said that “it’s a blessing that I’m getting released.” The next day, Williams unleashed a hail of gunfire in a residential neighborhood and murdered a 28-year-old named Christopher Striker. Williams was on the run for several weeks until he was finally arrested and returned to prison — where he should have been all along.

Ryan Mills, following up, gives a troubling portrait of Minneapolis at a time when a defund-police amendment is being put to voters:

Every night, Don Samuels hears gunshots from his North Minneapolis home. And not just a single shot here and there like he and his wife used to hear in years past.

“You hear repeat fire — pop, pop, pop, pop, pop — sequential shots,” Samuels said.

A neighbor across the street recently had her car shot up while a baby was in the back seat, Samuels said. She moved away. Bullets pierced the home of another neighbor. She moved after her child had a mental-health breakdown. One neighbor installed a bulletproof headboard on her bed to protect herself from bullets flying in the night, Samuels said. Earlier this year, a nine-year-old girl was shot and killed near Samuels’s home. . . .

To Samuels, a former city councilman and one-time candidate for mayor, Minneapolis needs better cops, and more fair and just cops. What it certainly does not need, in his estimation, is fewer cops.

But fewer cops is what Minneapolis may have if voters approve a charter amendment in November to get rid of the city’s police department and replace it with a vaguely defined public-safety department, the latest play by many of the same people behind last summer’s “defund the police” movement.

Kevin Williamson has a radical idea, namely a boring, predictable, regular-order appropriations process. It might solve some problems:

Good government is boring government. Disorder, drama, and cathartic confrontation in the national assembly are the enemies of peace, prosperity, and prudence. While the import and impact of government shutdowns are always oversold and overdramatized, we should try to avoid them all the same — and the prospect of a partial default on federal debt, while also exaggerated, should be something close to unthinkable — because we need order in the state. Predictability is precious. . . .

The alternative is to have another one of these emotionally rousing, economically destructive, politically disfiguring pageants of sanctimony and asininity every couple of years. That’s an option — and it will remain an option until we drive ourselves into a national crisis that forces us to make hard choices at precisely the moment when we are least able to bring great resources and long-term thinking to bear on our problems.

This should be the Republicans’ new Contract with America: “We’ll give you a federal government so unbelievably boring that you’ll rarely ever have to think about it. There won’t be very many surprises. With any luck, you’ll forget our names. Here’s how.”

It’s easy to miss far-reaching proposals tucked into federal budget documents. Good thing Daniel Pilla is here to explain why you should pay attention to one from the Treasury Department:

The Treasury Department recently released its “General Explanations of the Administration’s FY 2022 Revenue Proposals.” This is the so-called Treasury “Green Book.” Dated May 2021, the Green Book explains exactly how various elements of the Biden administration’s tax plan will operate.

In addition to the tax increases that have been discussed at length, the administration would set up a comprehensive financial spying operation that would impact every American. The proposal is to establish a “comprehensive financial account information reporting regime.” The purpose is to track activities in all financial accounts and report them to the federal government. The law would require an annual report to the government showing “gross inflows and outflows with a breakdown for physical cash, transactions with a foreign account, and transfers to and from another account with the same owner.”

To say that this is a system of “comprehensive” spying is not hyperbole. . . .

What we’re talking about here is the requirement that details on every bank account in America be reported to the IRS on an annual basis. The only exceptions will be those that showed less than $600 of in-and-out transactions, or which have a total value of under $600. How many millions of bank accounts are there in the U.S.? What kind of compliance burden will this impose on America’s financial sector?


Melissa Skorka, at the Wall Street Journal: The Haqqanis Are the New Global Terror Threat

Joseph Simonson, at the Washington Free Beacon: Anti-Semitic Attacks in 2020 Outnumbered Attacks Against Muslims, Asians, Transgender People Combined

Steven Pinker, at Quillette: Be Rational

Hollie McKay, at the New York Post: Taliban have yet to give timeline on when Afghan women can return to school


A while back, this scribbler mentioned his family-frustrating habit of picking up a record of local music whenever traveling abroad. In Portugal one year, this meant looking for fado, a soulful and melancholy genre unique to that splendid Iberian nation. The search eventually led to best-selling singer Amália Rodrigues, a late legend in her country who was unknown to me.

Not being intimately familiar with the genre, there’s only so much this writer can say other than that the music is so moving it’s no wonder the style stuck around for centuries. In the bars and restaurants of Lisbon, there’s a certain touristy element attached to these performances today, but you get none of that simply listening to it. Try on “Ai Mouraria.” What a voice.

Got a tune? Want to share? Send a link to [email protected]. Thanks for reading.

Financial Literacy Dies in Darkness

Candice Cearley

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