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Mitch McConnell’s filibustering could prompt Democrats to weigh chipping away at the filibuster

2021-01-26T15:28:43+01:00January 26th, 2021|Categories: Social Media|Tags: |

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, left, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer stand back to back in the House Chamber during a joint session of Congress on January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC.  | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

A fight over the Senate’s organizing resolution could push Democrats to consider passing it unilaterally.

A fight over the Senate organizing resolution has put questions about the legislative filibuster front and center.

At the moment, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are still negotiating what this organizing resolution — which establishes committee memberships and funding allocations for both parties — will include.

An ongoing disagreement between the two lawmakers has centered on the legislative filibuster, which effectively requires most bills to hit a 60-vote threshold in order to pass.

McConnell has demanded that Democrats commit to keeping the filibuster around as part of this resolution. But Schumer has refused to acquiesce to this request because doing so would unnecessarily limit the procedural options that Democrats, who only have a slight majority with Vice President Kamala Harris’s vote, have moving forward. Refusing to commit now will also allow Democrats to use threats of ending the filibuster as leverage in future negotiations. (A promise to protect the filibuster in the resolution would not necessarily prevent Democrats from eliminating it, but it’s a way to have them on the record on the subject if they decide to change the rules in the future.)

“All I can tell you is we are not letting McConnell dictate how the Senate operates. He is minority leader,” Schumer recently told reporters.

By withholding backing for the measure unless his demands are met, McConnell is preventing the Senate from setting up the infrastructure it needs to function, since the resolution requires Republican support to pass. Schumer, meanwhile, has pushed for a resolution similar to the one approved by Sens. Tom Daschle and Trent Lott in 2001, the last time the Senate had a 50-50 breakdown. That measure did not address the issue of the filibuster, which McConnell argues needs to be included this time around to preserve the rights of the minority party in the Senate.

In holding up the organizing resolution, McConnell is causing some annoying delays. Without the passage of this measure, Democrats are unable to formally take over committee chair positions, and new members have yet to be seated in committees. Republicans also retain the ability to oversee consideration of nominees and other policy priorities, a dynamic that could slow the progress of President Joe Biden’s legislative agenda. In many ways — at least for the time being — McConnell’s refusal to budge gives the minority party some residual control of the Senate.

McConnell’s request has also compelled some Democratic lawmakers including Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to reaffirm their commitment to the filibuster — underscoring ongoing Democratic divides on the issue. “She is not open to changing her mind about eliminating the filibuster,” a Sinema spokesperson told the Washington Post on Monday. Manchin echoed this stance in an interview with Politico: “If I haven’t said it very plain, maybe Sen. McConnell hasn’t understood, I want to basically say it for you. That I will not vote in this Congress, that’s two years, right?” Because a change to the filibuster would require all 50 members of the Democratic caucus to be on board, Sinema and Manchin’s statements provide McConnell with a guarantee if they maintain these positions.

Democrats’ next steps will depend heavily on whether McConnell keeps up his push amid these recent statements and the growing pressure from lawmakers who are frustrated by their inability to fully govern. McConnell on Monday told Punchbowl News that the two leaders were “getting close.”

Depending on how long this impasse continues, and how incensed lawmakers are by McConnell’s obstruction, Democrats could opt to eliminate the filibuster specifically for the organizing resolution. Such a move would open the door for potential rule changes down the line, including more sweeping ones.

Senate Democrats could blow up the filibuster — in a narrow way

There are a couple different ways this stalemate could end: McConnell could concede and drop his request, Schumer could cave and offer a statement signaling Democrats’ commitment to maintaining the filibuster, or Democrats could try to pass the organizing resolution with a simple majority vote. Neither McConnell nor Schumer has signaled that they intend to give in yet.

That last scenario is the one that could require Democrats to consider eliminating the filibuster specifically for the organizing resolution, and such a move would likely indicate a strong possibility of other procedural tweaks to come. Under current rules, the organizing resolution is subject to the filibuster, and Democrats require 60 votes to advance it.

To pass it with a simple majority, or 51 votes — including Vice President Kamala Harris as a tiebreaker — Democrats would need to alter the rules and eliminate the filibuster, a change they could apply solely to the resolution. By ending the filibuster just for organizing resolutions, they’d be able to advance this measure with the support of only the Democratic caucus, but they wouldn’t be getting rid of the legislative filibuster completely.

“There could be a narrow nuking of the filibuster,” says Josh Huder, a senior fellow at the Government Affairs Institute. And there is some precedent for a tailored alteration of the filibuster rules: In another instance in 2013, Democrats eliminated the filibuster for the majority of presidential nominees, but did not do so for Supreme Court nominees.

Part of the motivation for taking this step could be growing frustration over how the organizing resolution is holding up progress in the Senate. Since the heads of committees haven’t been able to formally claim their chair roles, they haven’t been able to move forward with the types of hearings and policy markups they’d like to pursue. Manchin, for instance, is in line to become chair of the energy and natural resources committee, but hasn’t yet been able to fully take up that mantle. Before any of the Democrats’ agenda items can come to the Senate floor, they have to go through these committees — and Republican heads have shown little interest in expediting Democratic priorities.

Those against such changes warn that Democrats may not always be in the majority, and a future Republican majority could then organize in some way they find objectionable. This move could also set up a slippery slope toward eliminating the legislative filibuster entirely in the future, since it requires all members of the 50-person caucus to be on board. Once moderate Democrats publicly opposed to filibuster changes were to vote for this alteration, they would face pressure to do so again.

“That would be a very large crack in an already broke dam,” says Huder.

It’s worth noting, though, that this scenario would mark a significant step for Democrats, several of whom have otherwise been firm in their opposition to changes to the legislative filibuster. As such, there’s a strong possibility lawmakers stop short of going this far.

In the previous 50-50 Congress, Daschle told Vox that he and Lott were ultimately able to come to an agreement, despite pushback from Republicans who claimed it gave Democrats too much power. He notes that passage could be more challenging now given the present environment of increased partisanship.

“We didn’t have the social media, we didn’t have the hyperbolic cable news opinion makers. We certainly didn’t have impeachment,” he told Vox.

This debate has reaffirmed Democratic divides over the filibuster

At the moment, there’s not only a chasm between Republicans and Democrats on the filibuster, but a divide among the Democratic caucus as well.

The Democratic caucus, which includes 48 Democrats and two independents, is not currently united on plans to eliminate the legislative filibuster — and the ongoing spotlight on the issue has underscored this split.

While Manchin and Sinema have directly rejected changes to the filibuster, other lawmakers including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) have stated their wariness in the past as well. On the other hand, more progressive senators, like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ed Markey (D-MA), have argued for abolishing the rule.

Ultimately, keeping it is likely to make passing any sweeping legislation difficult, as Democrats would need every member of the caucus plus 10 Republicans to do so. And some lawmakers, including those who have been hesitant to change the rules, have acknowledged this.

A statement that Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) gave to the New York Times sums up how Democrats may be considering more drastic action if McConnell maintains ongoing obstruction to Biden’s agenda.

“If all that happens is filibuster after filibuster, roadblock after roadblock, then my opinion may change,” said Tester, who is currently in favor of keeping the filibuster.

In the long term, abolishing the filibuster would radically alter how the Senate does business and make it far easier for the majority to advance its agenda. In the short term, too, it would significantly change the chamber’s dynamic: If the legislative filibuster were broadly eliminated, moderate senators like Manchin and Sinema would become the key votes on any bills that were contentious, giving them significant influence within the caucus, while also ramping up the pressure they face for each of these votes.

The organizing resolution could well be the first test of how willing Democrats are to change Senate rules for their immediate gain — and a preview of how the caucus will respond to McConnell’s procedural obstruction.

Why Mitch McConnell relented on his demands about preserving the filibuster

2021-01-26T15:28:43+01:00January 26th, 2021|Categories: Social Media|Tags: |

Senate Holds Hearings For Key Biden Cabinet Nominees
Sen. Mitch McConnell leaves the Senate chamber on January 19 in Washington, DC. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

McConnell didn’t get all he’d hoped, but got some Democrats to reaffirm their commitment to the filibuster.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is no longer holding up the Senate organizing resolution — after two Democrats confirmed that they won’t be blowing up the legislative filibuster any time soon.

In the past few weeks, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and McConnell have been working to negotiate the organizing resolution — which governs committee membership and funding allocation — in the 50-50 Senate. The leaders had previously been at an impasse because McConnell had demanded that Democrats commit to keeping the legislative filibuster intact as part of the resolution — something Schumer was unwilling to do, since it would reduce the party’s leverage in negotiations over future legislation.

Since the organizing resolution could be filibustered — and would need 60 votes to pass — McConnell’s opposition effectively allowed him to block the measure from advancing.

And while he didn’t get the changes to the organizing resolution he wanted, McConnell’s approach still worked, in a way: Amid the impasse over the agreement, two Senate Democrats — Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) — publicly restated that they would not vote to eliminate the filibuster. Without their backing, Democrats simply won’t have the numbers to do a rules change: All 50 members of the caucus would need to get behind a change to the filibuster for it to happen. (This position is consistent with stances both lawmakers have vocalized before.)

Due to Sinema and Manchin’s statements, McConnell now says he’s satisfied and willing to move forward with the organizing measure, after causing some annoying delays. Without this resolution, Democrats have been unable to formally take over committee chair positions, and new members have yet to be seated in committees. Republicans also retained the ability to oversee consideration of nominees and other policy priorities.

“Today two Democratic Senators publicly confirmed they will not vote to end the legislative filibuster,” McConnell said in a statement Monday night. “With these assurances, I look forward to moving ahead with a power-sharing agreement modeled on that precedent.”

McConnell’s statement came as pressure from Democrats was growing for him to relent — and as his refusal to compromise was beginning to threaten Senate business. “We’re glad Senator McConnell threw in the towel and gave up on his ridiculous demand. We look forward to organizing the Senate under Democratic control and start getting big, bold things done for the American people,” said Justin Goodman, a Schumer spokesperson.

McConnell secured a commitment from some Democrats, though that could still change

While McConnell is not getting the pledge he wanted from Schumer about preserving the legislative filibuster, he effectively got one from Manchin and Sinema — whose votes would be vital to approve a rules change.

Both lawmakers have issued strong statements expressing their opposition to blowing up the legislative filibuster, which requires most bills to meet a 60-vote threshold to pass.

“She is not open to changing her mind about eliminating the filibuster,” a Sinema spokesperson told the Washington Post on Monday. Manchin echoed this stance in an interview with Politico: “If I haven’t said it very plain, maybe Sen. McConnell hasn’t understood, I want to basically say it for you. That I will not vote in this Congress, that’s two years, right?”

Armed with these assurances, McConnell signaled that he’d be comfortable advancing the organizing resolution, since his focus had been keeping the filibuster around to preserve the minority’s ability to block legislation that it disagrees with. Lawmakers’ positions on the filibuster could, of course, still change, despite the statements they’ve issued.

Ultimately, keeping the filibuster is likely to make passing any sweeping legislation difficult, since Democrats would need every member of their caucus plus 10 Republicans to do so. For this reason, many of the more progressive members of the caucus, like Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Ed Markey (D-MA), have called for the filibuster to be abolished. And some other Democrats, including those who have been hesitant to change the rules, have acknowledged this difficulty as well.

A statement that Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) gave to the New York Times sums up how some Democrats currently unwilling to end the filibuster are thinking about the issue. They may be in favor of keeping it now, but are open to considering more drastic action if McConnell maintains obstruction to Biden’s agenda. “If all that happens is filibuster after filibuster, roadblock after roadblock, then my opinion may change,” said Tester, who is currently in favor of keeping the filibuster.

Manchin and Sinema have said they don’t expect their positions to shift. Whether they maintain this stance in the face of ongoing Republican opposition, however, remains to be seen.

For Black Americans, the middle class has always been a mirage

2021-01-26T15:28:43+01:00January 26th, 2021|Categories: Social Media|Tags: |

A middle-class house is shown through a wavy mirage.

Black Americans have been shut out of stability at every turn.

Among Dee’s friends, talking about money is considered impolite. But that’s not really what stops her. “Most of my peers are white,” she says, “and I get very angry about the systemic inequality evident in our situations, and their seeming obliviousness to it.”

Dee’s family has been middle-class and college-educated going back three generations, “since Black people reasonably could be,” she says. Her maternal grandparents were the children of sharecroppers in the South, migrated north as adults, got graduate degrees, and, unlike millions of Black Americans who were unable to secure mortgages at the time due to racist housing covenants and lending practices, bought a home.

Homeownership was, and remains, the beating heart of wealth accumulation for the American middle class. Our society privileges homeowners in everything from the tax code to the availability of home equity lines to membership requirements for neighborhood associations. You buy a place, that place grows in value, and either you trade up to a bigger place or you keep it until you can pass it down to your kids or your kids get the money from its sale. Stability gives birth to even more stability.

That’s not what happened with Dee’s family. “My grandparents were bludgeoned every time the economy took a downturn,” Dee recalls, in part because of the legacy of redlining and the devaluation of property in Black neighborhoods. “They ended up losing their house. They had enough to live on, but no wealth.” The same happened to her parents. She says they were “destroyed” by the 2008 housing crisis, which disproportionately affected Black homeowners, many of whom, because of longstanding discriminatory lending practices, believed subprime mortgages were the best financing option available to them. Dee’s grandparents managed to make ends meet, but their retirement savings were drastically diminished, and they’ll eventually require some subsidization from Dee.

But Dee, 41, has been struggling for years to find something approximating financial security in her own life. She lives in the Hudson Valley, north of New York City, with her partner and two kids. She and her partner make around $200,000 a year. At more than three times the national median household income, this sounds like a big number, but every month, they found their resources depleted. Before the pandemic, they were allocating most of their money toward their mortgage, child care, and student loans. They’d been putting money into their kids’ 529 college savings accounts, but otherwise the focus has been on credit card and student loan debt, which they’ve just started to be able to actually pay off. These days, they’re no longer paying expensive child care bills, but there’s a real threat that Dee’s partner’s job could disappear at any moment, at which point they would immediately start drowning in debt.

Dee describes herself as frustrated and so very, very angry. “Having everything ‘right’ and still living with precarity, literally living paycheck to paycheck, is deeply upsetting,” she says. Which is why her extra income is going toward her kids’ college savings: to prevent them starting their lives already behind, the way she feels she did. The hole Dee dug in search of middle-class stability for her family is so deep that she’d realistically need to double, even triple her income to pull herself out and have enough to stabilize her parents as well.

She doesn’t have a ton of hope that will happen. “I live in America,” she says. “There is no support for middle-class families, and there is no targeted support for those who have suffered from systemic racism. It’s getting harder and harder to maintain a middle-class life.”

Dee’s story is illustrative of just how different the hollowing of the middle class can feel, depending on your race and family history. Unlike many white middle-class Americans who find themselves bewildered by the prospect of going financially backward from their parents, Dee watched as her family’s best-laid plans for a steady, middle-class future were foiled, again and again, by economic catastrophes in which losses were disproportionately absorbed by Black Americans.

As economists William Darity Jr., Fenable Addo, and Imari Smith recently explained, “for Black Americans, the issue may not be restoring its middle class, but constructing a robust middle class in the first place.” For families like Dee’s, the stability of the middle class has always been a mirage. And you can’t hollow out what’s never actually existed.

A foundational myth of the American dream is the potential of the individual, wholly unbound by context. Parental income level, race, education, access to resources as a child, health, location — positive or negative — all become incidental. The idea is that in America, land of opportunity, you excel on your own merits.

This is a lie, of course. When we talk about class status in America, we still largely focus on current status instead of intergenerational familial legacy; on income, rather than our access to wealth, which “serves as a reservoir that a family can tap into when its income flow is disrupted,” according to economist Ngina Chiteji. Wealth can absorb the blow of a recession, a lost job, or a medical catastrophe. Family wealth makes it easier for future generations to buy homes, and makes it less likely that they’ll accumulate debt. If Dee’s grandparents and parents hadn’t been so thoroughly destabilized by various recessions, her student debt load might be significantly lower or nonexistent today.

A drawing of a portrait of a Black family with two adult children and their parents.

Wealth begets wealth. It makes it easier to launch a business or take a career risk. It’s correlated with better health outcomes, lower child mortality, longer life expectancy: everything you’d expect from a solid home life and access to health care. Because of intersecting racist policies and practices — redlining, continued segregation in schools, hyper-surveillance and brutality by law enforcement, and the policing of Black bodies, just to start — wealth has been far more difficult for Black Americans to accumulate.

In 2016, the median net wealth for white families was $171,000. For Black families, it was $17,000. Black people currently hold less than 3 percent of the nation’s total wealth, even though they make up 14 percent of the population. In 2002, the typical white child’s grandparents’ net worth was eight times bigger than the average Black child’s. Take away home equity, and 93 percent of white children’s grandparents have positive wealth. That’s only true for 73 percent of Black children’s grandparents. Even when Black Americans reach an income level that situates them in the middle class, there’s still a matrix of discriminatory systems that make it difficult for them to gain the stability — the wealth — that theoretically accompanies middle-class existence.

Jasmyne, 29, works for a nonprofit in Los Angeles. She grew up in the South and attended the same HBCU as her husband, a first-generation college student who now works in STEM. Together, they pull in $192,000 a year, which, according to the Pew middle-class calculator, places them in the upper echelon of incomes in the area. But Jasmyne believes placing her, or anyone else, within a particular class is tricky.

“I consider anything above the average US salary to be middle class, but with a whole slew of caveats,” she says. “For example, my husband and I earn middle-class salaries, but we also have significant student debt and often have to support family. We live in an expensive city, so what seems high [for housing costs] in our hometowns is pretty average here. He is saving for retirement, but I haven’t even begun.”

Until very recently, Jasmyne’s mother lived with them; she’d tapped out her retirement savings, so Jasmyne and her husband helped cover her bills while she got financially secure. “I only know of one other couple that has had to navigate that under the age of 30,” Jasmyne says, “and we will likely have to revisit that living arrangement as she ages.”

Part of Jasmyne and her husband’s burden is shared by hundreds of thousands of other millennials and Gen X-ers, regardless of race, who have found themselves providing a safety net for their parents. But that need is not evenly distributed across the middle class. In the mid-2000s, 36 percent of middle-class Black people had a parent living below the poverty line, as opposed to only 8 percent of the white middle class; according to one 2006 study, Black middle-class Americans are 2.6 times more likely to have a low-income sibling than those in the white middle class. People in situations like Jasmyne’s have a higher probability of becoming the primary source for the “reservoir” of stability for their extended family — which in turn makes it more difficult to save, or invest, or set up the financial infrastructure that will ensure that you won’t need help from your children later in life.

Keisha, who’s 33 and lives in Atlanta with her husband, expressed something similar. As an IT specialist in the transportation field, she makes around $95,000, and her husband brings in $50,000. She was the first person in her family to go to college, and currently pays $450 a month in student loan debt. The other big monthly payments in their lives are $2,000 on their mortgage and $1,500 toward paying down their credit card debt. They’re saving very little every month, usually somewhere between $50 and $100.

In many ways, Keisha thinks her situation is similar to her parents’: Growing up, her family was always “comfortable,” but with “the feeling that if income stops, then that would change very quickly.” The difference, Keisha says, is that her parents had a much larger support network — and they were making less money. “It was understandable for them to need help occasionally, as opposed to myself and my spouse, who don’t have children and make higher salaries. I feel like people in my situation are held to a different standard.” There’s no room to mess up, no room for catastrophe. It’s hard to knit your own social safety net when you’re the safety net for so many other people as well. (This is also true of many immigrant families — something this series will address in the months to come.)

If you focus on an individual’s finances, it’s easy to isolate and judge bad decisions: They shouldn’t have taken out that loan or relied on that credit card or filed for bankruptcy. In my first article on the hollow middle class, I opened with the story of Delia — a middle-class teacher in New Jersey, covering her parents’ bills and struggling to put money aside in part because she was still paying for both of her daughters to attend private school. Delia explained why private school felt so important to her: She saw it as her girls’ ticket out of their small hometown, a place where she felt trapped by the financial ramifications of her parents’ bad decisions. Readers were incredibly antagonistic toward that choice. One man went so far as to send me a 2,000-word breakdown of all that was wrong with how Delia was spending her money. “There was no comments section on the piece,” he wrote, “but she needs to know.”

Keisha feels anxious and stressed about money, particularly about her debt, every day. She doesn’t feel comfortable talking to her peers about it, so she turns to online forums for support and commiseration. “It’s embarrassing to be in a bad financial situation,” she says. “Even if you can explain away why or how you got into the situation, talking about it still invites extra judgment that you’re somehow irresponsible or that you’ve mismanaged your money, instead of talking about the things that are outside of your control.”

This attitude is wrong when it comes to any person’s financial situation, but it’s particularly wrong when it comes to a person who’s part of a group that’s been historically and systematically marginalized. As sociologists Melvin Oliver and Thomas Shapiro contend in their groundbreaking examination of Black and white wealth disparities in America, the legacy of chattel slavery — low wages, segregation, poor schooling — has “sedimentized” racial inequality. Within that hierarchy, Black wealth falls to the bottom, while explicit and implicit modes of white privilege keep white wealth buoyed to the top.

Darity, Addo, and Smith argue that the Black middle class is best understood as “a subaltern middle class.” Its members may be economically privileged among Black communities, but no amount of money can insulate them from marginalization or the everyday exhaustion of navigating America as a Black person. The authors point to wide-ranging data that underlines as much: A middle-class salary does not exclude Black Americans from higher stress levels than white Americans in their same income bracket, or a higher likelihood of incarceration. If you’re a Black woman with a graduate degree, the chances that your baby will die as an infant are higher than for a white woman without a high school degree. And the more educated you are, the more racism you’re likely to encounter in the workplace.

Dealing with that racism? Combating it, confronting it, attempting to hedge against it? It can cost a lot of money. In Black Privilege: Modern Middle-Class Blacks With Credentials and Cash to Spend, sociologist Cassi Pittman Claytor interviewed dozens of members of what she calls the “modern Black middle class.” One of these interviewees, Sharon, grew up in a tony suburb, attended an elite college, and works as an advertising account manager pulling in somewhere between $75,000 and $99,000 a year. But whenever she tries to consume in accordance with her income level, she’s surveilled. As she tells Claytor, “Because I’m black, they think I’m going to steal something.”

For some, countering stores’ racist surveillance means, well, buying things. Cultivating relationships with salespeople, becoming valuable customers. Proving, again and again, that they are middle-class — an assumption that is granted without a second thought to most white customers. Tasha, who works as an attorney, tells Claytor that she tries to subvert the problem by opening store credit cards. “I can be like, ‘I’m a cardholder, I’ve been a loyal customer since whatever year. ... Like I’ve always shopped here.’ You can pull up my card savings. You see the amount of money I spend.”

That’s a ton of purchases just to be taken seriously as a Black consumer, and even then, people might think you’re buying what you can’t afford or that you’re careless with money. Keisha, the IT specialist, tells me that an appliance in her home recently broke down, so she called a company for repairs. Instead of telling her the price, they quoted her the monthly payment for financing. “I’m not sure if that assumption was based on our race or the poor state of the appliance, which hadn’t been serviced in several years, but I’m always wondering in the back of my mind: Is it because I’m Black that you’re making this assumption?”

As a result, Keisha often finds herself overcompensating. “Instead of saying to the repairman, ‘You’re right, I cannot afford this $3,000 repair, I’d like to hear about your financing,’ I end up posturing as if I can absolutely afford it and asking for the total price.” She hates it, but she also wants to disabuse people of whatever negative image they might have of Black people. “It’s like the stereotype that Black people don’t tip. Even if the service was terrible, I never tip below 25 percent,” Keisha says.

A drawing of a woman’s blazer, heels, purse, pearl necklace, and beauty products illustrate the things Black people buy in order to maintain an extra-polished appearance in the workplace.

Many of Claytor’s interviewees — who work in fields ranging from the arts to finance — are the only Black employee, or one of a handful of Black employees, in their workplaces. The burden of representation falls on them, and they police their own appearances accordingly, often at significant cost. “Jackie Robinson syndrome,” in which Black employees feel they must groom and conduct themselves as exemplars, runs rampant: “For the sake of their careers, they try to be more ‘put together’ than their white counterparts and take far more care of their appearance,” Claytor writes. “They describe wearing dress pants when their white colleagues are wearing khakis. While they are sure to wear clothing that is always clean and pressed, they describe white colleagues as wearing clothes that are wrinkled and have holes.”

It takes a lot of racial privilege to wear whatever you want in the workplace. It also costs a significant amount of money — and time and concern and stress — to counteract others’ preconceptions. Darryl, a bank associate, tells Claytor that he developed a secondary, unspoken dress code for himself. He shaved off his goatee, and because he’d chosen to keep his hair in cornrows, he felt the need to dress in a way that offset it: always “neat” and “nice.” His white coworkers might come in with “some dingy-ass, dirty-ass t-shirt, or a sweater with a hole in it” — an unthinkable option for a Black man in so many workplaces.

Several women in Black Privilege describe straightening their hair instead of wearing braids, to decrease the likelihood, in one woman’s words, of looking “too quote-unquote ethnic and angry black woman, Black Power-esque.” Tasha, the woman who developed the strategy of shopping places where she’d opened up a line of credit, worked in a firm where the majority of employees were white women. She was always vigilant — in attitude and appearance — to never give her employers a reason to avoid hiring Black women in the future. Vigilance is exhausting. It breaks the body down. And it’s yet another invisible cost for members of the Black middle class to bear.

“What is often not acknowledged is that the same social system that fosters the accumulation of private wealth for many whites denies it to blacks,” Oliver and Shapiro wrote back in 1995, “thus forgiving an intimate connection between white wealth accumulation and black poverty.”

Recall Dee’s frustration and disinclination to talk about her own money problems with her white peers: It’s hard to have a conversation about wealth when the mechanisms, policies, and societal practices that may have helped one family maintain stability were used to prevent another family from ever achieving it. Not because they weren’t as hardworking, not because they were “worse with money,” but simply because they were Black.

When we talk about the middle class, we have to be precise about which part of the middle class we’re talking about. I didn’t do that as well as I should have in the first piece in this series; I wanted to use subsequent pieces to dive deeper, but that was a poor excuse. In introductions, in headlines, in tweets, and in conversations with friends, we should be specific. Over the past 40 years, the middle class has hollowed out for white Americans, undercutting the foundation of the belief system so many expected to inherit as their own. That is a categorically different experience from reaching the middle class and realizing just how much work and time and diligence and luck it will take for others like you, even your someday children, to reach that same point.

It’s not just that so many white Americans were born on third base, as the old saying goes, and think they hit a triple. It’s that they don’t understand that for centuries, Black Americans were not even allowed in the ballpark. Worse than that, they were treated as tools of the game that is American capitalism, never the beneficiaries. When they were begrudgingly allowed on the playing field, they were hobbled, again and again. Called cheaters, given bad calls, left with the worst equipment, all but a small section of the stands rooting against them.

If, as a Black American, you somehow managed to distinguish yourself, the understanding was that it only happened because someone let you on the field when another player was actually better. Other players were powerful enough that they could help their kids get on the team, even if they’re not that talented. Your kid could be a superstar, and still, she has to go through everything you went through, deal with all the same bullshit, beat all the same opponents, just because she’s a Black kid. The game is rigged against you: actively invested in keeping those in power still in power. It’s a bad baseball analogy, but baseball is as American as you can get.

So how do you actually fix that game? You can acknowledge that reparations, whether in the form of lump payments, preferential lending terms, universal free college, or any other number of potential iterations, are not radical. They are a recognition of historical, enduring inequality, economic and otherwise, and an attempt to restore a modicum of the stability systematically denied to Black families.

For the middle class as a whole to solidify, Congress and the Biden administration will have to dramatically rethink the costs, from child care to higher education, that are pulling families out of the middle class and into debt, and preventing millions of others from reaching the middle class in the first place. But unless they want that solidified middle class to be a white echo of what it was before, reparations must be a part of that solution.

This is more true than ever amid the Covid-19 pandemic: Black people are more likely to work in “essential” jobs, but also more likely to work in industries that cut or laid off workers during the pandemic. Last month alone, 154,000 Black women dropped out of the job force while white women actually gained jobs. More than one out of every 750 Black Americans has died of Covid-19, and Black people have died from the disease at 1.5 times the rate of white people. A Johns Hopkins study from August showed that Black people have nearly double the infection rate of white people, a statistic for which the full implications are still coming into focus as we learn more about the long-term effects of the disease.

As Nikole Hannah-Jones wrote for New York Times Magazine last summer following the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, “race-neutral policies simply will not address the depth of disadvantages faced by people this country once believed were chattel. Financial restitution cannot end racism, of course, but it can certainly mitigate racism’s most devastating effects. If we do nothing, black Americans may never recover from this pandemic, and they will certainly never know the equality the nation has promised.”

One of the simplest arguments for reparations, I found on Reddit. “Reparations isn’t free money to blacks,” one user wrote. “It’s a bill owed to blacks.” For slavery, and the economy that was built upon it. For World War II, and the benefits the vast majority of Black GIs did not receive for it. For redlining, and all the home equity lost because of it. For police brutality and mass incarceration and Covid-19, and all the time and life and promise they have stolen. The tab goes on for so long that it’s impossible to imagine its end. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be paid. Quite the opposite: It means it must be.

If you’d like to share your experience as part of the hollow middle class with The Goods, email annehelenpetersen@vox.com or fill out this form.

This week in TikTok: How are you supposed to be a girl online?

2021-01-26T15:28:43+01:00January 26th, 2021|Categories: Social Media|Tags: |

“Try and name one thing that girls can like and won’t get made fun of.”

Hello from The Goods’ twice-weekly newsletter! On Tuesdays, internet culture reporter Rebecca Jennings uses this space to update you all on what’s been going on in the world of TikTok. Is there something you want to see more of? Less of? Different of? Email rebecca.jennings@vox.com, and subscribe to The Goods’ newsletter here.

Quick: Think of an interest or hobby a young woman can have that she couldn’t possibly be made fun of for. You might sensibly say something like “biking” or “pottery” or “baking,” but the caveat here is that in order for this thought experiment to work, you also have to have the mind of a teenager on TikTok, where people are constantly teasing each other in the most brutal ways.

This is the latest TikTok trend, and by “trend” I mean I’ve seen two videos about it but they both went extremely viral. “I keep seeing videos that are like, ‘Try and think of one interest that a woman can have that she won’t get made fun of for,’ and I really try and think about it,” begins a video from a 19-year-old TikToker named Sasha. “There is fucking nothing. Nothing.”

Some examples Sasha gives: If a girl says she likes Netflix, then people will accuse her of being stuck in the era of 2014 Tumblr. If she’s into makeup, she’s too into herself and her gender. If she likes video games, she’s a “bruh” girl. If she’s into fashion, she’s probably just one of those girls who wears big pants and a tiny top and turns up the saturation on her photos in an ironic way. If she likes reading, she “thinks she’s the main fucking character.” The video has almost 3 million views.

Most of these insults will probably make zero sense unless you spend a lot of time on TikTok. Because the way the app has established hyperspecific identity markers is … concerning. Teen girls and their interests have always served as punchlines, but on TikTok, once enough teen girls publicly enjoy something, the backlash can grow even bigger.

Take the concept of the VSCO girl, which in the summer of 2019 went from a niche self-deprecating joke to an embarrassing catchall term, all because some high school girls liked to wear big T-shirts and scrunchies. Because of how far the joke was able to spread on TikTok and how the style became a sort of costume, nobody really dresses like that anymore.

The “VSCO girl” phenomenon is basically happening all the time now. As I wrote about last week, TikTok accelerates meaningless cultural cycles faster than any machine or platform ever has, which means that as soon as something gets popular enough, it’ll trigger a near-immediate backlash. If a few girls on TikTok edit their pictures or dye their hair or do their eyeliner a certain way and go viral, within weeks that thing will probably be deemed cringe, outdated, or outright problematic.

Some of this has to do with the TikTok interface. The ability to duet or riff on other people’s videos often make the reactions even more entertaining than the video itself, and because TikTok automatically shows you the most highly rated comment first, reading the comment section is half the fun of watching in the first place. One somewhat troubling thing I’ve noticed myself doing is imagining what the comments are saying about a video before I even read them. Like, if I see a video of a girl with a slightly larger forehead, I already know that someone will have commented “looks like she’s got a lot on her mind” or something. Which does not feel great!

This is all connected to the ways in which it’s so easy to tease girls for the things they like. Another guy made a similar video to Sasha’s on TikTok, captioned with “try and name one thing that girls can like and won’t get made fun of,” and all the comments are some variation of “jokes on you its” and “c’mon y’all we obviously have” (the joke being that there are none). “Girls can’t even like hydro flasks without being made fun of … literal water bottles,” someone wrote. “I once got made fun of for not littering,” said another.

It’s not TikTok’s fault that our culture simultaneously devalues and sexualizes teenage girls, but I do think it gives us many, many more ways to reinforce that devaluation and sexualization. When something like “VSCO girl” or “bruh girl” gets a lot of attention on TikTok, it’s another addition to the backpack full of potential put-downs all of us carry around in our brains. It’s now nearly impossible to be a teenager and not fall into some kind of niche identity bracket that can be used against you. Avoiding judgment is no longer an option, if it ever really was before.

The story doesn’t have an answer, because of course there isn’t one beyond all the ways that misogyny is socially acceptable. Just like there’s no answer to the question of what interests a girl can have without being made fun of, because there isn’t one. The first step to change is, I guess, acknowledging the problem.

TikTok in the news

One Last Thing

November and Thursdays are the same thing. They just are!


dolphins and horses = november and thursdays

♬ original sound - elleroot

What’s next for Trump’s Senate impeachment trial

2021-01-26T15:28:42+01:00January 26th, 2021|Categories: Social Media|Tags: |

Senate president pro tem Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will preside over Trump’s trial. | Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The House transmitted its article of impeachment to the Senate. Here’s what we know about the trial.

The House of Representatives officially presented their article of impeachment of Donald Trump to the Senate Monday evening, setting up his second impeachment trial and the first ever of a former US president.

The main action in that trial is still about two weeks away, set to start around February 9 (though we’ll be seeing documents — including Trump’s response to the charges — sooner). Many details about how the trial will be structured and proceed remain unsettled, though it will likely be short. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday it will “move relatively quickly” because the Senate has “so much else to do” — for instance, confirming President Joe Biden’s nominees and trying to pass a coronavirus relief bill.

Trump became the first-ever president impeached twice days before he left office, with the charge being “incitement of insurrection,” related to his attempting to overturn his presidential election defeat and egging his supporters on to interfere with Congress’s count of the electoral votes on January 6.

The lead House impeachment manager, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), read the charge on the Senate floor Monday. “President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government,” Raskin said. “He threatened the integrity of the democratic system, interfered with the peaceful transition of power, and imperiled a coequal branch of Government. He thereby betrayed his trust as President, to the manifest injury of the people of the United States.”

Because Trump is now out of power, the main issue at stake will be whether he should be banned from holding federal office in the future. But despite the violence and five deaths that took place when his supporters stormed the Capitol, Trump’s conviction still seems a tall order — because it would require a two-thirds majority of the Senate, which means at least 17 Republican senators. And there have been few signs of late that such Republican support will materialize.

How a Senate impeachment trial works

Though senators will be sworn as jurors this Tuesday, Trump’s trial isn’t really getting started yet. Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have agreed that both the prosecution (the impeachment managers designated by the House of Representatives) and the defense (Trump’s team) will have at least two weeks to prepare, to submit required pretrial briefs, and to respond to each others’ briefs. During this time, the Senate will vote on more of Biden’s nominees.

The action of the trial itself will kick off in two weeks — the week of February 8. And since there’s no set-in-stone guideline for how an impeachment trial is structured, the first step will be for the Senate to try and pass a resolution laying out how things will go.

For Trump’s previous impeachment trial under a GOP-controlled Senate, presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts, there were essentially three main phases of action. First, the prosecution had several days to present its case in opening arguments. Second, the defense presented opening arguments, also over several days. And third, senators got to submit questions for each side’s legal team to answer.

The Senate could have opted to continue the trial after that but it did not. Republicans then voted against calling any witnesses and decided to proceed to a verdict. And on February 5, 2020, they made that verdict official — acquitting Trump on both articles of impeachment, 52-48 and 53-47. (Remember, it takes a two-thirds majority — 67 votes — for conviction, so they weren’t particularly close. Mitt Romney of Utah was the sole Senate Republican who voted to convict Trump, on one of the articles.)

Trump’s second impeachment trial will likely be structured similarly to the first, but with some differences. For one, because Trump is no longer the sitting president, Chief Justice Roberts won’t preside — Senate president pro tem Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will instead. Additionally, relevant documents from federal agencies (which could shed light on, say, why the National Guard wasn’t mobilized sooner as protesters stormed the US Capitol) may be more available, if the Biden administration chooses to hand them over. (The Trump administration famously withheld cooperation from the impeachment inquiry in 2019, spurring the House to make that the basis for the second of his two articles of impeachment then: obstruction of Congress.)

Democrats face a quandary

A major problem for Senate Democrats making decisions about the trial is that the question of whether Trump will be convicted is not up to them. If all 50 Democrats vote to convict Trump, 17 Republicans would have to join them, or else Trump would just be acquitted again.

So in deciding how to structure this trial — particularly how much time to allot to it compared to Biden’s other priorities, whether to call witnesses for testimony, and how much they should work with McConnell on shaping it — Democrats also have to make up their minds on what they are really trying to achieve here.

That is: Is convicting Trump a real possibility, or is it a pipe dream?

Because if conviction actually is on the table, it would be enormously consequential for American democracy, due to the prospect of disqualifying Trump from running for president again in 2024. Trump’s actions since November (and, of course, many of his actions before) show that he personally is a major threat to the functioning of our electoral system. And while he may seem beaten and discredited now, he remains quite popular among Republican voters. A political comeback for him is a real possibility.

In the days after the storming of the Capitol, various anonymously sourced stories appeared suggesting that McConnell and other Senate Republicans really were open to convicting Trump. But of course, anyone familiar with Senate Republicans’ conduct in recent years is aware that they tend to find their way toward sticking with President Trump eventually. Few were willing to speak so boldly in public, and in the House, just 10 of the 207 Republicans present voted to impeach Trump

Predictably, on Friday, CNN’s Manu Raju, Ted Barrett, and Jeremy Bird reported that, per their interviews with more than a dozen Senate Republicans, “only a handful” in the GOP conference “are truly at risk of flipping to convict the former President.” Several who are hesitant to outright defend Trump’s post-election conduct have latched on to the argument that it’s unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial for a former president. (As Ian Millhiser writes, there’s not really a clear answer to this question, but it’s a convenient dodge for Republicans seeking to cloak their defense of Trump in a newly discovered supposed constitutional principle.) In any case, for conviction to succeed, Democrats would need a lot more than a handful.

If the impeachment trial is already headed toward certain acquittal, it may not change some things about how Democrats hope to structure the trial — they’ll surely want to try and make a strong case regardless. But it would certainly affect their decisions about how much time they want to spend on it. The recent tradition has been that while the Senate holds a presidential impeachment trial, it puts all other business aside — meaning all confirmations and legislation would grind to a halt. Democrats have floated the idea of a half-day impeachment, half-day ordinary business, but it’s unclear if that would pass muster from the Senate parliamentarian’s office, and even that would curtail their ability to pursue Biden’s legislative agenda.

This may be why Schumer has already suggested he doesn’t want to spend too much time on the trial. Because if it’s anything like Trump’s last impeachment trial, little that happens there will change any senator’s mind.

Joe Biden is president, but Rand Paul still won’t admit the election wasn’t stolen 

2021-01-25T15:29:10+01:00January 25th, 2021|Categories: Social Media|Tags: |

Sen. Rand Paul speaks at the virtual Republican National Convention in August 2020. | Committee on Arrangements for the 2020 Republican National Committee/Getty Images

“Can’t you just say the words, ‘This election was not stolen?’”

Four days after the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States, Sen. Rand Paul found himself unable to admit that the election that sent Biden to the White House was legitimate.

In a Sunday morning appearance on ABC’s This Week, the Kentucky Republican senator, who has repeatedly affirmed former President Donald Trump’s discredited claims of fraud in the November 3 election, declined to say that that election was not stolen.

“The debate over ‘whether or not there was fraud’ should occur,” Paul said. “We never had any presentation in court where we actually looked at the evidence. Most of the cases were thrown out for lack of standing, which is a procedural way of not actually hearing the question.”

In fact, while some of the Trump campaign’s several dozen lawsuits in battleground states were dismissed or voluntarily withdrawn, many were heard and found to have no merit, a fact that host George Stephanopoulos raised in response.

“After investigations, counts and recounts, the Department of Justice, led by William Barr, said there’s no widespread evidence of fraud,” Stephanopoulos said, referring to the former US attorney general, who had been a staunch ally of Trump’s until he publicly stated that there was no evidence of widespread election fraud.

As Vox’s Ian Millhiser explained, “Trump’s post-election lawsuits failed for a variety of interlocking reasons,” but one of them was simply that “Trump and his allies just didn’t have very good legal arguments”:

In some cases, they brought penny-ante claims that couldn’t have changed the result of the election even if they prevailed. In others, they made factual claims that relied entirely on speculation — or even relied on conspiracy theories incubated on social media. In some cases, Trump or his allies made legal arguments that were the exact opposite of the arguments they made in other cases. There are no good legal arguments that could have justified tossing out the election results, and the clownishness of Trump’s legal strategy only drew attention to the weakness of his claims.

Stephanopoulos kept pressing Paul: “Can’t you just say the words, ‘This election was not stolen?’”

The senator declined to do so, instead pointing to polling that shows that a majority of Republicans do not trust the election’s outcome.

That mistrust is due to a host of factors, not least of which is the baseless assertions, repeated over and over, by lawmakers and other prominent conservatives that fraud took place. Trump himself led this effort, repeating these claims so often that, after a rally dedicated to this theme on January 6, his supporters tried to violently stop the certification of the election results by storming the US Capitol, in an attempted insurrection that ended with five deaths.

Nevertheless, after dozens of court cases, tense “Stop the Steal” rallies, and violence at the seat of the US government, Paul has pledged to spend his remaining two years in office fighting against alleged voter fraud.

He said as much on Twitter, following the TV appearance in which he refused to grant legitimacy to the same election process that has propelled him into power twice.

9 questions about budget reconciliation you were too afraid to ask

2021-01-25T15:29:10+01:00January 25th, 2021|Categories: Social Media|Tags: |

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer meets with new members of his caucus on January 21. Schumer will have to decide how to use budget reconciliation to pass President Biden’s agenda. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Democrats can pass a big bill through the Senate without any Republican votes. Here’s how.

If President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress want to get anything done, they will likely depend on an obscure but powerful procedural tool.

This tool is called “budget reconciliation,” and it’s something you’re bound to hear a lot about in the coming weeks. This complicated Senate process is the vehicle by which important Democratic priorities could actually pass Congress and reach President Joe Biden’s desk.

Democrats hold 50 seats Senate. To pass bills, they will have to contend with the Senate’s unusual rules like the filibuster, a procedural requirement that bills receive 60 votes in the Senate to come up for a floor vote. The filibuster would force Democrats to get support from at least 10 Republicans to pass most legislation.

There is already debate about whether Democrats should just eliminate the filibuster altogether and pass whatever they want with a simple majority. But absent such a big step, they are left with budget reconciliation.

They can pass a reconciliation bill with just 50 votes. But reconciliation also comes with certain conditions, limiting what policies can pass through this special process, and that makes legislating a lot more complicated.

Here’s what you need to know.

1) What is “budget reconciliation,” and why should I care?

In order for a bill to become a law, it needs to pass the United States Senate.

Democrats control the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the White House, which in theory gives them the power to make laws. But while bills can pass out of the House on a simple majority, almost all bills in the Senate are subject to the “filibuster,” a Senate rule (but not a law) that requires legislation to receive 60 votes to be brought up for a final vote.

Almost all bills, but not those passed via the process called budget reconciliation. Under this special procedure, a bill can be brought up for a vote and pass with a simple majority.

Democrats’ Senate majority is as thin as can be: 50-50, with Vice President Kamala Harris available to break a tie. For most bills, they’re going to need support from at least 10 Republicans. But using a budget reconciliation bill, they can pass any bill they want, within the limitations that govern the reconciliation process.

Biden and senators from both parties are talking a good game about bipartisanship in the post-Trump, post-storming of the Capitol era. But partisan politics has a way of taking over any legislative debate.

Democrats may find that in order to pass a Covid-19 relief bill, or other major priorities on taxes, health care, and the environment, they need to muscle through a bill using budget reconciliation. But in exchange for the privilege of passing legislation with “only” 51 votes, budget reconciliation bills are subject to certain rules.

2) What can the Senate pass with budget reconciliation?

A lot of things — so long as they affect federal spending and revenue. It’s called budget reconciliation, after all. Reconciliation was established as part of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, driven by lawmakers concerned about the growing federal deficit.

The process begins with a congressional resolution instructing committees in the House and the Senate to draw up legislation. The budget resolution sets the first parameter for what can pass via budget reconciliation: The final bill must reduce or increase the federal deficit by no less or no more than the amount specified in the resolution.

For example: The budget resolution passed by Senate Republicans in 2017 to set up reconciliation for their tax plan stipulated that the bill could increase by the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years — but no more. That became the target as Republicans decided which taxes to cut and which to raise.

The provisions that are included in the reconciliation bill must then somehow change federal spending or federal revenue. Raising and lowering taxes, expanding subsidies for health insurance, and spending money on new infrastructure projects are some of the obvious, much-discussed ideas that could be included in a reconciliation bill.

3) What can’t pass with budget reconciliation?

Reconciliation was used at first in the 1980s to approve Reagan-era spending cuts, but quickly senators started to use reconciliation for policies unrelated to its original purpose. One reconciliation bill was used to reduce the number of board members on the Federal Communications Commission.

In the eyes of Senate institutionalists like Robert Byrd of West Virginia, these were abuses of the reconciliation process. So Byrd proposed and the Senate codified constraints on what can be passed through budget reconciliation, to make sure the process was actually used for matters affecting the federal budget. Those constraints are now colloquially called the Byrd Rule.

Under the rule, reconciliation bills can’t change Social Security. They can’t be projected to increase the federal deficit after 10 years. They must affect federal spending or revenue — and their effect on spending or revenue must be “more than incidental” to their policy impact.

In other words, the primary purpose of the provisions in a reconciliation bill must be to affect the federal deficit; those budgetary effects can’t simply be a byproduct of trying to achieve some other policy aim. To borrow an example that came up a lot during the recent health care debates, changing insurance regulations might not comply with the Byrd Rule. While those changes would surely affect federal spending (the government spends money subsidizing health insurance, so changes to its cost would alter federal outlays), their main policy purpose would be to affect what kind of health coverage people receive.

4) Who decides what can be included in a budget reconciliation bill?

Unelected bureaucrats. Kidding — sort of. There are two important referees in the reconciliation process: the Congressional Budget Office and the Senate parliamentarian.

The CBO produces projections on how any legislation, including reconciliation bills, will affect the budget. Ordinarily, those projections have been the guidepost for whether a bill is meeting its reconciliation targets. If CBO says your bill costs $1.5 trillion, and the budget resolution passed to set up reconciliation said the bill was supposed to cost no more than $1 trillion, then you need to cut $500 billion out of the bill.

That may not necessarily be an ironclad rule, however: When Senate Republicans were using budget reconciliation to pass the tax bill in 2017, there was speculation they could use their own estimates if the CBO’s were not to their liking. (They ended up not needing to take such a drastic measure, though they still attacked the Senate’s nonpartisan experts and said the estimates were undervaluing how much their tax bill would spur the economy.)

And the CBO can be circumvented in other ways. In their 2017 bill, Senate Republicans allowed some tax breaks for individuals to expire so that their bill wouldn’t increase the federal deficit outside the 10-year budget window. However, no one at the time actually believed Congress would let those tax cuts sunset — i.e., hike taxes on people — when that deadline comes. It was a gimmick, plain and simple.

Aside from CBO, the Senate parliamentarian plays an important role in determining which provisions can be included in a reconciliation bill. The current parliamentarian is Elizabeth MacDonough, who has held that position since 2012 and is the first woman in the job.

There is usually one recurring gray area when making those calls: Is a policy’s budgetary impact “incidental” or not? If it is, under the Byrd Rule, it must be struck from the bill. Traditionally, the parliamentarian makes the final decision after they have heard arguments from both sides about the provisions in question. (It’s called a “Byrd Bath.”)

5) Does the Senate have to listen to the parliamentarian?

This is the subject of debate. Traditionally, the parliamentarian’s decision has indeed been final. But that is a norm, not a divine command. Republicans once fired a parliamentarian whose decisions they disagreed with. (The story, in brief: In 2001, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott was reportedly annoyed that Parliamentarian Robert Dove blocked Republicans from passing more than one reconciliation bill in a year, and so Lott ousted Dove.)

Some activists and even some lawmakers have also pointed out that the vice president, who presides over the Senate, has the ultimate authority over what is permissible under budget reconciliation. The parliamentarian technically offers only guidance to the presiding officer. But the vice president hasn’t overruled a parliamentarian since 1975, when Nelson Rockefeller pushed through a change to the Senate filibuster rules against the advice of the parliamentarian.

Some Democratic priorities would seem to be in a Byrd Rule gray area — such as a $15 minimum wage and DC statehood, to name two — and Senate Democrats may face pressure to overrule the parliamentarian if she is standing in the way of achieving those goals.

But Democrats who are more reluctant to dramatically change Senate procedure might object to that plan. They would argue it sets a precedent that would break the budget reconciliation process forever; any future Senate could simply circumvent the parliamentarian, too, removing the guardrails that are supposed to govern the process.

6) Why can’t the Senate use budget reconciliation for every bill?

There is a technical answer and a “real” answer.

Technically, it’s because a budget reconciliation bill starts with a budget resolution, and Congress passes one budget resolution for any given fiscal year.

The budget resolution can, in theory, set up three separate reconciliation bills: one for taxes, one for spending, and one for the federal debt limit. However, in practice, most reconciliation bills have combined taxes and spending into a single piece of legislation. That’s the reason that, historically, the Senate has usually been limited to passing only one budget reconciliation bill in a given fiscal year.

A side note: Sometimes, they do have wiggle room. In early 2017, Republicans passed one resolution for fiscal year 2017, which was halfway over, and then another for fiscal year 2018, giving them two shots at reconciliation in quick succession. (They used the first bill to try to repeal the ACA and the second for their tax bill.) The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out Democrats could conceivably pull the same trick this year.

Regardless, the real issue is some senators are very skittish about getting rid of the filibuster — that 60-vote requirement for bringing up most bills for a final vote on the Senate floor — and having reconciliation allows them to avoid it. They can pass some policies with a simple majority without opening the door for any and all bills to be subject to a mere 50-vote threshold.

7) This sounds complicated. Wouldn’t it be easier for Democrats to just get rid of the filibuster?

The problem is political. Eliminating the filibuster requires 50 votes. Democratic senators from conservative states don’t necessarily want to be asked to take the tough votes again and again. The filibuster gives them protection, by all but mandating that a bill must get at least some bipartisan support before it comes up for a vote.

Senators who support keeping the filibuster would also say it also helps encourage deliberation and compromise, which are supposed to be the cardinal virtues of the Senate.

In practice, the filibuster has largely served as an obstructionist tool for the minority. That’s why now-Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been insisting on keeping it while negotiating a power-sharing agreement with incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. But Democrats are holding off on making such a promise. Even Democrats from red states, like Jon Tester of Montana, have said they don’t want to give up the leverage of possibly eliminating the filibuster down the road if Republicans prove unwilling to work with the new majority.

Whether Senate Democrats would actually be willing to end the filibuster for legislation is one of the big questions looming over the next two years. The threat to do so could bring Republicans to the negotiating table.

But whatever they decide on the larger filibuster question, they will get a chance to pass a major bill without any Republican votes, through reconciliation.

8) What are some previous examples of budget reconciliation bills?

President Bill Clinton’s welfare reform bill was passed via reconciliation, as were George W. Bush’s tax cuts. Since 1980, 21 reconciliation bills have become law, most of them of the tax and spend variety.

Reconciliation was critical to the Affordable Care Act’s passage. The House and Senate, both controlled by Democrats in 2009, had passed separate bills for health care reform but not yet come up with a final compromise when Republicans won a special Senate election in Massachusetts to replace the late Ted Kennedy. Democrats lost a 60-vote supermajority, and suddenly it looked impossible to finish health care reform through regular order.

To get their plan to President Obama’s desk, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi passed the Senate version of health care reform (the ACA), and Congress then used a reconciliation bill to make some technical changes to the plan, which otherwise would have been made in the conference negotiations between the House and Senate.

After Donald Trump’s election, Republicans tried to repeal and replace Obamacare via reconciliation but couldn’t find 50 votes for their proposals. They did succeed in passing their tax bill through the process in the next fiscal year.

9) Are Democrats going to use reconciliation now? And if so, to do what?

We don’t know! Senate Democrats had begun to write a new Covid-19 relief plan that would pass reconciliation muster, but President Biden is urging them to at least try to reach a deal that would win some Republican support.

Still, they may end up finding that the GOP isn’t willing to play ball. If Democrats fail to reach a deal with Republicans on Covid-19 relief, it sounds like they will first use reconciliation to pass a pandemic-focused bill.

“The objective of both House Democrats and the administration is to get this done as quickly as possible in whatever we need to do,” Rep. John Yarmuth, chair of the House Budget Committee, told reporters. “We haven’t made a decision yet to use reconciliation, but we are prepared to move very quickly if it looks like we can’t do it any other way.”

Then the question would be whether Democrats try to pass a second reconciliation bill, following the Republican playbook from 2017. Other candidates could include a package featuring tax reform and health care provisions. They may try to pass an infrastructure plan through reconciliation if they can’t win any Republican support on that issue.

This will be among the most important decisions the new Democratic majority makes. Unless they decide they are willing to eliminate the filibuster, budget reconciliation would represent their best chance to achieve some of their big legislative goals.

But they will have to navigate this byzantine set of rules and norms to make it happen.

The essential shoes of essential workers

2021-01-25T15:29:10+01:00January 25th, 2021|Categories: Social Media|Tags: |

A doctor in surgical scrubs and Crocs pushes a person in a wheelchair.
Getty Images/iStockphoto

Danskos, Crocs, and Blundstones have long been lifesavers for nurses, food service workers, and other people who spend all day on their feet.

Elise Morocco works in a very messy profession. An OB/GYN in residency at Los Angeles County Hospital, she is frequently splashed with fluids: “blood, amniotic fluid, pee, poop, you name it,” she detailed by phone, when I haltingly asked her to elaborate. In Morocco’s 24-hour shifts, she estimates that more than half the time she’s on her feet, walking and running around. As a result, her shoes take a lot of abuse. Those fluids? “They all fall onto my feet.”

In her sometimes 80-hour workweeks, Morocco said that the shoes she wears every day really matter. “I definitely started out trying to wear sneakers and it just wasn’t cutting it,” she said. “You just wear them out so much if you’re also exercising in them.” When Morocco discovered Calzuro clogs, which can be both sterilized in a medical autoclave machine and put in the dishwasher, she was an instant convert. “People in my profession talk about shoes all the time,” Morocco added. “Everyone has strong opinions.”

For the hundreds of thousands of essential workers in fields like health care, food service, and education who are tasked with being on their feet for the entirety of their work shifts, shoes are second only to masks as the most important piece of garb they put on for the day. In some professions, workers can be on their feet as long as 16 hours, and coming home with sore feet is just not an option. In the midst of a pandemic, when the burden on essential workers is especially high, supportive shoes have to be an afterthought. There are more important things to focus on.

“When I started [in podiatry], people would ask, ‘Is there a requirement that you wear ugly shoes?” Dr. Ami Sheth, a Los Gatos-based podiatrist, told me by phone. Even then, the dig didn’t hurt. All that mattered was that her feet — in a job where she was intensely aware of how bad shoes could have bad consequences — were comfortable. “A lot of people get into podiatry because their feet hurt,” Sheth said. “The running joke is, ‘That doctor is dressed so cute. Give her two years.’”

It stands to reason, then, that certain footwear brands have emerged over time as the tried-and-true go-tos for workers who are on their feet all day. You’d probably recognize the big three: Danskos, Birkenstocks, and Crocs. But there are as many perspectives on why a nurse or chef might choose one shoe over the other as there are essential workers themselves. And though these may be the most familiar options to an outsider, the options for supportive footwear marketed to essential workers are seemingly endless.

Morocco had evolved from sneakers to Danskos in med school, but found the clogs were too heavy for walking around. She preferred the more lightweight Calzuro clogs, an Italian brand that has been around since the ’80s. “The No. 1 thing is that when I’m in surgery, I don’t want to be thinking about my feet. I don’t want to be thinking about my back. But the second most important thing is, what shoes are going to be sanitary?”

There are a few common factors that go into how an essential worker decides what shoes to wear. The most important is that they are comfortable for long shifts, that they can be worn all day and not break down or cause arch pain. Then there are questions of cleanup and slip resistance: In places like kitchens or ORs, there can be a lot of liquid flying around, and sanitation — especially now — is extremely important. The founder of Calzuro clogs, Gianfranco Bidoia, was “always concerned with contamination,” Jenifer Wynne, the US distributor for the Italian-made shoes, told me. During the pandemic, “the demand for Calzuro clogs has definitely grown,” Wynne said. “They are really considered to be personal protective footwear.”

While the combination of these considerations doesn’t always yield the most stylish of shoes — sterilizable materials and arch support don’t exactly scream high fashion — the way the footwear looks is not, by any means, an afterthought. Andi Repine, a pediatric nurse practitioner at A.I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington, Delaware, said she switches out her Danskos to match her outfits. “I have three pairs: black with a floral imprint, gray, and cheetah, of course,” Repine said. “Some people call them ugly, but I pay them no mind because at the end of the day, it’s about how they make my feet feel.”

Danskos have become probably the most recognizable footwear in the health care and food service industries in the 30 years since they were developed. Danskos spread among workers in essential fields by “word of mouth,” Jim Fox, CEO of Dansko, told me. But initially, it wasn’t like Dansko was doing anything new. “Part of the thing to realize is that the design of the clog itself has been around for centuries,” Fox said. “It’s not like Dansko [invented] that design specifically.”

Dansko was founded in 1990 by a husband-and-wife pair, Peter Kjellerup and Mandy Cabot. While traveling to Denmark in the late ’80s, Kjellerup and Cabot, who ran an equestrian facility in Pennsylvania, found the clogs there to be the perfect barn shoe. “They started bringing them over to the US and sharing with friends,” Fox said. When Cabot saw the demand increase, it was only a matter of time before their design caught on. “Anybody who is on their feet all day — restaurant workers, educators, people in health care — realizes you have to take care of your feet so you can do the rest of your work. You’ve got enough stuff to worry about.”

For Erin Fitzgerald, an RN on the bone marrow and stem cell transplant floor at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, Danskos were the first nursing clog she tried, and she never looked back. Fitzgerald works 12.5-hour shifts, and she estimates she’s on her feet about half of the time. Not wearing the right shoes “can be the difference [between] being in pain after shifts and on days off,” she explained. “There was a noticeable difference when I switched to clogs as opposed to sneakers,” she said. “I still sleep with my legs elevated after a shift and wear compression stockings when I can, but the clogs provide so much support and I don’t seem to require as much recovery time.”

For some professions, though, Danskos fall short of one qualification: lightness. A pediatrician friend described trading in her Danskos for lightweight sneakers during residency, when she’d work 12- to 24-hour shifts, because “in pediatrics, running around a lot is just something you do.” Aeration is also an important quality for hot places like kitchens. “Clogs are really great kitchen shoes, but I’ve found that if I’m on my feet for more than 10 hours, my feet swell up and they don’t fit into the shoes,” Millicent Souris, the director of emergency food at St. John’s Bread & Life, told me. Instead, Souris wears Blundstones, the Australian brand of Chelsea boots that have of late come into fashion. The rubber sole makes a huge difference, Souris said. “I have put my feet through a lot in my life, with terrible shoes and sneakers and flip-flops. I can no longer do that.”

Souris said she caved to wearing “very uncool footwear” when she was working in kitchens at fancier restaurants where floor mats — intended to counter fatigue — weren’t allowed because owners thought they were “gross.” “It’s really cool to give up your back and foot health so some egomaniac can try to make a name for themselves in NYC food,” Souris said.

Workers in the film industry were known to sport Blundstones for years before they became cool, Olga Abramson, a film worker, told me. “I kinda hate that they’re now trendy because you used to be able to spot filmmakers by their shoes.”

The uncool becoming cool is a common occurrence for unattractive shoes typically relegated to doctor’s offices and back kitchens. Danskos and Birkenstocks have both had a style renaissance over the past 10 years, with Danskos becoming available in trendier colorways and Birkenstocks partnering with fashion brands like Proenza Schouler. Calzuro clogs, the shoe of choice for health care professionals like Morocco, have been written up in Bon Appétit. Amanda Parker, the managing director of Cowgirl Creamery, said that she was devoted to wearing “big, ugly food service Birks” when she took a work trip across America as a cheesemonger. “They’re indestructible. You could drop a knife on your foot and likely be okay.” The same can’t be said for the open-toed Rick Owens Birks, but they weren’t exactly designed for that purpose, after all.

Nor were high-fashion collaborations meant to be affordable to workers in fields that often don’t make much money. But the more classic alternatives aren’t exactly cheap, either. Danskos, Birkenstocks, Calzuro clogs, Blundstones, and Sanitas are all more than $100, while Crocs, another common footwear choice for essential workers, rarely go above $50.

It’s for this reason that many essential workers start with Crocs and upgrade over time. Repine began her nursing career with Crocs. “I shortly noticed that my feet would kill me by the end of my shift,” she said. “But they were cheap and I was not trying to spend money on work shoes.” Souris pointed out that a pair of Danskos put her back more than a day’s wages. “Cooks don’t make any money, so I’ve generally had terrible shoes,” she said. So when she found a pair of Blundstones at a flea market for $5, she was content. (During the height of the pandemic last year, Dansko and Calzuro both held initiatives to donate shoes to essential workers.)

While the American Podiatric Medical Association bestows seals of approval to shoes and footwear products that “promote good foot health,” Sheth said that the decision is always bound to be a highly personal one. But a good place to start is finding out the height of your arches with the bathwater test. When you get out of the shower or bath, look at your wet footprint on the ground (or a piece of cardboard if you don’t want to get your floor wet). “If you have more of a footprint on the ground, you have a lower arch. If you have less of a footprint, you have a higher arch.” Determine the kind of shoes you need based on your arches. “Most people could use a little arch support,” Sheth added.

Sheth said that most of all, you should be able to move your feet and your toes within your shoes and that your shoes should be comfortable to you. “Your shoes should breathe,” she said. “A lot of essential workers don’t have the luxury of popping in and popping out of their shoes. You’re masked, gowned, geared up, and break rooms have been taken away. You want to make sure there is aeration.” At home, the same guidance applies, even for remote workers stuck behind laptops all day. “I tell people to have a pair of house shoes, too,” Sheth recommended. “You’re doing laundry. You’re moving around. You’re washing dishes. Don’t dress yourself based on the location,” she said. “Dress yourself based on the work that’s getting done.”