McConnell And Civic Ignorance

I know you are all tired of reading my periodic rants about Americans’ lack of civic/constitutional knowledge. But we are witnessing a perfect example of the damage caused by widespread civic ignorance, and not just on the part of citizens, but on a substantial part of the media.

Mitch McConnell–aka the most evil man in America–is refusing to allow Republican Senators to vote to raise the debt ceiling, or even for cloture–for ending his filibuster of the measure. If the ceiling isn’t raised, the United States will default on its obligations and plunge the world into a financial crisis. (I’m not the only person saying that–Janet Yellen, among others, has been making that point.)

Now, there are two things most Americans don’t understand about the current impasse over raising the debt ceiling.  First of all, a vote to raise the ceiling is not an authorization to spend money. It is an authorization to pay for spending that has already been authorized–permission to borrow the money needed to pay for things that the Congress has previously voted to do. (It’s actually a weird sort of holdover vote that could well be dispensed with, but that’s a different conversation.) So pious pronouncements about fiscal responsibility as an excuse for failing to raise the ceiling are the stuff excreted by bulls.

Second, even fewer people understand how the arcane rules of the Senate have enabled McConnell to play an anti-democratic and truly despicable  game of chicken.

You may have seen articles about the current fight in which the pundit or reporter has said that the Democrats could raise the ceiling without the GOP. That’s technically true-but so long as McConnell prolongs the filibuster, such passage would be at the cost of not passing the infrastructure bill. That’s because the only way Democrats could raise the ceiling without Republicans ending their filibuster is through reconciliation, which cannot be filibustered. But the Democrats get only one chance to pass a bill through reconciliation this year, so using that one chance to save the country from default would force them to dump the immensely popular infrastructure bill, which–thanks to McConnell and the filibuster– can also only be passed through reconciliation.

And that is McConnell’s game of chicken.

He’s counting on the Democrats to jettison their most important piece of legislation (which he continues to filibuster) in order to avert a national disaster. He is counting on the ignorance of the public–and a sizable portion of the media–to obscure the naked evil of this tactic. If–as he clearly hopes–the Democrats once again act like the adult in the room, and save us from a fiscal calamity, very few Americans will understand why the promised infrastructure bill didn’t pass; they will join the chorus of uninformed observers blaming the internal divisions of the Democrats for their inability to get the job done.

Others–including most recently President Biden– have pointed out that McConnell’s Republicans raised the debt ceiling three times under Trump –and not so incidentally added $7.8 trillion to the national debt. Anyone who thinks this current intransigence is about fiscal responsibility is smoking something really strong.

It is past time to call the bluff, eliminate the filibuster and get rid of a debt ceiling vote that only authorizes paying Uncle Sam’s bills. But those things aren’t likely to happen this month–so unless there is some Republican Senator willing to put country before party (unlikely), we are once again on the brink of being a failed state.

There is a reason Mitch McConnell is a hated man.


  1. I’m very slightly hopeful that the media will notice the key piece of evidence against McConnell: he’s not even bothering to tie his filibuster to an argument for some policy or some other requirement of the Democrats. He’s just obstructing because he can. Trump might describe it as the ability to shoot someone in plain sight (say, 5th Avenue) and not face any consequences. Trump and McConnell may use different words, but they are speaking the same language.

  2. Democrats should use reconciliation to get rid of the filibuster once and for all.

  3. Not tired of these well-argued rants at all – on the contrary they help preserve what’s (arguably) left of my sanity. Thank you

  4. Not tired of the rants – tired of the games being played in Washington and by the press. Lately, we’ve been using an unelected parliamentarian as a scapegoat.

    The poll numbers I’ve heard recently for trust in our POTUS. Congress, Private Sector, and Press are all hitting record lows. At the rate Washington/New York is going, trust in our significant institutions will hit single digits. And we don’t know half of it.

    The propaganda spreaders can’t produce enough of it to cover up the whole mess. It’s past time to bring out the guillotines, but it might be excellent pay-per-view TV.

  5. I have learned a lot from your rants, aside from removing any possible desire to move to your home state, I’ve recalled a lot of what I did learn in High School ( we were taught the basics of government) and a lot more detail. Thank you

  6. We have watched McConnell ignore his repeated Oath of Office to protect and serve and uphold the Constitution for too many years. He is REQUIRED by the Constitution to perform specific duties and responsibilities as an elected government official; whether as Republican or Democrat or as majority or minority leader. Apparently there is no one in the Legislature branch of government to stand up to him or remove him from office. His highest position of authority was as majority leader of the Senate; he used it to deny President Obama’s nominees their required hearings by the Senate for years and abused it to force Trump’s every whim and wish into law. It is more the fault of our sitting Democratic and Republican House and Senate members that it continues today than it is for McConnell to continue taking advantage of their cowardice to continue to rule from his minority position.

    “First of all, a vote to raise the ceiling is not an authorization to spend money. It is an authorization to pay for spending that has already been authorized–permission to borrow the money needed to pay for things that the Congress has previously voted to do.”

    To understand the basics of the above copied and pasted words, bring the national debt down to your household budget and the soaring prices of everything today. What happens if you refuse to pay the increases and you try to buy food, clothes, turn on your lights, use your cell phones or put gas in your car. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand the need – by Democrats or Republicans – to raise debt limits to pay debts incurred. The Trump administration, with McConnell leading the way, wasted billions of our tax dollars. The government is allowed to incur debts and, just like you and I, they are required to pay those debts.

  7. So when the U.S. defaults on it loans and debts, which one of the many millionaire politicians is going to pull money out of their pockets to help the country, or at least individuals that they were elected to represent in their home states? They will do nothing but perhaps take a photo op moment to say ” oh how terrible this is, and someone needs to do something about it” and as they turn from the camera they mutter to themselves “but it won’t be me.”

  8. The Democrats need to get on Fox and other right wing media sites and hammer home the facts. It’s no good preaching to the converted all the time.

  9. JoJo; Democrats cannot simply “get on Fox and other right wing media sites”, Fox and those other right wing media sites decide who they will allow on their air time. Fox has dumped a few of their regulars who spoke too left wing, in their minds, on issues.

  10. Remember the good old days when Dick Gephardt was Chair of Appropriations? He had a rule, that should have been codified, that required the debt ceiling be raised with the appropriations. Of course, in Gephardt’s time, nobody in Congress would object to raising the ceiling.

    For anyone who isn’t aware, Reconciliation can only be used for fiscal bills. That’s why a bill calling for $3.5 trillion was passed by both houses, then returned to the House to begin the “reconciliation” of differences. Personally, I am a little frustrated at the moment. Should I root for the Dems to throw out their principles because the other side has none and doing so would level the playing field? Very few people realize what is really at stake is the soul of our nation.

    If there are any Constitutional Law scholars in the audience, what would be the ramifications of having the President invoke the 14th Amendment and declare the debt ceiling eliminated?

    JoJo, please not just any Democrat. I have loved it when Pete is on FOX. He turns on his boyish charm and his huge intellect and makes them look like the idiots they are.

  11. Rant on, Dr. Kennedy! I’ve characterized McConnell as the most dangerous man in America, but evil works for me.

  12. All of our elected “lawmakers” should be familiar with the legal term, “(S)He who is silent appears to consent.” It is those lawmakers sitting silent and idle who are the basic problem in resolving (reconciling) the issues in those current bills.

  13. Right on Joann. And of course, right on Sheila. It’s a tense week in tense times.

  14. Right on Joann. And of course, right on Sheila. It’s a tense week in tense times.

  15. Mitch McConnell does not care about his constituents nor the majority of Americans. He is addicted to power and the wealthy oligarchs who have supported him. The Kentuckians who voted for him are complicit in his insane obstructionist tactics.

    I wish Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins would undermine his attempt to overthrow Biden’s agenda by refusing to allow Congress to raise the debt ceiling. Such a default would truly be disastrous. But I am sure they are not willing to vote for the bill expanding our social safety net.

    Playing chicken like this, of course, does not sit well with the stock market or economic forecasters.

    I hate the way Republicans cry about the budget deficit yet balloon it with tax reform that benefits corporations and the 1 %. Money and power are very addictive.

    Rant away, Shiela. This blog allows me to vent my frustrations along with you.

  16. Yes, you are preaching to the choir, Sheila; but keep preaching. We choirmembers should in turn preach to our choirmembers day and night to spread democracy’s secular gospel since it is not adequately taught in schools – especially religious schools even though they are tax-supported via a court holding badly in need of reversal.

    McConnell and his ilk will meet their Waterloo when some sweet day the arcane rules of the Senate, the filibuster, and gerrymandering end and we re-adopt the Athenian idea of majority rule once again. O Happy Day!

  17. I’ll have to re-read the 14th Amendment but I don’t recall it authoring the President to bypass Congress when that institution fails to act.

    Democrats want to get rid of the filibuster because they know they’ll never be in the minority again. Of course that’s not true. We’re looking at the possibility of a Republican House and Senate in 2023 and Trump 2.0 in 2025. So let’s get rid of a tool that would restrain them. Yes, that make sense.

    Something to worry about? Republicans win a majority in the House and Senate in the 2022 elections. Trump runs in 2024, loses to Biden on Election Night, and immediately starts screaming about fraud. Trump’s allies in GOP-dominated state legislatures throw out the popular vote in their states that favor Biden on the basis of Trump’s claims of fraud. If that doesn’t get Trump a sufficient electoral advantage, his allies in GOP-dominated Congress refuse to certify the electoral vote from swing states Biden wins. The election is kicked into the House where Trump wins the election b/c a majority of House delegations are dominated by Republicans.

    The groundwork for this scenario is currently being put into place.. But, hey, let’s worry instead about Kyrsten Sinema. Democrats are walking into a tunnel completely unaware a train is heading their way.

    I’d really like to see Sheila write about the Electoral Count Act which purports to give state legislatures the power to disregard the popular vote for president in their state and Congress to challenged state election results, even those which have been certified. I believe the NYTimes just wrote an editorial urging the law be changed. Indeed. That should be Priority No. 1 for the Dems.

  18. Republicans want us to know that they have the power to destroy the country and are perfectly willing to use it for such unless the country pays them tribute. They are trying to enforce the notion that it’s too late for democracy. They already rule despite it. Trump is King. They need irresponsibility to rule. That’s the sign of power. When a party or person can arbitrarily choose with equal comfort to punish or reward, based only on loyalty and fealty to the party authorities, can it be said that aristocracy and authoritarianism have triumphed.

  19. The horror show Paul suggests should it eventuate would not be the worst possible outcome of Trump’s scheme to place a layer of legality over his 1/6 Beer Hall putsch to power. The worst possible but likely scene following the Second American Revolution certain to follow would be the colonizing armies of Xi and Putin who would march in to establish order and protect their puppet from further violence.

    Far out? Can’t happen here? That’s what the German politicians and “Good Germans” thought in 1932 when the jailbird Hitler was flexing his Nazi muscles just before he assumed the chancellorship, and just as we may be doing with our delay in punishing those who participated or assisted in Trump’s 1/6 “Beer Hall” putsch, where every day we delay tells our American Nazis that they can rough up school boards and threaten public officials without consequence.

  20. I fear we are in a Cold Civil War. McConnell and his cohort are the new autocracy, following in the footsteps of every autocrat in the world. Go after the press, ban books, not only threaten but carry out violent insurrection, target the “other” for blame and push for racial superiority as the means test for any benefits. At its foundation is the same argument made by most autocrats. Only they are fit to rule. They forget that their power requires a labor force. Private prisons, anyone?

  21. OK! I’ve tried waiting it out in the event it was a typo. I got nothin’. I’ve tried this spelling technique with Lester, I think, and it finally worked for him. So here goes: The SHEILA whom we all admire is a SHE. That’s the perfect way to begin the spelling of SHEILA. She isn’t Shiela! Not for a moment! She’s Sheila and we respect her enough to spell her name correctly. We all, every one of us, like to see our names spelled correctly. Sheila has been considerate enough never to say anything about it, although in her other life she was a teacher of English. I, on the other hand, jumped in here to try to set the record straight for our heroine, SHEILA Kennedy. Sometimes we teachers of English simply cannot help ourselves.

  22. I become less impressed with our system of government and the people running it every day.

Comments are closed.