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"There is a degree of irony to McCarthy's pitch: The 'American people' he claims to be negotiating on behalf of are the same people he's threatening to hurt—on purpose—by way of the Republicans' debt ceiling crisis," said one critic.
"Raising the debt ceiling is not a negotiation; it is an obligation of this country and its leaders to avoid economic chaos."
"Mr. President: I received your staff's memo," McCarthy tweeted Tuesday. "I'm not interested in political games. I'm coming to negotiate for the American people."
The document—authored by National Economic Council Director Brian Deese and Office of Management Budget Director Shalanda Young—and McCarthy's response came after the speaker claimed Sunday during an appearance on CBS News' "Face the Nation" that he would take cuts to Medicare and Social Security "off the table" but also wants to "look at every single dollar we're spending, no matter where it's being spent" and "eliminate waste wherever it is."
Common Dreams previously reported, McCarthy added that "we've got to make sure we strengthen" those programs but declined to elaborate on how—which White House spokesperson Andrew Bates called "the latest giveaway that House Republicans have been telling the truth over the last year as they reiterate time and again that they want to cut Medicare and Social Security."
\u201cThere is a degree of irony to McCarthy's pitch: The "American people" he claims to be negotiating on behalf of are the same people he's threatening to hurt \u2014 on purpose \u2014 by way of the Republicans' debt ceiling crisis.\u201d— Steve Benen (@Steve Benen) 1675195950
Before the splintered GOP took control of the U.S. House of Representatives and McCarthy ultimately won the speakership—after 15 votes and various concessions to far-right members of his party—supporters of Medicare and Social Security urged Democrats to lift the debt limit during the lame-duck session, fearing Republicans' threats to attack the social safety net programs.
However, Democrats in Congress refused to act after the midterms last year, setting up the current debt ceiling battle—which requires Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to take "extraordinary measures" to temporarily prevent the first-ever U.S. default.
CBS' Margaret Brennan on Sunday asked McCarthy whether he "will guarantee" that the United States will not default on its debt.
"We're not going to default," he responded while arguing that, in the months ahead, "the responsible thing to do is sit down like two adults and start having that discussion. Unfortunately, the White House was saying before, like they wouldn't even talk. I'm thankful that we're meeting on Wednesday, but that's exactly what we should be doing. And we should be coming to a responsible solution."
Citing GOP sources, CNNreported Monday that "privately, Republicans have floated a range of ideas in exchange for an increase in the debt limit, including capping domestic spending at fiscal 2019 levels and bringing defense programs down."
Reiterating his aim to "negotiate" cuts—even if they aren't to Medicare or Social Security—McCarthy insisted Sunday that "there will not be a default. But what is really irresponsible is what the Democrats are doing right now, saying we just raise the limit."
\u201cTwice during our interview on Sunday, @SpeakerMcCarthy said that a default on US debt will not happen. Tomorrow he meets with President Biden who has asked him to avoid that default scenario. @FaceTheNation\u201d— Margaret Brennan (@Margaret Brennan) 1675178558
The White House and other critics have taken such comments as the Republican leader not committing to preventing a default.
"Speaker McCarthy's unwillingness to-date to taking the threat of default off the table makes him an outlier, including among current and former leaders of his own party," says the new memo, pointing to statements from not only Biden, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) but also Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and former Republican Presidents Donald Trump and Ronald Reagan.
"In Wednesday's meeting, President Biden will seek a clear commitment from Speaker McCarthy that default—as well as proposals from members of his caucus for default by another name—is unacceptable," the document continues. "President Biden will ask Speaker McCarthy to publicly assure the American people and the rest of the world that the United States will, as always, honor all of its financial obligations."
As Government Executivereported Tuesday:
There is no blueprint for how the government would operate if it reached and broke through its debt ceiling, though it is clear agencies would not be able to carry out their normal operations. Because typical spending outpaces the revenue the Treasury Department brings in on a given day, the federal government would only be able to pay 60% of its bills in a given month of a default scenario, according to a Bipartisan Policy Center estimate.
Analysts and Treasury officials have sketched out two possible outcomes during a default: The government would either delay payments until it collected enough revenue to cover them, or prioritize some payments while allowing others to go unpaid. In either scenario, agency payments to beneficiaries, states, grantees, contractors, and, potentially, their own employees, could be disrupted. Some federal workers could be furloughed or asked to continue working on the promise of back pay in the future.
The White House memo highlights that the debt ceiling is just one of two of Biden's priorities for the Wednesday meeting. The president also plans to ask, "When will Speaker McCarthy and House Republicans release their budget?"
"President Biden will release a budget on March 9," according to the memo. "It is essential that Speaker McCarthy likewise commit to releasing a budget, so that the American people can see how House Republicans plan to reduce the deficit—whether through Social Security cuts; cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Affordable Care Act (ACA) health coverage; and/or cuts to research, education, and public safety—as well as how much their budget will add to the deficit with tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and large corporations, as in their first bill this year."
Asked by reporters on Monday what his message for McCarthy will be, Biden said, "Show me your budget, I'll show you mine."
"Vultures," said one critic, are "looking to make a lot of money off this public resource."
Financial speculators are buying and selling rights to the Colorado River's dwindling water resources in a bid to profit as historic drought conditions intensified by the fossil fuel-driven climate crisis lead to worsening scarcity.
Wall Street investment firms "have identified the drought as an opportunity to make money," Andy Mueller, general manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, toldCBS News on Tuesday. "I view these drought profiteers as vultures. They're looking to make a lot of money off this public resource."
Matthew Diserio, the co-founder and president of a Manhattan-based hedge fund called Water Asset Management (WAM), makes no secret of his intentions, having described water in the United States as "the biggest emerging market on Earth" and "a trillion-dollar market opportunity." The company's website declares that "scarce clean water is the resource defining this century, much like plentiful oil defined the last."
A newly published joint investigation by CBS News and The Weather Channel found that WAM has purchased at least $20 million worth of land in Western Colorado over the past five years, making it one of the biggest landowners in a farming and ranching region known as the Grand Valley.
According to Mueller, WAM has bought more than 2,500 acres of farmland in the area. But "it's the water"—not the land—that investors are really interested in, he said, observing that the farmland comes with water rights.
"There are real fears that this crucial water supply for the West is on the brink of disaster."
Notably, WAM has "hired Colorado's former top water official as one of its lawyers," CBS News reported. Diserio previously stated that "one of his firm's strategies is to profit from water in part by making the farms it buys more efficient and then selling parts of its water rights to other farmers and cities increasingly desperate for the natural resource."
Mueller is tasked with protecting Colorado's share of the Colorado River—a sprawling 1,450-mile waterway that traverses seven states and is a key water source for 40 million people in the western U.S. and northern Mexico, including those in the metropolitan areas of Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, Denver, Las Vegas, Albuquerque, and Salt Lake City.
Clean water is becoming increasingly scarce in the region for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency.
"The Colorado River relies mostly on snowpack in the Rocky Mountains that feeds into the river as it melts in the spring and summer," Weather Channel storm specialist Greg Postel explained. "But climate change is making the West hotter and drier. For every degree the temperature has gone up, the flow of the river has dropped by about 5%—a nearly 20% reduction over the past century."
The volume of water being withdrawn from the Colorado River has fallen since 2000 despite more people moving to the region. But with less water flowing into the river amid the West's ongoing 23-year megadrought—more severe than anything seen in the preceding 1,200 years—recent decreases in per capita water consumption are insufficient.
"It's taken a major toll on the nation's largest reservoirs," Postel said of climate change-amplified drought. "Lake Powell in Arizona and Lake Mead in Nevada—they are at historic lows. They're at just 25% of their full, combined capacity. There are real fears that this crucial water supply for the West is on the brink of disaster."
\u201cDisaster capitalism. \nInvestors like "Water Asset Mangement" (an actual company) are betting on a water crisis.\u201d— Leslie (@Leslie) 1675176003
As the long-brewing crisis surrounding the Colorado River grows more acute, the federal government has taken steps to compel state-level policymakers to improve how they manage water resources in the increasingly arid region.
For instance, "Congress recently allocated $4 billion in drought funding that can be used to pay farmers to fallow their land and not use their water," CBS News reported. "Some Western states, including Colorado, are also considering paying some farmers to keep their lands fallow." Agriculture accounts for 70% of withdrawals from the Colorado River.
Last August, after the Colorado River Basin states failed to meet a federal deadline to approve a plan for achieving a 15% to 30% reduction in water use, the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) announced—based on projected water levels for 2023—that Arizona, Nevada, and Mexico would be forced to draw less from the river this year.
On Tuesday, for the second time in six months, the seven states that depend on the Colorado River failed to reach a water conservation pact by the DOI's deadline, increasing the likelihood the agency will impose cuts later this year. Six states—Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming—agreed to slash water use. But California, the largest water consumer of the bunch, refused, setting the stage for what CNNdescribed as a "high-stakes legal battle."
In August, Food & Water Watch research director Amanda Starbuck implored policymakers to "eliminate rampant corporate water abuse before it's too late," decrying the "massive water use of Big Ag and Big Oil."
"By switching to renewable energy sources like solar and wind, California could save 98% of the water currently needed for its fossil fuel production," said Starbuck. "And by transitioning away from industrial megadairies, thirsty crops like almonds and pistachios, and engaging in regenerative farming, California will gain enormous water savings that could serve small farmers and domestic households."
Regarding WAM and other hedge funds looking to profit from looming water shortages, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) unveiled legislation last March that would prevent Wall Street from speculating on life-sustaining water resources.
The Future of Water Act, as the congressional Democrats' bicameral legislation is titled, would amend the Commodity Exchange Act to affirm that water is a human right to be managed for public benefit—not a commodity to be bought and sold by investment firms. The bill would also prohibit the trading of water rights on futures markets—a recently invented financial ploy widely condemned as "dystopian."
Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said at the time of the bill's introduction that "with the climate crisis delivering historically devastating droughts across the West, it is clearer than ever that water should be treated as a scarce, essential resource, not a commodity for Wall Street and financial speculators."
"This groundbreaking legislation would put a lid on dangerous water futures trading before it creates a crisis," said Hauter, "and it reinforces the fact that water must be managed as a public resource, not a corporate profit center."
Mueller, for his part, said Tuesday that "water in Colorado, water in the West, is your future."
"Without water," he added, "you have no future."
"Virtually all Democrats talk about the need for campaign finance reform," wrote Sanders. "Talk is easy. Now it's time to walk the walk."
Ahead of the Democratic National Committee's annual Winter Meeting in Philadelphia, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday called on the party to end super PAC spending in primary races, saying the Democrats should take the event as an opportunity to show their commitment to protecting democracy.
Twelve years after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the Vermont Independent senator wrote, the last election cycle illustrated how the "disastrous" decision is "undermining American democracy," as super PACs spent roughly $1.3 billion on campaigning—including more than $460 million spent by Democratic groups.
Millions of dollars were spent by billionaires "against progressive candidates in competitive primaries," Sanders wrote, with super PACs funding "outrageous and dishonest attack ads."
"When we talk about billionaires buying elections, this is exactly what we are talking about."
Notably, a super PAC created by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) spent millions of dollars in competitive races in North Carolina, Texas, and Pennsylvania last year, running attack ads against progressives who are critical of the United States' support for Israel's violent anti-Palestinian policies. One ad accused Rep. Summer Lee (D-Pa.) of being disloyal to the Democratic Party.
"When we talk about billionaires buying elections, this is exactly what we are talking about," wrote Sanders, who caucuses with Senate Democrats.
The 2010 Citizens United ruling allowed corporations and special interest groups to create super PACs, which can accept unlimited donations and spend unlimited money on campaigns. The ruling has been condemned for years by Democratic lawmakers including Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who earlier this month introduced legislation to overturn Citizens United.
The party could make clear that it opposes the corporate takeover of campaigning by banning super PAC spending in its primaries, said Sanders, noting that the issue was not permitted to come up for a vote at last year's DNC meeting when he proposed it there.
\u201cVirtually all Democrats talk about the need for campaign finance reform. Talk is easy. Now it\u2019s time to walk the walk. I wrote a letter to the @DNC today on why we must stand up for democracy and end super PAC spending in primaries.\u201d— Bernie Sanders (@Bernie Sanders) 1675194781
"Virtually all Democrats talk about the need for campaign finance reform," wrote Sanders. "Talk is easy. Now it's time to walk the walk. Let's stand up for democracy."